Oxford Visitors' Guide: Non-Tripadvisor Top Ten Tips

As the Entrepreneurial Leaders Programme is drawing near, this year from August 14th – 20th, I reflected on some of the unique aspects of Oxford, the university, and the town.

The university is generally ranked among the top handful of universities in the world. Apart from academic credentials, the University of Oxford is situated in likely the world’s most charming, unique, and storied university town. There is history and tradition around every corner—something that can’t be purchased or contrived. 

Here is “Part I” of a list of interesting things about Oxford from a Vancouver/Canadian/North American perspective that likely won't appear on Tripadvisor. In this post, I focus on the environment and the town. 

  1. Oxford is in its own time zone. Christ Church Cathedral services begin five minutes later than “normal” time (Greenwich Mean Time), they explain because the Cathedral still keeps the old Oxford Time which is five minutes west of Greenwich.  Thus 6 p.m. Oxford time is 6:05 p.m.
  2. Oxford gets about 250 days of rain per year. Like Vancouver, there are three types of weather: has rained, is raining, or is about to rain.
  3. Bicycles are a widely used and practical means of transportation—and for sport while navigating among pedestrians. Cars are less appealing as there is generally a lack of parking and roads are congested. In Canada, by contrast, you use a car to go a few blocks for an errand.
  4. Everything in the UK seems to have a story—and that story is valued. People seem to treasure the past and are happy to share it. This could be a 1,000-year-old church or a 300-year-old pub. In Vancouver, by contrast, a 100 year-old building is old.
  5. Sometimes history is uncovered in fortuitous ways. For example, the life-size portrait of Queen Elizabeth I in the Jesus College dining hall—done in the late 1500s—was rediscovered after it had been painted over and relocated to an obscure corner of the College. It took two years of meticulous restoration to bring it to its former glory.
  6. Tipping in the UK appears to be optional—or maybe it was just me. I tipped a taxi driver and he seemed somewhere between confused and surprised, or maybe he thought I didn’t know my pence from my pounds. In restaurants, the credit card machine generally isn’t programmed to ask you if you want to leave a tip before paying for a meal.
  7. Value Added Tax (VAT) is included in the price of the meal. This is an odd experience when the cost of what you ordered ends up being the total cost of the meal! In Canada, taxes are added to the total.
  8. Every reader needs to trot down to the Eagle & Child pub where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and “the Inklings” lubricated their thoughts by consuming a pint or three. The English are known for law and order, and not their cuisine, so stick with the safe pub grub of fish and chips and meat pie. Very tasty, as was the pale ale.
  9. There is no shortage of coffee shops from Starbucks to Nero to Costa. They all have the common denominator of resembling study halls, with students consuming endless hours of wi-fi and occupying prized real estate—and all for free, or at least for the price of a small coffee.
  10. Going to a movie theatre is different.  In Oxford, the two movie theatres I went to were modest rooms with about 100 seats.  The most interesting dynamic was the popcorn. In Canada and the US, theatres seem to survive as palaces and purveyors of popcorn.  Huge machines, mountains of freshly popped corn, and the smell of butter wafting through the air.  In Oxford, popcorn was subdued with no telltale smell, likely made the week before, small kernels, and only available in sweet or salty.
Categories: Oxford