When creating an itinerary for the UK trip many travelers include not just large cities, such as London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin, but smaller ones, for example, Oxford. It comes as no surprise; this small town located 80 kilometers (50 miles) away from the UK’s capital is world famous because of its prestigious university – the oldest university in UK and one of the best universities in the world.
Oxford has all the rights to be called a university town. Out of its 150,000 citizens students account for approximately 20,000, and another 4,000 is teaching staff. The university includes 38 colleges, the oldest of which – University College – was founded in 1249. Other oldest colleges are Balliol (1260) and Merton (1264). Both are named after their founders. The famous graduates of this prestigious educational institution are Lewis Carrol, Oscar Wild, Percy Shelly, Adam Smith, Jonathan Smith, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Tony Blair, David Cameron.
Oxford demonstrates an interesting blend of medieval architecture, old traditions and the modern pace of life in the charming setting of England’s rural scenery. You will hardly find another place like this where such dissonant things find a perfect consonance attracting not just brilliant minds to this small English town but also us, very common tourists.
The main tourist attractions here are old buildings, in particular, colleges’ buildings. For example, the above-mentioned colleges Balliol, Merton and University College are great examples of gothic architecture demonstrating distinct exquisiteness and elegance.
The largest college of Oxford University Christ Church College – is also worth visiting. Every evening you can hear the Great Tom, Christ Church College's famous bell, ring out 101 times signifying the original number of students.
Only students can access colleges but some of them sell tickets that let you go inside (relatively expensive). If you would like to enjoy the atmosphere of one of the oldest universities in the world and take a look at medieval buildings from inside, don’t miss this opportunity.
Oxford is home to many interesting museums. For example, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology – the oldest public museum in England. Other interesting places worth a visit are Christ Church College’s art gallery, the University Museum of Natural History and the University Museum of the History of Science.
In the historical downtown you will find Carfax Tower. The view from its top is magnificent. Another important landmark is University Church of St Mary the Virgin. It was built in 11th century and today it is one of the most visited parish church in England.
A special contribution to the city’s atmosphere is made by numerous parks with neat lawns.
So, you shouldn’t have any doubts. Oxford is definitely a must-see if you come to UK.
You can reach the city from London by bus or train. The trip will take a bit more than an hour, and somewhat more if you take the bus but then you save some money too. You will arrive in the historical downtown of the city which is very convenient.
If you have limited time, you can explore the city in one day and then come back to London or continue your journey according to your itinerary. But I believe that Oxford deserves more. Give it at least a couple of days, you really won’t be disappointed.
What Area is the Best to Stay in Oxford?
The town is not very large, and so the historical downtown is also very compact. Most part of the city center is a pedestrian area. You also can ride a bike here. But I wouldn’t recommend driving a car: you will have troubles finding a parking spot and accessing certain streets. If you travel by car, choose a hotel with parking, leave the car there and explore the city on foot. That will also give you more chances to feel the magical atmosphere of medieval England. It looks like directors of the most magical wizard movies – Harry Potter series – felt the same magic. Many of the movies’ scenes were shot in Oxford.
Historical Downtown of Oxford
Oxford was never meant to be a tourist destination. The university’s fame in combination with unique architecture and charming nature in this small town resulted in influx of tourists to Oxford. But there are not that many hotels in the city. If you travel by trains and buses, the most convenient option for you will be staying in the historical downtown – within the limits of High Street, St. Aldates, London road and St. Giles. Unfortunately, hotel rates here are not the most affordable – the prices in Oxford are just as high as in London. That’s why you should book in advance, especially if you plan to travel in summer like most tourists which causes the hike in rates
Star Bed and Breakfast is a good option for undemanding travelers who would like to save some money but still stay in the city center. All tourist attractions can be reached on foot in 5-10 minutes from here. The railway station and the bus terminal are also located nearby.
Royal Oxford Hotel is also located near the railway station. The most colleges are just a 10-minute walk away. Guests are offered spacious rooms which is rather an exception for small towns like Oxford.
Mercure Oxford Eastgate Hotel is located just opposite Magdalen College that is considered to be one of the city’s symbols. The hotel provides parking for its guests. All main sights are located within an easy reach, just like the river where you can try punting – one of the most unusual pastimes for tourists in Oxford.
Finally, Vanbrugh House Hotel is a little more high-end. The hotel is located in an elegant 18th century building right in the city center on a quiet street.
If you want to save money and are fine with certain level of discomfort, I can recommend hostels located in this area: Oxford Backpackers and Central Backpackers. Another hostel here YHA. It is a bit more expensive but also offers a higher level of comfort as well as Becket Guest House.
Strictly speaking, Oxford outskirts only sound like something very far away and not very nice. But it is not like that. The city is very small and even from its farthest point you will be able to reach the downtown in only 25-30 minutes by public transport. Recently, more and more good accommodation options with a decent level of comfort are available outside the city center. For example, chain hotels Travelodge Oxford Peartree, Premier Inn Oxford or Holiday Inn Oxford.
These hotels are located in the city; from here you can easily reach the colleges. You can walk, too, of course, but it will be a very long walk.
If you travel by car you can stay outside the city. There are many guest houses and reasonably prices Bed & Breakfast accommodations here. For example, Swinford Manor Farm B&B, Fallowfields Country House Hotel or The Bird In Hand Inn Winey. All of them are located 20-30 kilometers away from Oxford, and their buildings preserve unique historical atmosphere of old England.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Hotel in Oxford
Oxford is a small town that does not really know how to deal with all this tourist madness. There are not many accommodation options here and all of them are rather expensive. Keep in mind that most hotels and guest houses have only a few rooms which means that the best ones are sold out in no time. If you want to get the most out of your visit to this charming old town book a room well in advance.
Hotels in historical downtown are located in old buildings with no lift, rooms here are usually very small and walls are very thin – it is not uncommon to hear your neighbor’s snoring. Often, these guest houses are secondary business for their owners. The rooms are located right above a pub or a bar and that means that on Friday evening and over the weekend the nights will be really loud here (at least until 2 am). That’s why it is recommended to check feedback of other travelers and exclude accommodation options that you know for sure are not the best ones for you.
If you travel by car, you don’t have to stay in Oxford. There are many really good (and more affordable) accommodation options just outside the town. However, don’t forget that cars are not allowed in the historical downtown, so you will have to figure out the parking issue in the city.