I hope everyone had an amazing Christmas despite these crazy COVID times. I’m back in full lock down again here in England, but at least it’s another chance to catch up on trips past! A few weekends ago (before the lockdown came in to force), I treated myself to a solo overnight stay in Oxford just for a change of scene. And wow am I glad I did.
Oxford is known as the ‘city of dreaming spires’ and it’s easy to see why. Its beautiful medieval centre really is something out of a story book or movie (so much so, it’s been used as a filming location for everything from Harry Potter to James Bond). It’s mainly known for its historic university, but I was blown away (both literally by the wind, and metaphorically by the city’s beauty) on my cold, winter visit.
If you’re visiting England from abroad, then Oxford is a really good option for a day trip from London – you can reach it by train from the capital in around an hour. That said, it gets super busy at peak times, so I do think there’s a lot to be said for staying the night and enjoying the morning/evening without all the tourists if you really want to make a day of it.
There are loads of things to do in the city, but here are 8 of my favourites – all manageable in 2 days with a one night stay.
1. Radcliffe Camera
The Radcliffe Camera is a reading room (camera means ‘room’ in Latin), which is a fancy term for a library. It currently houses the science library and is open only to students at the university to use. You can do tours inside the building, but during the times of COVID, this isn’t possible.
However, it’s a beautiful building which is worth visiting even if just to see it from the outside – built in the 1700s and strikingly unique, it’s an Oxford landmark not to be missed.
2. Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library is a series of buildings which form one of Europe’s oldest libraries, and the UK’s largest network of libraries. It houses 13 million printed items – interestingly, under the terms of its founding, it receives for free all published works in the UK (about 5,000 items a week! Madness!).
Tours are still operating at the Bodleian, and for a maximum of 3 people which is great – before there were groups of 20+ so the tours were much more crowded. You can visit the Divinity School (a beautiful medieval room featured as the hospital wing on Harry Potter), without the need for a tour, and also take an audio guide around the outside of the buildings.
With a guided tour though you can also visit Duke Humfrey’s Library. For me, it’s worth paying for a tour just to see this incredible room – it’s epically stunning. And even better if you book a tour for a weekend then the library is closed to students, meaning you have it to yourselves.
3. University Church
The tower of University Church is the best viewpoint in the city, and it’s open during COVID times. Again, it’s actually a benefit as it means they only let one household up in a 15 minute slot so you get the whole thing to yourselves. The views out over the Radcliffe Camera and the many spires of the city was stunning (if very windy and cold in mid-December!).
4. The Colleges
You can’t visit Oxford and not visit the colleges. That said, when I visited they were all closed to visitors because of COVID which was a real shame. A couple allowed me in to the courtyards though (after I asked very politely at the gates), and even just seeing them from the outside was a treat.
Some of the most beautiful to visit include Christ Church, Magdalen (pronounced Maud-lin), Merton and Balliol. I definitely want to visit again when they are open; my cousin is also currently at Oxford Uni and students are allowed 1 guest with them so when she returns for her next term, I may also visit then.
5. Oxford Castle
Oxford Castle is another castle (like Lincoln) built in the 1000s, following the Norman conquest of England. The motte still stands, as does part of the castle. After serving as a castle, it was used as a prison right up until 1996!
Tours of the castle are running and on limited numbers so again, I had it completely to myself with just a guide (there are definitely some benefits of COVID!). The tour takes you up to the top of the castle for views out to Oxford, down to the crypt which was the first school in Oxford and then to the prison cells to learn about former inmates. The guide was also brilliant and there is a little museum on site to explore after the tour.
6. Bridge of Sighs
Hertford Bridge, or the Bridge of Sighs because of its likeness to the one in Venice, joins two parts of Hertford College over New College Lane. I personally thought the bridge looked more like the Rialto, but hey – what do I know?! It’s a city landmark and it’s a beautiful spot. I had to go pre 8am though to find it with no crowds and no parked cars – I can’t imagine how busy it gets during the day in summer!
7. The Covered Market
A more modern Oxford treat, the covered market is home to everything from butchers to florists and breakfast spots. I stopped for lunch here and enjoyed exploring all the little shops as well.
8. Botanic Gardens
The Oxford Botanic Gardens aren’t going to rival Singapore’s any time soon, but they are a nice spot for a stroll. Visiting in winter, there wasn’t too much in bloom but walking by the river and seeing the Christmas displays in the greenhouses was nice.
And that brings my whistlestop tour of 24 hours in Oxford to a close. What do you think? Would you like to visit Oxford? Let me know what you think in the comments below and thanks for reading.
As my final post of 2020, I’ll leave you with a festive Christmas door display as we head to the new year. Let’s hope 2021 is better than 2020. Stay safe and happy travelling everyone!