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Guide to Oxford

Oxford, affectionately known as the 'City of Dreaming Spires', is the kind of city that's perfect for a spa trip - the eclectic mix of established history and modern style gives this famous university city a place in the hearts of UK tourists and visitors from abroad, keen to mop up a bit of classic British culture.

Oxford has been home to scholars and even royalty for well over 800 years and it's evolved over that time to become a bustling cosmopolitan city. There are plenty of places to see on your travels - like the UKs biggest library, the Bodleian, which has to be seen to be believed - with 'Europe's most beautiful room', and more than nine million printed items.

Or there's the Divinity School, with its impressive English Gothic architecture; Christ Church College; with its Harry Potteresque Great Hall which was the inspiration for Hogwarts Hall, or Magdalen, with an impressive tower that dominates the High Street.

The Radcliffe Camera is probably one of the most-recognisable Oxford landmarks, and it's now part of the Bodleian Library. If you want to visit the Camera, you'll have to see it as part of a guided tour of the Bodleian Library.

Head out into the nearby Cotswolds and you can wander the beautiful gardens of Blenheim Palace - one of the most impressive baroque houses in the country. Check out the 'Secret Garden', the Italian Garden, the Water Terraces, Rose Garden and Grand Cascade. Then take a ride on the miniature train across to the Palace and have a guided tour.



Spa Breaks in Oxford

  • If you want to find a great hotel to have a spa break in, spend some time at the Spirit Health Club in the Holiday Inn at Oxford. The spa has everything you'd want from a pampering break, with a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna and a treatment list that includes Dermalogica, Sun Laboratories and Jessica.

  • For serious style and luxury, the go-to hotel is the Oxford Belfry. You'll find this magnificent hotel just south of the city, close to the picturesque town of Thame, set into an impressive 17 acres of countryside. The spa likes to be a little different, and even has its very own range of exclusive beauty products on offer to guarantee you a sumptuous spa treatment. For lazing around there's a relaxation room, pools and even a bar; and a well-equipped gym if you want to work up an appetite for some scrumptious hotel food...

  • The Spa at Witney Lakes Golf Resort is just 12 miles from the centre of Oxford and seven miles from Burford, the' gateway to the Cotswolds'. The treatment menu offers a deliciously indulgent selection of top-class Elemis products and there are plenty of places to relax in; indoors and out. The pretty lakeside setting also boasts a golf club and driving range, and a trendy bistro to replenish your energy after a workout in the gym.

  • The Forest of Wellbeing Spa at the Bicester Hotel Golf and Spa is worth the 20 minute drive from Oxford, through some beautiful countryside. The luxurious spa includes a 20 metre swimming pool, an invigorating hydro-spa and Jacuzzi, plus a sauna, steam room and experience showers. For some pamper-time there are eight treatment rooms with a selection of Elemis treatments, Jessica Nails and Lava Shells to experience. You can also chill in the spa's private garden complete with a hot tub...blissful.


Restaurants

If you're looking for somewhere to eat in Oxford, there's absolutely no chance of being disappointed. All tastes and budgets are catered for across the city, from little cafes and tea rooms to fine dining, big chains and ethnic specialities. High street chains, independent restaurants, good quality pubs and bars are all there to tempt you in for some good food.

  • Jamie Oliver loves all things Italian; he's opened Jamie's Italian restaurants all over the UK, including the first one which opened in Oxford in 2008. The menu is designed around fresh, quality ingredients and dishes that can be quickly produced, and if you're a fan of Mr Oliver it's a great place to start.
    Address: 24-26 George Street, Oxford, OX1 2AE
    Tel: 01865 838383

  • Set into an ancient 15th century building, you'll find modern Oriental dishes on the menu at Shanghai 30's all based on both classic and contemporary cuisine from Shanghai as well as Peking and Canton. The menu is changed every season to include fresh local produce and they are proudly MSG-free!
    Address: 82 Saint Aldate's, Oxford OX1 1R
    Tel: 01865 242 230

  • If you're looking for an Oxford dining institution, head to Gees the restaurant. Set in a classy Victorian conservatory that houses its own collection of Gary Hume paintings, Gees is known for its modern European style food and also its eclectic wine list. It's also in a great central location. Try it if you're around on a Sunday, as there's a traditional Sunday lunch and live Jazz in the evening, or you can go for a pre-theatre supper on weeknights.
    Address: 61 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6PE
    Tel: 01865 553 540

