As some of you know, I attended Oxford for my Masters. It is really one of my favorite cities in the world and I felt at home almost immediately. So, from someone who lived here and experienced all the city has to offer, what should you see and do?
It is a walkable city, so there really is no need to take the buses, unless you are headed further outside of the immediate city center.
How to get here
From one of the airports in London
If you fly into Heathrow or Gatwick, you can take the Airline Coach Service, which has service running nearly 24 hours.
From Stansted, you can take the train service to Liverpool street and then take the tube to Paddington or Marylebone for a train into Oxford.
What to see and do
1. Visit the RadCam and the Bodleian Libraries
One of the most photographed buildings in Oxford is the Radcliffe Camera aka RadCam to students. It was one of my favorite places to study. You can see in the photos, one if the RadCam with All Soul’s College behind it, and then a photo of the inside of the upper camera, which was a few flights up. No elevator of course.
The Bodleian library system, aka the Bod, does allow visitors, but you can only visit certain ones. It is one of the largest and oldest library systems, with over 12 million items. Many of these items cannot be removed, so a student has to request and book a day to look at it.
If you like Harry Potter, the library in the films is actually Duke Humphrey’s library which is located within the main portion of the Bod.
2. Go Punting and drink Pimms
From early March to early October, it is punting and Pimms season in Oxford. Although, it is usually better during the warmer summer months. You can sail up the river Isis or the river Cherwell, depending on your preference, the Isis punting is near Magdalen College and the Cherwell is near Wolfson College. I am biased and prefer the Cherwell because Wolfson is my college.
If you take the river Isis route, you will go through the gorgeous Magdalen park ground and see their deer, etc.
If you take the river Cherwell route, you can have idyllic views and have a stop at the Victoria Arms, where many punters park the punts to enjoy a pint or a picnic.
Pimms is easy to find and make yourself, during the summer months, you can buy Pimms in a nearby pub but if you decide to make it you only need the Pimms drink, some fizzy lemonade and your choice of fruits. I always like to put in mint, strawberries, and orange slices.
3. Visit the Ashmolean and the Pitt Rivers Museum
These are the 2 main museums in Oxford that are unique in their own ways. The Ashmolean looks like a typical museum, the way they showcase the artifacts by geography and culture. The Pitt Rivers is an anthropological and ethnographical sort of museum and it is arranged by object type rather than by cultural or geographical types. The benefit of this sort of arrangement is that you can immediately compare all the different objects from around the world. It can have a crowded feel to it, but you can see the parallels of how people solved similar problems despite being in different times and geographical locations.
Right now, due to Covid, you can do virtual tours of the museum.
4. Visit the colleges
There are more than 30 different colleges in the city. Most of them host undergraduates and postgraduates, however, there are 8 colleges that only accept postgraduate students, soon to be 9 since a new college is being created on Parks Road. This will be called Reuben College, which is located in the former Radcliffe Science Library. Another library I frequented often.
Most of the colleges have some sort of entry fee, you would have to check each college to make sure. The most popular ones are Christ Church, New College, Magdalen, Hertford, and Wadham. The first two have Harry Potter scenes, the staircase and the cloisters, respectively.
5. Get a Bird's eye view of Oxford from different locations
The most popular one and one where you can get a bird’s eye view of the Bodleian library system, Brasenose, and All Soul’s College is at the University Tower of St Mary the Virgin. It is located right across from the Rad Cam. Prepare for a difficult climb though. However, the view is great but the cafe downstairs is even better. Best scones in Oxford. Hands down. I recommend it to everyone and every time I go to Oxford I stop by. It is so good, that a couple years after I finished my course, a friend messaged me asking me to guess what they just received from someone else. It was a scone from this place.
Another place to get a view is actually at the rooftop bar called the Varsity Club (TVC) on the High Street. You can get unparalleled 360 degree views of Oxford and you can have a nice meal and drink in the process.
