Known for its prestigious university, its historic attractions, and its impressive architecture, Oxford is fast becoming one of the most popular vacation destinations in southern England.
Punts on the River Cherwell, the world's oldest museum, leafy lanes, cobbled streets and the city's famous 'dreaming spires' are all part of its charm.
Oxford is home to some of the country's trendiest bars and music venues, and its shady streets and majestic spires have inspired filmmakers and writers for decades.
Whether you're looking for a family vacation destination or the perfect city for a romantic break, there are lots of reasons to choose Oxford.
Visitors will discover examples of every major English architectural style from Saxon times to the present day in Oxford. Climb the 99 steps of the Saxon Carfax Tower at St Michael at the North Gate Church for incredible views over the city or marvel at the Baroque splendor of Blenheim Palace. Be sure to visit Magdalen College; the bell tower is the city's tallest building and an excellent example of 15th-century English Gothic architecture.
Victorian writer Matthew Arnold famously called Oxford the 'city of dreaming spires' when referring to its university buildings in his poem "Thyrsis". Some of the 38 colleges in Britain's oldest university city are open to the public including Christ Church, which is known as the "Brideshead Revisited" college, and Magdalen, which is often the first to be seen by visitors as they drive into the city on London Road.
Wander cobbled streets and sweeping lawns past landmarks like the Bridge of Sighs, the New College and the Sheldonian Theatre. Or, visit Britain's oldest public museum; the Ashmolean was established in 1683 and its extensive collections include paintings, musical instruments, coins, and Egyptian mummies.
Kids will love visiting the dinosaur exhibition at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, while parents will appreciate the wonderful Neo-Gothic building. Alternatively, rent a punt (a long, narrow boat) for up to five people at Magdalen Bridge Boathouse and spend the afternoon on the river. For £20 per hour, you can punt past the Botanic Gardens, Magdalen Rose Garden, and Christ Church Meadows.
Linger over a cold beer at the Eagle and Child where a literary group called "The Inklings" once discussed ideas. Members included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and those ideas went on to become some of the world's best-loved stories. Fans of Colin Dexter's Inspectors Morse and Lewis can stop for a drink at the Trout Inn, while Harry Potter enthusiasts will love visiting Christ Church, which was the inspiration for Hogwart's Great Hall.
The first place to visit on a trip to Oxford is the campus of Christ Church College, one of the University's oldest institutions of higher learning. For 500 years England's brightest have studied in these halls, where history is truly at your fingertips. From the atmospheric Tom Quad flanked by gothic architecture, to the famous halls used as Hogwarts in the beloved Harry Potter movies, Christ Church vibes are unforgettable. Enjoy every architectural wonder, from study halls to chapels.
Surrounded by the 38 colleges of Oxford University, Radcliffe Square is the heart of the city. One of the most iconic buildings resides at the center of this square - the Radcliffe Camera. This serves as the Science Library and houses hundreds of thousands of books, many of which live in tunnels underneath the cobblestones that connect the Camera and the Bodleian Library. Be sure to check out the striking interiors, and don't miss the Sheldonian Theater or University Church either.
Filled with world-class art from ancient to modern times, the Ashmolean was the first established university museum. Here, anyone can become an eager learner, as the collections explore the history of human expression through the ages. From royal jewels, to drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, to paintings by Picasso, to the robe of Lawrence of Arabia, the exhibitions boasts a priceless collection of historical relics. Galleries satisfy all interests and bring patrons back to visit again and again.
This is the oldest botanical garden in the United Kingdom, established by the University of Oxford in 1621 and still enthralling visitors 400 years later. Over 8000 species of plants flourish within these diverse grounds, making it a perfect place to appreciate and study flora. Enter through the timelessly beautiful Danby Gateway of the 17th century, and explore the equally venerable walled garden. Beyond, themed lots abound to educate visitors of all ages about beautiful plants from around the world.
Adjacent to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, this anthropological museum is filled with half a million objects from all over the world, as they reveal insights about the history of human life. Unlike other museums of its kind, the Pitt Rivers categorizes galleries based on tools and how they were used, rather than based on time period or origin. This opens a fascinating window how we survives, something to keep you thinking long after leaving the collection.
