It’s a safe bet that a city nicknamed ‘The City Dreaming of Spires’ is going to be littered with pretty architecture: In Oxford, you can’t walk more than a few feet without catching a glimpse of a tall, elegant building commanding the skyline. But this history-drenched, quintessentially British town has far more to offer than an architectural day out – it’s definitely a great contender for an England city break or the study destination that has it all.
Give punting a go
To leave Oxford without having stepped in a punt would almost be a crime. Rent a classic, shallow-bottomed wooden boat from the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse and set off south, long stick in hand to propel you forward. Cruise past Oxford’s Botanical Gardens, Christ Church College Meadows, and through the Magdalen School Rose Gardens. Sit back and relax – if you can persuade someone else to do the actual ‘punting’ – while floating serenely through Oxford’s waterways in style. If you’d rather not act as the motor to your own boat, plenty of river cruises are on offer to give you an amazingly relaxing water-based sightseeing tour.
Visit the university
The University of Oxford – you can’t and don’t to want to miss it. Embrace the picturesque and stunning colleges – many of them let you take a peek around. The most visited of Oxford University’s illustrious colleges, Christ Church College, once housed Albert Einstein and is home to the very dining hall that both inspired Harry Potter’s great hall and was used during the filming of the actual movies. Magdalen College on the banks of the river is known as one of the most magnificent buildings, complete with towering spires, gargoyle-lined cloisters, and even its own deer park. Trade architecture for green space and wander the great University Parks or visit the classic, deceptively large Blackwell’s Bookshop.
Wander around Oxford Covered Market
You could (and should) spend hours strolling through Oxford’s Covered Market, found in the heart of Oxford’s historical center. Step inside and a hodgepodge arrangement of independent craft stalls, cute cafés and sumptuous-looking cake shops awaits. (Don’t miss the freshly baked cookies at Ben’s!) Treat yourself to locally crafted gifts and goods before stopping by the cheese or meat sections and leaving with a steaming pie from Pieminister.
Know where to eat…
Whatever you’re after, Oxford has got you covered: Share a selection of seafood paellas, spicy sausage and marinated meats at An Andulas tapas. Feeling peckish for Japanese cuisine? Head over to Edamane for authentic, home-cooked Japanese dishes and sublime sushi. For lunches, visit Taylor’s for a mouthwatering gourmet baguette; and to sample fine dining, the Cherwell Boathouse overlooking the river can’t be beaten. If after all that, it’s getting late but you’re seriously craving a hearty dollop of smooth ice cream: G&D’s delicious ice cream parlors are open until midnight to satisfy your sweet tooth.
… where to drink…
Tucked away down a cobbled lane, Turf Tavern sits hidden from view but firmly lodged in the hearts of anyone who knows and loves Oxford. There’s traditional English pub food and drinks aplenty, but the real charm lies in the outside beer garden in summer and the friendly atmosphere all year round. Sample cocktails at the small but award-winning Rauls or at Freud Café – a striking bar inside an old church, complete with elegant high ceilings and stained glass windows. The Kings Arms Pub in central Oxford always bustles and the Lamb and Flag boast heaps of Oxford charm, classic tweed and open fires included.
… and where to brunch
If your perfect morning begins with a choice of trendy egg-based dishes or full English and American breakfasts, head over to the cleverly named Oxfork – your taste buds will thank you. For a brunch that celebrates good quality coffee and allows you to gorge yourself on home-cooked pancakes, head over to family-run Combibos Coffee, and return later in the day for a huge slice of cake. When the classic coffee-spots just aren’t enough, try Thirsty Meeples board game café near Gloucester Green to enjoy an out-of-this-world hazelnut hot chocolate while passing the time with a selection of over 2,000 games.
Pack a camera
One of the UK’s most famous libraries is also one of its prettiest: 176 km of shelving groan under the weight of storing a copy of every book ever copyrighted by the London Stationers’ Company since 1610 – that’s over nine million books. We’re not suggesting you spend your weekend with your nose in a dusty book (but we won’t judge if you do), but a walk through its hushed halls is well worth adding to your itinerary. Right next door are the Sheldonian Theatre, the famous Radcliffe Camera and the quaint Hertford Bridge (Bridge of Sighs), so you’ll have your pick of iconic Oxford landmarks to snap, filter and Instagram. #EFMoment, anyone?
Visit the museums
Culture buffs should head to the Oxford University Museum, a miniature version of the Natural History Museum in London, and check out the dinosaur skeletons and stuffed animals that illustrate the history of the earth. The best part? It’s free! While you’re there, spend an hour or two marveling at the cultural oddities lost in the accompanying Pitt Rivers Museum, where tall display cabinets are crammed full with an eclectic array of artifacts and curious relics from all four corners of the globe – complete with totem poles, shrunken heads, or age-old weapons.