When I moved abroad to England, I knew my weekends would mostly consist of traveling. I mean, one of the reasons why I decided to go abroad for a semester was because I wanted to explore the world, and particularly Europe. Having never traveled in the past (except to the States a couple of times), I was always eager to see what the world had to offer. I wanted to see what all the hype was about. And well, let me tell you that so far, I have not been disappointed. Not only have I been out every weekend since I’ve been here, but I also have travel plans made for the months ahead! I couldn’t be more excited.
For our first weekend on ourselves in England, my friend and I were looking for a destination that was not too far away, but that we would both enjoy. We were already planning on going to Cambridge for a day (more on that soon), so we decided to get all “university” cities out of the way and threw in Oxford for a weekend (that ended up being the wrong time to do it, scroll to the bottom of the post to see why!).
I ended up loving this city so much! I think a weekend is plenty of time to get a “feel” of the city and see all of its highlights. So here’s how to spend a weekend in Oxford.
How to get to Oxford
Oxford is merely a one-hour train ride from London. And while it seems easy enough to get there, it can be more complicated than it seems. While doing our research, we realized that there aren’t that many direct trains from London to Oxford. More often than not, you’ll have to change trains at least once in order to get there. Direct trains from King’s Cross to Oxford are pretty rare (and probably fairly expensive), so I’d recommend checking out other options. We personally had to take the tube from King’s Cross to London Paddington, before taking the train a train to Reading and another one to Oxford. If it’s your first time using the English train system (and the London Underground), I would recommend making sure you have enough time between each change so you don’t have to run from a train station to the other (#beentheredonethat).
What to do in Oxford
Oxford is a university city. Buildings from the University of Oxford are all over the place, so I’d recommend making a plan and choosing what you absolutely want to see before you get there. If you’re there for only a weekend, you probably won’t have time to see it all. (This fact surprised me because I thought that Oxford’s campus was fairly small and that there wouldn’t be that much to see beside the University.)
We had already decided that our first day in Oxford would be spent exploring the campus of the University of Oxford, so that’s where we started. As soon as we found the heart of the campus, my breath was taken away. Oxford is SUCH a beautiful city! The architecture simply amazed me. It’s hard to believe that some people actually go to school there! Everything looks so ancient and full of history. I would highly recommend that you check out Radcliffe Camera and St Mary the Virgin Church. Both buildings are absolutely beautiful and are landmarks in the city!
Some of you may know that the University of Oxford was used as a filming location for the Harry Potter movies. So you can imagine how excited I was to find said locations during my stay in Oxford. You will undoubtedly want to visit Great Hall in Christ Church college. This location was used as inspiration for the Great Hall in the movies! (The actual Great Hall used for filming is at the Harry Potter studios in London.) To be honest, I was not that impressed when I stepped into it, but it’s obvious where the producers got their inspiration from!
The next place you’ll want to stop to is the Cloister, in New College. Potterheads, be warned: you will most definitely freak out when you see this place. Remember when Draco Malfoy was turned into a ferret in Goblet of Fire? Well, the Cloister is where it was filmed! I’m also pretty sure this place has been used in other movies as a corridor and courtyard.
Another notable place to add to your list is the Bodleian Libraries, specifically Divinity Hall and Duke Humphries Library. I sadly wasn’t able to visit these locations because it was graduation weekend at Oxford and they were off-limits to visitors for the occasion, but Divinity Hall was used as Hogwarts’s Infirmary in The Philosopher’s Stone and three other HP movies. It is also where Professor McGonnagal teaches the students to dance in Goblet of Fire. Duke Humphries Library was used for the scene where Harry enters the library under his invisibility cloak with a lamp to steal a book in the restricted section in the first movie.
If you’re a fellow Potterhead, check out Brooke’s post for more information on the different locations used in the movies!
One of the landmarks of the city (and that is also a must-see for HP fans) is Christ Church. Sadly, our tour ended too late and we couldn’t visit it. But we were able to see a glimpse and it looked absolutely stunning!
If you’re not a Harry Potter fan, don’t worry! The city is absolutely gorgeous and even if you’re not a fan, you’ll be able to appreciate the beautiful architecture of the campus. I would definitely recommend walking around the city and exploring the campus! The Bridge of Sighs, for instance, is impressive and definitely worth seeing! It takes its inspiration from the famous Bridge of Sighs in Venice, Italy.
