UK resident looking for a mini-break? Overseas visitor searching for English travel inspo?
Either way, you’ve found my guide and you’re about to have a great time.
As a small city, Oxford isn’t short on activities, history or entertainment – quite the opposite! Here’s how I recommend you spend your weekend…
Check out the city’s iconic buildings
The Radcliffe Camera, the Sheldonian Theatre and the Bridge of Sighs are great places to begin and sit within a few moments walk of each other. Tolkien, Lewis Carrol and C.S Lewis wrote Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland and the Narnia series whilst surrounded by these buildings – can you tell they were feeling inspired?
For just £1 you can enter the Divinity School nearby all these sights at the Bodleian Library. It was once a lecture theatre but now it’s one of Oxford’s gems and some scenes of Harry Potter were filmed there – check out the incredible ceiling!
Climb a tower
For the best view in town, head up the University Church of St Mary the Virgin on High Street. You’ll pay £4 but it’s well worth it – following a steep climb up a very windy staircase, you’ll look out for miles around and get great shots of All Souls College (below) and the Rad Cam.
Wander through the Covered Market – here you’ll find a host of shops and stalls from Indian jewellers to Korean canteens. There are a couple of awesome lunch spots – Sasi’s Thai is cheap and delicious while Georgina’s colourful cafe is great for sandwiches, salads and nachos.
Explore a college
You can actually go inside the University colleges which is a bit like stepping into a fairytale. Christ Church is the most famous and touristic but I also like Balliol where the wisteria growing over the old golden stone is definitely Instagram goals. Most of the colleges cost £3-4 to go inside; Christ Church is the most at £7.
Read next: My guide to visiting the Oxford colleges
Head through Holywell Street
Once you’ve soaked up the inside of a golden college, pass through Holywell Street for all that’s bright and beautiful. It’s one of my favourite streets in the city and I especially love these colourful houses.
Insider tip: there’s a really authentic, reasonably priced Japanese resturant here called Edaneme.
Head to quirky neighbourhood, Jericho, which is just a 10-minute walk from the train station. I’d recommend Zheng for Chinese-Malaysian food, The Rickety Press for stonebaked pizzas and craft beers (below) or Loch Fyne for fresh, reasonably priced seafood.
Saturday night drinks
To warm up your evening, head for a drink at one of the following spots:
- The Turf Taven. You’ll find this pub nestled down the tiniest of alleyways and it’s sure to take you back to the 13th century when it was built. As well as Bill Clinton allegedly smoking a spliff there and the Harry Potter film cast using it as their local, there’s apparently a friendly ghost named Rosie.
- The Eagle & Child serves standard drinks and pub grub but you’ll probably want to visit for its history – C.S Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien wrote their famous novels there.
- The Varsity Club has a gorgeous rooftop bar with cocktails and an awesome view out over the city.
If you’re up for a full blown brunch – which I would be – and don’t mind a bit of a walk, I love Cafe Tarifa on the Cowley Road for shakshuka (pictured). For a traditional English breakfast closer to town, try the Handle Bar Cafe & Kitchen on St. Michael’s Street or Turl Street Kitchen.
Read next: Where to find the best brunch in Oxford
For sunny weather
- Punting: The only UK cities to offer this are Oxford and Cambridge – so if you’re visiting between February and November, why not grab a picnic and head your way down the river? Punt hire is £22 an hour and you can fit five in boat. Alternatively, opt to row or pedallo your way.
- The Botanical Gardens: Another sunny day activity near the river is strolling around these beauties. They have amazing wildflower meadows in the summer and it’s the perfect place to escape the busy city. Entrance is £5.
- Check out the museums: The Ashmolean houses everything from Egyptian mummies to contemporary art and there’s a rooftop restaurant for coffee or cocktails afterwards. I also like the Natural History Museum where you can see dodos and dinosaurs and learn about the city that inspired Alice in Wonderland (Oxford, obvs!)
Go for coffee in one of the city’s many roasteries before you head home. I like:
- The Missing Bean – a cosy hangout with views of bikes resting again Turl Street’s Instagrammable doorways.
- Colombia Coffee Roasters – your Covered Market pick-me-up with hot and cold coffees.
- GAIL’s Bakery on Little Clarendon Street – coffee and cakes galore.
Where to stay?
Once a jail, the Malmaison is now a hotel with rave reviews. You’ll be staying in the old cells which have been refurbished into luxurious rooms and suites. Doubles from £130 per night.
If you’re on a budget, all is well. Beds at the Central Backpackers start at £19.
How to get there/away
By rail – trains run from Oxford to all over the country but you’re particularly well connected to London with the journey taking just one hour. Tickets start from £5 each way when you book in advance.
By bus – the Oxford Tube coach takes 90 mins from and to Shepherd’s Bush and slightly longer to Victoria but at £18 for an anytime return, it’s a cheap and convenient option (no pre-booking required and coaches run up to every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day).
Aside from the very obvious one of London, there are some gorgeous day trips you can take from Oxford.
- The Cotswolds – this area of natural beauty was a Downtown Abbey filming location and is the perfect place to explore the English countryside. Tour villages including Bourton-on-the-Water and Burford whilst filling up on pub lunches and cream teas. See my archives here.
- Blenheim Palace – this stately home and its grounds just 10 miles from Oxford make for a great day out. Grab a picnic and check out my guide to visiting (for free!).
Alternative Oxford: the Cowley Road
It’s not what tourists typically come for but this is a favourite hang out of mine – a multicultural street home to plenty of street art and almost every cuisine under the sun. Check out Spiced Roots for delicious Caribbean food and Big Society for wings and jam jar cocktails. You’ll also find retro cinema The Ultimate Picture Palace which shows alternative films, plus don’t miss the lion street art on Catherine Street.
My other Oxford guides
I have a few more specific blogs on Oxford’s food, coffee and photographic spots. Check these out & we’ll finish this post with a photo gallery.
- A guide to visiting Oxford’s colleges
- My top eats in Oxford
- Where to find the best brunch in Oxford
- A guide to Oxford’s food markets
- 10 amazing eateries in Oxford
- My top coffee fixes in Oxford
- My top 20 Instagrammable spots in Oxford
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See you next time for more adventures,