Our Favourite Places to Visit in Oxfordshire
From culture in Oxford to boating history in Henley and quaint Cotswold villages, here are the best places to visit in Oxfordshire
Midsomer Murders may have a body count higher than The Wire – but the hamlets and country piles around Oxfordshire, where it's filmed, are pretty safe and sleepy in real life. You can still expect the well-to-do village fete vibes though – between Henley-on-Thames’s rowing history (just look out for the fetching stripy jackets and straw boater hats when regatta rolls around) and the tiny, picturesque hamlets that crop up between the hills in the Cotswolds and the Chilterns.
Not all beauty spots were created equal, though – so here at Plum Guide we've curated an expert list of the best places to visit in Oxfordshire. And do take a look at our pick of the best holiday rentals in the area, as picked by our fastidious homes critics.
Quaint riverside location? Yes. Surrounded by rolling countryside? Check. Picturesque pubs that go back centuries? Those too. Henley-on-Thames has much of what you’d expect from an Oxfordshire town. A Midsomer Murders walking trail? We didn't even know we needed one of those, but we’ll take it. There’s also a whole lot of boating history: celebrated in the River & Rowing Museum and at the annual Henley Royal Regatta, which has been a fixture since 1839. Hire a boat year-round for your own river jaunt through Hobbs of Henley. When you’re sufficiently boated out, there’s the Hotel du Vin for afternoon teas, dinner and cocktails, or head to one of the town’s best pubs – The Angel has prime position on the river, while the cosy, low-ceilinged Old Bell dates back to 1325.
There are endless things to do in Oxford. It's is famous for its University, so do pay a visit to the gardens, libraries, museums and colleges (the paintings at the Christ Church Picture Gallery are worth a look, as is the architecturally impressive Bodleian Library). As Oxfordshire’s unofficial* capital of culture (*we just made that up on the spot, but it's basically true) you’ll find plenty of inspiring institutions. The Ashmolean Museum covers art and archaeology spanning Ancient Egypt to contemporary paintings and photography, while the Museum of Oxford focuses on social history. Go punting, see the University’s Botanic Garden, and venture a little way out of town to Waterperry Gardens and top it all off with a blowout two-Michelin-star dinner at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons (classic French with ingredients from the kitchen garden, served in a 15th century building). When it all gets a little too much, retreat back to your Plum Guide apartment – Bergman should fit the bill, with its wood-burning stove and skylit living space.
This classic English market town has charm and history, and should definitely feature on any reputable list of places to visit in Oxfordshire. Even Agatha Christie recognised its appeal, choosing to live here until she died in 1976. Head off the main square and onto the cobbled streets past Victorian-style sweet shops, and be sure to pay a visit to The Lamb Arcade to poke around dusty, storied antiques spanning everything from oriental rugs to silver, porcelain, decorative clocks and pieces of furniture. If it's history you want, Wallingford Castle will deliver – this ruin by the Thames, dating back to the 11th century, was one of the country’s most important medieval castles, associated with several medieval kings, before Henry VIII decided he preferred Ewelme. More recently Wallingford has served as a filming location for the fictional capital of Midsomer County, Causton. Had enough history and crime drama trivia? Brightwell Vineyard will help you with that wine craving, with grapes ranging from chardonnay to pinot noir.
The Chiltern Hills are much more than just amusing village names, though there is an actual signpost here that features a hattrick of smirk-inducing names: Stonor, Bix Bottom and Pishill, all in one go. But try to keep a straight face as you walk around stately homes such as Stonor Park and Greys Court – they are genuinely lovely. The former has a vast deer park, a 17th-century Italianate pleasure garden, a 4,000-5,000-year-old pagan stone circle and street food events from Kerb; the latter started out as a Norman manor and has had far more female owners in its history than the usual stately mansion. The best bit about The Chilterns though is the nature: get out for a walk and try to spot the elusive wild orchids at Warburg Nature Reserve, and explore the fields beyond.
This part of the world is hardly a secret: there are many charming contenders for village escapes in The Cotswolds. As far as places to visit in Oxfordshire go, it's up there with the best. We recommend booking into Honey Gables, a quaint family cottage in Shilton. And once you’re ready to explore, take yourself to Woodstock (AKA Winston Churchill’s birthplace) for its Georgian heritage, independent boutiques and restaurants, and antique stores – as well as Blenheim Palace (which is currently running a socially distanced music and arts festival in its grounds). Nearby Burford is also a top place to base yourself – the attractive Georgian and Tudor houses won over many famous names (including Kate Moss and Liz Hurley). Take advantage of the proximity to all that open green space here and plan your walks around old, characterful country pubs.