If you like your cities steeped in history, full of beautiful architecture, world-class museums, specialist shops and unusual places to eat and drink, then Oxford is for you
Why visit Oxford?
Oxford is known as ‘the city of dreaming spires’ and its university is famous around the world. It’s been home to royalty and scholars for more than 850 years and is now a buzzing, cosmopolitan hotspot; a real blend of the ancient and the modern. Wherever you look in the city you can see beautiful buildings, some of which you may recognise from the Harry Potter films and the TV series Inspector Morse and Endeavour.
Curious to see inside the university? Many of the 38 colleges open their doors to visitors, often for free, so it’s well worth planning a tour. Stroll through Oxford Castle and delve into 1,000 years of history, or take the family to one of Oxford’s renowned museums and galleries to explore the city’s past through stunning artefacts and paintings.
If you’ve worked up an appetite, then Oxford has a plethora of coffee shops, juice bars, cafes and restaurants to choose from. You’ll find eateries on the rooftop of the Ashmolean Museum and in the undercroft of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, while Cowley Road’s international restaurants offer a diverse selection of dishes from around the globe.
Oxford is also a great place to indulge in a little retail therapy. The town centre has its share of big high-street names, but you’ll also find high-end outlets, antique shops and an eclectic mix of specialist independent retailers. The Covered Market is a Victorian labyrinth jam-packed with great food stalls and small boutiques, and is well worth exploring.
The city has plenty to offer in the evening too, with everything from stylish cocktail bars to ancient pubs to choose from – including The Lamb & Flag on St Giles’ Street where novelist Thomas Hardy wrote Jude The Obscure in 1894. You can also take in a show at one of the city’s theatres, enjoy an evening of comedy at The Glee or head to Oxford’s O2 Academy for live music.
A brief history
Oxford was first settled in the late Saxon period before being destroyed and rebuilt after the Norman invasion in 1066. The town continued to grow in importance during the 12th century with the establishment of many important religious houses and the emergence of the university. Oxford was badly affected by the ‘sweating sickness’ epidemic of 1517, when it is said that half the population died. In 1555, the Oxford Martyrs: Bishops Latimer and Ridley and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, were tried for heresy by Queen Mary and burnt at the stake outside Balliol College for their Protestant beliefs. The University continued to play a pivotal role in the country’s history when it provided a base for the court of King Charles I during the English Civil War.
By the late 18th century, transport links to the city were greatly improved by the completion of the Oxford Canal. The introduction of the rail route to London in 1844, and the rise of the printing and publishing industries in the early part of the 20th century, prompted rapid population and industrial growth. The Morris Motors factory was established during the 1920s and by the early 1970s employed over 20,000 workers. Although major job losses occurred during the 1980s and 1990s, a successful motor manufacturing plant still operates in the area.
The best time to visit
May Day is a major event in Oxford and offers a great chance to join in with some traditional English celebrations. The May Morning festivities begin at 6am with the choristers of Magdalen College singing from the Great Tower. Events run throughout the day and you can expect to enjoy plenty of folk music and Morris dancing.
Summer is a great time for an Oxford weekend break. The festival season kicks off with Common People, Oxford’s newest music festival. It takes place over two days at the end of May in South Park. Headliners from the inaugural event included Duran Duran, Primal Scream and Craig David. The Oxford Festival of the Arts is held in June and is a two-week celebration of music, comedy, theatre, literature and film, with performances and workshops held in venues throughout the city. Past performers have included the Tallis Scholars ensemble, filmmaker Sam Mendes and comedian Marcus Brigstocke.
Winter is a lovely time to enjoy Oxford with friends or family. The traditional Christmas market features wonderful carol singers, choirs and brass bands as well as a wealth of delightful market stalls. It runs over ten days in December and is a great way to get into the festive spirit.
Oxford’s city centre is compact and fairly flat, so it’s easy to explore on foot or by bike. Alternatively, there’s a good public transport network and open-top bus sightseeing tours run regularly. If you’re driving to the city, use one of the park and ride services if you can.
Take a look at our hotels in Oxford and see all the beautiful architecture and sample the great food that this destination has to offer.