I’m writing this as I enter into a period of abstinence, with less than 12 weeks to go until the start of my finals. Oxford’s nightlife can be mixed; the music in nightclubs leaves a lot to be desired but there is fun to be had, and if you are willing to do a bit of planning you can take yourself to some interesting events.
College bars provide the cheapest options in the city, but they can be plagued by erratic opening hours and lack of selection, as well as restrictions on bringing in guests. Nevertheless, their location within colleges make them a relatively safe place to drink for students, especially with college porters at hand.
The centre of Oxford offers a number of reliable pubs, including the Turf Tavern (which can unfortunately be very busy), the Wheatsheaf (which has music upstairs sometimes, check it out), the Kings Arms (expensive, but the only pub open until midnight, so gets a rush of new customers around 11), Chequers and the Crown (chain pubs, but good atmosphere. The Crown is usually quiet). If you want some history, there is also the Eagle and Child on St. Giles, though note that it attracts massive crowds of tourists due to its association with the Inklings.
In North Oxford pubs tend to get a bit more expensive. I have had bad experiences with rude staff at the Royal Oak, but the Rose and Crown is always a nice place to be, as is the Gardeners’ Arms (try the vegetarian food!).
As stated above, nightlife in Oxford can be very variable. Most of the more interesting club nights are held at Cellar, which is located off Cornmarket. Nearby is the Purple Turtle, which is very popular with students but has very cheap drinks, including a large number of college-themed shots.
Plush is the city’s main LGBT+ club night, but unfortunately can have issues with safety both within the club and leaving it. I’d recommend going in a group.
The O2 and the Bullingdon are the main venues for live music in Oxford, both located on the Cowley Road, with a very eclectic mix of performers. I’d recommend booking tickets in advice.
The Half Moon pub on St Clements regularly holds Irish traditional music sessions, while the James St Tavern does something similar with Breton folk music. Generally you are able to just show up on these nights and there is no entrance fee.
This is based on my experience living in Oxford since 2012 – would love to hear any further recommendations!