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I may be a little biased having lived in the city for 3 years whilst studying at university, but other than London (of course) my favourite city in the UK has to be Oxford.
Ever since returning to London after graduating from university, I love heading back to Oxford to take in the city’s amazing architecture, drink in the historic pubs and go punting on the river on a sunny day. And luckily for me, Oxford is so close to London that it’s easy to visit in a day or weekend.
Here’s how to take a day trip to Oxford from London…
Getting from London to Oxford:
First things first, getting from London to Oxford. Luckily, Oxford isn’t far from London and is extremely easy to get to, with both trains and coaches regularly connecting the two cities 24 hours a day…
Trains run regularly from both London Paddington and London Marylebone to Oxford.
Direct trains take just under an hour.
Price for return ticket: Adult £28.20 (off-peak same day)
By Coach – Oxford Tube
The second and cheaper option is the Oxford Tube, a coach service which runs between London and Oxford.
The Oxford Tube can be picked up from bus stops in Victoria, Marble Arch, Baker Street, Notting Hill Gate and White City.
Depending on the time and day, coaches depart from London to Oxford every 10-30 minutes (see the timetable here). The Oxford Tube also runs hourly throughout the night meaning you can return at any time.
The only downside of the Oxford Tube is that traffic can extend the journey when travelling during peak times. On a very quiet day, the journey can take as little as 1hr 30m, however, during rush hour it is likely to take around 2 hours+.
Price for return ticket: Adult £15, Student/Young Person £13, Child £7.50.
Driving between London and Oxford will take around 1hr30 (traffic dependent) via the M40.
When approaching Oxford, it’s probably best to park in one of the Park and Ride’s just outside of the city (Thornhill Park and Ride is best when coming from London) and jump on the regular shuttle bus into central Oxford. Parking in a Park and Ride will be significantly easier and cheaper than attempting to find parking in the compact city centre.
What to do in Oxford in a day:
Breakfast at the Art Cafe
Art Cafe is a cosy local cafe with a small 2 story interior and outside terrace which is great for people watching on neighbouring Bonn Square – where you’ll often find local bands and singers performing on the street.
As well as great coffee, the cute little cafe serves a food menu including an all-day English breakfast, hot paninis, sandwiches, toasted bagels and plenty more.
Fighting for its place among the many chain coffee shops and restaurants opening up around the city, Art Cafe stands out from the crowd by offering a large variety of free-range, organic, gluten-free and vegan products, while the majority of their meat and cheese comes from locals traders in the close by Covered Market.
Also in its mission to help the local community, the cafe frequently collaborates with local artists to help to spread their work by hosting free exhibitions, so be sure to check out the ever-changing artwork throughout the building.
The Art Cafe is also just a short walk from both Oxford train station and Gloucester Green coach station (the last stop on the Oxford Tube) in the direction of the city centre and Oxford’s main attractions, making it a good first stop on a one day Oxford itinerary.
Step back in time at Oxford Castle and Prison
Just two minutes away from the Art Cafe is Oxford’s Castle Quarter, home to historic Oxford Castle and Prison, as well as a number of restaurants and pubs in the charming castle courtyard.
For history buffs, a tour of Oxford Prison is a must. Explore the 1000-year-old castle and learn about its interesting history, climb Saxon St. George’s Tower, one of the oldest buildings in Oxford with stunning 360° panoramic views over the city, head down into the 900-year-old underground crypt and visit the vaulted Well Chamber inside of the castle’s original medieval motte.
Explore Christ Church College
Oxford as a city is probably best known as being home to the prestigious University of Oxford and it’s 38 historic colleges. It is the oldest university in the English-speaking world, with evidence of teaching dating as far back as the 11th century.
Wandering through the streets of Oxford is like taking a step back in time, retracing the steps of the many famous alumni who have attended the university over the years and admiring the gothic and neoclassical architecture which consumes the compact city centre.
Many of the colleges are open to the public for a small fee (around £2 – £5), however, if you’ve only got one day in Oxford you probably won’t have time to do them all.
One of the best Oxford colleges to visit is Christ Church – undoubtedly one of Oxford’s most impressive colleges, famed for its many beautiful quads and courtyards, as well as its grand cathedral.
While taking a tour of the buildings, be sure to keep an eye out for any signs of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as it is in this college that Lewis Caroll (aka. Charles Dodgson) studied maths while also dreaming up the famous tales of Alice.
Another must-see in Christ Church College is the dining hall, which provided the inspiration behind Hogwart’s Great Hall in Harry Potter. In fact, several scenes in the early Harry Potter movies were filmed around the college, including the grand stone staircase inside the Bodley Tower and the Christ Church Cloisters.
Lunch at Oxford’s Covered Market
Dating back to the 1770s, Oxford’s Covered Market has long been a popular destination for both locals and tourists visiting the city, with a number of independent, family-owned traders selling everything from meat and fresh fruit and veg, to clothes, jewellery and tourist souvenirs.
There are also several cafes and food traders in the market, making it a great option for picking up a quick lunch on the go.
Where to eat in Oxford’s Covered Market:
- Taylor’s – Oxford’s own gourmet sandwich and deli company.
- Alpha Bar – gourmet salads and sandwiches.
- Pieminister – award-winning meat, veggie, vegan & gluten-free pies.
- Souvlaki Brothers – authentic Greek-style pittas.
- Moo Moos – custom milkshakes, choose your own flavour combo.
Where to shop in Oxford’s Covered Market:
- The Cake Shop – gaze through the window to see gorgeous custom-designed cakes being created right in front of your eyes.
- Nothing, Next to Nothing & Two Foot Nothing – I’m still not sure whether this coordination was on purpose or not, but these three independent shops are worth visiting for the clever names alone.