The Saxon Tower at Oxford Castle also offers 360 degree views and it is near the Westgate, so you can see a few of the dreaming spires even from this location.
Oxford is always growing, and ever-changing, just recently they remodeled and built up the Westgate Plaza, there are now a few rooftop terraces and bars so you can get great views of Oxford as well.
6. Oxford Castle and Prison
It offers a long history, at least 900 years into Oxford’s history, meaning that is the same age as some of the colleges. Within a small section of Oxford you can see the history change, there is the mound from the 11th century, around the time of the Norman invasion. There is also a prison section dated from the 18th century, possibly earlier. A little factoid, this prison once housed the youngest prisoner, at a the tender age of 7, she was charged with theft.
The only issue is that you have to pay for a guided tour to enter the castle. However, the fortunate thing is that it is kind of a living museum situation. So, the guides are acting as if they are from the time-period.
7. Take a walk through Port Meadows, Christ Church Meadows or the Iffley Meadows
On the west side of Oxford, if you pass through the Jericho neighborhood and cross the river Thames, you will come to the Port Meadows park. It is a really nice walk and during the summer there are a couple of open air pubs to enjoy.
Christ Church meadows is also along the river Thames and is the park area for Christ Church college, it is also the location of the Boat Houses. If you are awake early in the morning or are in Oxford during the time of the boat races, make sure you have a stop here. From here you can get a gorgeous view of the dreaming spires.
The Iffley meadows in a township a bit south of Oxford, so you will have to take the bus 3 down there, getting off at either Iffley Turn or Henley Ave.
8. Visit the nearby cemeteries, you'll never know who you will find
There are several cemeteries within the city and around the city, and a lot of important people have been buried here.
If you are a LOTR fan you will find that Tolkein is buried at the Wolvercote cemetery, just north of Summertown in Oxford. Do not forget to stop by The Eagle and Child for a pint if you want to feel like you amongst the greatest writers of our age. This is where they used to meet for several decades. The fish and chips is pretty good there too.
C.S. Lewis is buried at the Holy Trinity Churchyard in nearby Headington.
At the Holywell cemetery, which is in the city of Oxford, there are other notable people buried there. There is another inkling, Hugo Dyson, as well as a mentor to Oscar Wilde.
Where to eat
Tea and Scones
There are several places to have a tea and some scones. If you are looking for a proper afternoon tea, then I like The Grand Cafe on the High Street. According to a diary entry written in 1650, it is the oldest coffee house in England.
However, if you are looking for something not as fancy then I recommend the Vaults and Garden Cafe, within the St. Mary the Virgin church. I am going to be honest, this is my favorite place in Oxford. I will always make a special stop for this place. Make sure you get clotted cream with your scones. I do not have any photos of their scones because I was always finished with it before I even thought that I should photograph it.
Ticktock cafe at the head of Cowley road was a regular stop for us on a Saturday morning for a great plate of an English breakfast
Another good place is on Little Clarendon St, called GAIL’s. It is a bakery with some breakfast options. All the pastries were fantastic as well.
Lunch/ Dinner- eat amongst the greatest minds
These were my favorite places to go, depending on what I wanted.
If I wanted my sweet potato burger I would go to Turf Tavern, which has a sign that says ‘Bill Clinton did not inhale here.’ Apparently, he frequented it often. There are two entrances, one beneath the Bridge of Sighs and the other one on Holywell Street.
If I wanted a pizza or a burger I would go to Rusty Bicycle on Magdelen Road, between Iffley and Cowley.
Sometimes, I would go to the Eagle and Child on St. Giles for fish and chips. Which was frequented by the Inklings and their famous members: C.S Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien.
Just plain coffee?
You can visit the Missing Bean across from Lincoln College. Be sure to be there before 10, so you can grab a seat!
Or you can go to Turl Street Tavern, which is actually on the same street at the Missing Bean, this one is located close to Broad Street and it even has an attached hotel! So you stay at the hotel here and have breakfast (which was included last time I went.