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A Weekend in Oxford: A 48-hour itinerary

A Weekend in Oxford: A 48-hour itinerary

I’m a big fan of a weekend escape – you can pack a lot of adventure into two days all without having to use up any holiday time. And one of my favourite UK destinations is a city I called home for two years – Oxford. The city of dreaming spires, punts on the river and gowned academics on bikes is perfect for a weekend break. There are hundreds of years of academic and literary history, with museums and colleges which have been passed through by famous scientists, philosophers, authors and politicians. But it’s got a modern side too, with tons of bars and restaurants to explore. So here’s my 48-hour itinerary for a weekend in Oxford.

Read more: A night behind bars at the Malmaison Oxford hotel

How to spend a weekend in Oxford

The Malmaison hotel in Oxford

The Malmaison in Oxford’s Castle Quarter

Friday evening

Check in to the Oxford Malmaison, a castle-turned-prison-turned-hotel. It’s packed with character, with rooms set around the prison’s original wrought-iron stairs and walkways. You can spend the night in the cells – though guests get three to themselves now, with two knocked through to create the bedroom and one for the bathroom. Inside things are a lot more luxurious than they were, with roll-top baths, mood lighting and flatscreen TVs. Rooms from £125 night.

Or if you’re on a budget you can get a taste of Oxford student life with Oxford Rooms. They rent out rooms in historic college buildings during vacations, giving you an insiders’ glimpse into their hidden corners. Prices start from £45 a night, some including breakfast. There are lots of single rooms it’s great for solo travellers. They’re usually available two–three months in advance, with most availability during university holidays, and a few rooms are available all year.

Wherever you stay, pop into the Malmaison for a pre-dinner cocktail in the old prison’s visitors room. Then take a short walk around the corner to Côte Brasserie for French bistro-style food. The menu’s inspired by Parisian brasseries with dishes like moules frites and beef Bourguignon.

Outside Christ Church College

Outside Christ Church College

Saturday morning

The University of Oxford has 38 colleges dotted around the city. Many are open to visitors, so start the day with a sneak peek inside (though check opening hours, especially around exam time). The best-known college is Christ Church – as much for its role as Hogwarts in Harry Potter as for its famous alumni like Lewis Carroll, Albert Einstein and 13 British prime ministers.

You can take a tour (£8–£10 per person) around its quads, grand staircase, dining hall and college chapel, which doubles as Oxford’s cathedral. Other good colleges to visit include Merton, Magdalen (pronounced ‘mawd-lin’), Corpus Christi, Hertford, All Souls and Oriel.

To get an insight into the weird and wonderful world of Oxford academia, take a guided tour led by a former student. Oxford Walking Tours run 90-minute tours which take you around some of the oldest colleges. Along the way you get insider information about the university’s history and rituals (tours cost £12.95 for adults, £11.95 for students/seniors and £5.95 for under 16s).

The Bridge of Sighs, University of Oxford

The Bridge of Sighs at Hertford College

Saturday afternoon

As you’d expect from a university city, Oxford is full of museums, and the city’s biggest is the Ashmolean Museum. Oxford’s answer to the British Museum has a mix of art and archaeological exhibits, which include everything from Greek and Roman statues to paintings by Turner and Canaletto. Before tackling the exhibits, have lunch in the glass-walled rooftop dining room for panoramic city views over the city. There’s a good-value lunchtime set menu (two courses for £14 or three for £20), which are often designed to match the current exhibitions too.

Once you’re all cultured out, take a walk just up the road to one of Oxford’s most historic pubs. Sink a pint in a snug at the Eagle and Child (aka the ‘Bird and Baby’) where writers like CS Lewis and JR Tolkien used to meet in the 1930s. Then have dinner at Gees, a short walk out of the city centre. It’s a little patch of the Mediterranean in Oxford, with Spanish- and Italian-inspired dishes served up in a Victorian glasshouse filled with olive trees. Then afterwards head into nearby Jericho for post-dinner cocktails at Raouls or the Duke of Cambridge.

Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

Inside the Pitt Rivers Museum

Sunday morning

After breakfast, head to another of Oxford’s museums – the quirky Pitt Rivers Museum. This anthropological museum was founded 125 years ago with 20,000 items that were donated by archaeologist Augustus Pitt Rivers. Since then it’s grown to encompass weird and wonderful exhibits from around the world. It’s a treasure trove of the bizarre, with totem poles, nose flutes, voodoo dolls, shrunken heads and a witch in a bottle among its half a million exhibits, each with a story to tell. Entry’s free and the museum’s open from 10am–4.30pm on Sundays.

When you get hungry, head to the Covered Market, with over 50 stalls selling local crafts, food and drink (open 10am–4pm on Sundays). Either eat in at one of the market’s cafés or grab a picnic to eat by the river in the Botanical Gardens. Or take a scenic 45-minute stroll across Port Meadow to The Trout Inn, a 17th-century riverside pub that featured in the Inspector Morse books and does gastropub-style food, served by the fire in winter or on the terrace in summer.

Oxford's Botanic Gardens

Oxford’s Botanic Gardens – photo credit E Browning on Flickr

Sunday afternoon

You can’t come to Oxford without trying punting – it’s one of the city’s classic experiences. There are two rivers in the city, the Cherwell and the Thames (which confusingly is known as the Isis when it’s in Oxford) and a couple of places where you can test your punting skills – and balance. Underneath Magdalen Bridge by the Botanic Gardens you can hire a punt for up to five people for £22 an hour, or get a ‘chauffeur’ to do the hard work for you (£32 for 30 minutes).

