Synonymous with one of the oldest universities in the world, literary and filming locations and great British pubs famous for its former clients, Oxford is just an hour away from London, which it makes the perfect weekend getaway from the English capital.
Most people just pay a day visit to Oxford, but after having lived there for almost 2 years, I can safely say a 48-hour trip is more than worth it to discover its classical and modern artistic, gastronomical and cultural highlights.
Let’s begin a trip down Oxford’s cobblestone streets and discover the best things to do on your visit if you have a 2 day weekend in Oxford!
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Weekend in Oxford Itinerary: Day 1
Climb Carfax Tower in Cornmarket Street
After checking into your hotel, head over to the city centre.
You will most probably end up in Cornmarket Street, the main pedestrian road where you will find banks, fast-food restaurants and plenty of shopping options.
However, we are in Oxford so you are bound to find some history in every corner. And Carfax Tower is proof of this.
This 23m-high belltower, once part of a 12th-century church, offers great city views from the top (once you climb the 100 steps up!).
I believe there is no better way to start your visit to Oxford than admire it from above!
Visit Christ Church
After soaking in the views, walk down St Aldate’s and head over to Christ Church, probably the most popular of Oxford’s colleges.
Founded in 1525 and with 13 British Prime Ministers among its former students, Christ Church also served as an inspiration for the great dinner hall in the Harry Potter films, and its grand staircase was even used as a filming location for the saga.
Several literary figures have also attended and taught in Christ Church. Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, for example, was a professor here and was inspired by many of the college’s architectural details.
After visiting the interior, take a stroll down Christ Church Meadows, bordered by the Cherwell and Thames rivers, where you’ll probably catch a glimpse of some University rowers.
Have lunch at the Covered Market
For lunch, head back north and enter the picturesque Covered Market in High Street.
Home of various unique food stalls, the Market was built back in 1774 and is still one of the best and most visited places to eat in Oxford.
Here you will find lots of options to satisfy your British and international gastronomy needs: pies and mash, french baguettes, thai dishes, cheese, chocolate chip cookies, Colombian coffee…
There is pretty much anything in here: you just need to take your pick!
My personal favorite? Alpha Bar, a tiny stall with tasty, affordable organic salads. It’s so good there’s always a queue (I promise it’s worth it)!
Take a picture under the Bridge of Sighs
Leave the Market after lunch and turn left to Brasenose Lane, which will lead you to one of Oxford’s most famous landmarks: the Radcliffe Camera (don’t worry, we’ll explore it more later).
A few steps from here, you will also find another well-known tourist spotlight (and probably lots of tourists underneath it): the beautiful and ornamented Bridge of Sighs.
Also known as Hertford Bridge (because it joins two parts of the College of the same name), it has gained its more poetic nickname from its resemblance with the Venetian Bridge of Sighs in Italy.
Join the tourists and get your picture under it!
Explore the Bodleian Library
For the afternoon of your first day in Oxford, book your visit to the Bodleian Library, my favorite attraction in Oxford and a place where many famous writers and luminaries, like Oscar Wilde and JRR Tolkien, have spent hours studying.
I only visited the Library a few months before moving out of the city, and I cannot believe I waited so long!
One of the oldest surviving libraries in Europe, the Bodleian consists of five separate buildings around Broad Street. Access to most of them is restricted to visitors, but you can access them via tours offered by the Library.
I highly recommend going on the 90-minute tour, which will take you to the 15th-century Divinity School (also used as a filming location in Harry Potter), Convocation House, Chancellor’s Court, Duke Humfrey’s medieval library, Radcliffe Camera and Gladstone Link.
It’s always best to book your tickets at least 1 or 2 days ahead due to limited availability.
Go for drinks at Turf Tavern
There is no better way to spend an evening in Oxford than enjoying one of its many famous pubs.
Join the University students in one of their favorites (and mine!): Turf Tavern.
