Europe Heritage and History Guides U.K.

24 Hours in Oxford: The Ultimate Travel Guide

December 6, 2016
24 Hours in Oxford, the Ultimate Guide Keble College, Oxford University - A Masterpiece of Victorian Gothic Architecture

24 hours in Oxford. You might think it’s impossible but here’s our action-packed guide to see the best of Oxford in a day. The ultimate Oxford travel guide with things to do, see, eat and drink. 

Julianna Barnaby

Oxford has it all. A university that dates back to the 11th century, magnificent sandstone architecture and the kind of scenery that means you can’t help but snap and share on Instagram  (#nofilter). If you are looking for a short break within easy reach of London, it’s perfect. Even if you aren’t, you should go anyway.

It’s a tough city to cover in 24 hours – there are 38 colleges and six permanent private halls in the university alone. They’re dotted all over the city, some closely grouped together, others further out than you ever thought possible (St Hugh’s, I’m looking at you).

Oxford isn’t all about the university either. It’s a city of over 159,000 people and, between them, they’ve conjured up a wealth of tasty restaurants, cool drinking holes and engaging sites to keep you occupied.

So it’s impossible to see Oxford in 24 hours then. That’s what you’re thinking right? Wrong. It is not. I know you’re tough and I know that you’re keen, so here’s the ultimate guide to how to spend 24 hours in Oxford.

8am – Breakfast at Turl Street Kitchen 

Breakfast in Oxford at Turl Street Kitchen, the Best Cafe in Oxford

Photo cred: Turl Street Kitchen

You are in for a long day (it will be fun though, guys, FUN), so you need to fuel up. You could eat a sad breakfast somewhere nondescript, or you could go to Turl Street Kitchen for a lesson in how breakfast should always be.

I’m not going to say there’s a particular dish that you should try because I’ve been trying different ones for months and still haven’t decided on a favourite. Plus, how on earth do I know what you want to eat?

The grilled kipper, lemon & black pepper butter and toast is divine (and has the added benefit of not smelling out your kitchen, as those of you who have ever tried to cook kipper at home can understand). The bacon butty (sandwich) is the perfect example of a simple thing done very well. Or just settle for a flaky, buttery croissant and a coffee to ease you into the day.

Breakfast is served from 8am -10am. Check it out. 

9am – The Ashmolean Museum 

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford

Photo Credit Sarah Casey

The Ashmolean Museum is Oxford University’s museum for art and archaeology. It was founded in 1683 and now displays a diverse range of collections to over 1 million visitors per year.

The museum underwent a huge renovation in the late noughties and reopened in 2009. The result? A beautiful space where you can learn about the human stories that make up history dating from 8,000BC to the present day.

The museum features a number of famous works, including The Hunt in the Forest by Paolo Uccello and Turner’s Transept of Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire. Much as I’d recommend that you have a look at their famous pieces, the Ashmolean truly shines when you pick up a guide and spend a few hours meandering around the different exhibitions.

Opening hours: 10am – 5pm Tuesday – Sunday (closed Monday). Free entry.

11am – Oxford Walking Tour (2 hours) 

OK, so this bit is a challenge but not impossible. Although Oxford is a decent-sized city, the centre is really small. Stick to the centre and you’ll be able to see all the big hitters in two hours with no problem. To make it even easier, I’ve put together a step by step walking tour for you to follow. Click here for a free walking tour of Oxford.

By now you know everything about Oxford and it’s time for bed right? Incorrect.

To make it even easier, I’ve put together a step by step walking tour for you to follow. Click here for a free walking tour of Oxford.

1pm – Pick up a packed lunch and head to the Oxford Botanic Gardens 

After all of that walking, you’re bound to be a bit tired and hungry so the next stop is going to be a little bit more chill. Walk up St Aldates from Christ Church and turn right back onto the High Street to pick up a packed lunch. I’d recommend Taylors for their heavenly made-to-order baguettes, or you can stop in the Covered Market to pick up a tasty meal there. Continue walking down the High Street until you come to Magdalen again and head into the Botanic Gardens across the road (entry £5 for adults).

Botanic Gardens in Oxford - A Beautiful Place

The Botanic Gardens is one of the prettiest spots in Oxford. They’re the oldest botanic gardens in the UK (dating from 1621) and have been fulfilling their mission “to promote the furtherance of learning and to glorify nature” ever since.

