Lifestyle Relationships

Where to take a first date in Oxford: a (sort of) comprehensive review

Aristophanes said that human beings were once made up of two bodies stuck back to back and cruelly forced apart by the wrathful gods. Since then, we mortals have had to embark on a search for our “other half”, to undo the damage brought about by the gods.

This is why, on the sixth day, God gave us Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and the like. We no longer have to spend years, decades, even, searching high and low for our soulmate – we now have nifty little apps to do all the hard work for us. Of course, you need to consider the matter of actually finding a match, trudging through the talking stage for a week or so, and receiving that fateful message asking if you want to meet in the flesh.

The pandemic has left countless lovelorn students starved of romance and excitement, so plunging once more into the waters of dating in Oxford will be a daunting experience for many – especially when it comes to choosing where to take your match. Fear not, for I have taken it upon myself to scour the Internet and survey a number of hopeless romantics to find out the top spots for a first date in Oxford. This is a comprehensive(ish) review of these dating hotspots, and a guide to whether or not you should be worried by your match’s choice – you can thank me later.

DISCLAIMER: I am not endorsing clandestine shagging during a socially distanced Michaelmas, you filthy rascals.

The Missing Bean

Let’s all be honest here – Turl Street’s beloved coffee shop is hugely overrated. Unless you plan on going at some ungodly hour it’ll be heaving with people and you’ll inevitably end up enjoying a painfully awkward sideways date right by the entrance, behind those sweaty, sweaty windows. If your prospective partner proposes to meet at the Missing Bean, run away and don’t look back – they clearly just picked the first place that came to mind and probably aren’t that invested. Sorry.

The Turf Tavern

How original! My research tells me that this seems to be the most popular spot for a first date in Oxford, and I can’t say I’m surprised – down those dastardly cobbles lies a really lovely pub where you will almost definitely run into several people you know. Worst case scenario, your date will mention the fact that this was where Bill Clinton supposedly “did not inhale” as if you’ve never heard that one before. Best case scenario, if you’re brave enough, you might be able to lean in for a cheeky kiss under the Bridge of Sighs on the way out, which may just make the £5 pints worth it.

The Varsity Club

Don’t say I didn’t warn you – if you imagined a night of being wooed over cocktails on a rooftop among the backdrop of the dreaming spires, you may be disappointed. Once the bill arrives, prepare yourself for a nervous laugh and a “Actually…do you mind if we go dutch?”, as it turns out that an open air cocktail bar is really quite expensive. If you don’t manage to pull, you’ll at least get a cracking Instagram post out of it – that is, if you manage to nab a rooftop table. Save a night at TVC for your anniversary.


Grow up.

The Covered Market

Playing it safe has never been a bad idea. Why commit to one spot to win over your potential squeeze when you’ve got a whole market at your fingertips! A trip to the Covered Market is an ideal solution if you’ve not actually bothered to learn that much about your date after the slow, painful process known as the “talking stage” – or if you’re craving a cheap bowl of pasta. There’s a fair chance you’ll get lost, though, as it seems that even after spending years in Oxford you never really learn the way around the market – so you’ll have hell to pay when you find yourself trapped in the labyrinth with someone you’re not even that into.

Botanic Garden

Much like TVC, this is one of the more picturesque (read: pretentious) locations for a date in Oxford. Once you’ve survived a near-death experience crossing the road outside Magdalen College, the gardens are a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, a chance for the two of you to engage in pleasant conversations with surroundings straight out of your wildest softboy fantasies. However, a trip to the garden needs to be timed perfectly, lest you end up taking shelter under the archway in the pouring rain, or swooning from the heat in one of the greenhouses.

And there you have it – nobody has an excuse to cock up that all-important first date now. Of course, I haven’t covered some of the more unorthodox spots in Oxford – otherwise we’d be here all day – but if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past six months, it’s that life is short – and that if you really, really think it’s a good idea to start your courtship in a board game cafe, then you shouldn’t let anybody stop you. Go forth and multiply (safely) – I wish you all the best with your future romantic endeavours.


Alison is a member of the Oxford Revue and has written three plays, mostly because she is determined to not focus on her degree until absolutely necessary. She has also published works in Cherwell and The Oxford Student, and is a columnist for The Flete.