This quaint little pub is a bit hard to find, down St Helen’s Passage next to the Bridge of Sighs, but once you get there you’ll get the hype: plenty of seating room in the garden in a nice secluded area, and lots of good beers to pick from!
Weekend in Oxford Itinerary: Day 2
Walk around Summertown
Start off your second day in Oxford by heading north to my favorite neighborhood in the city: Summertown.
This residential area is perfect to just wander around while admiring the grand and splendid Victorian houses.
Down these streets you’ll also find the house of JRR Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings, who lived here from 1930 to 1947.
If you are looking for a green space respite, go west to Port Meadow and the Oxford Canal for a break from the city noise and a good old relaxing time.
Go punting in the river
The most popular leisure activity amongst University students is punting, and you’ll probably see lots of them trying their best at moving their boats along the Oxford rivers.
The basic technique of punting is to shove the boat along with a pole by pushing directly on the bed of the river which, yes, it’s as difficult as it sounds!
If you want to join the crowds, visit Cherwell Boathouse and try your skills at this traditional Oxford pastime.
Don’t dare to punt? Then choose a normal rowboat or an electrical boat at Salter’s Steamers or book a trip on one of the larger cruises – it’s a great way to see the city from another perspective!
Have lunch at The Eagle and Child
After all that punting you’ll probably be hungry, so my advice is to grab a typical British lunch in The Eagle and Child (temporarily closed).
This famous pub has a strong link with British artistic history, since this was the place professors C.S. Lewis (author of the Chronicles of Narnia) and JRR Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit), among others, met for drinks and literary discussions after work.
Today, you can sit at their favorite part of the pub, “the Rabbit Room”, while you enjoy a juicy burger and a delicious craft ale.
Learn about history in the Ashmolean Museum
Right around the corner from The Eagle and Child you will find the Ashmolean Museum, the University of Oxford’s museum of art and archaeology, founded in 1683.
I think of the Ashmolean as a smaller, more approachable version of the British Museum in London. This means you can easily visit it in an afternoon and not worry about missing anything!
Highlights of the collection include drawings by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael; paintings by Picasso, Rubens and Cézanne; the Alfred Jewel (a piece of Anglo-Saxon goldsmithing work) and an extensive collection of Egyptian antiquities.
Admission is free and it’s open every day from 10 am to 5 pm.
Finish your visit at hipster Jericho
For your last evening in Oxford, my suggestion is to end on a high note in hipster neighborhood Jericho.
Just a few blocks up from the Ashmolean, you can take Little Clarendon Street and enter the backstreets of this picturesque area.
Here you will find some of the best pubs and bars of Oxford, including Old Bookbinders (really good French cuisine and quirky decoration), Jericho Tavern (great for live music and the venue where local band Radiohead first performed) and Frevd (a restored stone church with stained glass which now serves as a cocktail bar).
Whatever you pick, I am sure you will have a great last night in Oxford!
What to eat in Oxford
If none of the options I have mentioned above are of your liking, here are some other great places I recommend for eating in Oxford:
The best-rated in the city, this nice little restaurant has the greatest Thai food you’ll ever have for a really affordable price. Be sure to book your table ahead (months in advance) as seating is very limited.
Turl Street Kitchen
This trendy café has great modern dishes, with lots of vegetarian alternatives. It’s also run by a charity, so you know your money is going to a good cause!
If you are looking for great Italian pizza and pasta, look no further than Mamma Mia. There are options in Jericho and Summertown, both of them great.
The place to get your Instagram-worthy latte in contemporary Scandinavian furniture. But not just that: the coffee is great and the staff will make you feel at home in its cosy environment.
Where to stay in Oxford
Finding good, affordable accommodation in Oxford is not a simple task, unfortunately.
Due to the high demand of tourists and business visitors, the city is not short on bad-quality rooms at scandalous prices.
There are a few exceptions, however:
Budget: Central Backpackers
If you are on a budget, Central Backpackers is a great option, just a couple of blocks away from the city centre.
