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Things to do in Oxford

Posted: Tue, 26th Sep 2023
Oxford and Woodstock guide

There is no shortage of things to do in Oxford. Do you crave the billowing of academic gowns and the romance of hallowed seats of learning? Or are you leaning towards a lazy meander of the historical pubs, fabulous foodie hotspots and plethora of quaint teashops? Perhaps you are contemplating a blissful afternoon messing about on the river or expanding your mind with museum visits and sneaky peaks behind the scenes, with tours of ancient universities and iconic libraries? Or maybe you want to explore the city’s film star locations or follow in the footsteps of literary greats to see where their inspiration came from. There are many intriguing and diverse things to do in Oxford.

Discover Town and Gown

Oxford, the city of ‘dreaming spires’ is regarded above all as one of the finest university cities in the world and as many of the colleges are open to the public, you don’t have to be a student to enjoy the magnificent architecture and pretty quadrangles. Top picks include Christ Church, the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, the grand stairwell will look familiar. Plus, it counts no less than 13 British Prime Ministers among its alumni. Magdalen is generally regarded as the prettiest of the colleges and stands next to the Oxford Botanic Garden and River Cherwell. In a tradition that dates back to the time of Henry VII, the college choir sings from the top of the Magdalen Tower each May morning.

Likewise, Trinity College is a perennial favourite with beautiful architecture and large grounds. Other colleges open to the public include Balliol, one of Oxford’s oldest, New College and All Souls, said to have the most challenging entry examination in the world.

Museum Musings

Where to start? If you like a good museum, then you are in luck because Oxford has many. The Story Museum is a fabulous, family-friendly space where the art of storytelling takes centre stage. Step through the wardrobe door into Narnia, listen to tales in the Whispering Wood and enter the inspiring realms of the Enchanted Library. The Pitt Rivers Museum is an unmissable collection of more than half a million objects. Entry is free, which is good as you may need to visit more than once!

Similarly, the Ashmolean is justifiably world-famous. Showcasing artefacts and cultures from across the globe, it also hosts art exhibitions, which change throughout the year. It is packed to the rafters with all sorts of treasures and is free to explore. In addition, a visit to the Museum of Natural History is a must for an impressive collection of historical and modern specimens from the natural world, along with Oxford Castle & Prison where you can enjoy panoramic views of Oxford from St George’s Tower.

Time for Tea

Enjoy that most English of pastimes with a sumptuous afternoon tea. Above all think freshly brewed tea, crumbly scones, mounds of clotted cream and fruit-laden jam. Alternatively, push the boat out and indulge in a champagne version. The Grand Café boasts decadent interiors evocative of the continental coffee houses of the past, a super location on ‘The High’ and an afternoon tea that can be enjoyed all day. Quod Restaurant & Bar sits on the High Street with glimpses of St Mary’s Church and the iconic Radcliffe Camera. Afternoon tea is a delight to be savoured in front of the huge Georgian windows overlooking a streetscape unchanged for centuries.

The Alice at the Randolph has more than a touch of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ about it, making it the perfect spot for afternoon tea. The menu has a lovely selection of teas to choose from or you can pair it with a glass of sparkling English wine. In addition, atop the Ashmolean Museum is a charming rooftop restaurant with gorgeous views over Oxford’s dreaming spires. There’s a lovely vegan afternoon tea too. Perched on the banks of the Thames, the Folly has a pretty riverside setting that is perfect for a delicious afternoon tea experience.  

Find the Perfect Pint

Oxford has a wealth of excellent pubs and inns to enjoy, some hidden away down tiny alleyways, others easier to find. The Turf is a pub that you won’t just stumble across but it’s worth seeking out. Find the Bridge of Sighs, look to your left for St Helen’s Passage and follow your nose to the end. It pre-dates the 16th century. The Bear Inn is said to be the oldest pub in Oxford, various escapades have been enjoyed on this spot since the 12th century. Expect low ceilings, tiny rooms and worn, wooden floors. It’s therefore about as atmospheric as an old pub can be.

The Jericho Tavern is a more modern affair and has a large beer garden. It’s best known for its live music and former up-and-coming acts that performed here include Radiohead and Supergrass. Literary lovers should seek out the Lamb & Flag, it’s a traditional pub and past patrons include J.R.R Tolkien, C.S Lewis and Graham Greene.

Take a Tour

For an inside insight into Oxford, a walking tour is an excellent option. There are Harry Potter-themed tours, picking out all the film locations used and Inspector Morse, Lewis, and Endeavour walks. Literary tours focus on the generations of writers inspired by this beautiful city, both past and present. Similarly, for Tolkien and C.S Lewis aficionados, there is a tour dedicated to their writing. The university and city tour is the perfect introduction. Offbeat Cotswolds also offer an Oxford Walking Tour which delves into and beyond Oxford’s famous quads, spires and towers.

The River

With both the River Cherwell and the Isis (as the Thames is known as it flows through the city) meandering around Oxford, a water-based experience is a must. A river cruise is an easy and enjoyable way to see the city from the water. For a more traditional activity then hire a punt; one of the flat bottom boats so synonymous with both Oxford and Cambridge. You can punt yourself or book a chauffeur.  

Where to Stay

Our holiday cottages near Oxford provide comfortable and historic accommodation. These cottages are an ideal base for your visit, as they are near many of the attractions. Plan your visit and enjoy the best of what this impressive city has to offer.

Read more: Best pubs in Burford

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