Oxford, a City of Gleaming Spires

Godfrey Hall is an award-winning UK based travel journalist and member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. He has been in search of elves in Iceland, traveled to the depths of central Australia and been off the beaten track in Bulgaria.

Well served by coach and train from London, Oxford is one of England’s most visited cities and a must on any traveller’s list of places to see. Best known for its university, it is full of hidden surprises. Popular with Harry Potter fans, it has been a centre of excellence and learning for centuries. Everywhere you look you will see an array of wonderful buildings and huge numbers of students. An extremely popular destination, it is at its best in the spring or autumn. Full of life, it is buzzing with bicycles and a cosmopolitan mix of students, local people and tourists.

Places to See

Alice’s Shop (Godfrey Hall)

Alice’s Shop (Godfrey Hall)

Most good guide books will be able to provide the visitor with plenty to see and do in Oxford. However there are still one or two places which are often forgotten and are a delight to visit. The first of these is Alice’s Shop, located close to Christ Church College, the inspiration for several of the Harry Potter Hogwarts locations. The tiny shop in St Aldate’s was featured in the illustrations of some of the first editions of “Alice Through the Looking Glass” written by Lewis Carroll. The shop has been in this spot for a long time and was known as Alice‘s shop long before it took on its current role. The owner is a mine of information and can tell you a great deal. Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), was a brilliant mathematics scholar and he was on the staff of Oxford University.

The Queen’s College Chapel (Godfrey Hall)

The Queen’s College Chapel (Godfrey Hall)

If you are interested in visiting some of the colleges, don’t be put off by the charges that are imposed. Several of the colleges allow free entry in the afternoon, including the chapel and the quad in Queens College on High Street. If visiting for the first time you should try to walk around some of the backstreets where you will find colleges such as Balliol, New College and Trinity. Also find time to see the outside of the Bodleian Library and visit their wonderful shop opposite which is close to the New Bodleian Library.

Another must is the Oxford Covered Market. Near the junction of Cornmarket Street and the High Street, you will find a real mixture of shops and stalls where you can buy traditional Oxford sausages, watch skilled crafts people making wonderful cakes and enjoy a drink and food in various cafes.

At the end of the High Street, near to the river, is the famous Magdalen College, whilst over on the other side, close to Christ Church Meadow you will find Christ Church, Merton and University College. Even if you are not planning to go in, do stop and look into the courtyards which are often immaculately manicured.

The city of Oxford is also well known for its links with the TV series Morse which has now been superseded by Lewis. Many of the locations can be found hidden away including the Turf Tavern which is tucked way at the bottom of the old city walls. A tiny establishment, it is very popular with students, visitors and locals.

Christ Church College, Oxford (Godfrey Hall)

Christ Church College, Oxford (Godfrey Hall)

Whilst in Oxford also look out for the Oxford porters who man the lodges at the entrances to the colleges. Part police and part mentor, they are a very important part of university life.

Harry Potter Connections (Godfrey Hall)

Harry Potter Connections (Godfrey Hall)

A good way to see the city from high up is to climb the Carfax Tower in the centre. The church of St Martins was rebuilt in 1818, however due to traffic problems it was taken down at the end of the 19th century. Today all that is left is the bell tower. Another idea is to take the Hop On-Hop Off bus which passes by many of the major sights in the city.

Oxford also has some wonderful green spaces which are all within walking distance of the centre.

It is an amazing city and well worth including on a tour of England or using as a base for exploring the Cotswolds and the Midlands.


Oxford has a range of accommodation from modest guesthouses to expensive hotels. If you are looking for somewhere in the centre then the Mercure Eastgate Hotel Oxford is a good choice. Located on the High Street next to the Ruskin School of Art and close to Merton College, it was once an Oxford townhouse. The rooms are very well appointed and the staff are friendly. You can either take breakfast in their restaurant or try one of the many eating places along the main street. Many of these are frequented by students and are very reasonably priced.

Staying in the centre may cost a few pounds more but it does mean that you are right in the middle of the action. Oxford is a very lively city and once the shops have closed the nightlife is most impressive. The Macdonald Randolph Hotel in Oxford is famous for its hospitality and although there was a fire there recently they are getting back to normal.

High Street, Oxford (Godfrey Hall)

High Street, Oxford (Godfrey Hall)

If you are looking for somewhere less expensive, Oxford has a wide selection of bed and breakfast establishments. This usually provides a room and a substantial English breakfast. They are often private homes and so this is one way of getting to know local people and at the same time keeping costs down.

Food and Drink

Oxford is famous for its student population and so there will be no shortage of places to eat including some outdoor stalls which stay open until quite late. Many of the restaurants and eating places offer great deals on a range of different cuisines. There are a number of good places to eat in Little Clarendon Street which is in the Jericho District just a few minutes walk from the centre of the city. You will find this popular with students and their families and so it is a good idea to book a table. If you are looking for something a little more alfresco then you could try the Turf Tavern mentioned earlier. They have a range of good, wholesome food and locally sourced dishes. If you have difficulty finding it just ask a student or someone local and they will guide you to it.

