Discovering Oxford

Discovering Oxford

Oxford is a brilliant place to explore on foot. Just grab yourself a street map and let your feet lead you where they will, and you’ll have a lovely time discovering meadows, gazing at the ‘dreaming’ spires, peeking reverently into colleges and meandering along the cobbled lanes that snake through the city.

Probably the number one thing to do is visit a college – there’s so many to choose from I’ve written a separate blog on them which you can read here. Once you’ve had your fill, here’s our top choices of other things to do in Oxford:  

The Ashmolean

Epic and beautiful, The Ashmolean is the University of Oxford’s museum of art and archaeology and was founded in 1683, making it England’s oldest public museum. Following a major refit in 2009, it’s now a beautiful, light open space home to some incredible delights such as Michelangelo’s studies for the Sistine Chapel to fascinating finds such as Guy Fawkes’ lantern. Allow plenty of time to explore this incredible museum and maybe head to the rooftop restaurant for a well-earned break.

Beaumont Street, Oxford | 01865 278 000 | www.ashmolean.org

Pitt Rivers Museum

Dimly lit and tucked away, the Pitt River’s Museum is a curious delight and a must for those with a fascination for the odd and obscure. From shrunken heads to Roman shoes, expect to be wowed by the 55,000-odd artefacts beautifully displayed behind Victorian cabinets. Organised by type rather than by geographical region or time period, this is a democratic celebration of human existence. Little ones will love the trails on offer which help families explore the museum together – a great way to spend an afternoon if the weather’s not great – and if you go on a Saturday you get to handle some of the artefacts.

Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PP | 01865 270927 | www.prm.ox.ac.uk

The Botanical Gardens

The oldest botanical gardens in Great Britain was founded in 1621 and lies right in the heart of the city opposite Magdalen College and next to the River Cherwell. It’s a gorgeous spot and an antidote to the busyness of the city. With seven glasshouses (the first was built over 300 years ago), expect to find alpines, a cloud forest, a lily house, a carnivorous plant house and an arid plant section to name a few. The walled garden is the oldest part of the gardens dating back to 1621 and has fascinating scientific and medicinal plant beds, whilst the lower garden is more ornamental and a lovely setting for a picnic. It’s also become somewhat of a pilgrimage spot as it’s a significant location in the closing chapters of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

Rose Lane, Oxford OX1 4AZ| www.obga.ox.ac.uk

The Covered Market

One of my favourite spots for shopping and people watching, the Covered Market building dates to the 1770’s and has been a market for over 200 years. Home to over 40 places to eat, drink, buy locally-crafted gifts and pick up local produce to take home with you, it’s a shopper’s delight. With some shops going back generations, there’s a unique atmosphere to it that’s well worth taking the time to soak up. At Christmas, the market becomes almost magical and has almost a Victorian feel – expect stunning window displays, gorgeous smells and carol singers. If you’re there early before the crowds, pop into Brown’s Café for a no-nonsense cooked breakfast and grab a window seat. The market is open 8am – 5.30pm Monday to Saturday and 10am-4pm Sunday although all shops have their own opening times.

Market Street, Oxford OX1 3DZ | www.oxford-coveredmarket.co.uk

Punting on the Cherwell

Nothing conjures up Oxford more than lazily trailing a hand in the water whilst punting along the river past Christ Church Meadow on a warm summer’s day. Head to Magdalen Bridge Boathouse to pick up a punt or a rowing boat or pedalo if you fancy something easier. For a special occasion, you can hire a chauffeured punt and arrange for a picnic hamper to be provided too. There’s no need to book ahead if you’re planning on DIY’ing it, whilst if you want to be chauffeured, you’ll need to pre-book. You can hire a boat just for an hour or a whole day (make sure to take a picnic with you) – you’ll just need to return the punt half an hour before sunset.

A night time ghost tour

Oxford transforms at night, especially during winter, and there’s nothing like walking the car-free, rain-glistened cobbled streets that wind around the colleges to stir the imagination and conjure up ghostly thoughts. Bill Spectre’s Oxford Ghost Trail is the perfect way to soak it all up – his one hour and 45-minute tour is a family friendly, historically informative yet massively entertaining ghost tour is a unique way to explore the city. Having done this more than once (I took all visiting friends and family on it), it’s a brilliantly different way to spend an evening. The tour takes place every Friday and Saturday evening at 6.50pm from the Tourist Information Centre in Broad Street. You can’t miss him – he’ll be the one dressed as a Victorian undertaker!


Buy a book at Blackwell’s

Known primarily as an academic book seller and library service, Blackwell’s was founded in 1879 and is probably the go-to shop for Oxford’s students. Head to the flagship store in Broad Street where you’ll get lost amongst the shelves and shelves of books on offer. During its time it also started the career of many an aspiring writer, including JRR Tolkien back in 1915. Find a comfy chair or stall and peruse at your leisure for your next literature fix.

Have a pint at the Lamb & Flag

This 17th century tavern in Jericho is not only a lovely pub for a drink or two but it has hefty literary links. Owned by St John’s College, Thomas Hardy set and wrote parts of Jude the Obscure here, whilst JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis frequented it in later years. All profits fund student scholarships.

12 St Giles’, Oxford OX1 3JS

Get a bird’s eye view of Oxford

There are several towers and churches that you can climb for a good view. There’s Carfax tower – a 12th century edifice, or the Saxon Tower at St Michael at the North Gate. My personal favourite is  the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, which has spectacular views of the Radcliffe Camera, Radcliffe Square, All Soul’s College, Brasenose College, the Bodleian Library and Hertford College. Head to the vaults afterwards for a cream tea.

Feeling inspired? Take a look at our luxury retreats in Oxford here.

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