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Oxford is a small city situated roughly halfway between London and Birmingham. Noted for the famous university, it is also the administrative centre for smaller local towns, and has most of the best shopping and entertainment for miles around.
Although the university dominates the centre of the city, the reality is that town and gown are very separate entities. In fact, Oxford is home to one of the largest housing estates in Europe (Blackbird Leys/Greater Leys).
Oxford is a very cosmopolitan city with large Asian, African, Caribbean and Turkish communities. There is little friction between the ethnic/cultural groups, but as with town and gown there is little mixing. Oxford has a very compartmentalised culture.
Oxford is often similar to parts of London in that poverty and wealth often exist side by side, but to generalise, North Oxford is where the money is and East Oxford is where the students without rich parents, ethnic minorities, income support recipients, and otherwise skint people live. The beauty of the city centre is not reflected in the suburbs and outskirts that could be described as grim and dirty.
If you wish to experience both sides of Oxford, try starting with a wander through Christchurch meadows along the Thames. This is a very nice bit of Oxford indeed, and very bizarre because within a minute's walk of the city centre you can be sat in a field watching cows grazing. After this you could get on a number 52 bus and go to Cowley centre, an abomination of concrete and ugliness, then if you were feeling especially brave, continue to Blackbird Leys. A city of dreaming spires will probably not be the image you leave with.
Things to Do
There are many pubs and clubs in Oxford catering for most tastes, but trying to get a drink after 2am is near impossible. The large night clubs are generally not too great, the only two rising above high street disco standards being the Zodiac on the Cowley road, also the premier live music venue of the city, and the Coven II on Oxpens Road. The Zodiac is typically indie/alternative oriented and the Coven plays mostly house and dance music. However, there are several smaller clubs which are okay such as YesBut and Poo Naa Naa.
There are two main theatres in Oxford - the Playhouse on Beaumont Street, which is excellent, and the Appollo on George street, which is usually pretty trashy.
Most of the classical music in the city is tied up with the university, but usually open to the public. The Holywell music room has a particular reputation for hosting quality performances.
Oxford has some truly excellent museums. The Ashmolean museum on Beaumont Street houses several large galleries covering many areas, and artefact collections from the ancient world and the East. The Pitt Rivers/University museum has more of a natural history slant, and a huge collection of ethnic/anthropological objects including genuine shrunken heads. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) is also worth visiting.
In the city centre cafés are multiplying like bacteria in an especially nutritious growth medium. Outside of the centre, the Cowley Road offers eating from just about anywhere in the world. You could dine out every night for a month and not eat in the same place twice. There is also a wide selection of chip shops, kebab vans and other fast food vendors.
Shopping in Oxford is pretty good and there are two malls in the city centre that offer a diverse array of outlets. The covered market has an excellent selection of smaller traders and is well worth a visit.
Travelling in Oxford
Driving is not advisable for getting around Oxford, especially in the centre, but thankfully there is a generally excellent bus service and many taxis.