The Best Things to Do in Oxfordshire
The world's most historic university joins palaces and castles to make Oxfordshire a fascinating place to visit.
Oxford University is a huge part of the history in Oxfordshire, putting the region on the map around the world. The city of Oxford lies geographically and culturally right in the centre of the county, and also has a huge cathedral.
You’ll also find the county's famed countryside rather pleasant, with parts of the Cotswolds draping its western edge. Majestic estates and sections of the River Thames complement the quaint villages here, making for a leafy and bucolic escape. You may notice that these villages have more than a hint of the Midsomer Murders and Inspector Morse about them, and that’s because both of these iconic British series were filmed here. Back in Oxford itself, the university dominates, and has done since the end of the 11th century, making it the oldest English-speaking university in the world (not that universities can speak).
But hey, why are we telling you all of this? You’re probably here visiting your over-achieving kids, right? So, you know all about the university. Hopefully, we’ll tell you something new in Plum Guide’s extensive look at the best things to do in Oxfordshire.
Tour Oxford University
OK, indulge us – let’s pretend your kids don’t attend Oxford University, and that you’re new to the world-famous educational hub. Enjoy wandering around the historic edifices and wondering which of the fresh-faced students will go on to be the next prime minister: 28 of them have come from here so far, while 72 Nobel Prize laureates studied here. It’s a lot to live up to, and the architecture goes some way to doing so. Saunter across the Bridge of Sighs, and tell your group about how parts of the Harry Potter movie franchise were filmed here (they may or may not have been, nobody seems to know, but if you say it with enough confidence, they’ll believe you).
Visit the Bodleian Library, which is one of the oldest libraries in Europe and the second-largest in the UK, after the British Library. Make your way through the various colleges, each with its own rich history and idiosyncrasies. On a fine day (it happens), admire the range of flora on display in the historic University of Oxford Botanic Garden. Retire at one of our lovely Plum Guide homes in the city, such as the rather hip Bergman.
Oxford Castle & Prison
See, we told you there’s stuff outside of the university. Embark on a guided tour of the Oxford Castle & Prison and climb to the top of the Saxon St George’s Tower for some of the best views in all directions of the city (much of which is, admittedly, the university). Descend into the basement for the ancient crypt and prison.
Visit Blenheim Palace
You’ll be met at the front of this stunning castle, which lies in Woodstock (not the festival in the States), by impressive fountain jets and sculptures. Blenheim Palace is apparently the principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough, whoever they might be, and proudly stakes its claim as the only non-royal and non-episcopal (does that mean religious?) palace in the country. Built in the early 1700s, it has an unusual English Baroque design and is the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill. Explore the scenic parks and gardens, and enter the house for its impressive works of art and period décor. There’s even a miniature railway (not inside the house, of course). The war-time prime minister, Churchill, was buried in the charming and peaceful village of Bladon surrounding the palace.
Escape to the Cotswolds
You probably didn’t know it – but stuff you probably didn't know is what we’re here for, right? The Cotswolds extends into the western peripheries of Oxfordshire, making an escape to The Cotswolds one of the best things to do in Oxfordshire. Make your way through the quaint villages of Burford, Chipping and Witney among myriad others to appreciate the history and rich heritage. Amble along the cobbled lanes and enjoy the slower pace of life, before exploring such highlights as the church atop the Windrush Valley and the 17th-century townhouse of Burford House.
While in this part of the county, stay at one of our gorgeous homes, such as the stylish Lapwing's Wing.
Unwind at an exclusive restaurant
You’ll find some of the best fish and chips in the country at Orwells Restaurant (which is apparently too cool for an apostrophe). For something French and upscale, dine at the Belmond le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons – just don’t try to pronounce it. There’s also the Bistro at the Boathouse, the Nut Tree Inn and the Feathered Nest Country Inn among many other impressive restaurants across Oxfordshire. In Oxford with kids? For something a little more family-oriented, take the kids to Pizza Calzone, Half Moon or Little Amsterdam.
Now you know the best things to do in Oxfordshire, it's time to think about where you're going to stay. We've put a lot of time into finding the best homes for your trip, with each of our lodgings professionally vetted by fastidious home critics. Check out the Spanish-style Beechnut or enjoy the rural feel of The Chestnut.