Bicycles and quiet college quadrangles are one side to Oxford, but to understand this city of radicals and heretics, you also have to explore its canals, pubs and dungeons.
Oxford University dominates the architecture of this city and no visit would be complete without exploring Magdalen College (look out for purple fritillary flowers in spring); Christ Church College and the imposing Balliol College, founded in 1263. From Balliol, it’s a short walk to the domed Radcliffe Camera and neighbouring University Church of St Mary the Virgin, which has the perfect tower for viewing the historic quarter. Pass under Hertford Bridge – known as the Bridge of Sighs as it evokes the walkway in Venice of the same name – on your way to a concert at the Sheldonian Theatre on Broad Street. Or, if you're more of a cinema buff, go east to the independent Ultimate Picture Palace off Cowley Road, with its neoclassical facade. Oxford is a city of waterways as much as “dreaming spires” and DIY punting down the River Cherwell is a must – but prepare to go in circles for the first 20 minutes. For a more relaxing trip along the water, stroll north from Hythe Bridge Street beside the Oxford Canal to the trendy Jericho district and stop for food on Little Clarendon Street (George & Davis serves home-made ice cream) or around the corner at the Eagle and Child pub – the former hangout of writers CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. For a less academic slice of history, head to Oxford Castle and Prison, with its motte-and-bailey mound and squalid jail cells that were used until the 1990s. There's more grim history at the Martyrs’ Memorial, built to remember three protestant clergymen burned at the stake in the 1500s. Nearby is the Ashmolean museum, which has a bamboozling collection of art and archaeology (plus afternoon tea), if you can take any more culture. If not, head to the airy, modern Westgate centre to shop and then drop with a coffee. Read on to get under the skin of this many-sided city.