- Cardews & Co. – established in 1948, Cardews are the oldest established supplier of freshly roasted coffee and fine tea in the city.
Marvel at the Radcliffe Camera & Bodleian Library
Returning once again to the historic architecture of Oxford University, catching a glimpse of the Radcliffe Camera and Bodleian Library is an absolute must on a day trip to Oxford.
The beautiful Radcliffe Square has to be one of the most picturesque spots in Oxford. The Square wraps around the impressive neo-classical Radcliffe Camera, previously home to the Radcliffe Science Library and now a reading room of the Bodleian Library, whilst the rest of the large Bodleian Library sits on one end of the square and University Church of St Mary the Virgin on the other.
The Bodleian Library is the main research library of the University of Oxford and is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. With a collection of over 12 million items, it is also the second-largest library in the UK after the British Library in London.
The library’s amazing exterior and central quad can be visited for free, as well as the main entrance halls, the S T Lee Gallery and The Treasury, however, the buildings most impressive offerings including the Divinity School (featured in several Harry Potter films), Duke Humfrey’s Library (the most ancient room) and the inside of the Radcliffe Camera can only be visited on an organised tour.
Wander through the colourful houses of Hollywell Street
Just around the corner from Radcliffe Square and its many architectural wonders is the quaint and colourful Hollywell Street. Dominated by New College on the south side of the street and a row of pastel-coloured houses on the north side, Hollywell Street is often quieter than other central parts of the city and is a good spot to stop for some pretty photos.
Enjoy an afternoon pint at the infamous Turf Tavern
Ever wanted to enjoy a pint in the spot where the former US President Bill Clinton infamously ‘did not inhale’ marijuana while studying at Oxford University in the sixties?
How about the pub where the cast of Harry Potter would drink in between filming the iconic movie franchise around the city?
Or the location where former Australia Prime Minister Bob Hawke entered the Guinness Book of World Records for downing a yard of ale in 11 seconds?
The Turf Tavern certainly has a colourful history and has had a large number of famous patrons over the years, including Stephen Hawkin, Margret Thatcher, Ernest Hemmingway, Oscar Wilde, David Cameron and many more.
Hidden down a discrete narrow alleyway underneath Hertford Bridge, or ‘the Bridge of Sighs’, enjoying a drink at the iconic 12th-century Turf Tavern is an absolute must while spending a day in Oxford!
See the shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum
Once again, I may be a little biased having studied Anthropology and spent many days during my university experience pursuing this fascinating place, but the Pitt Rivers is one of my absolute favourite museums on the planet.
The Pitt Rivers is a unique museum displaying the archaeological and anthropological collections of the University of Oxford, with many artefacts from cultures all across the world. You’ll find everything from costumes and jewellery to weapons and tools, and plenty more.
Don’t miss the museums most popular exhibition – the Shrunken Heads (or tsantas) made by the Shuar and Achuar people of Ecuador and South America.
Plus, entry is completely free. What’s not to love!?
To enter the Pitt Rivers Museum you also have to pass through the Oxford University Museum of Natural History which houses the university’s scientific collections of geological and zoological specimens.
Although not quite as impressive as London’s National History Museum, there are some interesting displays and the dinosaur skeletons are always a big hit with kids!
SUMMER ONLY: Go punting with the students
For those of you who don’t know what a punt is, it’s a long, flat-bottomed boat which is designed only for shallow water as it is controlled by pushing against the river bed with a pole.
Punting is a quintessentially English past-time which is particularly popular with students in the university cities of Oxford and Cambridge.
Going punting along the river is definitely one of the best things to do in Oxford on a warm summers day, with the majority of the punt hire companies opening from late Spring until early Autumn during daylight hours (you do not want to be punting in the dark or rain!).
You can either hire your own punt and give it a go yourself – just be warned, it is fairly difficult to control and there is a chance you’ll fall in the water – or hire a chauffeured punt and get a professional to steer it for you.
Dinner and cocktails at Westgate Shopping Centre
Now I’m not saying that you should spend your one day in Oxford shopping, however, head upstairs to newly refurbished Westgate shopping centre’s large rooftop garden and you’ll find some of the best free views in the city where you can look out across Oxford’s many spires while enjoying dinner and a cocktail or three.
Where to eat in Oxford’s Westgate:
- Cinnamon Kitchen – modern Indian restaurant by Executive Chef Vivek Singh.
- Dirty Bones – NYC-inspired comfort food and cocktails (delicious chicken and waffles!).
- Pizza Pilgrims – tasty slow proved Neapolitan pizza.
- OR for something quicker and more casual, head back downstairs to Westgate Social Street Food where there are a number of street food traders in a canteen-style setting (Tommi’s Burgers is my fave FYI).
Where to drink in Oxford’s Westgate:
- The Alchemist – ‘masters in the dark arts of molecular mixology’, The Alchemist serves a unique and creative menu of cocktails. Think colour-changing, dry ice and even augmented reality cocktails.
If you’re sticking around Oxford for the evening and looking for something fun to do, Westgate is also home to the city’s first Junkyard Golf Club, with three creative crazy golf courses and an on-site cocktail bar.
Where to stay in Oxford:
Planning to stay overnight and turn your one day in Oxford into a whole weekend? Here are some great options for places to stay in Oxford:
- Budget: Oxford YHA – a modern and spacious hostel with friendly staff and a social atmosphere, close to Oxford Train Station.
- Luxury: The George Street Hotel – luxurious 5* hotel with elegant decor, located in the heart of Oxford city centre opposite Oxford Theatre.
- Unique: Hotel Malmaison – a stunning boutique hotel located inside of a converted Victorian prison in central Oxford.