A couple of weekends ago, I popped over to Oxford for the day. Exploring more of England, outside of London, while I’m living here is just as much as a priority for me as traveling throughout Europe.
Although I’d been to London numerous times before moving here, I’d never ventured outside of the city (bar trips to Hampton Court and Windsor Castle).
I chose Oxford as my first day-trip outside the city, in part, because of how many Harry Potter scenes were filmed there (#NerdAlert). It also helped Oxford is only an hour from London, making it easy to explore and head back to the city in time for an evening out.
You can get to Oxford via train, bus or car. I chose to take the train from Paddington station after discovering a deal for a £13 round-trip fare. As with most things, it helps to book early- I booked my ticket three weeks in advance.
Leaving on a 7:50 train meant I arrived in Oxford at 9 am, plenty of time to explore the town. If you arrive in Oxford by train, the town is a short walk away (~5-10 minutes).
My first stop was was at Society Cafe for a flat white. Loved the open, airy nature of this cafe- I didn’t have anything to eat, but the pastries and cakes looked incredible.
Fully caffeinated, I walked over to The Covered Market for breakfast. With a range of stalls featuring local sellers, some of whom have been in business for 100 years, you’ll have no problem finding something to snack on here. I stopped in Pieminister for a savoury breakfast pie- sweet potato, spinach and feta. Even if you’re only stopping in this market to browse, I’d recommend grabbing a cookie from Ben’s Cookies on your way out. I tried the chocolate chip and ginger one- so good.
Post breakfast, I headed to the Bridge of Sighs, figuring it was best to see it in the am before more visitors arrived (and I was right, I passed it again later in the afternoon, and there were hoards of people in the area). The bridge is a beautiful work of architecture, it joins two buildings of Hertford College.
Next, I figured I’d head to the Carfax Tower to check-out Oxford from above, but decided to pop in the Bodleian Library on my way. I’m so glad I did! Because I was there in the morning, there were still tour tickets available, which I purchased for mid-afternoon. More on that later in the day.
Heading back out to the main road, I wandered down to the Carfax Tower, a reminder of all that remains from a 13th century church. It costs £2.50 to climb to the top, but it’s worth it for the great view.
Ready for more exploring, I headed toward Christ Church, but popped into the Alice in Wonderland shop, Alice’s Shop, on the way. Fun fact: Alice in Wonderland was written in Oxford by Lewis Carroll. Alice is based on a real person, one of the daughters of the Dean of the college during that time- she used to enjoy buying sweets from a shop in town, and listening to Carroll’s stories.
Oxford is known for having some of the best universities in the world, only the best study here. Founded in 1167 by French scholars, it became England’s first university. If there’s one college that conjures ‘Oxford’, it’s Christ Church.
Christ Church was built by Cardinal Wolsey, an advisor to Henry VII. Coming to Christ Church was one of my main motivations for visiting Oxford- several of the college’s rooms were used in the filming of Harry Potter.
For £7, you can tour the grand staircase, dining hall, college chapel and quads. During my visit, the dining hall was closed, but it was still magnificent to see everything else.
After a morning of wandering, I was in the mood for a pint. To my surprise, the city is full of historic pubs- the likes of which CS Lewis and JR Tolkien used to frequent. My first stop: The Bear Inn, which claims to be the oldest pub in Oxford.
Ready for lunch, I head to The Turf Tavern, a 13th century pub hidden down an alleyway with great food and beers. Unfortunately, I got there just as they stopped serving lunch. I enjoyed another pint in one of the pub’s many courtyards. This was my favourite pub of the day, would definitely return and spend a few hours relaxing on a warm sunny day.
Still hungry, I head to the Vaults & Garden Cafe for a late lunch before my library tour. The cafe is set underneath the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, right in the center of town. Enjoyed having lunch here- the cafe serves a hot buffet, as well as pastries and different kinds of toast. While I was eating a cheese toastie, the choir was practisting inside the church, which was lovely ambiance.
Post-lunch, it was time for my library tour. I opted for the mini tour (30 minutes, £6), but our guide was so spectacular and full of tidbits, it turned into an hour long tour.
The Bodleian Library may look tiny, but it’s 11 stories, mostly underground. With over 100 miles of shelving, it can take up to 6 hours to retrieve a book. It’s truly an incredible space, there’s a copy of every book ever published within the U.K. inside.
If you choose to go on the mini tour, you’ll see the 15th-century Divinity School and Duke Humfrey’s medieval library. You will need to be quiet though, the Bodleian Library is a working library with students studying.
Ready for another pint, I set out for The Eagle & The Child, but decided to pop in Balliol College on the way. I believe entry was £2, and while the college isn’t as jaw-droppingly stunning as some of the others at Oxford, I loved seeing another example of Oxford’s grandeur. And, the dining hall at Balliol was open, which was very cool to see.
Ready for a pint and some rest, I found a seat at the Eagle and Child, and kicked back with a few pints, order of chips and hummus buttie (sandwich).
And, just like that, it was time to catch my 6 pm train back to London. I visited Oxford on a Saturday, and wanted to make it back to the city to meet up with friends for a night out.
On My Next Visit
I visited Oxford on a mild March day, so it was still the offseason for punting. But, punting is a classic Oxford experience. Underneath the Magdalen Bridge by the Botanic Gardens is where you can find punts for hire.
If you’re in the mood to see more colleges, other good ones to visit- Merton, Magdalen, Corpus Christi and Hertford.
A few more recos: I’ve heard Gee’s has stellar food and cocktails in a dreamy location- a huge glass house filled with plants and trees. I’ve also heard the Handlebar Cafe serves a great breakfast, and The Nosebag & Alternative Tuck Shop both do a great lunch.
Planning a trip to Oxford? Here’s the custom Google Map I used to help me get around town.