Being in Oxford for three days gives you enough time to discover several colleges, the beautiful parks of Oxford and also some of the vicinity. You might want to go out to the Cotswolds for one day or to Blenheim Palace for half a day. Alternatively, you could spend some time in the city's museums.
Your first day in Oxford
Take the itinerary recommended in "Oxford in one afternoon" and start in the morning, taking a little more time for your visits. You might want to visit Christ Church first: Most tourists come in the afternoon and it's not uncommon to have the college for yourself in the morning. Bear in mind that most other colleges only open from 2 to 5pm.
Your second day in Oxford
A good starting point might be the Covered Market in the city centre. There are many tiny shops and food stalls which provide excellent photo opportunities. Don't miss the "Cake Shop" where skilled confectioners create the most marvellous cakes before your very eyes. Do you want to have a Harley Davidson-shaped cake? No problem! Is your wife into knitting and you want to surprise her with a sweet little gift the shape of a ball of wool? It will be ready pronto. Look out for the hot dog cake on display - and if you're lucky you can also see Darth Vader made from marzipan! Don't leave the Covered Market without either a cookie from Ben's Cookies or a milk-shake from Moo Moo's.
If you feel like walking now, you could do the one-hour walk to Iffley Lock. Walk down St. Aldate's and cross Folly Bridge, turn left immediately after the bridge and follow the Thames downstream to the lock. Watch the students' rowing training or take a look at the house boats mooring on the riverside. Further downstream, look out for fritillaries on the meadows to your right if you are in Oxford in mid- or late April. When you have reached the lock, you can also visit the village of Iffley with its reed-covered houses and the 12th century church. Walk back up the river until you're in the city centre again.
Time for some food now! All along George Street are restaurants (mainly Italian), among them Jamie's Italian by the English star chef Jamie Oliver. On High Street is a great Thai place (Chiang Mai Kitchen). Cowley Road, a kilometre away from the city centre, is also a good place to eat with restaurants ranging from Indian to Russian and from Greek to Jamaican. Or you just grab a sandwich at Pret, located in a former Cornmarket Street brothel which is supposed to be haunted.
The afternoon is once more dedicated to the colleges: There's St. John's on St. Giles, the richest college of Oxford. They say that you could walk from Oxford to Cambridge without leaving St. John's grounds. While this may exaggerated, it's nonetheless true that the college is very wealthy. Even the gutters are gilded... Don't miss the huge college garden which is particularly beautiful in spring when every plant is in full bloom. The next college you ought to see is New College which isn't that new anymore (founded in 1379). It's got several of Oxford's most spectacular gargoyles as well as a grandeur that you can hardly find in other colleges. You shouldn't miss the cloister (where Draco Malfoy was turned into a ferret in the Harry Potter movies) and the college chapel. The college garden, surrounded by the remains of Oxford's city walls, is great for a little stroll. The next college on your list is Magdalen College: 550 years old, home to C.S. Lewis and Oscar Wilde (and a herd of approximately 60 deer) and the one with the craziest gargoyles. Look out for the gargoyle wearing sun-glasses on the spire or the baby-eating dragon... Magdalen College is not only very beautiful, but also the best place to relax. Walking along Addison's Walk which surrounds the deer park you can't be but amazed at the fact that areas this large in the centre of a prospering city are simply unbuilt on. But you should also keep in mind that there was a plan to build a highway via Christ Church Meadow, another one of these natural refuges in Oxford, only two decades ago.
Of course there are many other colleges to choose from. If you have time and are still in the mood for college visits, check out some more. If not, you might want to get some food again and enjoy a drink in one of Oxford's smallest pubs: The Bear. Its walls are full of ties: they say that there are more than 5,000 ties in the pub. Apart from that, The Bear is also a great place for a drink, especially in winter when two fireplaces provide for enough heat to forget the sleet outside.
Your third day in Oxford
In case you don't want to go to the Cotswolds, Blenheim Palace or any other place around Oxford, you might want to spend that day in Oxford's museums. There's the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford's biggest and most famous. It's packed to the brim with art from different centuries, but also with excavation finds such as Roman coins. If you are into art, you can easily spend a whole day here. If not, you might want to visit the Pitt-Rivers and Natural History Museum. Donated by Lieutenant Pitt-Rivers, a collector of sorts, under the condition that the university opens a chair for anthropology, the museum displays all kinds of curious man-made things: bone whistles, clothes from the Arctic, combs from Cameroon and many more. Children, on the other hand, will gladly visit the Natural History Museum with you as it is full of animal skeletons (even a dinosaur!), and there are many activities for the little ones to participate in.
