Today’s City Guide is brought to you by Katherine Lightner!
Oxford, England, is a city steeped in culture and history, famous for its University, its creation of world leaders, and its dreaming spires. Authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, and C.S. Lewis spent many years here honing their craft, inspired by their surroundings. To spend a day in Oxford means taking a step back in time as you walk its cobbled streets and alleyways.
Oxford is home to some world-class museums. The Ashmolean, recently renovated, has an extensive collection of art and antiquities. Immerse yourself in ancient culture and then have a meal in its rooftop restaurant. The University Museum of Natural History is always a favorite but is closed for repairs during all of 2013 so head instead to the Pitt Rivers Museum next door and take in its amazing archeology and anthropology collection. Here you’ll find an extensive collection of objects chronicling the development of mankind, even shrunken heads.
What many first time visitors to Oxford don’t realize is that the University is everywhere and is actually comprised of 39 separate colleges. Make sure as you walk around to peek through the open doors, many will lead to open courtyards. The public can visit many of the colleges but be sure to check their opening hours and most are only open for limited hours.
A visit to Christ Church, the largest and most well known college, is well worth it. Christ Church is home to both Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter and a gorgeous Cathedral, claimed to be the smallest in England. On a nice day, Christ Church meadow is a lovely spot for walks along the river or picnics.
In the center of Oxford, you’ll find the Bodleian Library, one of the most celebrated libraries in the world. The Bodleian first opened in 1602 and includes a significant collection of rare books including an original Gutenberg Bible. Visiting hours are limited but guided tours are available.
Oxford isn’t really known as a shopping mecca, while you can certainly find many of the standard High Street shops. The Covered Market is worth a visit, full of quirky gift shops, eateries, and food shops.
But if you’re a bibliophile, there’s really no better place than Oxford, home to Blackwell’s one of the oldest bookshops in the world. Be sure to go downstairs and take in the grandeur of the Norrington Room where over 10,000 square feet are dedicated to books.
For a traditional pub lunch, head to The Bear Inn, tucked in a corner just outside Christ Church. Dating from 1242, it’s the oldest pub in Oxford. Have a seat at one of the tables and take in its quirky collection of ties hanging on the walls.
If you’re looking for something more modern, head to Quod located on the High Street. This bustling restaurant is full of contemporary food and their 2-course lunch special is a super deal. Adjoining Quod you’ll also find the Old Bank Hotel, a charming independently owned hotel. Some of the rooms in this Georgian property have amazing views of the sights of Oxford. Quod also offers something almost no other place in Oxford has, free parking in back.
For a sandwich on the go, try Olive’s Delicatessen, also on the High Street. Olive’s doesn’t have any seating but just grab one of their delicious handmade sandwiches and head over to Christ Church meadow or the University of Oxford Botanic Garden for a picnic.
Zappi’s Bike Café is a great place to stop for artisan coffees and light snacks. Located on St. Michael’s Street, Zappi’s shares space with the Bike Zone cycle shop and is usually full of locals. It’s a great alternative to the big coffee chains.
Oxford is just a short train journey, less than an hour, outside of London and can easily been toured in a day. And whether you’re into history, architecture, outdoor spaces, or family adventures, there’s something in Oxford for you. Come visit!