Or during the summer there’s a good punting spot set a bit further upriver near the Cherwell Boathouse. As you’re a bit further out of town here the river isn’t quite as busy. You can also get a jug of Pimms from the Boathouse’s Teahut Bar to take out on the water with you. Punt hire costs £17 an hour during the week or £19 per hour at weekends.

Make your way upriver for about 30 minutes and you’ll reach the Victoria Arms pub, which has a big beer garden and plenty of space where you can park your punt. Then paddle back to the Boathouse for an early dinner along the river’s edge before leaving Oxford and heading home.

Cherwell Boathouse punts in Oxford

Punts at the Cherwell Boathouse – photo credit Graeme T Cooper on Flickr

Have you visited Oxford? Do you have any tips to add on what to see, do and eat?

Read more weekend guides

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How to spend a weekend in Oxford, England, with tips on what to see, do, eat and drink on a 48-hour escape to the city of dreaming spires. #Oxford #weekend #itinerary #EnglandA guide to spending a weekend in Oxford, England, with tips on what to see, do, eat and drink in this a 48-hour itinerary for the city of dreaming spires, including the university, museums, punting, restaurants, cocktail bars and more. #Oxford, #weekend #citybreak #England #itinerary

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30 Comments

  • Reply
    Isabel
    January 9, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    This is just so practical & amazing! Thank you for sharing, definitely looking forward to seeing Oxford now 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 12, 2015 at 11:35 am

      Thanks Isabel, really hope you enjoy Oxford, it’s a great city!

  • Reply
    JPei
    January 9, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    Now I can’t wait to visit Oxford (but only a day…) in the summer!

    https://itsjpei.wordpress.com/

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 12, 2015 at 11:36 am

      Summer is a great time to visit, perfect for punting and picnics in the parks!

  • Reply
    Debra Kolkka
    January 9, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    As luck would have it I am spending a weekend in Oxford next month, thanks for the tips.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 12, 2015 at 11:38 am

      That’s very good timing! Hope you have a great weekend.

  • Reply
    Caitlin
    January 9, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    Looks like fun! And thanks for the tips! Never been to Oxford, but it’s definitely on my list! 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 12, 2015 at 11:38 am

      Thanks, hope you do get to make the trip sometime, it’s a lovely city and so much to see!

  • Reply
    sophierose233
    January 10, 2015 at 2:34 am

    Oxford looks so beautiful and looks like a great place to spend a weekend especially in summer. I’ve only been through there on the way to something and so never properly stopped by to have a proper look

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 12, 2015 at 11:40 am

      It is a really pretty place, I love all those golden stone college buildings, especially on a sunny summer’s day.

  • Reply
    Stacey @ One Trip at a Time
    January 10, 2015 at 2:35 am

    I’ve never visited but I’ve definitely added it to my list now. My boyfriend and I love a little weekend get away and this one sounds right up our alley. A nice mix of history and culture with a relaxing pace.
    Looking forward to the other weekend ideas you’ll be sharing.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 12, 2015 at 11:41 am

      Excellent, hope you enjoy it if you do visit! I do love weekend trips too so have lots of ideas of places to share – I think Bath might be coming up next.

  • Reply
    Darlene
    January 10, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    I enjoyed visiting Oxford a few years ago. Must go again soon. Great article and pictures!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 12, 2015 at 11:42 am

      You’re much closer now too! I only live about an hour away so have no excuse but hadn’t been back for a while, so may have to do another summer trip this year.

  • Reply
    emilypearson9
    January 11, 2015 at 10:26 am

    I’ve lived in Oxford for about a year and a half now and still feel like a tourist sometimes when walking around!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 12, 2015 at 11:44 am

      I know exactly what you mean! Even after living there for over two years I still had my excited touristy moments when I visited somewhere new.

  • Reply
    BabetaRuns
    January 11, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    Aaa! I love Oxford! Spend four years there and every time I visit it feels like a little homecoming!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 12, 2015 at 11:50 am

      It’s so nice to go back to isn’t it? The best thing about these historic cities is that things don’t change too much!

  • Reply
    thegirlonforeignsoil
    January 12, 2015 at 9:12 am

    Oxford is definitely on my places to visit this year, such a pretty looking place!! 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 12, 2015 at 11:51 am

      Hope you get to make it out there this year, it is a lovely city!

  • Reply
    Vlad
    January 12, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    What a great idea, I can’t wait to read more posts about weekend trips! 😀 Oxford looks so lovely, your beautiful pictures put it in a very good light.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 15, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      Thanks Vlad, I have a ton of ideas for weekend guides so expect a few coming up!

  • Reply
    MummyTravels
    January 12, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    Love this – I lived in Oxford for a few years too and I think you’ve covered all my favourites. Although embarrasingly I only visited the Pitt Rivers over a decade after I left!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 15, 2015 at 9:30 pm

      I didn’t get there until I left too! It was one of those places I kept meaning to go and see but never managed. I’m the same with a lot of the touristy places in London too, I need to leave to actually go see them!

  • Reply
    A Lady in London
    January 22, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    Lovely! Oxford is one of my favorite cities in the UK. I can’t get enough of the architecture and history there!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 24, 2015 at 5:52 pm

      It’s such a lovely city, I was very lucky to get to spend a couple of years living there!

  • Reply
    gabiziinhamc
    January 31, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    Love Oxford xx

    • Reply
      Lucy
      February 2, 2015 at 11:07 am

      Me too, it was a great place to live for a while!

  • Reply
    Aleksandra
    July 15, 2017 at 11:05 pm

    Being resident in Oxford for about 2 years now it is funny to read all the things I did when I first got here. Still haven’t tried punting though, possibly my crippling fear of water may keep me from that one!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 16, 2017 at 4:38 pm

      Haha probably not the best one for you to try then! Oxford’s such a great city, I really loved living there.

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