If you prefer to be outside, there are several nice walks that you could try out. Shortly behind the railway station is a very nice path along river Thames that leads you out of the city towards the village of Wolvercote. En route you pass many colourful house boats and several sites where swimming in the Thames is possible. The water up here is still clean enough and the scenery could not be more beautiful: wide open skies above Port Meadow, another one of these nature refuges in Oxford, and the wind rustling in the old trees. It's also a popular spot for a picnic. Another option is to discover the Oxford Canal just west of the city centre. You can walk up the canal through this tranquil part of Oxford and cross any one of the bridges which will take you to Jericho, a nice part of the city. Another idea is to walk through the University Parks.
You should also not miss punting on the river Cherwell. Punts can be hired at Magdalen Bridge or at the north end of the University Parks at the Cherwell Boathouse.
Let's suppose that you stay in London and have spontaneously, although perhaps a little late in the day, decided to go to Oxford. You take the Oxford Espress or Oxford Tube and get off at High Street on a bright early summer afternoon. What to do now? How will you use your 6 hours in Oxford?
1. Climb the spire of St. Mary the Virgin to get an overview of the city
St. Mary's spire is the highest point in the city centre and you will have the whole city spread out below you. In the immediate vicinity of the church are All Souls College, Radcliffe Camera, the Bodleian Library, Exeter College and Brasenose College, further away you can see Magdalen College, Merton College, Christ Church, Carfax Tower, Sheldonian Theatre, New College and many other points of interest. Climb down again and if you are hungry, check out the Vaults Garden Cafe for some excellent organic cakes.
2. Walk across Radcliffe Square to the Bodleian Library
This is your logical next step, the square being just behind the church. Enjoy the magnificent views on Radcliffe Camera (designed by Christopher Wren's student Nicholas Hawksmoor, built by James Gibbs), which is - incredibly - a library! Just next door you can catch a glimpse of All Souls College and its perfectly kept front quad. Enter the Bodleian Library and marvel at its beautiful perpendicular style inner courtyard. Take a tour through the library or just take a look at the 500 year old lecture theatre Divinity School. You may find it somehow familiar: It was used as the hospital wing and the ballroom in the Harry Potter movies. Coming out again, don't forget to pay the souvenir shop a visit - in my opinion one of the nicest in Oxford.
3. Just a little bit of shopping in Blackwell's
Blackwell's is the largest book shop of Oxford and a heaven for bookworms. If you are one, browse through the millions of books - but set yourself a time limit, or your Oxford afternoon will be over in a jiffy. Don't forget to peep into the Norrington Room!
4. ...and now for some colleges!
Oh, those Blackwell's bags are heavy, aren't they? Who would have guessed that you needed 17 new books that very afternoon? Anyway, grab them and prepare for some of Oxford's nicest colleges. Let's start at Exeter College on Turl Street: Built in 1314, this college was home to J.R.R. Tolkien and Philip Pullman and has a nice neo-gothic chapel, Oxford's most beautiful college garden and a fascinating conglomeration of gargoyles and grotesques at its front wall. Just across the road is Jesus College, a small but likeable college. Follow the street and cross High Street. Keep left until you reach a square with Oriel College, Corpus Christi College and the back entrance to Christ Church where we will go to later. Follow the cobble-stone road to Merton College (which along with two others claims to be Oxford's oldest college). Enjoy a visit there.
Just next to Merton College is a narrow passage which will lead you to Deadman's Walk and Christ Church Meadow. Squeeze through the gate and follow Deadman's Walk to your left. The name of the path derives from the processions of mourners and coffin bearers as the path originally lead to the city's graveyard. Nowadays it's a pleasant walk which will eventually bring you to Christ Church Meadow if you turn right at its end. This huge inner-city strip of wilderness has never been subject to mowing or fertilizing and is only "cared for" by a herd of cows. If you've got enough time, circle the meadow once following the course of the River Cherwell. If not, turn right again and walk up to the visitors' entrance of Christ Church.
6. Christ Church
Christ Church is Oxford's most famous college and one of the richest as well. It is a must in every Oxford itinerary if you want to grasp what the city is all about: academic life and slightly weird rituals. You can see that for example in the fact that Christ Church has its own time: Greenwich lies quite some miles further east so that Christ Church decided to introduce Oxford time which is 5 minutes past Greenwich time. If it's 4pm on your watch now, you should change it to 3.55pm. Discover Christ Church's magnificent hall (which, again, was used in a Harry Potter movie), the gigantic Tom Quad with Christopher Wren's Tom Tower and the cathedral. While other colleges have a chapel, Christ Church has a cathedral... You can see what I mean.
7. Time for some food
You are probably one of the last visitors to leave Christ Church, and as the evening approaches and the soft sun bathes the city in an extra-beautiful light, you can hear your stomach rumble. It's time for some food (and a nice, cold beer). The most popular place in Oxford's centre for getting both of that is Turf Tavern. Walk back to the Bodleian Library and enter the street with the Bridge of Sighs. Immediately behind it, turn left into the small alley until crowds of people and the smell of some great pub food welcome you to the Turf. Believed to be Oxford's oldest pub, it is an institution nowadays - and one that must not be missed.
