Just 75 miles to London’s west sits Oxford, home to the world-renowned Oxford University and known as “The City of Dreaming Spires.” Many people may be unfamiliar with what the city has to offer, but Oxford’s historic heritage, beautiful architecture, and abounding opportunities for learning are sure to appeal to anyone! Oxford is the perfect escape from the bustling London lifestyle, so why not book a quaint B&B, find a good book, and enjoy a cup of tea in one of the West’s most historically rich city centers?
What’s the Best Time to Visit Oxford?
Like much of England, it’s best to visit Oxford in summer. The winter months are fantastic for people looking to avoid the crowds that tourist seasons bring, but temperatures stay around 4-10 degrees Celsius (for American visitors, that’s 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit), and are prone to dip. Snowfall varies, but rain is year-round in Oxford. In fact, Oxford has never gone a full month without at least a drizzle! That said, October is traditionally the wettest month.
May, June, and July are the best months to visit Oxford for those looking for sunshine and warmth. The summer months usually sport temperatures ranging from 15 and 22 degrees Celsius (60-70 degrees Fahrenheit) and days in June offer around five more hours of sunshine than days in December. July and August are peak visiting times for tourists, but the earlier months of April and May host over six festivals, including the Chocolate Festival and the English Music Festival. Between late spring and early summer, any visitor to Oxford is sure to find what they want.
A Few Facts About Oxford
Oxford is a small city with roots deep in English history. Formal education began in Oxford sometime around the 11th century, making Oxford University the oldest English-speaking university in the world and the second oldest university overall. Oxford’s reputation for great scholars and thinkers is worldwide. Albert Einstein, Adam Smith, J.R.R. Tolkien, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, and John Locke all spent time studying at Oxford, just to name a few. Of the city’s estimated 155,000 residents, 25,000 attend one of Oxford’s thirty-nine colleges.
Oxford is wonderfully easy to navigate, and Carfax Tower is a great place to get your bearings. Visitors can climb to the top and take in a bird’s-eye view of Oxford’s city center. The River Thames and the River Cherwell both run through Oxford, providing great waterside walks and green areas for picnics and lazy afternoons. The city center is a diverse mix of shops, restaurants, museums, and libraries, all scattered among Oxford University’s college buildings.
Due to the colleges being built at separate times in Oxford’s history, the buildings all display different styles of Western architecture. Wary visitors should glance up every once in a while—the gargoyles hide secrets! If they look closely, tourists might even catch a gargoyle picking its nose…
One Day in Oxford Itinerary
If you have just one day in Oxford, this guide is a great resource to guarantee you see the best of what this great city has to offer!
Tour the Colleges
No trip to Oxford would be complete without taking a look at some of its historic college buildings. But, with so many to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start! Here are a few of the must-visits when it comes to Oxford’s college scene.
Christ Church College
There’s no denying that Christ Church College is exceptionally beautiful. Something about this college captures people’s imaginations and sends them to worlds of magic, mystery, and intrigue. In fact, Christ Church was the inspiration for Hogwarts’s Great Hall in the Harry Potter movies! A glance into the college’s dining hall will explain why.
The college’s beautiful spires and grounds also influenced a man named Charles Dodgson—more commonly known by his pseudonym, Lewis Carroll—to write the story of a girl named Alice, who follows a white rabbit into a world filled to the brim with adventure. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland teems with allusions to Christ Church, and Alice was actually named after the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, Alice Liddell! The college costs fifteen pounds to enter, but the cost is well worth it.
Unlike Christ Church, Exeter College is free to enter! You can find it on Turl Street, less than a five-minute walk from Carfax Tower.
J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, was a student at Exeter, and it isn’t hard to see how the college influenced his worlds of magic and lore. Dating from 1314, Exeter is Oxford’s fourth oldest established college and was originally meant to educate clergy. Now, the college’s chapel and Fellow’s Garden are beautiful pieces of Oxford’s landscape and are a must-see for tourists!
“New” is a relative term; New College was actually founded in 1379! Like Christ Church, New College requires an entrance fee, but the five-pound donation pays for itself quickly. The cloisters, chapel, and gardens found in New College are incredible sites for visitors to see, and New College is truly a wonderful place for anyone visiting Oxford to experience.
Harry Potter fans might even recognize some more parts of Hogwarts! All Oxford University tours are self-guided, but the brochures provided are informative and allow visitors to go at their own pace.
