What I love about it
The university. All those fresh-faced students with their revision notes tucked under their arms. Bicycles. Gargoyles. Pipe-smoking dons in tweeds. Crowded bookshops. The buzz of intellectual excitement. History in miniature.
Physically, it is a beautiful city, with a compact centre, crammed with fine, old buildings, and some interesting urban villages, such as Jericho. As a major university town, it boasts lively nightlife, some great museums, plenty of good performing arts and a wealth of reasonably priced restaurants.
It is within commuting distance of London, just, but also close to the more rustic delights of the Cotswolds. You can chill out anywhere from Starbucks to the dreamy riverside pubs which are such a quintessential feature of Oxford. And, even if you get drunk and go on a rampage through the city centre, you always feel, subconsciously, that you will be nicked by Inspector Morse in a red Jag. This city has class.
The typical Oxford resident is intellectually over-endowed, a touch smug and leans towards the Liberal Democrats. If you do not recycle down to your last loo-roll, you are a social pariah. But there is a reasonable social mix, with a good balance between Town and Gown. East Oxford is a real cosmopolitan melting-pot, the most vibrant part of the city. Major employers, apart from the university, include Oxfam, BMW and the publishers Blackwell.
Best for nightlife
Although the younger set gravitates towards the city centre, particularly at the weekends, there are other hot-and-happening Oxford enclaves, notably Jericho, where there is an art-house cinema and some lively bars and restaurants. East Oxford, particularly the bottom of the Cowley Road, on the other side of Magdalen Bridge, is also buzzing in the evening, with some louche bars and a bewildering variety of ethnic eateries.
The most elegant – and expensive – residential streets in the city are in central north Oxford, where there are plenty of imposing, red-brick, Victorian properties with rambling gardens. Iffley, a quiet village to the east of the city centre, also has its admirers, as does nearby Iffley Fields, a bohemian enclave by the river. Boar’s Hill, just west of Oxford, boasts some huge detached houses with fine views across the city. Another good option is Horspath, a pretty, largely unspoiled village on the London side of the city.
Oxford offers the cultural life of a big city, but is built on the scale of a small market town. You can get around the city centre by bicycle or on foot. Some of the residential streets are also lovely, particularly in autumn.