Many of you already know by now that one of the things that I love about living in London is the endless options of things to do and places to explore in and around the city. Ancient structures, beautiful cities and scenic natural wonders are all just a driving distance away. The mere thought of it excites me and I’m determined to visit all these places and probably more.
One of the cities I’ve been dying to see for the longest time is Oxford, famous for its prestigious colleges all with beautiful architecture. I first went there on a Sunday with my husband and it was a very bad decision. Being a weekend, it was packed with tourists. Oxford is a famous weekend getaway place so if like me, you don’t function very well in crowded places go there on a weekday during a term break which is what I’ve done. I went back on a Wednesday and it looked prettier with less people to navigate around as I explored the city.
During my second visit, I tried really hard to see as much as I can of Oxford with the 6 hours that I have before my booked train departs back to London. In this post, I’ll share some of the highlights of my trip to Oxford which I think you should definitely not miss.
How to get there:
I went to Oxford by car during the first visit and by train on the second visit. I do prefer taking the train instead – it’s fast, on time (at least the one that I took) and comfortable as traffic going back to London can be horrendous specially on a weekend.
If you’re going by car: We parked the car at Thornhill Park and Ride (you’ll see the signs for directions as soon as you enter Oxfordshire) instead of parking at the city center. We paid GBP2 which is a parking valid for 11 hours and took the number 400 bus going to the city center which costs GBP4.80 for a return bus ride for 2 adults. Payment for the car park can be done at the kiosk and you can pay the driver directly for the bus ride. On our way back to Thornhill Park and Ride, google maps helped me to figure out what is the nearest bus stop for bus no. 400.
If you’re going by train: You can take the Great Western Railway train from Paddington Station in London to Oxford. There are quite a few trains operating this route but I prefer taking the fast train with no change which only takes 57 minutes. I took the train departing Paddington at 0950hrs which arrived Oxford at 1047hrs. On my way back, I took the 1730hrs train from Oxford which arrived Paddington at 1829hrs. I paid GBP25.70 for the return journey which you can definitely get cheaper if you book your tickets way in advance.
Oxford Day Trip Itinerary
Oxford is a very walkable city, I didn’t take any public transport while there and just walked everywhere. Having said that, do make sure that you’re wearing comfortable shoes and if you’re prone to ankle sprains like me – look at where you’re going because some areas of Oxford are cobble stoned.
If you’re taking the train, I also suggest that you first go to the attraction which is farthest away from the train station and work your way towards the station so you don’t have to run back to catch the train when you’re done.
I also do highly recommend that you take an Oxford Walking Tour as soon as you arrive to give you an overview of the city. There are a lot of free walking tours that you can find around Oxford, the one I took though is from Experience Oxfordshire called Oxford Official University and City Walking Tour which costs GBP14. The tour lasted for 2 hours and was led by an official tour guide.
On my way to meet our tour guide, I passed by some of the free walking tours offered in Oxford and they all had more than 20 people in the group. I was thankful when I saw that we were only a small group of 9 during this tour which I believe is better as you’ll for sure be able to hear what your guide is saying and it’s easier to move around with a small group.
I do recommend the tour as you’ll learn some fascinating facts about Oxford – the university life, the history, the tutorial system unique to Oxford and Cambridge and the fact that Oxford university used to only accept male students until recently. :p It also includes access to one of the colleges and a visit to Divinity School.
Note: Experience Oxfordshire kindly offered a pass to me which included a free tour of my choice. As always, opinion is my own and in no way influenced.
If you do decide to take the tour and if you’re taking the train – the tour which starts at 11:15am is the perfect time for the 10:47am train arrival. The meeting point at Broad St is only 15mins away by walking from the train station.
Now, whether you’ve taken the tour or not – the below itinerary will work out fine as the tour will end in Christ Church at around about 1:30pm and during this time, the college hall will be closed. While waiting for it to reopen – you can walk around the beautiful Christ Church Meadows or go towards the Thames River to see why Oxford is named as such. Ox+Ford = Ox is an animal which looks like a cow and is plenty in this area and ford is what you call the shallow part of the river. The River Thames which runs through here is very shallow hence the name, oxford.