8. Back to London
All good things come to an end, and so does your Oxford visit. Leave the pub the way you've come in and turn left into New College Lane. As it is probably dark by now, you should enjoy the atmosphere of Oxford's most medieval street. Were it not for the two yellow lines that underline the fact that parking is strictly forbidden here, you could feel as though you were in a different century. Follow the gloomily lit street to its end, turning around once to see the outlines of All Souls' towers in the night sky, and turn left at the end of the street. You've reached the High Street bus stop again where a coach can take you back to London.
This charming tiny cobbled lane off Holywell St caught my imagination as soon as I spotted it on my last visit to Oxford. I had no time to explore it so I just took a photo and looked for more information on the Internet. The street, lined with seventeenth century cottages built by Flemish weavers, is situated at the foot of the old city wall, now in the heart of Oxford. Its name comes from a communal well and bathhouse that are believed to have been there in ancient times. Though the street was then inhabited by the low classes, Jane Morris, the daughter of a stockman and born in one of the cottages was the inspiration to Dante Gabrielle Rosetti when he painted his picture of Proserpine, the Greek and Roman goddess, and indeed became the archetype of 'female beauty'. King Edward VII often visited acquaintances living there and in the 1920's the well-known writer Dorothy L. Sayers made Bath Place her home and described the life there in her books. A B&B in one of the cottages is rumoured to have been the venue of Richard Burton and Elisabeth Taylor's secret meetings when Burton was acting at the Oxford playhouse before they got married.
The cottages now house the Bath Place Hotel - what a romantic place to stay in.
When in Oxford Last time, I got talking to lady at the AMT coffee bar by St Michael's church. She was telling me that she often met the creator of the 'Morse' series, Colin Dexter.
Last time, he was sitting out at a bus stop in his usual set of bedraggled clothes...but he wasn't waiting for a bus. When my now found friend returned some hours later he was still there. Perhaps it is whre he gets all his great characters from.
Either way, get a hold of a DVD or two of the detective series. Each two hour masterpiece usually feature a couple of murders around Oxford. the labyrinthine plot is slowly revealed as morse trundles around Oxford in his trusty Mark II jaguar, down a few too many ales, and admonishes his sergeant for missing something vital.
I never get who 'dunnit', until fartoo late in the day.
It always bothered me somewhat - if there really are that many murders in Oxford, how come Morse and Lewis still kept their jobs ?
The romantic feel walking by the river!
It would have been most fond to share a kiss around here. The Head of the River is a hotel and pub off of St Aldates street. It is arguably the most scenic part of town with the Folly Bridge steps away.
Oxford, OX1 4LB, United Kingdom
+44 1865 721600
Fondest memory: Years ago I read Philip Pullman's Dark Material book series. The well-known story starts in Oxford, an Oxford in a parallel world that is. It tells of that Oxford through a young girl's eyes and has made me dream of such a place where anything can happen, where the thin lines between realities are easy to cross and where learning becomes an extraordinary adventure... ;-) Well worth the page turning, in my opinion. And soon to come to our local cinemas.
Favorite thing: Occasionally, you get so tied-up in everyday life, that you forget how nice the place you live in and its surroundings really are. Sometimes, I try to escape to somewhere like South Parks, or Boars Hill, to take in the views and remind myself just why I love Oxford! Unfortunately my picture doesn't do them justice, but the views are great!
Oxford, of course, is more than just a University - it's a beautiful town in its own right. Many visitors come here expecting a small town dominated by its University - if you want that go to Cambridge:))
While there is no doubting the influence of the University on Oxford, it must be remembered that the student population is 16,000, a relatively small proportion of Oxford's population of 100,000.
Oxford University is not a University in the traditional sense. Instead of having a central campus, Oxford is made up of Colleges. There are about 40 Colleges in all, each with its own history, traditions, architecture, size, and character. This picture shows the Front Quad of Lincoln College, one of Oxford's older Colleges, dating from 1427.
In my year here as a student, I studied at St. Anne's College, one of Oxford's newest colleges, dating from the 19th Century. Quite a far cry from Balliol, Merton & University, the three colleges who all claim to be Oxford's first. All three date from the 13th Century.
Favorite thing: I love the differing aspects of Oxford as the seasons change. The city looks great on those cold, frosty days in January, and when the sun comes out at the same time, the effects are often spectacular.
We walked around Magdalen College when Barry was on the phone and couldn't understand a word because - as he said - "a tour group just walked by". The tour group happened to be the choir of the college though - they had a rehearsal in the chapel.
As we walked by the chapel again we heard the most beautiful choir voices. We walked in and I was absolutely thrilled by the sound of the choir and by the look of all the students dressed up and everything. Wonderful!
Favorite thing: Oxford has some beautiful countryside within walking distance of the city - such as the Thames Path. I'd recommend walking alongside it - perhaps not all the way to London though!
Sweet city of the dreaming spires,
She needs not June for beauty's heightening,
Lovely at all times she lies.