Oxford is a perfect day trip from London – and London is a perfect day trip from Oxford. Only about an hour apart by train, the two cities each offer something quite different, and have very different personalities. I would recommend at least three nights in Oxford if you are able, as there are plenty of places to eat and historic sites, free museums, and constant concert- and speaker-series. But if you only have 24 hours in Oxford, you’ll have to make some hard choices! Of course, you can always hit the highlight package: the University, the Bodleian Library, the river, the Botanic Garden, Christ Church College, etc. Or, you could get off the tourist trail a little bit and spend 24 hours in Oxford… a little differently.
Walk at Christ Church Meadow
Start the day nice and early at Christ Church Meadow for a lovely walk by the river and around the well known Christ Church College. If you like, this trail can connect you to other trail systems throughout the city, and you may even spot a punt or two on the river. Christ Church is an imposing structure that has been featured in film sets, including Harry Potter, making it a popular (and pricey) attraction. Walking the grounds is lovely as well though, and you really won’t miss going inside.
Climb the Tower at University Church
The trail from Christ Church Meadow can spit you out near the city’s high street. Head from there to University Church of St. Mary the Virgin and climb the narrow stairs to the top of the tower for views of the city. Be sure to go on a clear day, and wear good walking shoes. The stairs get smaller and narrower the further up you go, and the space at the top of the tower is limited. This is the highest point you can visit in the city, so bring your camera. The views on a clear day let you see the whole city, right out into the countryside, with nearly 360 degree viewpoints.
Coffee & Books at Gulp Fiction
After all that climbing, you’ll need a coffee. The Oxford Covered Market is a must see, so you can tick that off your list whilst visiting Gulp Fiction, the market’s book-and-coffee shop. This is still a truly independent bookshop, so spend your money here rather than at Waterstones, and stay for a Flat White in the cozy chairs while you’re at it.
The Story Museum
I’ve dubbed this officially Oxford’s cutest attraction.You’ll visit The Portal to get a character alias, and then head through the Whispering Wood, and the Treasure Chamber to the Enchanted Library, hearing stories and meeting your favourite characters along the way. I highly recommend a visit to the museum for both children and adults. Want the full review? Check out this post.
Brunch at The Handlebar
When you’ve had your fill of fiction, emerge back into the real world for brunch at The Handle Bar, a cafe and restaurant nestled above a bicycle shop. Often filled with students and young people, the brunch offerings are very tasty, and include some excellent vegetarian options (try the shakshuka!). Service is pleasant and relaxed, so you won’t feel rushed having a second coffee and resting your legs. (You can even haul all of your luggage up the stairs and the servers won’t be at all miffed, and will in fact find you the perfect spot to store them – I know this from experience!)
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The Bate Collection
After 2pm, the Bate Collection opens, and you’ll want to rush right over to get a chance to play the theremin. This museum is a collection of historical musical instruments, stored in the music department of Oxford University. The exhibit is free to enter, though donations are appreciated. From ancient harpsichords to a valve-less French Horn, you’ll be sure to spot a version of your high school band instrument here, and learn about some of the developments in instrument design. Many museums in Oxford are free, but this was perhaps the most unusual, and the most memorable of the ones I visited.
Dinner at The Ivy
There are lots of lovely places to eat in Oxford. For me, the decor at The Ivy makes it worth a special visit – and the food is excellent as well. Located right on the high street, I recommend making a reservation if you want a table. But sitting at the bar is just as much fun – and they serve the whole food menu. The whole vibe is very maximalist, with plush forest green furnishings, orange bar stools, and art hung gallery-style on every wall. The waitresses wore bright yellow blazers with bold floral patterns, and the cocktail list is well worth studying. Perhaps not the most traditional choice for dinner in Oxford, but very memorable.