Dangers & Annoyances
Oxford is generally a safe town, but crime does exist.
- Central Oxford is so compact that even if you walk everywhere, there’s no real risk of wandering into unsafe areas.
- Take care if you’re out late in the city centre, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when the pubs and clubs are emptying; ongoing ‘town versus gown’ tensions can provoke confrontations.
- Crowded pubs provide notorious opportunities for bag-snatchers.
There are no specific discount cards for Oxford visitors, but if you have a student identity card of some kind you'll be able to benefit from reduced rates at many local attractions and businesses.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|England (and UK) country code||44|
|International access code||00|
|Emergency (police, fire, ambulance)||999 (or 112)|
- Manners Good manners are considered important in most situations. When asking directions, ‘Excuse me, can you tell me the way to…’ is better than ‘Hey, where’s…'
- College names Some Oxford colleges are always referred to by their full names, while others are not. Thus it’s always ‘Christ Church’ rather than ‘Christ Church College’, but never ‘New’ instead of ‘New College’. Try to follow local practice.
- Queues In England, queuing (‘standing in line’) is sacrosanct, whether to board a bus, buy tickets at a kiosk or enter the gates of an attraction. Any attempt to 'jump the queue' will result in an outburst of tut-tutting and hard stares.
- Brexit Although the UK's vote to leave the European Union in 2016 was close at 52% to leave, more than 70% of voters in Oxford wanted to stay in the EU. By all means talk about it, but be prepared for things to get heated.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
Although Oxford is, like most English cities these days, a generally tolerant place for LGBTIQ travellers, it has a surprisingly small gay scene. Restaurants, nightspots and accommodation providers are very unlikely to have an issue with your sexuality, but you might still find pockets of homophobic hostility elsewhere.
Resources include the following:
Gay Oxford (www.gayoxford.co.uk) A limited guide to Oxford’s gay nightlife.
LGBT+ Oxford (www.lgbtoxon.uk) Website with links to local community resources and events.
Pink Times Oxford (www.facebook.com/PinkTimesOxford) Twice-yearly magazine covering gay life in Oxfordshire.
Gay Times (www.gaytimes.co.uk)
Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline (www.switchboard.lgbt; 0300 330 0630)
Although everyone in England receives free emergency medical treatment, regardless of nationality, travel insurance is still highly recommended. It usually covers medical and dental consultation and treatment at private clinics, which can be quicker than NHS places – as well as the cost of any emergency flights – plus all the usual stuff like loss of baggage.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
- 3G and 4G mobile broadband coverage is good in Oxford, but beware potentially high charges for data roaming – check with your mobile/cell-phone provider before travelling.
- All city hotels, B&Bs and hostels, and most cafes and coffee shops, have wi-fi access, usually free. This widespread access means internet cafes are scarce.
- Oxford County Library, on Queensgate, has free wi-fi and internet access (30 minutes maximum if busy), plus sockets for charging devices.
ATMs can be found throughout the city, and credit cards are widely accepted.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
ATMs (locally called 'cash machines') are common in Oxford. Most are free to use (look for the 'free cash' sign, but some, inside shops for example, charge a small fee for cash withdrawals. If you're not from the UK, your home bank will likely charge you for withdrawing money overseas.
Watch out for tampered ATMs; one ruse by scammers is to attach a card-reader or minicamera.
The currency of Britain is the pound sterling (£). Paper money (notes) comes in £5, £10, £20 and £50 denominations. Some shops don't accept £50 notes because fakes circulate.
Other currencies are very rarely accepted, but enterprising gift shops occasionally take euros and US dollars.
Credit & Debit Cards
Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted, except at some smaller B&Bs, which take cash or cheque only. Other credit cards, including Amex, are not so widely accepted. Most businesses will assume that your card is 'Chip and PIN' enabled (using a PIN instead of signing). If it isn’t, you should be able to sign instead, but some places may not accept your card. Many businesses – and local buses – allow and even encourage customers to use ‘contactless’ card payments rather than cash for small purchases.
- Restaurants Around 10% in restaurants and cafes with table service, 15% at smarter restaurants. Tips may be added to your bill as a 'service charge' – it's not compulsory to pay.
- Pubs & Bars Not expected if you order drinks (or food) and pay at the bar; usually 10% if you order at the table and your meal is brought to you.
- Taxis Usually 10%, or rounded up to the nearest pound.
Opening hours for sights and activities often vary throughout the year. Many operate shorter hours from October to March; some shut down altogether during the winter.
- Banks 9.30am to 4pm or 5pm Monday to Friday; possibly 9.30am to 1pm Saturday.
- Pubs and bars Noon to 11pm Monday to Saturday (some till midnight or up to 3am Friday and Saturday), 12.30pm to 11pm Sunday.
- Shops 9am to 5.30pm or 6pm Monday to Saturday, normally 11am to 5pm Sunday.
- Restaurants Lunch: noon to 2.30pm or 3pm; dinner: 6pm to 9pm or 10pm.
All colleges are liable to be closed to visitors for special events, or simply at the whim of the all-powerful porters who guard their gates. Several colleges only allow visitors for two or three hours in the afternoon.
Britain's postal services are generally reliable and efficient. Oxford's main post office is in the city centre. For information on other locations, and on postal rates, visit www.postoffice.co.uk.
Oxford observes the same holidays as the rest of England:
New Year's Day 1 January
Easter March/April (Good Friday to Easter Monday inclusive)
May Day First Monday in May
Spring Bank Holiday Last Monday in May
Summer Bank Holiday Last Monday in August
Christmas Day 25 December
Boxing Day 26 December
If a public holiday falls on a weekend, the nearest Monday is usually taken instead. Most businesses and banks close on official public holidays (hence the quaint term 'bank holiday'). On public holidays, some small museums and places of interest close, but larger attractions have their busiest times. If a place closes on Sunday, it'll probably be shut on bank holidays as well.
