Ah, Oxford, the city of dreaming spires! With 39 colleges, world-class museums and architecture, dining and shopping, Oxford is one of England’s most vibrant cities.
Look below to see how we got on, including my suggestions for the top 7 things to do while visiting Oxford with kids.
1. Stay central!
We stayed at The Randolph, which is right across from the Ashmolean Museum. The Randolph is an Oxford institution, popular with heads of state, film stars and parents of Oxford University students. Much of Colin Dexter’s Morse mystery series was based at the iconic hotel. If you don’t stay at The Randolph, at least pop in for a traditional afternoon tea. For other accommodation options, check out Visit Oxfordshire’s extensive listing of places to stay.
2. Visit the museums!
There are so many! You must go to the Ashmolean Museum to check out its latest exhibition, and then make your way to the very top and try their rooftop restaurant. Actually, don’t miss the restaurant even if you just have a drink. The view is fantastic! There’s also the Modern Art Oxford, The Story Museum, Museum of Natural History, and Pit Rivers.
3. Explore Oxford Castle
This castle dates back to Norman/Saxon times, and was used mainly as a prison. A costumed guide gives a 45-minute tour of the castle, some parts of which date back 1,000 years, bringing to light the human suffering of Victorian England prisons. The youngest prisoner was 7, and was incarnated for stealing a pram. Climb the Mount, a 1,000-year-old piece of human civil engineering.
4. Check out Bodlein Library
OK, if you have little, little kids, this might not be the best option, but if you have Harry Potter fans – they will love it! Duke Humfrey’s Library was used as the Hogwarts library and the Divinity School as the infirmary. Parents will be interested in the Gutenberg Bible, Magna Carta documents and an original Tolkien drawing.
5. Visit the colleges
39 colleges make up Oxford, and many have visitor hours where you can come in and have a peek! The largest is Christ Church (think Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland). For £1, we strolled through Balliol, admiring the gardens, Hall and Chapel. It’s the oldest college continually on site and co-founded by a woman!
6. Go shopping!
The “town” part of “town and gown” includes shopping! Oxford has all the high street shops, plus lots of interesting independents. One of our favourites ways to spend an hour is wandering through Blackwells Book Shop. Kids will also love Pylones, a French gift shop which has lots of brightly coloured eccentric items made of rubber!
7. Eat like a student
A friend of mine who lives in Oxford told me it’s a “known thing” that there aren’t any good eating establishments. I guess that depends on your perspective. There are loads of inexpensive student restaurants, such as Nandos and Mission Burrito (there are 2!). Also get ice cream or a pizza bagel at G&Ds. And for a special view, don’t miss the rooftop dining on the Ashmolean.
IF YOU GO:
Visit Oxfordshire Read their list of 20 things to do in Oxford
Macdonald Randolph Hotel Beaumont St, Oxford OX1 2LN +44 01865 256400. Trip Advisor gives this hotel a 4 out of 5, which is probably about right. An Oxford institution since 1864 (and not related to Winston Churchill), the hotel is a bit dated but the location is STUNNING. Across from the Ashmolean and right in the heart of Oxford, it’s a perfect base for exploring the site.
Oxford Castle Unlocked 44-46 Oxford Castle, Oxford, OX1 1AY +44 865 260666 oxfordcastleunlocked.co.uk This castle dates back to Norman/Saxon times, mainly as a prison. A costumed guide gives a 45-minute tour of the castle, some parts date back 1,000 years, bringing to light the human suffering of Victorian England prisons. The youngest prisoner was 7, and was incarnated for stealing a pram. Climb the Mount, a 1,000-year-old piece of human civil engineering.
The Bodleian Library Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BG 01865 277162 bodleian.ox.ac.uk the real Hogwarts Library and “the most beautiful room in Europe”.
Ashmolean Museum Beaumont Street, Oxford OX1 2PH +44 01865 278000 ashmolean.org Recently redeveloped, the Ashmolean is a world-class museum of art and archaeology. Britain’s first “free” museum, its display approach presents the collections over five floors, showing how cultures have developed as part of an interconnected world.
Ashmolean Roof Top Restaurant www.ashmoleandiningroom.com Serves breakfast, lunch and traditional afternoon tea and is open until 10 pm on weekends. Glass of wine or a traditional European dish.
Modern Art Oxford 30 Pembroke Street, Oxford OX1 1BP 01865 722733 modernartoxford.org.uk Modern and contemporary art. Make sure you check out the kids programmes.
The Story Museum Rochester House, 42 Pembroke Street, Oxford OX1 1BP 01865 790050 storymuseum.org.uk A museum to celebrate and promote children’s literature.
Christ Church St Aldate’s, Oxford OX1 1DP +4401865 276150 chch.ox.ac.uk One of the largest colleges, it’s dome dominates the Oxford landscape.
Balliol College Oxford OX1 3BJ +44 01865 277777 balliol.ox.ac.uk. The oldest college continually on site and co-founded by a woman.
Nandos 77-79 George Street Oxford +44 01865 727465 The formula works. Chicken with its famous sauce plus a choice of sides. Fast food, with the option of a glass of wine. If it’s good enough for the prime minister, it’s good enough for me.
Mission Burrito 8 Saint Michael’s Street Oxford +44 01865 202016 and 2 King Edward Street Oxford +44 01865 722020 missionburrito.co.uk All I can say is THANK YOU for bringing California-style burritos to the UK!
G and Ds 94 St Aldate’s Oxford OX1 1BT +44 01865 245952 and 5 Little Clarendon Street Oxford OX1 2HS +44 01865 516652 gdcafe.com Probably one of the best ice creams shops in the UK. There’s one right across from Christ Church. Don’t miss!
Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1PP blenheimpalace.com. Only 18 miles from Oxford, a visit to the birthplace of Winston Churchill makes a nice day trip.