Beds are comfortable, staff is friendly and common areas are clean and well equipped.
Mid-range: St Margaret’s Hotel
Mid-way between the city centre and Summertown, the St Margarets Hotel is located in one of the best neighborhoods in Oxford.
With open, spacious rooms and firm beds, this hotel is a great option in a really pleasant environment.
Luxury: The Old Bank
If you are looking to splurge a bit more, there is no better alternative than The Old Bank.
This superb hotel is perfectly located in the city centre’s High Street, so everything is within walking distance.
The facilities are extremely comfortable with plenty of high-end details, there is excellent customer service and the view from the rooftop bedroom is unlike anything else!
How to get to Oxford
Oxford is very well connected with other English cities, and there are plenty of railway and bus connections to and from it.
Oxford is located about 56 miles (90 km) northwest of London. If you are thinking of renting a car, you can compare rates between different companies on www.discovercars.com.
Oxford’s train station is located on the west, just a 10-minute walk from the city centre.
Here you will find frequent connections to and from London’s Marylebone and Paddington stations (1 hour and 20 minutes journey) and other English cities, such as Birmingham, Bristol and Winchester.
The bus station, also known as Gloucester Green (where it is located), has connections via 3 main companies: The Oxford Bus Company and Stagecoach.
National Express connections also include Bath, Birmingham and Bristol.
Oxford has no airport of its own, but it’s not too far away from London’s Heathrow and Gatwick.
From Heathrow you can take The Airline service run by The Oxford Bus Company, which takes 1 hour and 30 minutes and leaves every 20 to 30 minutes (less frequent during the night).
The same company connects Gatwick and Oxford, with a journey that takes 2 hours and 30 minutes and with buses leaving hourly during the day (every two hours at night).
If your time is short you can visit Oxford on a one day tour from London like tours:
How to get around Oxford
Oxford is not a big city, so walking around is the best way to see it.
If you want an alternative and the weather is nice, hiring a bicycle is also a great option. You can hire one at Cyclo Analysts or Summertown Bikes.
Even though Oxford is a safe city in general, there are quite a few bike thefts around the city centre, so always make sure you lock your bike when parking it!
As well as serving connections to other cities, Oxford Bus Company and Stagecoach have an extensive local network that can get you pretty much anywhere in Oxford and its surrounding areas.
Bus tickets are 2.20 for a single journey (you can pay on board with contactless cards or cash) and 3.70 for a return. If you plan on taking a few buses during the day, consider getting a day pass for 4.20.
Oxford Travel Tips
Best time to visit Oxford
There is really no bad time to visit Oxford, as every season has its charms.
However, I do prefer spring or autumn, when the streets are filled with flowers or different shades of yellow and orange, which really adds to the classic ambience.
What to pack for your trip to Oxford
Being a student city, everyone dresses pretty casual here, even in restaurants and pubs at night.
So even no fancy outfit is needed (unless you are attending a formal college dinner), I would still suggest you pack a few essential items for your trip to Oxford.
British rain is famous for appearing at the most unexpected times, so even if you visit in the middle of the summer always carry an umbrella and a waterproof jacket with you.
Comfortable shoes and clothes are a must for walking around the city – and for giving punting a try down the river!
Finally, remember British plugs look very different from anywhere else, so make sure you pack a UK electrical adaptor for your electronic devices.
Pilar and and her partner Jorge are obsessed with traveling, writing, taking pictures and drinking mate, their country’s signature drink.
They have been traveling pretty much non-stop since 2015 around Europe and the American continent and sharing their tips, itineraries and memories in their Spanish-written blog, el antitour, where they hope to inspire readers to go out and explore the world.
You can follow Pilar and Jorge’s travels on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
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This is a great guide. I was born and have lived in England for 30 years but still haven’t been to Oxford. Might have to change that this year, I’ll be keeping in mind these tips!