The city of "dreaming spires" all honey-coloured stone, tall chimneys and lofty towers is home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Nestled in Oxfordshire and lying on the Thames (known as the Isis for its ten-mile stretch here) and the Cherwell rivers, the city is a perfect destination for all the family.
Younger visitors will know Oxford from Harry Potter books, older readers from Alice in Wonderland and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Oxford is packed with places for little ones to visit. Museums include Science Oxford Hands-On, The Oxford Story, The Ashmolean, The Pitt Rivers and Natural History Museum.
The city itself is compact and easy to get around. Climbing the 99 steps of the Carfax Tower, in the centre of the town, will give you fantastic views of the Oxford skyline.
The Covered Market, with its many stalls and colourful displays, dates back hundreds of years. There has been a market in Oxford for more than 1,000 years.
Oxford is well connected by coach to the London airports - Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted - and by rail to Birmingham and Southampton. Oxford flights - private and charters only - are only available to Kidlington Airport.
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Although one of the driest cities in England, Oxford has rain year-round. Summers are warm with temperatures in the mid 20s (Celsius) and high humidity. Winters are chilly and damp with temperatures ranging from the low single digits to about 10, although it rarely snows.
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Summer is considered the high season, and August and September bring throngs of visitors to Oxford. Many of the estates are open March through September only and for a limited number of hours.
Even though winter is not considered the high season, there is very little difference in the number of visitors to Oxford or in the hotel rates.
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It’s not just easy to walk through downtown Oxford, it’s recommended. Take a stroll down High Street to soak up the city’s academic atmosphere. You can take a guided walking tour of the colleges all year long, but tours will be somewhat restricted when school is in session. A great way to get to know the city is by riding one of the hop-on, hop-off buses. Oxford has two bus companies (public transport). Stagecoach buses offer a ticket for unlimited one-day travel in the city. The Oxford Bus Company will take you across the city, as well as to the airport, suburbs and four park-and-ride lots where you can leave your car.
Bikes are a very popular way to get around the city, especially with the Oxford’s level landscape, so it’s easy to rent a bike. There are bike paths all over the city and along the river and canal. If you need a taxi, you can get one from a taxi stand or call ahead. Taxis are reasonably priced, but they charge extra for luggage, extra passengers, holidays and late nights. For a change of pace, try punting down the river. You can either navigate the punt yourself or hire an expert to move you along.
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- Oxford University, “the oldest university in the English-speaking world”, has a history going back 900 years. Composed of 39 official colleges, the oldest are University, Balliol and Merton Colleges, all founded between 1249 and 1264. The architecture is awe-inspiring in many cases. For example, at All Souls College (founded in 1438 to commemorate those killed in the Hundred Years War against France) the north quadrangle and twin towers were designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor while the sundial is by Christopher Wren. The Chapel, built 1438-1442, is especially beautiful. A stroll around the colleges is a great way to pass the time, but check in advance if they are open.
- More dreaming spires: take a guided walking tour of the city. There are several to choose from including an Oxford University and City Tour, Inspector Morse Tour and Ghost Tour.
- The University of Oxford Botanic Garden is Britain’s oldest botanic garden. Founded in 1621, it has 7,000 different types of plant.
- Oxford is Alice in Wonderland. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, was a lecturer at Christ Church when he met Henry Liddell, the Dean of the college, and his family including Liddell’s charming daughters, Lorina, Edith and Alice, the inspiration behind Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. There are a couple of spots, apart from Christ Church College, that are associated with Alice. The Alice Shop opposite the visitors’ entrance to the college was the Old Sheep Shop from Through the Looking-Glass. This was where Alice bought her barley sugars. And Dodgson/Lewis and his friend Robinson Duckworth took the girls boating down the River Thames (or Isis as it is known in Oxford) in 1862. Tourists can follow their path by renting a boat from Salters Steamers at Folly Bridge (as they did) or by walking the Thames path.
- Walk in through the “Greek” façade to the Ashmolean, the country’s oldest museum. It’s smallish with a good range including some interesting Egyptian rooms. Then cross Beaumont Road and have tea at the George Hotel before going next door to watch a play at the Beaumont Theatre.
- Get a picnic and take a punt from Magdelen Bridge along the Cherwell river past the colleges and Christ Church meadow. There’s room for five including the person standing up and using the long pole to guide the boat. Not as difficult as it sounds.
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