Words cannot even express how hard I fell for Oxford. Totally unexpected, yet I don’t really know what I was picturing. After all, this came after a packed week in London on our first ever visit to the UK and I was just ready for some relaxation.
We visited the city surrounding the oldest university in the Engligh-speaking world when my sister-in-law had the opportunity to teach there for a semester. She had already been living there for four months and graciously planned an itinerary that was equal parts lounging in pubs and getting out to explore the sights. It was perfection.
The pubs. Not only is there something wonderful and a little bit naughty about starting your pint consumption at 10 am with your kid hanging out with you (children are allowed in pubs until the evening), but the history that took place at these locations was unreal. There was the (literally) hidden gem that is home turf to Oxford students and professors and notably where Bill Clinton supposedly “did not inhale.” And then the dark and moody tavern where Lewis and Tolkien swapped legendary fiction ideas. Each one was quaint and quirky in it’s own way, from the food items to the unexpected built-on atriums.
This trip began and ended as foodie paradise. The unofficial welcoming of our arrival was sushi and bottled beers in the courtyard of our hotel, where my sister-in-law had a spread waiting for us as soon as we hopped off the train. We stayed at the Best Western (don’t judge), which was situated in a residential area that was adorned with old stone homes crawling with blooming vines. The price was right and it was near a bus stop that took us anywhere we wanted to go. After strolling through the Ashmolean Museum, we wandered through wisteria covered streets lined with waist-high brick walls wondering what would await us in the next few days.
Here are my picks for where to drink, eat, and what to see.
Must Visit Pubs
Turf Tavern– This is where we landed for our first official pint (and fries for the kiddos). Hidden down an alley just near the Bridge of Sighs, this place had the best wait staff and was chalk full of history. Just read the chalkboards!
Eagle and Child– Talk about history… This pub is where the creative minds of The Inklings writer’s group met in the 1930’s. But the pub is much older than this, serving as various types of establishments since the 1600’s.
Bear Inn– The Bear Inn touts itself as the oldest pub in Oxford. We stopped in here for some more beer and to try our first Scottish Egg. The walls are adorned with ties from various clubs and sports teams from around the world, dating back to the 1900’s.
Rose & Crown– On May Day, we stopped in this tiny, pink pub for pints when a traditional dance troupe entertained us on the street. It is situated on the adorable North Parade Avenue and serves a variety of specialty menus during the week.
Must Visit Restaurants
Old Parsonage Hotel – I indulged on crab toast for breakfast & honestly it was difficult to choose between all of the delights they had to offer. It also looks like a lovely place to stay and is right in the center of town.
The Anchor– On our first evening in Oxford, we booked the large family-style table in the sunroom for supper. This restaurant is light and airy and served up scrumptious meals. Nestled in a residential area, they also have a Sunday Roast and brunch.
Grand Café– The hubby and I were able to sneak away for coffee and scones at this lovely cafe, which claims to be the oldest coffee house in England. As I discussed in my post on Porto, it’s kind of been this coffee lover’s mission to seek out these old cafés when I travel.
Old Tom- Our final dinner of the trip was spent in this cozy old pub, turned Thai restaurant. I was ready for some authentic ethnic food after weeks of English fair (which is way better than people say).
Jacob’s Inn– We ended our journey little bit outside of town for breakfast. Easily one of the best breakfast meals I’ve ever had anywhere in the world, in my entire life. Jacob’s Inn had it all. Cozy character and delicious eggs benny. Pigs and chickens in the back and enough room for the kiddo to run around while we enjoyed an extra mimosa on the back patio.
Must See Sights
My sister-in-law took us on a walking tour of the main Oxford University campus and we climbed the tower at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin which offered beautiful views of the “city dreaming of spires” as it is also known. We sat in front of the Radcliffe Camera Building (above) and watched graduating students engage in plenty of shenanigans on the cobblestone streets.
Stroll to the Oxford Castle, which is a partially ruined medieval castle that offers tours of the 1,000 year history. Grab a hot chocolate from a street vender and wander down Broad Street to gaze at the adorable storefronts, like Blackwell Books, while heading toward the main campus. Plenty of school souvenir shops to grab that Oxford Uni hoodie.
Christ Church is one of several colleges of Oxford University and easily the most popular to see. Self-guided tours are available and offer walk throughs of the Great Hall, which served as inspiration for the dining hall in Harry Potter and is adorned with stained glass windows depicting scenes from Alice in Wonderland. It is here that Lewis Carroll worked and wrote the fantastical tale, taking inspiration from the dean’s daughter, Alice. My favorite Disney character literally ran amok on these grounds! A tiny Alice themed gift shop sits across the street and is worth a visit.
Blenheim Palace– A visit to this palace can take up a half or full day, depending on what you want to do or see. We opted for a half day, viewing some art installations, taking an interactive historical tour, wandered the gardens, and cheered on jousting knights. The grounds are vast and will require lots of walking. We wandered over to the Star Inn for lunch, which is about a mile away. We took the bus to and from the Woodstock area.
Stonehenge– If you are in Oxford, why wouldn’t you do day trip to knock one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages off your bucket list list? We had a gorgeous day out there, but it can get very cold and is usually windy.
Oxford was an unbelievable experience that I was so grateful to share with my family. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to get my Alice in Wonderland tattoo while I was there (yes, there are tattoo shops in Oxford!). However, I spend much of my time figuring out how and when I am going to get back to Oxford, so I will absolutely be heading back down that rabbit hole as soon as possible. I think a teaching position at the right school is in order…