When most consider Oxford, they think of the famous English university, but I remember a quintessentially English town full of style, energy and colourful characters. Oxford has splendid heritage buildings, welcoming pubs, wonderful museums and parks. It’s one of my favourite cities in England due to its history of innovation within its perfectly preserved medieval shell!
The city is best known for the prestigious University of Oxford, whose 45 colleges and permanent private halls are dotted all around town. Evidence suggests that teaching dates back to 1096, which makes Oxford the oldest university in the English-speaking world.
I’m a big fan of vaulting!
The list of famous alumni is very long but includes such outstanding women as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Former India Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and more recently, the actress Emma Watson.
What’s most impressive about Oxford, however, is its history of scholarship and innovation. Did you know that computer programming was invented at Oxford University by Ada Lovelace in 1842? Ms Lovelace was not only a brilliant mathematician, but she was also the daughter of Lord Byron, the famous poet. She invented the first algorithm and is thus my ancestral mother in more ways than one! Tim Berner-Lee invented the Internet in 1989 and is still a Professorial Fellow at Oxford. Edward Jenner invented the first vaccine for Smallpox in 1796 and most recently, Oxford University worked with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to create a vaccine for Covid-19. The history of pure research and practical applications means that we are all indebted to this small city nestled in the hills in central England!
London Heathrow International Airport and Birmingham International Airport are the closest airports for accessing Oxford. There is a direct coach between Heathrow and Reading Train station which makes the journey much quicker. Reading provides a direct train link to Oxford and many other parts of the county of Oxfordshire that you can explore. Oxford’s train station is a short walk from the town centre.
Here’s a Pro-tip: If you’re going to explore more of Oxfordshire it’s important to remember some of the more rural villages have infrequent transport links. Renting a car is an excellent option that will allow you to explore further at your own pace.
Oxford is jam-packed with majestic buildings and historical sites. Here’s where I recommend you visit:
- University of Oxford– There aren’t many universities that are a site in themselves, but this neo-gothic institution is certainly an exception. Some of its incredible architecture inspired the film settings for ‘Hogwarts’ and you can certainly see the similarities. These are the must-visit buildings and attractions:
Typical student accommodation?!
- – The Museum of Natural History holds a significant collection of geological and zoological specimens including the only surviving dodo soft tissue remains in the world.
- – Christ Church College is one of the best-known colleges of Oxford University, primarily because of its beautiful architecture and picturesque surroundings. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll recognise the Great Hall which featured in the first Harry Potter film.
- – Founded in 1612, the Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum is the oldest of its kind in the country. This is the perfect place to take a relaxing stroll while admiring the specimens.
- – As one of the oldest in Europe, the Bodleian Library is one of the city’s most visited landmarks. Whilst you’re there, you can also visit the spectacular, domed reading room, the Radcliffe Camera.
- – At the very heart of Oxford, the Church of St Mary the Virgin has stood on this site since Anglo-Saxon times and is the spiritual heart of the university. Take a trip up to the top of the 13th-century tower for wonderful views across the city.
- Modern Art Oxford– In vast contrast to the historical city, this cutting-edge gallery showcases some of the most influential international contemporary art.
- University Parks– A lush green oasis in the middle of the city, this parkland spans over 70 acres and is the perfect place for a picnic or stroll in the sunshine.
On the hunt for a punt!
- The Covered Market– My avid readers know that I love a good market. Open since 1774, this historical venue is the hub of Oxford and you’ll find everything from fruit and veg to jewellery, arts, and crafts.
- Punting on the River Cherwell – This popular activity is quintessentially Oxford! If you have a good balance, you can rent a boat and navigate the waterway yourself. Or, hop aboard a punt piloted by one of the students.
- Port Meadow– The countryside around Oxford is beautiful and tranquil, and I love visiting the meadow when I want to escape the city. Besides wildflowers and horses, there’s also a famous 17th Century pub you can visit called The Perch.
- Bicester Village – This outlet shopping centre is just 15 minutes by train from the city and is equal parts fun and luxurious. Most of its stores feature luxury and designer goods, so it’s a perfect place to pick up a bargain.
- Arbequina– This tapas bar brings a little slice of Spain to Oxford. Located within a converted chemist, this beautifully designed restaurant is one-of-a-kind. Their menu is small but very well curated with attention to quality ingredients and delicious flavours.
All students like to Tapas!
- Oli’s Thai– This venue is owned by the same team running Arbequina, but I’m not biased. They just happen to run two excellent restaurants. You’ll need to book in advance to eat the most innovative Thai food in Oxford. Try their Confit Duck Penang, which is highly acclaimed.
- The Missing Bean– This casual espresso bar knows how to hit the spot if you’re hankering after freshly roasted coffee, sweet pastries and light lunches to break up your sightseeing.
Being a university city, Oxford provides ample opportunities to experience fun and nightlife. These are my usual hangout spots:
- Angels Cocktail Bar– Their vintage wallpaper is Instagram worthy, the bar is cosy, and the place has a great vibe. If you’re looking for something exciting, look no further than the ‘Angels Lab’ section of the menu which is filled with strange and wonderful concoctions created by the bartenders.
- The Jam Factory– Located in the old Frank Cooper jam and marmalade factory, this beautiful early 20th-century building houses a bar, gallery and restaurant in one of the coolest settings in town. Choose from an extensive craft beer and cocktail menu as you soak up the cultural scene of art, workshops and live performances.
- The Madhatter– This speakeasy-style bar is quirky, fun, and unforgettable. Ring the bar from your table using an old school phone, sip your creative cocktail served in a teacup, and lap up the whacky Alice in Wonderland themed fun.
I love visiting Oxford and unwinding in a beautiful boutique hotel. I always enjoy these properties:
- The Old Bank– This historic building is centrally located and has been perfectly modernised to accommodate the luxurious rooms whilst keeping the original façade. I love the elegant marble bathrooms and spacious rooms.
- Malmaison Oxford– Have you ever wanted to stay in a prison? This converted prison combines quirky with luxury. You may spend the night in a converted cell but you’ll have all the grand amenities you could need.
- Old Parsonage Hotel– This charming country house is like something out of a fairy tale covered with ivy. The manor dates to 1660 but it has been refurbished to the highest standard, presenting a perfect balance of old and new.
I took a picture of a Camera with a camera!
Whether you love historic architecture and museums, lush green parks or tempting restaurants, Oxford is a wonderful destination surrounded by outstanding Oxfordshire countryside. Every time I visit, I learn something new and wonderful!