Ah, the city of dreaming spires, Harry Potter film locations, and tourists desperately trying to fit in by wearing tweed jackets and bowties. But fear not, my dear reader, for I am here to guide you through a weekend in this historic city, with a healthy dose of humor and irreverence thrown in for good measure as per usual.
If you live in London or are visiting London, you can also hop to Oxford for a day-trip as it’s only an hour train-ride from the Big Smoke, aka L-Town, aka London.
But if you’re on a budget and don’t mind roughing it a little, I recommend staying in a college room in one of the central colleges, such as Brasenose, Hertford, Magdalen or Balliol. Sure, the beds might be a little creaky, but think of it as an authentic Oxford experience. Plus, you can tell all your friends back home that you slept in a room where a future prime minister once studied.
Once you’ve settled in, it’s time to explore the city.
Oxford is famous for its many colleges, so why not start with a tour of the most famous one, Christ Church? You’ll get to see the dining hall that inspired Hogwarts’ Great Hall, as well as the staircase where Alice in Wonderland supposedly fell down. Just don’t try to reenact either of those scenes as it’s likely to get you kicked out.
After your college tour, it’s time to refuel with some food. Oxford has plenty of options for every budget, but if you’re looking for something truly unique, head to the Covered Market. Here you’ll find everything from traditional British fish and chips to sushi made by a former accountant turned chef.
Just make sure you leave room for dessert, as the market is also home to one of the best ice cream shops in the city. Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with Gees Restaurant & Bar, a stunning restaurant in north Oxford with a glasshouse. My favourite of all is in Cowley, and it’s called Kazbar. It’s got an Spanish-Moroccan vibe to it, the food is scrumptious and the people who work there are lovely.
Shrunken heads, the oldest museum in the world and an epic view
Next up, it’s time to see some sights. Oxford is full of beautiful architecture, but if you’re looking for something a little different, head to the Pitt Rivers Museum. This quirky museum is home to a vast collection of anthropological and archaeological artifacts, including shrunken heads, totem poles, and even a witch in a bottle. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but it’s certainly memorable. It currently has a display of props and artifacts from the BBC’s “His Dark Materials” series, set in Oxford.
And don’t forget to take a stroll by All Souls College, known for its stunning Codrington Library and its prestigious fellowship, which has included famous names like Oscar Wilde and J.R.R. Tolkien. You shouldn’t miss the The Ashmolean Museum, the oldest public museum in the world, dating back to 1683, that houses an extensive collection of art and artifacts from different periods and cultures.
For an epic view of the city, make sure to climb St Mary’s Tower for a panoramic vista that will take your breath away (and make for some envy-inducing Instagram posts).
Now, let’s talk about one of the most important parts of any trip to England: pubs. Oxford has a long and storied pub culture, with dozens of traditional watering holes to choose from. If you’re looking for a pub with a view, head to the Medley. Situated in Port Meadows, this riverside pub offers stunning views of the city and serves up classic pub grub and local beers. With its charming outdoor seating and relaxed atmosphere, it’s the perfect spot to unwind and soak in the beauty of Oxford, and my personal favourite. Ifyou’re lucky you might see free-roaming horse flocks galloping around the park.
For a more historic experience, check out the Turf Tavern. This hidden gem is tucked away down a narrow alleyway and has been a favorite haunt of Oxford students for centuries. Its low ceilings, rustic interiors, and colorful history make it a must-visit for pub enthusiasts.
Finally, for a truly authentic experience, head to the Rose and Crown. This tiny pub is said to be the oldest in Oxford and has barely changed in centuries. It’s the perfect spot to cozy up with a pint of ale and soak in the history of this beautiful city. They have jazz night every Sunday with a live band, it’s very joyful.
Take me to the river
No trip to Oxford would be complete without punting on the Thames. You can hire a boat and try your hand at punting yourself, or if you’re feeling lazy (or just don’t trust your own punting skills), you can hire a guide.
Just be warned, punting is harder than it looks, so don’t be surprised if you end up going round in circles for a while. But it’s definitely fun, and I’d never felt prouder than when I’d mastered punting.
If it’s a sunny day, don’t forget to bring a chilled bottle of Prosecco, thank me later. And that’s a wrap! With a belly full of pub grub, a heart full of awe-inspiring views, and a head buzzing with knowledge and Harry Potter references, you’re all set to embark on an Oxonian escapade like no other.
So, don your tweed jacket, grab your favorite quill, and get ready to be charmed by the whimsical city of dreaming spires. Whether you’re wandering down cobblestone lanes, sipping tea in a centuries-old cafe, or indulging in some scholarly banter with the locals, Oxford is sure to leave you spellbound.
So go forth, my friend, and let your inner eccentricity thrive in this city where magic and academia collide!
See more Quick Trips here in Dispatches’ archives.
Charlotte Laborie grew up in England, Belgium and Switzerland. Charlotte then moved to Paris and graduated from Sciences Po Paris. She is still based in Paris, where she works in marketing.