24 Hours in Oxford
Discovering the wonders and delights of this world-famous center of scholarship
With its golden-hued colleges arrayed in splendor beside the river, scholars have flocked to Oxford since the 13th century when the first of its 38 university colleges were established. However, it’s not all ancient institutions. A hipster side is now emerging.
Here is our guide to experiencing the best of old and new in one of England’s most unquestionably beautiful cities.
Start the day with breakfast at Jericho Café, just a 10-minute walk from the city center. Locally-run and much-loved, everything is here from a full English Breakfast to baked beans on toast – plump for the signature bacon and egg waffles. Afterwards, go for a wander through Jericho. Recently named one of the ‘hippest’ spots in the UK, independent shops, quirky cafes and live music venues sit prettily between rows of brightly-colored houses.
No trip would be complete without a visit to Britain’s oldest public museum Ashmolean Museum. Established in 1683, every gallery holds a marvel, be that a dazzling fresco from the palace of Knossos; artwork from Van Gogh; or, famously, the Anglo-Saxon Alfred Jewel, a dazzling 9th-century gem, that was crafted for Alfred the Great. The beautiful rooftop restaurant is perfect for grabbing a coffee afterwards.
The best way to explore Oxford is on foot. Make a beeline for Footprints, Oxford’s top-rated tour company on TripAdvisor for five years running. Led by university-educated guides, these two-hour free tours take you through the story of the city, visiting many of the magnificent University colleges, as well as the Bodleian Library and the Palladian-style Radcliffe Camera. Tours can be personalised, too, from leisurely walks and panoramic bike rides to literary pilgrimages and jovial pub crawls.
After all that walking, it’s time for a sit down. But rather than a park bench, hire a punt from the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse and float serenely past the city’s famous Botanic Gardens and through the university meadows to the countryside beyond. Pop into Olive’s Deli (just a three-minute walk from the Boathouse) beforehand and grab one of their freshly-baked baguettes for a picnic lunch.
Back on dry land, take a short walk to Christ Church Meadow, where Lewis Carroll taught in the mid-19th century and wrote the famous Alice in Wonderland. A rare lush green space in the heart of Oxford, this picturesque, tranquil spot makes for an ideal gentle summer stroll or wintery walk.
Now it’s time to hit a few more museums: Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum. Both museums are in the same building so it’s easy to move from one to the other. The Museum of Natural History is home to an internationally-significant collection of geological and zoological specimens, the most famous pieces being the Oxford dinosaurs and the remains of a Dodo. Pitt Rivers Museum is a bit quirkier with its Victorian glass cases holding more than 18,000 objects collected from around the world. For something more contemporary, go for Modern Art Oxford which has developed a great reputation for its bold, progressive displays.
After an action-packed day, put your feet up at one of Oxford’s many (fantastic) pubs. Owned by St John’s College, The Eagle and Child is hard to beat. Dating back to the 17th century, the pub is best known as the meeting place of the Inklings, a literary group including J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Today, the pub retains the cosy, quaint charm and is a lovely place to relax over a pint. There’s also The Bear Inn, Oxford’s oldest surviving pub with a history traced back to as early as 1242. As well as being recognised for its impressive history, this watering hole is known for its somewhat unexpected collection of old ties, representing university clubs, colleges and sports teams.
There are excellent real ales, too. If cocktails are more your thing, head to The Duke of Cambridge. Classy, elegant and old-fashioned, with every stylish cocktail you could possibly want.
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Although all of the above pubs serve wonderful food, don’t miss local favourite Gee’s. Set in an iconic Victorian Glasshouse, filled with olive trees and plants, dine on a seasonal menu inspired by the Mediterranean.
Alternatively, hop in a taxi for a scenic 30-minute jaunt through the countryside and splash out at Raymond Blanc’s two-Michelin star Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. Housed in a magnificent manor house (where you can also stay), surrounded by stunning gardens, Blanc grows almost 90 varieties of vegetables and over 70 aromatic herbs, which you’ll find on your plate, in one way or another.
After your mammoth day, bed down in one of Oxford’s many gorgeous boutique hotels. Tucked into a wisteria-cloaked 17th-century house, where Oscar Wilde roomed as a student, the 35-room Old Parsonage Hotel is a clever blend of period charm and modern luxury. There’s an impressive art collection, knowingly mismatched furniture and elegant rooms plus an excellent restaurant.
is the Old Bank Hotel. Right in the
city center – front rooms overlook the
University Church – this grand hotel
is scattered with contemporary art and
offers 42 stylish, spacious, pale-hued
rooms (opt for junior suite 45 for the