  • Chutney's is the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in Oxford city centre. It's well known for its customer service, attention to detail and relaxed ambience as well as a scrumptious menu based around fresh seasonal ingredients from all corners of South East Asia. Chutney's specialises in dishes from the sub-continent and veggie options are well catered for too. Popular with celebs, the restaurant has entertained some well-known visitors in the past such as Bill Clinton.
    Address: 36. St Michael's Street, Oxford OX1 2EB
    Tel: 01865 724 241


  • Hotel food doesn't get much posher than the Malmaison. If you pop into this hotel restaurant you'll find beautifully presented British classic dishes, all excellent quality and even better, generous portion sizes! The menu is complemented by a fabulous wine and Champagne list, plus a bar serving cocktails.
    Address: 3 New Road, Oxford OX1 1AY
    Tel: 01865 268 400

  • One of the places to be seen in is the fashionable Quod restaurant on the High Street. The Georgian building was once home to a big bank, and is impressive in itself, but the Italian inspired food is to die for and what's more it's also reasonably priced and great quality. No wonder it's so popular.
    Address: 92-94 High St, Oxford OX1 4BJ
    Tel: 01865 202 505

  • If you're a fan of Thai food, don't miss out on the delicious menus at The Bangkok House. It's well known and very popular for its authentic Thai dishes, all served up in a relaxed setting amid the undeniably stunning backdrop of the Bangkok House with its beautifully carved furniture.
    Address: 42A Hythe Bridge Street, Oxford OX1 2EP
    Tel: 01865 200 705

  • History fans should seek out the Grand Cafe, which is on the site of the first ever coffee house in England (according to Samuel Pepy's diary) Now something of an Oxford institution, it serves lunches, cream teas and high teas during the day, and at night the marble-pillared, gold-leafed building is full to the brim with cocktail lovers enjoying half price promotions.
    Address: 84 High Street, Oxford OX1 4BG
    Tel: 01865 204 463


  • Fire and Stone offers Italian food lovers a different type of pizza experience, with pizzas and salads featuring unusual toppings inspired by the different the continents. The building is stunning and split over two levels, with a gigantic mirror clad oven on the staircase.
    Address: Threeways House, 28-38 Threeways House, Oxford OX1 2BJ
    Tel: 0844 371 2550

  • The award-winning Big Bang restaurant is perfect for post-sightseeing, being just a few minutes' walk from the city centre. It does lunch, dinner, and pre-theatre food with aplomb and there's even jazz to accompany. The Big Bang also prides itself on being ethical, and sources all of its ingredients from suppliers 20 miles away or less. Recent awards include Best Rural Retailer in the South of England and Finest Sausage and Mash in Britain!
    Address: 124 Walton St, Oxford OX2 6AH
    Tel: 01865 511 441


Nightlife

You would expect a city with a massive student population to have a half decent nightlife; and Oxford doesn't disappoint. From cosy pubs with student feels to trendy bars and clubs, you'll always find something to keep you entertained.

  • The Duke of Cambridge is Oxford's best known cocktail bar and enjoys a reputation as one of the best places to go if you're looking for an old favourite or something new and different. In the Bohemian Jericho district of the city, it's relaxed and chilled on weeknights and ramps things up at the weekend to live up to its super-cool reputation.

  • Roppongi is right in the heart of the city and gives you a chance to relax in the lounge or dance the night away in the club. Describing itself as a playground for the elite, it's certainly upmarket and stylish but tries not to be too pretentious. Walking down the golden stairwell into the club takes you into a place with an electric atmosphere; if you're ready for a cool night out at the place to be seen...

  • The House cocktail bar in Wheatsheaf Yard, just off the High Street, is sophisticated, young and trendy and likes to be a little bit different with its games room, private terrace and Philipe Stark sofas. It's a relatively recent addition to Oxford's nightlife but has already been featured in Vogue, and mentioned in Elle magazine's Top 25 Bars of 2010.

  • The newest bar on Park End Street, Anuba offers great quality drinks in a sexy venue. You can relax there in the early evening, or spend late nights there with the resident DJ mixing funky house and dance tracks. Anuba also gives you fast track access to the Bridge Nightclub where you'll find three dance floors catering for all tastes. The lounge bar is more sophisticated and a great place to relax away from the dance floor...

