If Oxford is a genteel, civilised place, Cowley Road is its uncouthed, yet strangely alluring neighbour.
Just 5 minutes walk from the town centre, but a million miles away in terms of atmosphere, Cowley Road is a true Bohemian/ethnic enclave and is where most students live, drink, shop and did I mention drink?
Cowley Road used to be quite run-down, but in the last few years, it has sprung back into life as the beating, pulsating heart of creativity and fun in Oxford. Many Oxfordians now come to Cowley on the weekend, to escape the throngs on Cornmarket and visit the boutiques, restaurants and cafes.
At the lower end of Cowley Road are some inspired little cafes selling lovely food and coffee, which attract a mixture of students and 'yummy mummies' (young, trendy families). Also, eating at any of the multitude of Indian restaurants is an absolute must. Don't forget to walk as far as the NHS building to check out the amazing street art and murals. Magdelen St, with its health food restaurant and new age bookshop is also great.
If you like shopping, there are some superb vintage shops, skate shops, charity shops and cute boutiques where you'll find some really individual clothes.
For those of you who are familiar with London, I'd describe Cowley Road as Oxford's answer to Ladbrooke Grove or Brick Lane - ethnic, trendy, bohemian, cutting-edge and a great place for a pub crawl.
Just off the exciting Cowley Road, Magdalen Road in East Oxford has it all: The Magic Cafe (a vegetarian cafe/restaurant with live music on Saturday afternoons + late dinners on Fridays). A butcher. A methodist church next to a Buddhist temple. A nunnery. The Goldfish Bowl (a huge store selling, yes, you guessed it, fish). The Inner Bookshop. A couple of junk shops (you can make amazing bargains here!). An Internet cafe. Several little convenient stores. A Bingo Hall. Several pubs. A hairdresser. An amazing ethnic diversity. And just a lot of LIFE! Go and stroll around on a Saturday early afternoon. You won't regret it.
The Cowley Road - if you just stick to the city centre, and don't cross Magdalen Bridge to the East of the City, you miss the most vibrant part. Ethnically diverse, lots of different restaurants and nightlife venues - well worth the walk. For a fried breakfast, nothing beats The Excelsior at the top, opposite the park, on the right.