The Turf Tavern (Godfrey Hall)

The Turf Tavern (Godfrey Hall)

If you are interested in a snack or cup of coffee then the covered market has plenty of choice. This is also a good place to enjoy a hearty breakfast and try some Oxford sausages. These are skinless and are made from pork and veal. Other local delicacies include Banbury cakes which consist of puff pastry, currants, other fruits, spices and natural flavourings. Frank

Oxford Sausages (Godfrey Hall)

Oxford Sausages (Godfrey Hall)

Coopers’ Oxford Marmalade is well worth trying, darker than the normal varieties, it is a real treat. Cheese fans should try Oxford Blue and for those with a sweet tooth there are desserts such as Oxford pudding made from apricots, cream and eggs. You may also come across Oxford lardy cake which is rich, sticky and full of currants.

Local beers include Oxford Dark Blue, and Oxford Porter which is rich, smooth and dark. Tea is very popular and you will notice a number of cafes advertising different teas. The Grand Café is an ideal place to start your tea hunt. It is said to stand on the site of the oldest coffee house in England which was started around 1650.


With so many students and university colleges, the nightlife in Oxford is second to none. You will find bars and cafes around every corner and there is a lot going on late into the night.

Some of the best bars include the Duke of Cambridge in little Clarendon Street, Raoul’s Bar in Walton Street and Lola Lo a Moroccan themed club in Magdalen Street. The university colleges also hold a number of major events and you should keep an eye on the local paper or on the Internet.

There are often concerts or organ recitals in the college chapels. These include Queens and Christ Church. In fact there is always something to do in Oxford and so you could be spoilt for choice whether it is art and culture, socialising or going out for a meal.

Oxford also has its own theatre, the Playhouse, which has a wide range of events and plays throughout the year. Other venues include the Burton Taylor Studio and comedy at the Glee Club.

Magdalen College (Godfrey Hall)

Magdalen College (Godfrey Hall)


Oxford has excellent links by coach to both Heathrow and Gatwick airports. There are numerous coach services to London and rail links to most parts of the country. The train station is just a short distance outside the centre and Chiltern Railways have just started a new service from Oxford Parkway to central London. Oxford has a very good network of buses which can take you around the city. However currently there are quite a lot of roadworks so be prepared for some delays.

Oxford is also linked by bus to Bicester Village which offers a range of high end discounted shopping outlets. Favoured by Chinese tourists, you will be able to find all the latest designer labels within walking distance of each other. The Cotswolds, Blenheim Palace, Cheltenham and Stratford-upon-Avon are all within easy reach of the city. When the weather is fine you might also like to try a trip on the river in a punt. This is a very popular activity and a delightful way of seeing more of Oxford.

For further information on the city and surrounding area visit the Oxford Visitor Information Centre’s Website.

Student Travel in Oxford (Godfrey Hall)

Fly.com Expert Tips

How To Get There: Oxford is about 60 miles northwest of London, and if you’re driving, it’s about 1.5 hours. A train from London will take anywhere from 1 hour to 1 hour 45 minutes, either on the Chiltern Railways or the Great Western Railway, and tickets range from £6 to £31 each-way.

Travelers from the U.S. can fly to either Heathrow (LHR) and Gatwick (LGW).

Heathrow is located about 15 miles west of central London and the easiest way to get into London is by taking either the 15-minute Heathrow Express (£39 for a roundtrip) or 30-minute the Heathrow Connect (£9.90 each way). Both trains stop at London Paddington Station. More information about area transportation for Heathrow is available at here.

Gatwick is approximately 30 miles south of central London. The fastest way to get into town is on the Gatwick Express. For £34.90 roundtrip, you’ll get to Victoria Station in about 30 minutes. A cheaper, but longer option, is the bus. The National Express also stops at Victoria Station, takes between 1.5 to 2 hours and prices start at £8 one-way. easyBus is even cheaper, with one-way tickets starting at £2, and takes a little over an hour to get to Earl’s Court/West Brompton in central London. More area transportation information for Gatwick is available at here.

Best Time To Visit: Oxford’s busy season is summer when the weather is warm and rain at a minimum, which brings the tourists. September is a great shoulder season to visit when the tourists have left and the students won’t return until October. January and February are the damp and ugly months, but crowds will be minimal if you’re willing to deal with the weather.

Sample Fares: Calendars display lowest roundtrip fares over the next 90 days to London from:

* All fares are roundtrip including all taxes and are accurate at time of publication. For updated pricing, conduct a new search on Fly.com.

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Featured Image: Cityscape of Oxford (Shutterstock.com)

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