Virtually everything – attractions, shops, banks, offices – closes on Christmas Day, although pubs are open at lunchtime. There's usually no public transport on Christmas Day, and no or only a very minimal service on Boxing Day.
- Smoking Forbidden by law in all enclosed public places in England. Most pubs have a smoking area outside. Vaping is a grey area – ask or look out for signs.
Taxes & Refunds
Value-added tax (VAT), a sales tax that’s charged on most purchases at 20%, is always included in quoted prices. At time of writing, non-EU residents can reclaim the VAT on certain purchased goods; see www.gov.uk/tax-on-shopping/taxfree-shopping for further details.
|International access code||00|
The UK uses the GSM 900/1800 network, which covers the rest of Europe, Australia and New Zealand, but isn't compatible with the North American GSM 1900. Most modern mobiles can function on both networks; check before you travel.
At time of writing, an EU agreement means that Europeans visiting the UK don't face roaming charges. Brexit might change this, so check before you leave.
Other international roaming charges can be prohibitively high, and you'll probably find it cheaper to get a UK number. Do this by buying a SIM card (from £5 including calling credit) and putting it in your phone. Your phone may be locked to your home network, so you'll have to either get it unlocked, or buy a cheap pay-as-you-go phone along with your SIM card (from £10 including calling credit). Pay-as-you-go phones can be recharged by buying vouchers from shops.
Greenwich Mean Time (UTC); in summer, British Summer Time (GMT+1).
Oxford's public toilets are generally clean and modern. Museums, bigger stores and the railway station also have facilities. Most public toilets are free, some charge a small fee (from 20p to 50p). Pubs and restaurants tend to stipulate that their toilets are for customers only.
Tourist Office Covers the whole of Oxfordshire. Sells Oxford guidebooks, makes reservations for local accommodation and walking tours, and sells tickets for events and attractions.
Travel with Children
With its small size and relaxed atmosphere, Oxford is an easy place to travel with kids. There are several great family-friendly museums, and although the colleges might seem a bit dry and serious to children, several have the huge advantage of having featured in the Harry Potter movies.
The Top Attractions
Story Museum Story-telling sessions honouring children’s books from around the world, especially Oxford’s own Alice in Wonderland.
Pitt Rivers Museum Older children will love the bizarre and eye-popping oddities in this eccentric museum.
Oxford University Museum of Natural History Watch your kids make a beeline for the brontosaurus and the other dentally over-privileged dinosaurs.
Oxford Castle and Prison Few kids can resist an ancient castle, especially one with dungeon prison cells too.
Bill Spectre’s Oxford Ghost Trail These ghost tours are an after-dark treat, assuming your children don’t mind being spooked.
Thirsty Meeples Stop for a coffee in Oxford’s board-games cafe, and your kids won’t want to leave.
The Harry Potter Connection
Bodleian Library Duke Humfrey’s Library doubled as Hogwarts’ library, while the Divinity School served as its infirmary.
Christ Church The magnificent Great Hall, lined with portraits, was re-created to become Hogwarts’ dining room.
New College Beneath the oak tree in the 15th-century cloisters, Draco Malfoy was turned into a ferret.
Footprints Tours To learn the full story of Harry Potter and Oxford, take a walking tour.
Christ Church Lewis Carroll lived on one side of Tom Quad, Alice Liddell on the other.
Salter Bros Carroll took Alice on their fateful Thames river trip in a rowing boat rented here.
Godstow Nunnery And this is where they stopped for a picnic, and Carroll told his tale.
Alice’s Shop The very shop from Through the Looking-Glass, sadly no longer run by a bespectacled sheep.
Alice’s Day Activities and events to celebrate Alice’s birthday, and the day when her Wonderland adventures unfolded.
Oxford University Museum of Natural History Home to the celebrated Dodo, and all sorts of other Alice-related creatures.
Travellers with Disabilities
All new buildings have wheelchair access, and many hotels, restaurants and sights in grand older buildings have lifts, ramps and other facilities. However, some hotels, B&Bs, restaurants and attractions in smaller historic properties have proved harder to adapt.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Buses & Trains
All Oxford's city buses are wheelchair-accessible, and Oxford Cars offers taxis that can accommodate wheelchairs on demand.
For long-distance travel, coaches may present problems. The main operator, National Express, has wheelchair-friendly coaches on many routes. For information about access, ring 0371 781 8181.
Intercity trains have more room and better facilities; station staff will be happy to help. A Disabled Person’s Railcard (www.disabledpersons-railcard.co.uk) costs £20 and gets 33% off most train fares for you and a friend.
Accessible Oxford Guide (www.experienceoxfordshire.org) A link on the tourist office’s homepage (under ‘Plan Your Trip’) connects to this comprehensive, downloadable 72-page guide to Oxford for disabled travellers.
Shopmobility (www.westgateoxford.co.uk) The Westgate Shopping Centre supplies free wheelchairs and scooters from a base in its car park, which can be used throughout the city centre.
Disability Rights UK (www.disabilityrightsuk.org) Sells a Holiday Guide and a key for use in public disabled toilets.
Tourism For All (www.tourismforall.org.uk) Provides personalised information for disabled travellers. Annual fee of £25 for UK residents; £40 for those from overseas.
Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action (www.ocva.org.uk) connects would-be volunteers with organisations in need, and runs a monthly drop-in stall in the Westgate Centre if you’d like to discuss possibilities.