Peak season runs from May to September and the weather is ideal for punting on the River Isis (as the Thames is known here) and picnicking on its banks. Visit in early spring when the cherry trees are in bloom or book a stay in May for "The Bumps", the world-famous Oxford versus Cambridge boat race. The fall colors add a lustrous bronze glow to ancient buildings from October to November and low season rates in hotels are an attractive enticement. The Christmas and New Year period is also popular with tourists thanks to seasonal events like candlelit Christmas carol concerts in the famous colleges.
Although Oxford has a small local airport for charter and private flights, most overseas visitors will fly to either London Heathrow (LHR) or London Gatwick (LGW) airport. Oxford Bus Company runs regular services from each airport to Oxford Gloucester Green bus station. Other airports with flights that connect easily with the city include Birmingham and Southampton.
Trains run from London Paddington Station to Oxford at 30-minute intervals throughout the day. A single off-peak ticket costs £24.90 and an average journey takes one hour. Trains are also available from other UK cities including Southampton and Manchester. All trains terminate at Oxford station to the west of the city center.
Oxford is easy to reach from most parts of the UK. If you're driving from London and the south, take the northbound M40 to Oxford or follow the M40 southbound to Oxford from Birmingham and the West Midlands.
Oxford Bus Company runs buses from Heathrow and Gatwick airports. A one-way ticket from Heathrow is £23 or £11.50 for a child. From Gatwick, the adult fare is £28 and a child ticket is £14. National Express offers services from most major UK cities including London, Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester. Buses terminate at Gloucester Green bus station, which is close to landmarks like the Ashmolean and Oxford New Theatre in the city center.
Accommodation is plentiful in Oxford whether you're looking for budget hotels like Travelodge, where a one night stay costs £35, or whether you want a mid-range hotel like Jurys Inn for £59 per night. Students may prefer dorm-style rooms in hostels like the Central Backpackers Hostel at £14 per night, while those planning a special vacation will love the city's luxury hotels such as Malmaison at Oxford Castle, a former prison where rooms start at £90 or the Old Parsonage, one of the city's top hotels at £174 per night for a double room.
City Center - much of the property in the center of Oxford is owned by the university. Landmarks include Hertford College and the Bridge of Sighs, Christ Church, New College, and the Bodleian Library.
Central North Oxford - a prosperous, largely residential area north of the city center. Magical in spring when the cherry trees are in bloom.
Jericho - a lovely area near the canal and west of St Giles with narrow streets and century-old townhouses and cottages. Lots of good restaurants and shops along Walton Street.
Cowley Road - a culturally diverse area that's popular with students. Its known for its thriving art scene and colorful street murals, and is home to some of Oxford's best pubs, clubs, and restaurants.
Local buses are run by the Oxford Bus Company or Stagecoach. The main pick-up points are the train station, St Giles and St Aldates and a single trip to any part of the city costs £2. A day pass can be purchased for £4.20 or buy a rechargeable "Key" card and use all city center services for £14.50 per week.
Oxford has both metered taxis and minicabs in most districts. A journey by metered taxi from Christ Church to Oxford rail station will cost £11.25 and the same trip by minicab is £9.
Narrow streets, hundreds of cyclists, driving on the left side of the road, and a confusing one-way system make it fairly difficult for visitors to navigate the city. However, if you plan to visit local landmarks like Blenheim Palace and Woodstock it can be useful to rent a car. Local car rental companies include Hertz, Enterprise, and Avis and an economy vehicle costs £57.70 per day.
Visit Cowley Street, Oxford's answer to Brick Lane in London, for thrift shops and vintage clothing or browse small one-of-a-kind shops selling everything from cakes to glassware at England's oldest covered market on High Street. While you're on High Street, pick up Oxford University sweatshirts and souvenirs from the University of Oxford Shop. All the leading UK clothing, accessory, and electrical brands can be found at The Clarendon Centre and Templars Square Shopping Centre.
Shop for food and basics at supermarket chains like Tesco, Sainsbury's, and Morrison's where you'll pay £2.12 for 12 eggs and £0.82 for a liter of milk. Many neighborhood grocery stores are open late for last-minute items. Baby products, prescriptions, and toiletries can be purchased in pharmacy chains like Lloyd's and Boots.
Visit G&D's for the best ice cream in Oxford. The original branch at Clarendon Street is a city institution and popular flavors include Oxford Blue (blueberry), Turkish Delight, and Crunchie bar. If you're in need of a little more sustenance you can tuck into pizza with a pint of beer at the Rickety Press for £10, or enjoy a three-course dinner at the Cherwell Boathouse for £55.