Discovering Oxford – Hidden Gems

Photograph courtesy of RV Balleza


By Angela Youngman

Begin by strolling down down Headington High Street in Oxford.  Look upwards to see something very unexpected – a giant shark plunging head downwards into a roof.

The Headington Shark has become a local landmark.  It was created by owner of the house Bill Heine and sculptor John Buckle. It was created in secret, and erected without planning permission to the shock of many on 9th August 1986. The installation was an opposition comment on military intervention and war. Opposition to bombing, and the destruction of people’s homes and lives.  The shark was erected on 9th August to also coincide with the anniversary of the dropping of the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

While in Headington, meander over to the Holy Trinity Church.  A quiet grave in the churchyard marks the last resting place of one of the most iconic children’s authors who was also an Oxford don.  Author of the enchanting Chronicles of Narnia, C.S Lewis lived and worked for much of his life in Oxford, before finally retiring to Headington. Head into the church and take a look at the beautiful stained glass window near the altar.  Created in his honour, it depicts some of the most magical moments from the Narnia stories especially beautiful glass castles and snow covered landscapes alongside the Pevensey children and the myriad of fantastical creatures.

Equally colourful and dramatic are the stunning murals at adorn the Cowley Road area of Oxford.  Quirky and different, these murals can be found on the exterior of several buildings for example on Stockmore Street, there is an eye catching trompe l’oeil scene involving a bridge across a river, leading to a serene temple set against the sun at the close of day. Other murals to be seen elsewhere in the area include psychedelic and dream like scenes, colourful abstracts and even horses galloping while faces appear out of the smoke emerging from a steam locomotive. 

Take a look in the Oxford Bead Shop on Wilkins Road, Cowley and book one of their workshops.  Amy Shuman is a trained jeweller and offers some unusual craft opportunities. Among the potential workshops available are opportunities to learn enamelling, discover the potential of precious metal clay, take a course in silversmithing, work with beads and knotting, sea glass or ceramic jewellery.   For something really different, you can even learn to make your own wedding ring. 

Hidden Gems

  • The Bear Inn - The Oldest Pub in Oxford

    The Bear is the oldest pub in Oxford, dating from 1242. It is situated just off High Street and is not only popular with students but also locals. The Bear is probably most famous for its odd and extensive collection of ties - dating back to the early 1900s, representing clubs in the Oxford area and more recently from around the world.

  • The Jam Factory

    Once home to Frank Coopers Marmalade, the Jame factory combines, Food, drink and art in a wonderfully cavernous space. Playing host to various artistic groups, with regularly changing exhibitions throughout the year and an exciting program of events and classes.
    The Jam Factory is known as one of the city’s most intriguing contemporary art space.

  • Orinoco Scrapstore

    With a mission to banish boredom, Orinoco Scrapstore is a veritable treasure trove of stuff. They take unwanted items and sell them for tiny prices. You can expect to find art and craft materials, cloth and wool, tools for arts, crafts, DIY and gardening and loads more to inspire you. Whatever your budget there’s something for you

Collection of Ties at The Bear
The Jam Factory

There are surprises in store

Blackwells Books has long been a key place to buy books – but look more closely when you go in since you are entering world record history.  Blackwell’s Norrington Room holds a Guinness World Record reflecting its sheer size.  With over three miles of shelving, it is the largest single room selling books anywhere in the world.  Blackwells has been trading in Oxford since 1879, and has become the biggest academic and specialist bookseller in the UK.  This massive store is far removed from its origins  when it opened in Oxford with just enough space to fit three people inside at any one point and stock collected by owner Benjamin Henry Blackwell. Instantly successful, Blackwells grew quickly taking over more and more space from neighbouring shops. 

Feeling creative?   Take a look at the Oxford Weaving studios workshops listed on Based in Jericho, weaver and textile designer Cassandra Sabo holds regular workshops suitable for novices and those with some knowledge at her studio.  Booking is essential, as these workshops are very popular, with topics including Textile arts, circular weaving, or creating contemporary style scarves and cushions.  Entertaining and informative, it is a great way to learn a new skill.  

How about exploring Oxford in an alternative dimension?  Book an outdoor game session with Escape Hunt.  A short briefing sets you up with an IPad and an action pack, before heading out on a two kilometre walk around the city with just ninety minutes to save humanity from a global catastrophe caused by artificial intelligence going rogue.  As Time Cops, you are communicating across time to save the future from the past undertaking challenges and trying to find solutions in time.  

Not far from Nuffield College in Gloucester Green Market is a popular hang out for anyone who wants to socialise, relax and play a board game or two. This is the venue for Thirsty Meeples, which has collection of over 2,600 board games available to play.  Drop in and join in a game.  If visiting as a group you can book a table.  There is a café on site, so you can enjoy snacks, coffee and beer while playing.  Evenings can often see an extra special activity underway, for example it might include the opportunity to risk health and sanity in adventures with monsters and forbidden rituals within Arkham Horror, or you might try to master the net.  Open gaming evenings are a great way to make some new friends. 

Fairs & Markets

  • Oxfordshire Artweeks:
    Artists’ open studios and pop-up exhibitions

    This event will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this spring, making it the UK’s oldest event of its kind. This is your chance to browse and purchase stunning works of art from paintings and textiles through to woodworking, ceramics, and jewellery in some of the most historic buildings across Oxfordshire. Across three weeks from 7th May venues such as pop-up galleries, studios, stunning gardens, churches, and historic barns will be opening their doors to the public with exhibitions that are completely free of charge

  • Henley Décor Fair

    This year’s Henley Décor Fair will take place from May 26th until the 29th at the stunning riverside location of the Royal Regatta Course. The event is known internationally for its array of interior stalls, and this year there will be more than 150 antique traders, art stands, architectural salvage stalls, and of course the popular live music, bars, and gastro food tents.

This theatre, arthouse cinema, concert hall and gallery aims to bring a unique array of events to the Chipping Norton community, and for a little theatre it is certainly very popular.

  • The Rod Stewart Songbook
    27 May 2022

    Pete McCall performs The Rod Stewart Songbook along with his own live band. Pete’s voice is without doubt the closest to the great man’s that there is.

Oxford Playhouse

Known as the theatre for everyone, with live performances, dance, comedy and drama, the Oxford Playhouse is championing creativity from the heart of oxford.

  • Paul Merton's Impro Chums
    1st May

    Paul Merton, Richard Vranch, Suki Webster, Mike McShane and accompanist Kirsty Newton are back on the road in 2019 to visit some of their favourite parts of the UK with another evening of mind-blowing improvisation.


Whether you live in Oxfordshire or are planning a staycation to the county, we hope this list has provided some great event ideas. As a hub of history and culture, the theatres and venues throughout Oxfordshire are sure to offer something for everyone. To find out more about events in Oxfordshire, please contact our local team.


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