It’s not just teenagers on college tours who should make the trip to Oxford, England.
This ultimate university town is a beautiful jumble of sights medieval to modern – filled to the brim with intriguing histories and famous residents, hidden pubs and hopping nightlife. It’s also just a day trip from London!
Here’s what to see and do on a day trip to Oxford.
Getting To Oxford
Oxford is connected to many other cities in the UK via bus and train. It’s proximity to London makes it perfect for the day-tripper who finds herself in the English capital.
From London you have two easy travel options:
- The Oxford Tube from Victoria Station: Actually a bus line, the “Tube” designation is a nod to how frequent and easy this route is for daily travel to Oxford, almost like a part of London’s own metro! A day or overnight return runs £16 and takes just over an hour and a half. Free wi-fi is a perk while you’re on the road.
- National Rail from Paddington Station: The train will get you to Oxford in about an hour, but prices vary. Peak times can see prices reach £21, but if you go a bit after rush hour you can find fares for as low as £4 each way!
Exploring Oxford Like a Local
Start your day joining students and sightseers for a stroll along Oxford’s main thoroughfares – St. Aldate’s Street, Broad Street and High Street. These wide roads are lined with shops, everything from boutiques to the ubiquitous Starbucks, and all are set into stunning architectural settings.
Here you’ll find some of Oxford University’s most iconic sights.
Take in the Views from Carfax Tower or Radcliffe Camera
Carfax Tower is a popular spot to snag a picture-perfect view of the city’s skyline – climbing up to gaze at the cupolas, crests and towers of Oxford piercing the hazy horizon is definitely worth the entrance fee.
But you can feel just as awestruck on your own if you want to avoid the cost and the crush of tourists. Just a few blocks away you can bask in the beauty of the Radcliffe Camera, a cylindrical library whose gold-and-blue hued image is an Oxford classic.
Pop into the Vault and Garden Café just across the way to sip some perfect English tea while you drink in the Radcliffe Camera’s majesty.
Get Literary in Oxford
Oxford has been home to some illustrious authors.
Their most celebrated literary son is Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Lewis’ eponymous character, was the daughter of the Christ Church College Dean, where Carroll taught math (excuse me, maths).
Oxford has a shop, several walking tours, and a museum exhibit dedicated to Carroll and his well-loved stories.
The fantastical nature of Oxford has inspired other imaginary realms – J.R.R. Tolkien was a well-known Oxford don, but he’s best known for creating The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien’s close friend, C.S. Lewis, was a scholar and professor at Oxford University, and it was here Lewis crafted his own fantasy world in The Chronicles of Narnia series.
For a brush with fame, head to the Eagle & Child pub, where Tolkien and Lewis met weekly to compare notes and toss back pints.
Explore the famous college campuses
You can’t throw a stone in Oxford without hitting something that conjures up the town’s long and complex history. And it’s impossible to separate the lengthy story of the city from that of the University that made it famous.
Oxford is made up of 38 independent colleges where students and faculty live and study.
Each has its own traditions and tales, and you can get a peek into the unique academic life each one offers by stopping in for a visit. Check out which colleges charge admission, and when they offer public hours, before you go.
The University is also home to spades of beautiful and intriguing historical artifacts, housed in museums dotted throughout the city.
Explore the museums in Oxford
The Ashmolean Museum of Art & Archaeology is the best known, bedecked with priceless works of art from centuries past.
My favorite is the Museum of Natural History, with a collection that includes a few impressive Jurassic skeletons and crustacean fossils that belonged to Charles Darwin.
Here you’ll find a little surprise – a museum within a museum! Head to the back to discover the anthropological collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum section, packed to the rafters with artifacts and objects from human cultures around the globe.
Get Hip on Cowley Road
Head out of City Center to the Cowley Road area, on Oxford’s east side, for a kaleidoscopic array of restaurants, music venues, clubs, cafes, and funky shops. This hip neighborhood is nicely hidden from the tourist track, letting you get into the spirit of Oxford local life.
The O2 Academy Oxford hosts some of the best bands to pass through the UK.
Want to shop but not spend?
The Cowley Road is packed with charity shops, the British equivalent of a thrift store, where you can score everything from cheap shoes, books and music to kitchenware and costume jewelry.
Check out the Pubs & Nightlife
It wouldn’t be a day out in England without stopping in to a pub, and Oxford has some great spots where a weary traveler can relax with a pint of bitter.
Though there are dozens of great options, I love the Turf Tavern for its secretive feel, tucked into its own private courtyard at the end of an unassuming alley way. You can sink into a leather & brass tacks armchair inside or hit the back deck for an al fresco refreshment, open year-round thanks to some very cozy heat lamps.
Oxford also offers several spots for a great night out, but be warned: a college town is a college town.
While there are some great clubs for the traveler who wants to shake her groove thing, they’re usually spilling over with undergrads (not that we don’t love you, college Go! Girls).
My thinking is: when you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
If you want to embrace the university feel after-hours, try the Purple Turtle. This underground club has enough nooks and alcoves for you to sit back and people-watch, as well as a cavernous dance floor and a few smaller rooms featuring multiple soundtracks.
Whether you stroll, swill, or strut your stuff during your Oxford evening, just remember: the Oxford day-tripper may not have to hand in any homework tomorrow, but she does have to catch that bus or train back from whence she came.
What’s your favorite day-trip destination when you’re abroad? Any tips or itineraries we should try? We want to hear about your favorite one-day wonders!