For those of you who love shopping, you definitely need to stop on Cornmarket street! It’s right next to the University of Oxford campus and you’ll see many of your favorite stores, such as Primark, Superdrug, L’Occitane, and Waterstones. It’s perfect if you need to do a little bit of shopping! If you prefer shopping local, I would highly recommend checking out the Covered Market! You’ll find everything from clothes to food, and they’re independent shops.
If you’re staying for more than a day, I would highly recommend adding Blenheim Palace to your list! It’s a little bit outside of Oxford (but is easily accessible by bus for 4.80 pounds for the return journey), but it’s SO worth it! I wasn’t sure whether the 20.80 pounds (with student discount) admission fee was worth the money, but it turned to be the highlight of my trip to Oxford! Blenheim Palace is one of Britain’s largest houses, is the birthplace and home of Winston Churchill, and has been added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. You will love the English Baroque-style architecture, reminding you of palaces and castles such as the one in Versailles.
The rooms inside the palace are luxurious, but what impressed me the most was the gardens! The palace has various gardens, each more beautiful than the other. The palace is so vast that it can take you hours to walk around and explore. We spent a day at Blenheim Palace and didn’t even see everything!
Blenheim Palace has also been used as a filming location for Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 adaptation of Hamlet, the James Bond movie Spectre, and the series The Royals (none of which I’ve seen, but I still thought it was pretty cool). If you want to learn more about the history of Blenheim Palace, I suggest taking The Truth Untold tour! It’s a live tour that won’t cost you any more money than your admission fee, and you can learn more about the history of Blenheim Palace through little scenes that are played in different rooms in the palace. It’s like watching a play! It’s only about 35-40 minutes long and it’s really well made!
Where to eat
Oxford has many restaurants and little cafés all around the city. If you’re looking for something that’s close to the University of Oxford campus, George Street is THE street for restaurants! It has so many restaurants, you may not know which one to choose!
We had lunch at Jamie’s Italian, which is Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant in Oxford. My friend is a big Jamie Oliver fan, so we simply had to stop there for lunch. If you like pizza and pasta (who doesn’t?), then this is the place to go. They have a large selection of meals for a pretty decent price. And the restaurant itself is super cute! I personally had the British Crab Spaghetti and it was SO good! I was not disappointed.
For dinner, we wanted to stop at a pub, but everything close to the University of Oxford was jampacked because of graduation. We ended up a Gourmet Burger Kitchen, and it was amazing! The food was really good and pretty inexpensive. I would highly recommend checking it out if you like burgers!
King’s Arms and the Duke of Cambridge have also been recommended by Taylor if you want to check them out! We wanted to stop at King’s Arms, but it was totally full because of graduation.
A few other tips…
While I had a great time in Oxford, there are a few things that I would recommend doing before booking a trip.
- DO NOT take the tour. We booked a tour with Footprint Tours in Oxford. This tour was supposed to take us around the University and to various Harry Potter filming locations over the course of two hours. It ended up being the worst idea ever. Not only did we not see everything we were promised to see, we also had the WORST tour guide ever. Yes, she was nice, but she was overly chatty about things that we didn’t care about (such as her research and her friends, which had nothing to do with the tour). I understand that we couldn’t visit everything because of graduation, but it also wasn’t necessary to spend 45 minutes checking out an old book at the library (I’m a book nerd, but there’s a limit!). This tour also made us miss a visit to Christ Church (which we thought was included in the tour… turns out it wasn’t). I don’t know if it was just our guide or if it was the tour itself, but if you don’t like visiting with a group of tourists, I would avoid this. You can visit most of the locations on your own, without having to be with a tour guide.
- Arrive early. If you’re only going to be in Oxford for the weekend (like we were), you will want to arrive early. That’ll ensure that you have enough time to hit everything on your list. We arrived in Oxford at around 11 am, but I definitely wish we had been here an hour earlier so we could visit Christ Church! Also, the place will likely be loaded with tourists, so arriving earlier means that you might be able to avoid the big crowds.
- Check out for local events before you book. Honestly, we couldn’t have chosen a worse weekend to go to Oxford. Not only was it graduation, but it was also move-in weekend for students. That means that a lot of the spots on our list was off-limits to visitors. We also didn’t know this, but there was a marathon in Blenheim Palace when we went! (Yes, we’re very unlucky, haha.) Thankfully, we weren’t affected by this, but getting inside the palace was a little bit more tedious because of the hundreds of runners.
If I could have spent more time in Oxford, I would have! I definitely felt like my trip was too short, and I’m seriously considering booking a day trip just so I can come back and see the things I wasn’t able to visit during my weekend! I think Oxford is a must-visit if you’re in England!