Christ Church will reopen its halls after lunchtime which is around 2pm or in our case, 2:15pm. You should definitely check the opening times of Christ Church and its halls before going as there are days when its closed if it’s being used for private events. Trust me, you’d want to see the hall as it’s just breathtaking. If you’re a Potter fan, you’ll recognize the stairs leading up to the hall and the hall itself in the first movie as Hogwarts. The hall is so stunning that I had to go back as I wasn’t very pleased with the photos I took from my first visit.
If you only have time to see one college in Oxford let it be Christ Church. It is one of the most famous colleges here and possibly one of the prettiest as well. It is the second wealthiest Oxford college by financial endowment. The Cathedral can also be found here which is also a must see. There’s an entrance fee of GBP9 per person.
Tip: Once you’re in Christ Church, head straight to the hall which will be the first stop anyway. The entrance is the narrow stairs on the right side which a lot of people didn’t know when I went back there the second time. They were all waiting on the other side which is actually the exit so it was just me waiting at the entrance. By the time they allowed people in I was able to go to the hall first hence, the crowd-less photos which I think is quite rare unless you have a special access to it. 🙂
Note: Experience Oxfordshire kindly offered a pass to me which included a free entrance to Christ Church. I used the pass on my first visit and I paid the entrance fee on my second visit. As always, opinion is my own and in no way influenced.
After the visit to Christ Church’s hall and cathedral, head over to Magdalen Bridge for a quick photo opportunity of people punting in the river. Punting refers to boating in a punt, a flat-bottomed boat designed for use in small rivers or shallow waters. Near the bridge is also the entrance to the Botanical Gardens, you can visit it as well if you do have longer than a day in Oxford.
Next stop is the University Church of St Mary The Virgin where you’ll get the most amazing aerial views of Oxford. If you’re into photography or you’d like to show off some cool photos of Oxford to your friends on your instagram account then this is definitely not to be missed. The entrance fee is GBP4 per person and the climb is through a circular stairs which can only fit one person but it’s actually 2-way stairs. (Claustrophobia alert!)
Once you reach the top, you’ll forget the climb immediately as the views will definitely impress you. The viewing platform of the tower is I think just 2ft wide so again, it’s a struggle if there’s a person coming towards you from the opposite direction. We stayed there for just a quick snap of the views and immediately went down before the next group climbs up. It’s a pity that you have to pay for GBP4 and not be able to admire the views as long as you’d love to.
Bodleian Library is also a favorite of mine which you can make as your next stop, I highly recommend that you book the guided tour here in advance as it will give you access to a lot more places like Duke Humfrey’s medieval library which looks stunning. Tours were already sold out for the day when I went there so I wasn’t able to see it. If you’re a Potter fan you’d want to go see it as it’s the Hogwart’s Library in the first film.
The Divinity School can also be found here and it’s included in the Oxford Official University and City Walking Tour that I took. There’s a GBP1 entrance fee if you are to go there on your own. Again if you’re a Potter fan, you might recognize this as Hogwart’s Infirmary.
Outside of Bodleian Library, you’ll also see the Bridge of Sighs which kinda looks like the one in Venice. It’s called as such because of the sighing of the students passing by it worrying about their exams. :p
After this, you can either have lunch or visit one (or two) of the many museums around Oxford. Entrance is free in almost all of the museums (hooray!) A favorite of many is the Pitt Rivers Museum which is connected to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. The Pitt Rivers Museum has a high density of objects on display, and the displays are changed periodically. I found some of the objects weird at the same time interesting, it’s definitely not your usual museum.
I suggest that you end your Oxford day trip at the Oxford Castle Unlocked. The tour lasts for an hour and starts every 20 minutes. Sadly, I didn’t have enough time to do this as I wasn’t able to keep time when I was at the Pitt Rivers Museum. The castle is a mere 5 mins walk away from the train station so you won’t have to hurry back to catch your train.
Those are just some of my personal favorites in Oxford and I’m sure there are a lot of things that I’ve missed. I definitely would go back if given the time. Also, Oxford has a lot of things to offer that it actually deserves a few days of stay there and not merely a day trip.