I Heart My City: Rachel’s Oxford

3103580191_555b989564_o.jpgHello, city-lovers! Today we head over to the United Kingdom, where Rachel Cotterill tells us why she loves her city–first as a student, now as a native.

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Oxford is My City
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The first place I take a visitor from out of town is the Pitt Rivers Museum (below), one of the most eclectic museum collections I’ve ever seen, where things are pretty much organized by “stuff that looks the same”

rather than by culture or historical period.

When I crave late night ice-cream I always go to G&D’s Ice Cream Cafe, where I had a summer job as a student.

And I always choose the original branch on Little Clarendon St.

To escape the bustle of the city centre, I head north along the canal, to the area where I used to live.


If I want to celebrate Christmas in style, I go to one of the excellent college carol services (any college with a choir you’ve heard of is likely to be worth a visit during December).

For complete quiet, I can hide away in one of the many Bodleian library reading rooms, but you need a library card–if you’re a student whose university has a reciprocal arrangement, it’s well worth bringing your card along and taking the Bodleian Oath to get a temporary card.

If you come to my city, get your picture taken with a student–cheesy but traditional, especially if you’re around during matriculation, exams, or graduation, when the streets are swarming with students in academic dress. But don’t pay them for the privilege!

If you have to order one thing off the menu from Al-Andalus it has to be the lunchtime mixed tapas plate, much better value than ordering individual items.

66770703_40384c6415_o.jpgThe covered market is my one-stop shop for great food from the various delis.

Locals know to skip the boring chain stores and shopping centres, and check out the independent shops and cafes in Jericho or along the Cowley Road instead.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to family restaurant Gino’s, near the bus station, for cheap but excellent pasta dishes (skip the pizzas, which tend to get charred).

For a huge splurge I go The Liaison, which is pricey but has the best choice of vegetarian Chinese dishes.

Photo ops in my city include the Radcliffe Camera and the Bridge of Sighs (conveniently very close together!) and the best vantage point is probably from upstairs in Blackwell’s, on Broad Street.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be Stephen Fry, although he unfortunately made the mistake of going to Cambridge.

The most random thing about my city is the way May Day is celebrated, with all-night drinking, early morning choral recitals, and crazy drunk people jumping into the river, before warming up over a nice cooked breakfast (all before 6 a.m.).

My city has the most men wearing scarves all year round (in college colours, of course).

My city has the most studious women, who usually manage to look both geeky and beautiful all of the time.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves walking or cycling, and stopping in a cafe or three to warm up with soup and sandwiches and coffee.

3103581313_0ae9f02651_o.jpgMy city’s best museum is probably the Ashmolean, it’s a mini British Museum (see the Roman mosaic, left).

My favorite jogging/walking route is north along the canal, out of town, then east at one of the bridges (depending on how long a walk you want) and south again down Woodstock Road.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends read the Daily Info, a huge sheet of listings on brightly coloured A2 paper, that’s distributed for free around the city.

For a night of dancing, go to a college ball, if you can get hold of a ticket. Or, for live music, check out the Daily Info for small bands in pubs, or see who’s playing at the New Theatre (for big names).  If you enjoy theatre, don’t miss out on the student productions (several each week during term time).

You can tell a lot about my city from the fact that, in some respects, it hasn’t really changed over hundreds of years.

You can tell if someone is a local of my city if they complain about students, and you can tell someone who’s studied here if they call people from Cambridge ‘Tabs’.

In the spring you should go to the University Parks to see the flowers.

In the summer you should go punting, and try not to fall in the river!

In the autumn you should look out for hoardes of matriculating students, and their terribly proud parents, filling every pub and restaurant to beyond capacity.

In the winter you should watch the ducks trying to swim on the frozen canal.

A hidden gem in my city is Worcester College–not one of the main ‘tourist attraction’ colleges, but they have beautiful grounds and it’s lovely to take a stroll around their lake.

For a great breakfast joint try the Jericho Cafe on Walton Street for a full English fry-up.

Don’t miss Fairport Convention’s folk festival in Cropredy, which somehow manages to fit the stage and numerous stalls into one sloping field, so you never need to miss any of the music.

Just outside my city, you can visit the Cotswolds, with loads of picturesque villages within easy driving distance. (Shameless plug from IT: Check out our photo gallery and driving tour of Cotswolds.)

3041560053_20d67d0fee_o.jpgThe best way to see my city is on foot; everything is pretty compact.

If my city were a pet it would be a cat–elegant and independent, but friendly once you get to know it.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “Itchycoo Park” by the Small Faces–but only because it’s got dreaming spires in it.

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss Christ Church college (top), where parts of Harry Potter were filmed.

The Time Ceremony, where students walk backwards around the quad of Merton College, could only happen in my city.

My city should be featured on your cover or website because it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and has more than its fair share of English eccentricities.

Photos: Fen Oswin, Scr47chy, Xavier de Jaureguiberry, and James-Hetherington via Flickr


  1. Jully
    March 18, 2010, 4:28 am

    Agree! Oxford is place where travelers should stop by some time.

  2. alyosha
    November 16, 2009, 8:43 pm

    Thank you so much for this, I hope to visit someday. I’m old enough to remember when “Fairport Convention” was popular (back when I was in college in the 1970s) in the USA.
    KE from Los Angeles

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  5. Valencia traveler
    November 14, 2009, 8:06 pm

    So when I first saw the photos of Oxford – i was just shocked by the spirit of culture and knowledge of that town.You have just depicted it vividly in your post.

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  7. Richard @ The Bewildered Brit
    November 13, 2009, 8:27 pm

    The Pitt-Rivers museum is a true gem. The most bizarre jumble of ethnographic/anthropological stuff it doesn’t look like it’s been touched for a hundred years. It feels like you’re walking back in time. Just wonderful!

  8. quan
    November 13, 2009, 4:54 pm