By Briana Seftel
Famed for its prestigious university, Oxford is the college town. With graceful archways and cozy pubs where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis once met, you’ll feel like you’ve entered a novel strolling through this academic city. Even if you’re not a student, you’ll find plenty to love in Oxford.
What to Know
Known as The City of Dreaming Spires, Oxford will surely inspire you to dream. It’s home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world, comprised of 38 colleges. Its alumni include 26 British prime ministers, more than 60 Nobel Prize winners and several members of the royal family. Today, the city is a bustling cosmopolitan town with a thriving tech and business community, romantic canals, vibrant nightlife and plenty of authentic pubs to enjoy a pint.
When to Go
The summer months are the best time to visit this city, when the weather is warm and city’s beautiful parks, gardens and canals are filled with students and visitors. In May, the city comes alive for the Eight Weeks rowing regatta. Since Oxford is just 90 minutes from London, it's a popular day trip and thus busier on the weekends. If you really want to feel like a student, visit during the shoulder season months in September and October.
How to Get Around
Oxford’s compact city center is easy to get around on foot, so walking is your best bet - you'll get the most out of the city and see students hopping from one class to another. As the city is virtually flat, biking is also a popular way to get around. Oxford has an excellent bus system with buses every 15-20 minutes into the city, as well as four Park & Ride parking lots.
Where to Eat
Eating and drinking in Oxford is unforgettable. Here, you’ll be able to savor a meal and sip a pint where famous authors once chatted over their works. With a huge international student population, dining in Oxford can be also be fast and casual. Here are some of the best places to eat and drink in the city.
- The Eagle and Child 49 St. Giles Phone: +44 1865 302925
- Covered Market Market St
- Turl Street Kitchen 16-17 Turl St Phone: +44 1865 264171
- David John Butchers 93-97 Market St Phone: +44 1865 200922
- Vaults & Garden 1, Radcliffe Square, University Church Phone: +44 1865 279112
- The Head of the River Folly Bridge, St Aldate's Phone: +44 1865 721600
- King's Arms 40 Holywell St Phone: +44 1865 242369
What to See
Established in 1488, Bodleian Library is one of the oldest libraries in Europe and home to over 11 million books. While there are rotating free exhibits in the library, it’s well worth to buy a ticket and join one of the tours. Nearby is the iconic Radcliffe Camera building, which is not open to the public but well worth seeing from the outside.
Christ Church College
Take a tour of Oxford’s hallowed college where the likes of John Locke and Lewis Carroll once roamed the halls. You’ll probably recognize the college from Harry Potter; its dining hall was heavily featured in several of the films.
Opened in 1683, the Ashmolean holds the distinguished title as being the oldest public museum in the world. Completely free to visit, its highlights include the Alfred Jewel, the Messiah Stradivarius and Guy Fawkes' lantern.
You can’t come to Oxford without punting on the Cherwell River. Rent a punt (a flat-bottomed boat with a broad front) from Magdalen bridge and head up the Cherwell. Bring a picnic and some wine and spend a relaxing afternoon on the water.
Tips and Tricks
Pop into the huge 19th-century Blackwell's bookshop, Oxford's academic bookseller.
Fit in with the locals by ordering “a half of bitter” at a pub, or a half pint of beer.
For a breath of fresh air, visit the Botanic Gardens located opposite Magdalen College.
Stop for a photo op at Hertford Bridge, also known as "the Bridge of Sighs.”
Climb to the top of Carfax Tower for superb views over the city.
Just 20 minutes north of the city, Blenheim Palace is a Baroque residence and UNESCO site boasting centuries of history. Home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of Winston Churchill, visitors can tour its lavish state rooms, parkland and formal gardens.
With its prestigious university and canals, Cambridge shares many similarities with Oxford, but is often considered Oxford’s more relaxed sibling. Wander around the university colleges like Corpus Christi and Clare College and stroll across the Mathematical Bridge. In the warmer months, punting along River Cam is another unmissable experience.
Famous as the birthplace of Shakespeare, Stratford-Upon-Avon is a charming market town with more than 800 years of history. Located about an hour from Oxford, visitors can tour the house where Shakespeare was born, Hall's Croft (home to William's daughter), Anne Hathaway's cottage and much more. You can even catch one of the Bard's plays at the Royal Shakespeare Company.