Ah, Oxford, a stunningly beautiful city known for its world-famous university and charming village atmosphere. Quintessentially English, the heart of the city reels visitors in with streets upon streets of architectural splendour, so much so that poet Matthew Arnold dubbed Oxford the “City of Dreaming Spires”, a nickname that continues today.
Amid the grand historic buildings, a vibrant student population keeps the city’s energy young and modern, with pub culture and punting being some of the popular local pastimes. At around 95 kilometres west of London, Oxford is a must-do side trip for visitors to the capital.
Most of what draws visitors to Oxford revolves around the city centre, which is compact and easily walkable. Joining a walking tour of the centre is the best way to ensure you don’t miss any of the interesting landmarks. The spectacular Oxford University, Magdalen College and Hertford Bridge are just a few of the essential highlights.
Museums are also a must. Kids and adults alike will enjoy the dinosaur skeletons at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Be sure to venture across the museum’s ground floor to find the entry to the Pitt Rivers Museum, which houses an excellent collection of archeological and anthropological artefacts. The Ashmolean Museum is often considered the cream of the crop, with its Egyptian mummies and other treasures.
When you’ve had your fill of history, board a punt (a flat-bottomed boat propelled by a long pole) and float down the River Cherwell. Heading downstream will see you pass the botanic gardens, while a journey upstream will take you through Magdalen Deer Park.
Eat and Drink
The pubs of central Oxford are the places to tuck into classic English fare and a pint of local beer or cider for lunch. Come dinnertime, Oxford serves up several fine-dining establishments, the best offering river views to enhance your culinary experience. For a hub of international eats, head to Cowley Road where you’ll find Indian, Greek, Thai and Italian restaurants. On Oxford High Street the Covered Market, which has been in operation since 1774, offers a number of cafés and eateries in a vibrant market atmosphere.
Oxford nightlife is all about downing a pint of ale in the lively pubs and taverns, though there are a few clubs with DJs and live entertainment. For something a little more cultured, take in a show at the historic Oxford Playhouse on Beaumont Street opposite the Ashmolean Museum.
Where to Stay
If you need to get around on foot, staying at one of the up-market hotels right in the heart of Oxford, or within easy walking distance, is the way to go. Accommodation ranges from royal luxury and historic elegance to classic and comfortable. Those touring by car might prefer to stay outside the city centre, where a number of country houses and B&Bs offer a quaint English experience.
The Covered Market is the perfect all-in-one spot to pick up fresh produce, local cheeses and delicious baked goods, as well as exploring clothing shops, jewellers, florists and independent boutiques. Move on to Cornmarket Street where the Golden Cross shopping arcade offers several boutiques and restaurants.
Cowley Road, on the other hand, will suit lovers of retro, antique and vintage clothing and furniture. Those wanting to take home some official Oxford University gear should head to the University of Oxford Shop on High Street.
Oxford Like a Local
Pack a picnic with goodies from the Covered Market and head to Port Meadow on the northwest edge of the city. This gorgeous expanse of English countryside is the place locals go to escape the crowds and laze the day away. Take a stroll among grazing cows and stumble upon the picturesque pub when it’s time to quench your thirst.