Head to Oxford’s Covered Market for Lunch
Walking around Oxford’s colleges is sure to work up an appetite. A stroll to Oxford’s Covered Market is a great chance to appease your hunger and see another one of Oxford’s top attractions! The market was established in the late 1700s and continues its tradition of providing Oxonians and visitors with the freshest, most delicious food in the city. Bakeries, cafes, delicatessens, produce stalls, and a variety of other restaurants and vendors fill the market every day. It’s open from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm and is particularly busy on Saturdays. It’s conveniently located on Market Street, just between Carfax Tower and Exeter College.
Visit The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology
Consistent with the city’s historical dedication to knowledge and learning, Oxford is home to the world’s oldest university museum: The Ashmolean. Inside, visitors can see a broad range of art and cultural artifacts.
The museum has everything from Egyptian mummies to art made completely from gunpowder! Located on Beaumont Street, the museum’s entrance is only a five-minute walk from the markets, making it a great place to saunter to after lunch!
Sit down for a drink
Even though Oxford’s academic tradition emits an air of importance, every college town has its collection of bars and pubs. After an entire day of walking around and taking in the history and beauty of Oxford, there’s nothing more relaxing than finding a nice pub to enjoy a pint of beer or a glass of wine along with some traditional English fare. The city center is riddled with great eating establishments, but The Bear Inn (Oxford’s oldest pub), The Eagle and the Child, The Jam Factory, and The Old Bookbinder are all great options.
Where to Stay in Oxford, England
The Old Bank
91-94 High Street, Oxford, OX1 4BJ
Situated in the heart of Oxford’s historic city center, The Old Bank offers beautiful amenities and views of the city. Right across the street from All Souls College, The Old Bank boasts incredible reviews and is one of the best places to stay in Oxford.
The Bear and Ragged Staff
28 Appleton Road, Oxford, OX2 9QH
The Bear and Ragged Staff is an inn located five miles outside the city proper. It offers visitors great food, king-sized beds, a cozy atmosphere, and the building itself dates back hundreds of years. This inn is another fantastic option for anyone visiting Oxford.
Best Western Plus Oxford Linton Lodge
11-13 Linton Road, Oxford, OX2 6UJ
Within walking distance from the city center, Best Western Plus Oxford Linton Lodge offers a great stay for your money. The staff is very helpful, the rooms are modern and comfortable, and the breakfast is quite filling. Everything for a nice stay is readily available.
13 Park End Street, Oxford, OX1 1HH
No university city is complete without a good hostel, and Central Backpackers fulfills that role nicely. The hostel is located conveniently close to the main railway station and the city centre, plus it has a nice rooftop terrace. Great for those visiting Oxford on a budget.
Day Trips from Oxford
Located thirty minutes from the city, Blenheim Palace is a spectacular world heritage site that all travelers to Oxford should check off their list. It was Winston Churchill’s ancestral home, and the estate’s extensive wings, gardens, and halls are straight from the likes of Downton Abbey. Tours of the estate, tickets to historical exhibits, and events are available for purchase to interested visitors. Truly, words can’t describe the atmosphere of the palace. It’s something you’ll need to see for yourself!
As mentioned, Oxford is not far from the capital city, so if you have the time, why not go and spend one day in London? This city and its sights really don’t need too big of an introduction – Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the Buckingham Palace, London Eye, Tower Bridge… so many incredible architectural feats, so many places with incredible amounts of history. Not to mention the incredible museums. If you haven’t been to London, a day trip from Oxford is your golden opportunity.
Cotswolds is an incredibly picturesque area full of quaint little villages you can visit and simply let all the stress ooze out of you. Thatched roofs and incredible scenery will make you stand in awe of the nature around here. It’s like a fairy tale. Head to Great Tew or Bourton on the Water to see the English countryside at its very best, and sit down in a pub to get that genuine feel of the places. Or just go for romantic walks with your significant other – you can’t go wrong with that, either.
Stonehenge & Bath
Stonehenge is probably well known to all tourists who come to the city and a great day trip from Oxford. Less than an hour and a half by car, this magnificent structure is fairly easy to reach. See for yourself the famous stone circles that have withstood the test of time and within which a centuries-old secret still lies hidden.
After that, head to the famous town of Bath whose Roman heritage and magnificent architecture will provide plenty of great photo opportunities. Both locations are listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
Extra Tips for Visiting Oxford
During the school year—and even sometimes in summer—it’s not uncommon for Oxford colleges to “close” to visitors. Before planning your trip, be sure to check if your top colleges have any upcoming events or exams that might prevent you from entering!
While it’s fairly easy to walk around the Oxford city center, there are multiple bus services that also help make traveling in Oxford easy! Oxfordshire Stagecoach is responsible for must local services, and a Dayrider pass allows unlimited travel for one day. Oxford Bus Company handles most inter-city travel in the Oxford region.
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