  • Lava Ignite gives clubbers state of the art experience with its top of the range sound and lighting, top DJs and three separate rooms, four bars and a chill out lounge. One of the largest and best-loved venues in Oxford, it attracts thousands of dedicated followers week after week.

  • The Thirst Bar is an independent cocktail bar in central Oxford. There's a resident DJ overlooking the dance floor, lots of seating and a VIP area, outside terrace for those balmy nights, and an eclectic mix of music from Thursday to Saturday nights. In the summer you can even catch the bar's resident saxophone player on a Sunday night.

  • The Turf Tavern is affectionately known for giving an 'education in intoxication' to past and present students. Accessed via a narrow, winding passageway, it has history that goes back as far as the 14th century, and the pub specialises in Real Ales- a proper traditional pub, none of that trendy wine bar stuff in here!

  • The Glee Club is where to head for live music and comedy, touring acts and even big names trying out new material. With a capacity of just 200 it's certainly an intimate venue, but with a surprising variety of entertainment; comedy acts, singer-songwriters, jazz, blues and soul, and world music. Food is available at some shows, but it's best to check beforehand.

  • Music lovers can also travel out to The O2 Academy - a 15 minute taxi or car drive from the city centre. You can try out a Propaganda/Room 101 indie night or opt for big name live music and comedy acts.


Shopping

Shopping is well-catered for in Oxford, from cute boutiques to malls full of high street names. Heading out of the city you can also make the most of the discount retail village at Bicester. You won't have any trouble spending your hard-earned pennies in this city...

  • Stop off at the famous The Oxford Covered Market; it's been open since 1774 and has a unique atmosphere. The market is a riot of sights, sounds and smells with an array of traders selling fresh fruit and vegetables, fine foods, flowers, shoes, watches and jewellery, clothes, gifts, and more.

  • The High Street, in the centre of Oxford, is a vibrant shopping street that's home to some of Oxford's best jewellers , fashion outlets, and antique shops as well as the Oxford University shop and St Mary's church. The cobbled streets and alleyways and stunning architecture make it unmissable for retail therapy or to wander for the sake of it; and there are some excellent restaurants here too.

  • Cowley Road and St Clements are just five minutes from Magdalen Bridge, at the bottom of the High Street. A multi cultural area, you'll find the hub of the Oxford music scene here along with some quirky shops and boutiques.

  • For major brands head off to Westgate Shopping Centre; it's in the perfect place close to the main historic attractions of the city, close to Bonn Square and adjacent to the public library.

  • Bicester Shopping Village is so upmarket that it even has its own magazine! Home to more than 130 super trendy boutiques, and a plethora of designer labels including Anya Hindmarch, DKNY and Salvatore Ferragamo it's a fantastic place to shop even before you factor in the fabulous discounts of up to 60 per cent. It's set in pretty boulevards, so that you can wander at leisure and then stop off for a bite to eat at one of the eateries in the Village.


OXFORD'S TOP THREE SPAS

  1. The spa at the Macdonald Randolph Hotel is all lantern-lit walkways and subtle music, and it's a total haven away from it all in the centre of Oxford. Part of an impressive five-star hotel that was built in 1864, not only is the spa amazing but the food has won AA rosettes too. It's really close to the Ashmolean Museum and the universities, and an ideal place to stay on a tourist break. There are four treatment rooms and a whole list of Decleor and other professional spa treatments available in-spa , plus a fabulous thermal suite including a sensation shower and ice fountain.
  2. The Tranquility Spa at Virgin Active Oxfordshire Health and Racquets Club is perfect for a quick, yet indulgent spa day, with its mix of energetic gym and swim options, a fitness studio for yoga, Pilates, body pump and more and a gorgeous spa to chill out in afterwards (or instead). There are plenty of options to tempt you in the spa - ESPA, CACI, Jessica Nails and St Tropez tanning are all there for you to indulge in...
  3. Just outside the city you'll find the Pure Indulgence day spa; with an extensive spa menu that features Elemis, Bare Minerals, Fake Bake tanning and OPI as well as a great selection of holistic therapies like reflexology, Indian head massage, Hopi ear candling and aroma stone massage. To top it off there’s a lovely relaxation room to chill out before and after a treatment. It's just four miles from the city centre, perfect for a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of the tourist areas.

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