Travel Cats Media is the brainchild of travel enthusiast couple Laurence and Jessica Norah. Between the pair, they run 3 specialized websites that ignite your inner wanderlust. These include an online travel photography course, and 2 insightful travel blogs, Finding the Universe and Independent Travel Cats which provide resources to travelers.
The couple occupies a unique position in the travel blogging universe. Below, Laurence shares his top things to do in Oxford, the ‘city of dreaming spires’ in a day.
I spent a great deal of my childhood in Oxford, and it’s been a favorite UK city of mine ever since. Its proximity to London makes it the perfect place for a day trip from the English capital: in just 1 hour, you can get out of the Big Smoke and into lush Oxford by rail or car. It’s also a relatively compact city, meaning you can easily visit multiple sites around the city with ease in 1 day. As you can probably imagine, my wife and I have explored the city in great detail!
Here are some ideas for things to do on an Oxford day trip, based on both a recent visit and my previous experience living there.
1. Take a walking tour
A tour on foot is always an excellent way to get your bearings in a new place and Oxford is no exception. In a city notorious for its maze-like layout, navigating the streets with a trusted guide on your first visit is a great way to get started. A tour will also provide you with the chance to learn about some of Oxford’s rich history and famous university colleges.
We took the Official University and City Tour, which is run by the official Oxford Tourism Board. The tour lasts a couple of hours and is led by a licensed blue badge guide, which means they really know their stuff.
Starting at the visitor center your guide will take you to some of Oxford’s highlights including: the Covered Market; the bustling high street; the Radcliffe Camera; the Bodleian Library; and of course, a number of iconic university colleges. You’ll have the option to enter a few of the universities and play undergraduate.
Our final port of call on the walking tour was the Divinity School, a beautiful building that you’ll probably recognize as Hogwarts Sanatorium from the Harry Potter movies. In fact, Oxford is a great place in general for Harry Potter movie buffs as many locations throughout the city were featured in the movie franchise. You can even take a specific Harry Potter walking tour if that tickles your fancy!
Another option is to, take a tour of Oxford led by an Oxford student, which is a fun way to get more of an insight into what life here is like from a students’ perspective.
2. Visit the University colleges
Made up of 38 colleges, a trip to Oxford isn’t complete without a visit to one of Oxford University’s magnificent buildings dotted around the city center. In particular, I’d recommend the chapel at Exeter College, arguably one of the most picturesque of all the college chapels. The gardens at Trinity College are also well worth a visit. The grounds are a fantastic place to stroll, soak in the fauna, and take some memorable photos.
Although Christ Church was closed on the day of our trip, it still makes the list as it’s renowned for being one of the most spectacular and prestigious colleges in the whole of Oxford. Regal architecture, sprawling grounds, and well beautifully decorated interiors make it a highlight. A head’s up though: you’ll be required to pay an entry fee so if you’re traveling on a budget it’s best to see one of the other colleges.
You could take a guided tour or, if you prefer exploring alone, book a visit to one of the colleges yourself. Since opening times vary depending on the time of year and the exam schedule, it’s a good idea to create a shortlist of colleges you’re interested in visiting and to check into the porter’s office for each college to see if it’s open.
3. Treat yourself with a beverage
If you struggle to punt your way to a pub, don’t worry because, in Oxford, a watering hole is never far from sight. Some of our personal favorites are The Eagle & Child (popular with Tolkien), The White Horse, the Lamb and Flag, and the King’s Arms.
4. Go punting
Punting is a classic pastime in Oxford, and is something that everyone should do once in a lifetime. Don’t forget to pack a light picnic and nibble on some snacks as you journey down the pleasant River Cherwell. Block out a couple of hours in the afternoon so that you can get the most of the ride and maybe even discover new destinations as you travel. Why not take the boat upstream and head to a fancy restaurant for a delicious dinner to round off the evening?
5. Visit Oxford Castle
If you’re visiting Oxford with children, make sure Oxford Castle is on your itinerary. Built in the 10th century, this castle was the main defensive center of the town, Much of the original castle was destroyed in the English Civil War however the remnants of the building were converted into a prison in the 14th century.
Today, the castle complex serves a number of functions, with part of it being a hotel. As a visitor wanting to learn more about the history though, you’ll want to take an Oxford Castle Unlocked tour, which gives you access to the Motte (a big earth mound), St George’s Tower, the crypt, and parts of the prison.
See more travel tips and things to do in Laurence’s original guide to things to do in Oxford here.