Given how many people you’re likely to meet in your first few weeks at Oxford, don’t be surprised if you make a romantic connection with someone or other. Since most of us don’t know the city too well when we first get to uni, here are the top romantic places to suggest in order to seem like you’re in the know. (And even if you don’t meet anyone immediately, or don’t want to date at all, all these spots are lovely to go to with friends or even on your own!)
Westgate Roof Terrace
Let’s start with the jewel in the crown of Oxford date spots. People suggest it so often (both for dates and for friend groups meals) that you might be bored with it by second year, but the roof of the ubiquitous shopping centre is popular for a reason — the views towards Carfax and Tom Tower are unbeatable, and there’s a good variety of mid-range restaurants and cocktail bars (I may be biased, but my first date with my partner was at the Asian-American fusion Victor’s). If you’re someone who needs an ‘activity’ to do whilst on a date or hanging out with friends, there’s always the Curzon cinema or even the Escape Room.
The most cliched line in Oxford dating is “let’s go for a coffee”, so it’s worth having a good list of favourite coffee shops to hand. I recommend ditching Pret—Londoners have one on every street back home, and non-Londoners will have been indoctrinated through the subscription scheme—and showing your date that your taste isn’t quite so basic. The Missing Bean, the Art Cafe on Little Clarendon Street, and the Oxford Wine Cafe (which serves both wine and coffee) are a few to get you started, but as you settle into a study/post-lecture coffee routine, you’ll probably find some of your own niche favourites.
Every couple I know at Oxford has celebrated some birthday or anniversary at Pierre Victoire, and it will become obvious why it’s everyone’s go-to hidden gem. Nestled in a cosy enclave on Little Clarendon Street, the French cult favourite has everything you might expect from a romantic date in the movies—candles, dimmed lighting, piano music, and fondue for dessert. And at under £30 for a two-course meal, it isn’t too unhealthy for the budget either.
Museums and gardens
It’s notoriously hard during the Oxford term to find time for culture, even though as students we’re all entitled to free entry to all the University museums and gardens. With this in mind, if you’re tired of going for coffee, ask your date to marvel with you at the Ashmolean Cast Gallery (even if they aren’t a classicist, but especially if they are), or to geek out at a literary exhibition at the Bodleian Libraries (recent ones include ‘Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth’ and ‘Adventures in Translation’). If museums aren’t your thing, a stroll in the Botanic Gardens is a great way to get back to nature with a loved one, without the aimlessness of walking in a park.
You’ll probably become more familiar with Port Meadow, the stretch of land beside the Thames a little north-west of the city centre, as a place to picnic and swim in the summer. However, the sense of escaping from normal uni life into the countryside, the winding paths along the riverbanks, and the occasional company of horses makes for a blissful date, and you can be rewarded at the end of your stroll at pubs such as The Perch and The Medley.
If you want something more ‘date-like’ than a coffee shop, but less formal than a museum or restaurant, this market on the edge of Jericho might be your best bet. It has a dizzying assortment of street food stalls featuring cuisines from around the world (make it a challenge to try every single one before you graduate!), and a rotation of antiques and vintage clothing on sale for you and your date to browse. If you’d rather have a sit-down meal after all that shopping, fortunately there are several homely, romantic-yet-casual spots nearby—Gino’s Italian and Shin Ramen are particular favourites.
Image credit: Kin Mun Lee via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).