Arriving in Oxford is an exhilarating experience. It can also be a bit overwhelming for a first time visitor.
Visiting the “City of Spires” with its vast array of wide open green spaces laced throughout the five major neighborhoods (Central, North, South, East and West) can easily absorb an entire two week, or month long holiday. Total immersion would be needed to cover it all. We had two days. No pressure.
Covering this amount of real estate required us to devise a plan. Get an early start. Walk everywhere. Do not try to visit every building that catches your eye. Relax knowing that you cannot see everything in two days and eat a good breakfast. You will need the fuel to power you through the day.
With 38 colleges and glorious Gothic and Baroque architecture along with a vast network of canals, Oxford is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is also one of the most pedestrian friendly.
We spent our first day wandering down one street and up another, crossing plazas and quads, all the while looking like quite the tourists. With our necks craned upward and our mouths agape we took in buildings, historical landmarks and dozens of expertly manicured gardens.
That afternoon we enjoyed a fantastic lunch on the outdoor terrace of the multi award winning Vaults & Garden cafe, overlooking the Radcliffe Camera and Bodleian Library buildings. A better place to enjoy a quick bite while people watching would be hard to find. Refueled, we set out for the remainder of the afternoon to explore more of this amazing city.
Another great meal was had that evening at Quod Restaurant on High Street, located on the ground floor of the Old Bank Hotel. Known for their “blackboard” specials, Quod serves up a great array of European classics with an emphasis on British produce. Locals and visitors alike flock to this lively, iconic restaurant with its unpretentious food, great service and fantastic artwork adorning the walls. One visit is all it will take to make you a fan.
After breakfast on our second day we discovered the entrance to the Oxford Canal Heritage Trail. We decided that a walk along the canal would be a great way to spend the morning, not to mention that it would do wonders for our sore necks leftover from the previous day!
What was intended to be a short morning stroll turned into a three hour walk complete with a wonderful encounter with a longboat owner named Lucy. Not only was this affable young woman completely capable of operating her vessel she was kind enough to educate us on the proper opening and closing procedures of a lock. Bidding Lucy farewell, we spent the remainder of our canal walk marveling at the various boats and the independence inherent in such a unique lifestyle.
Later that afternoon found us back in the heart of town in search of dinner. A local pizza joint close to our hotel, called Ask Italian, had caught our eye the day before so we ducked in to grab a bite. With dinner complete we walked back to our hotel enjoying the yellow street lamps and the quiet that only night can bring.
Oxford is a compact city but that is easy to cover in a few days. However, it is so rich in history that it would take a life time to fully explore it.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Take the world-famous free 2-hour walking tour
You will get a chance to explore Oxford and see their most famous sites including some of the sets for the Harry Potter films.
2. Wander Oxford Free Walking Tour
This tour will take you around the city and give you a chance to visit their prestigious colleges, as well as free museums.
3. Study in Oxford
The University is made up of 38 independent colleges, and their quads and buildings can be found all over the city. Many colleges open their doors to visitors at least a few hours every day. Many of them are free to visit, some charge a small fee. Or check out Oxford Continuing Education site where you can pick or sit in a day course. Now you can go home and tell your friends that you studied in Oxford!
QUICK TRAVEL FACTS
Notes come in denominations of £5, £10, £20 and £50. Coins come in 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2.
In Oxford, the summers are short, comfortable, partly cloudy. Winters are long, cold, windy, and mostly cloudy. Temperatures typically varies from 35°F to 72°F and is rarely below 25°F or above 81°F.
Most of Oxford’s main sites are within easy walking distance. There are taxis and buses for those who need a ride. No Uber.