By Pia Marsh

Oozing with elegance and old-world charm, Oxford is a rare find. Situated 90 minutes northwest of London, at the junction of the rivers Thames and Cherwell, the city is mostly credited for its prestigious university – but there is much more to enjoy if you know where to look.

Over the past eight centuries, Oxford has educated some of the world’s brightest minds, including Bill Clinton, Rowan Atkinson and Margaret Thatcher. It’s crazy to think that over a thousand years’ worth of students have filled its honey-coloured stone halls and ivy-covered buildings.

While on the surface it may seem a little ‘hard-nosed’ and pretentious, there is much more to the city than its history and feverish academia.

Oxford blends medieval charm with the buzz of a modern city.

You can punt down the river Thames, picnic in one of the lavish college gardens, or indulge in pint after pint at one of Oxford’s many pubs. It has a buzzing music and theatre scene, and enough cafes and restaurants to satisfy even the fussiest food aficionado.

 

I grew up in Oxford, and often go back for a weekend getaway, here are a few of my favourite haunts:

Turf Tavern

The ancient, low-ceilinged Turf Tavern has a history that dates all the way back to the 13th century. It’s deceptively hard to find, tucked down a narrow cobble-stoned passageway in the midst of all the colleges. It boasts a wide selection of ales and dishes up one of the best Sunday roasts in town. The Turf Tavern has also been a frequent haunt of the famous, including Bill Clinton, Inspector Morse, Tony Blair, CS Lewis and Margaret Thatcher.    

Covered Market

Tucked away from the city’s High Street, Oxford’s covered market is full of treats and treasures. Providing a unique showcase of the very best in local crafts food and drink, it is a feast of colours and aromas and an exciting stop for everyone. Try Browns Café for a delicious melted panini and Ben’s Cookies for dessert.

The Perch

Just a short taxi ride outside of central Oxford lies The Perch – one of Oxford’s oldest and proudest pubs. The thatched 17th-century country inn boasts a large, cosy beer garden and serves up some of the finest classic British pub food you could hope for.

FREUD

Opened in 1988 in Oxford’s trendy Jericho district, FREUD turns an old church, with its hauntingly high ceilings and decadent stained glass, into a legendary cocktail bar. Over the past quarter of a century, the popular hangout has become a favourite meeting place for friends, families and more than two generations of university students.

Christ Church College

Walk through the grounds of Christ Church College and you are sure to have the feeling you’ve been there before. And unless you’ve had your head under the sand for the past decade, you probably have. Parts of the campus – including the dining hall and the college gardens - have doubled as sets for several of the Harry Potter films. It’s not to be missed.

 

Hardy’s Sweet Shop

No words needed here. Just all the lollies you can dream of. Emma Watson also occasionally stops by. If it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for you. 

Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian Library

Whilst the Carfax Tower tends to get most of the glory for being the best viewpoint in town, I am adamant that the top of the cathedral next to the Radcliffe Camera is far better. For £4, you can get a great bird’s eye view of the Radcliffe Camera and surrounding colleges.

Things to Know:

  • Oxford is an hour and a half away from London and is well connected via bus and train lines. Try megabus.com for bus tickets for as little as £1 per ride.
  • It is well worth taking a peek around the colleges if you can. Most colleges charge an admission fee for tourists, however, if you are feeling sneaky, you can play the ‘prospective student’ card and you may be lucky enough to gain free entry. I was! 
  • Whilst Oxford is charming all through the year, it is particularly beautiful in May. The trees are blossoming, the students are in a celebratory mood, starting with May Day on May 1.
  • May Day is a 500-year-old tradition, including Morris dancing, music and students jumping from Magdalen Bridge into the Thames River in their formal gowns and attire.

 

Pia is a freelance journalist and writer, originally from the Northern Beaches of Sydney, and now permanently living in Copenhagen, Denmark. She writes about her travels (and her undying love for Scandinavia) at www.piamarsh.dk Instagram: pialoui

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.