Weekend in Oxford: 7 things to do with kids!

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Bridge of Sighs #oxford

Poet Matthew Arnold christened Oxford as the “City of Dreaming Spires”. Indeed everywhere you turn there is a gorgeous view to behold.

 

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.

 

We stayed smack in the centre of Oxford, in the iconic Randolph Hotel.

We stayed in the centre of Oxford in the iconic Randolph Hotel. Even if you don’t stay there, stop by and have a traditional “Tea at The Randolph”. 

 

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.

 

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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.

 

Sunshine, a Bellini and a view over Oxford. What more could anyone want?

Don’t miss the rooftop dining at the Ashmolean. Sunshine, a Bellini and a view over Oxford. What more could anyone want?

 

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.

 

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Top on the Trip Advisor list of Oxford attractions is Oxford Castle, which dates back to Norman/Saxon times. 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. 

 

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. 

 

The view from the top of Oxford Castle

The view from the tower of Oxford Castle is the perfect place to appreciate the “dreaming spires”.

 

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Harry Potter fans will be interested to visit the Bodlein Library — Duke Humfrey’s Library was used as the Hogwarts library and the Divinity School as the infirmary. 

 

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.

 

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Parents will be interested in the Gutenberg Bible, Magna Carta documents and a 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!

 

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Christ Church is a unique institution, one of the largest colleges in the University of Oxford. It has a fascinating history and many distinguished people have studied there. Lewis Carroll, who wrote Alice in Wonderland, was a Maths professor there.

 

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! 

 

Pylones in Oxford

Kids will spend hours browsing through Pylones in Oxford.

 

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.

 

Can't beat Nandos for a fun and tasty lunch

Can’t beat Nandos for a fun and tasty lunch. We found this on our way back to the hotel from Oxford Castle.

 

 just LOVE Mission Burrito in Oxford. Reminds me of my post uni days in San Francisco

I just LOVE Mission Burrito in Oxford. It reminds me of my post uni days in San Francisco.

 

Packed and ready to test out the Fiat 500 MPW 7-seater

Packed and ready to go!

 

 

Had this lovely latte and croissant at 1855, a wine bar and kitchen in Oxford's cattle district

Had this lovely latte and croissant at 1855, a wine bar and kitchen in Oxford’s castle district

 

Oxford G&Ds ice cream

So which flavour should I get? Salted Carmel or Oreo Cookie? The eternal question when you go to G&Ds in Oxford.

 

Inside the Randolph Hotel, an Oxford institution since 1865

Inside the Randolph Hotel, an Oxford institution since 1865.

 

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.

 

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15 Comments

  1. 30/06/2016 / 16:44

    You came to my home town Susannah! We do take it for granted a bit being here, and have yet to do a tour of the colleges. Next time you visit with the kids, do look us up. We live a short bus ride from the centre on the edge of Portmeadow, the second largest area of common land in the country with horses and cows grazing by the Thames which runs through it. We’re near Inspector Morse’s The Trout too, always good for a drink by the weir. Glad you liked The Randolph, there was a major fire last year so am happy to know they’re back up and running. The Oxford Playhouse is where i did my Stand-Up gig last year. I run past it in case anyone still has rotten tomatoes at the ready. Will check out the Fiat option too as our lovely old Toyota is coming gradually to the end of its natural span. Jo x

  2. 04/05/2016 / 11:38

    Hi!

    We loved this little guide to Oxford. So simple and honest 🙂

    Great work!

    Laura@HotTubHideaways

  3. 16/01/2016 / 17:20

    I’ve never properly explored Oxford – so I really must pay it a visit and do some touristy activities. Great round-up of things to do – Oxford castle would be high on my list and The Randolph sounds like the place to stay! Still reeling from your revelation there was a coffee machine in your car! Incredible. Thanks for linking to #citytripping

  4. Great suggestions for families and super timing for us – my husband keeps talking of taking us all there to relive his student days. I love the sound of the castle and I’ve always wanted to visit the Bodleian. I think I’d also have to go punting if it was the right time of year.

  5. 13/01/2016 / 09:37

    I love your photos of Oxford – brings back a lot of happy memories in G&Ds (and some less fun but more useful ones in the Bodleian). Needless to say, I hardly visited any of the museums while I lived there so have been working my way through over recent years – the Museum of Natural History is great with littler kids although I love the Pitt Rivers and Castle. Thanks for joining up with #citytripping
    Cathy (MummyTravels) recently posted…City Tripping #9My Profile

  6. 11/03/2015 / 18:43

    Oxford is lovely, beautiful and also very liveable. The colleges are spectacular – I think they’d be top of my list of what to do, but I love this list. It’s a great place for a day out or a weekend I think, and there’s also lots near by.

  7. 24/02/2015 / 22:50

    Amazing round up of what to do in Oxford, we love breaks there (my Dad has just about forgiven me for rejecting a place at Oxford uni) so visiting always takes me back to that somewhat fraught time! I do love the vibe and of course the history of Oxford and there’s so much to do, gorgeous photos x
    HonestMum recently posted…Why I’m Not a SuperwomanMy Profile

  8. 23/02/2015 / 00:04

    I’ve never been to Oxford, but it sounds like a fantastic city to visit with children – not quite as hectic as London! From your description it reminds me a bit of St Andrews, that same studenty feel combined with lots of history and friendly wee places to shop, eat and drink. Lovely! x
    dorkymum recently posted…The BabysitterMy Profile

  9. 22/02/2015 / 21:14

    Whata fabulous post, so much info, thanks Susanna. I love that you have a BritMums bag in the back of the car! I had no idea Fiat did 7 seaters and we are pondering a change, so I’ll check it out. Cheers Mich x
    Michelle Twin Mum recently posted…Bursting with joy in LondonMy Profile

  10. 22/02/2015 / 09:30

    Oxford is one of those places I have yet to visit, I have to admit to thinking it wouldn’t be somewhere I would take the children but seeing the activities you enjoyed over your weekend has made me rethink.
    Polka Dot Family recently posted…Changing Faces Week Eight {2015}My Profile

  11. 22/02/2015 / 07:36

    It’s taken me back a weekend reading this. We were there just last weekend visiting my brother in law who lives there and my husband went to university there, to Balliol in fact, so we were showing the kids around his old college and pointing out his old room and stuff. We also took them to the Natural History Museum and Pitt Rivers which they lived.

    The Ashmoleon is on the list for next time we take them to see their Uncle (an old school friend’s husband was the project manager of the redevelopment project) and before kids we had a lovely stay at the Randolph and embraced all things Morse there.

    The only thing I’d disagree with was whoever said there are no good eating establishments there. We were commenting this visit in how many amazing restaurants and cafes there were especially little independents.

    Can you tell we’d like to move there? It’s just the current road works that are a killer – but if you use the park and ride it’s wonderful and very reasonably priced.
    Penny Carr recently posted…Roo The Roaring Dinosaur – David Bedford and Mandy StanleyMy Profile

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