Oxford's Best Bits
For a city, Oxford has loads of green spaces within its boundaries.
The largest is South Park, on the slopes of Headington Hill, with the Oxford Brookes sports facilities at the top. After snow it is fantastic for sledging; at other times of the year it is the venue for many outdoor events, including the fireworks display on 5 November and, in recent years, the Cowley Road Carnival.
The University Parks, with the university science area on one side and the River Cherwell on another, is well known. Science students living in Marston can take advantage of the footpath and enjoy an idyllic walk or cycle to lectures each morning. Parson's Pleasure, by the side of the river, used to be set aside for dons (academics) to bathe naked – a tradition no longer in practice.
Christ Church Meadow is owned by the College but open to the public and is a popular walking and picnicking spot, where one may even encounter cattle. Many of the university boat houses are at the bottom of the Meadow, at the confluence of the Cherwell and Isis rivers.
Have fun punting from Magdalen College at the bottom of High Street. Continue the Brideshead Revisited experience with a picnic in Christ Church Meadow and a walk in the College grounds. While you are there, you could visit the College itself and pop your head around the doors of the Great Hall, which doubles as Hogwarts' dining hall in the Harry Potter films.
Open Top Bus Tour
A quick and easy way of getting your bearings if you are new to Oxford is to do the tourist thing and take a guided tour on an open top bus. You can hop on and hop off at any one of 19 stops in the City and see the major Oxford University buildings and colleges as well as shops and restaurants.
It's worth keeping an eye on their website (www.citysightseeingoxford.com) for jobs too – they often need guides and sales staff.
Summer balls are held by many of the Oxford University colleges and by Brookes University at the end of Trinity (summer) term. For some colleges the ball is an annual event; others leave one or even two years between them. Mostly black tie, rather than the more formal white tie, they usually feature several different live bands as well as discos and other entertainment. They are attended by undergraduates and postgraduate students, as well as by alumni, so it's quite a mixed crowd but a great atmosphere. If you are lucky enough to get to one, it's worth pacing yourself: for a start, the tickets are quite pricey, but also you'll want to stick it out all night until the breakfast and survivors' photograph.
Cowley Road Carnival
The Cowley Road Carnival started life as a small event to kick-start the regeneration of the Cowley Road area. It grew rapidly and is now a massive festival-cum-fair-cum-fete that takes place in early July in South Park and on the Cowley Road. A long procession of dancers, huge puppets and children in fancy dress, accompanied by marching bands of various types, slowly wends its way down the hill to the main stage where everyone takes a bow. Then an ever more impressive line-up of local, national, and international bands play a packed programme on several stages, accompanied by the smell of burgers and the shrieks of people on fairground rides.
St Giles Fair
Evolved from a 17th-century parish wake, St Giles fair is a yearly spectacle in the centre of Oxford. Every September excitement grows as bigger and better rides are added to the substantial collection of fairground attractions.
Set in 2,100 acres of beautiful parkland, the exquisite baroque palace is surrounded by sweeping lawns, formal gardens and the magnificent lake.
Inside, visitors can see the hand-painted ceilings and the amazing porcelain collections, tapestries and paintings displayed in each room.
A tour of the historic Oxford Castle is made all the more enjoyable when there’s a delicious meal to follow it. A variety of restaurants offer everything from tapas to Italian. Throughout the summer a series of plays are performed in the grounds by the Creation Theatre Company. In the winter there is a small ice rink.
A recent phenomenon is the light spectacular on Broad Street: Luminox. The light installation created by Ted Dewan was breathtaking. The only light evident is that produced by hundreds of flames from fires ranging in size. The smell of chestnuts roasting and eerie music makes this a very atmospheric experience.