There are lots of benches dotted all over the gardens, some overlooking the Cherwell river. Bag a spot on one of these to eat your lunch before exploring the gardens at large. Thousands of plants are artfully arranged in two main sections, the Walled Garden and the Lower Garden. The beds within each garden are organised around different themes or purposes, such as the Medicinal Plants bed in the Walled Garden or the Gin Border in the Lower Garden. Yes, you heard me right, a Gin Border.

Tropical Glasshouse at the Oxford Botanic Garden

Don’t forget to pop into the huge greenhouses, they’re crammed with soaring cacti and lush palms. Just walking around them basically feels like you have been transported to the other side of the world.

3pm  – The Museum of Natural History / Pitt Rivers Museum 

Pitt Rivers Museum and Oxford Museum of Natural History Once you’ve rested up a bit and seen your fill of the Botanic Gardens, walk up Longwall Street (which goes on to become St Cross Street and South Parks Road)  until you get to the end of the road. Just to the right, you’ll find the Oxford University Musuem of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum

The two museums are housed in the same building, so it is definitely worth seeing both of them. Together, they contain the university’s zoology, entomology and mineral collections. They’re basically like a smaller, more manageable version of the Natural History Museum in London. Lewis Carroll used to visit here with Alice too and it’s said that Jan Savery’s Dodo (one of the exhibits in the museum) was the inspiration for the dodo in Alice in Wonderland.

Opening hours: 10am-5pm daily. Admission is free. 

4pm – The University Parks via Keble College

As you exit the the Museum of Natural History you’ll be facing a huge redbrick, crazily patterned and ornate building. After the sandstone-fest that is the majority of Oxford University, Keble College’s dramatic Victorian gothic buildings provide a breath of fresh air.

Keble College, Oxford University - A Masterpiece of Victorian Gothic Architecture

Remember earlier in the post where I referenced Balliol’s controversial Chapel, designed by William Butterfield? Well, Butterfield designed the whole of Keble College and the result is equally controversial. I for one love it (it’s also my old college so I really love it – more than fifty heart eye emoji love) but others, not so much. Anyway, you should visit. It has the largest sunken quad in Europe, a gorgeous chapel, and the dining hall puts that tiny thing in Christ Church to shame.

Keble’s Chapel also houses the famous Holman Hunt painting The Light of the World  – I’ve never been able to see the appeal but it’s famous and it’s there so maybe you want to hunt it out.

Across the road from Keble College is the University Parks. The University Parks provide a welcome home for many of the university’s sports clubs – don’t be surprised if you see a game of rugby, cricket or quidditch taking place.

That’s right. Quidditch.

Quidditch Game in the University Parks in Oxford

Photo credit: Amalia Bastos

The fictional sport from Harry Potter has been rendered real by mudbloods muggles running around with a broomstick between their legs. I can only wish this existed while I was at university. I wouldn’t have spent so long having cricket balls hitting me in the face when I was supposed to be catching them.

6pm – Happy hour at The Duke of Cambridge and Cocktail bar hopping in Jericho 

You’ve worked hard. Your hard work is done. Now is the time to drink and feast. Luckily Jericho is just a short walk away. Wend your way to The Duke of Cambridge and make full use of their excellent-value Happy Hour(s). The mixologists at the Duke are something else and it shows in the menu. Happy Hour lasts until 9pm Sunday – Thursday and until 7.30pm on Friday and Saturday.

Cocktail bars are something that Jericho does really quite well – while in the area, you should also take a drink at Raoul’s, Freud’s and Angels. Just not too many drinks. That would be irresponsible.

8pm –  Dinner at Gees Restaurant

Gee's Restaurant, The Best Restaurant in Oxford

By now, you should be well and truly ready for dinner. Gee’s is such an Oxford institution that it would be a shame to miss it. The food is stellar and the location is just dreamy: a huge glass house filled with plants and trees. The menu is extensive, and ranges from jerusalem artichoke, red onion and rosemary risotto to monkfish tails, with potatoes, chorizo & kale.  Their cocktails are also highly recommended (#justsayin). Leave space for dessert.

10pm – Bed (or these nightlife picks)

And there we have it. 24 Hours in Oxford. This would be about the time that most people are ready to turn in (OK, just me then), but if you’re ready to take on Oxford’s nightlife, there’s enough to keep you entertained until the wee hours. You can head back to Jericho to the cocktail bars, which open quite late, or the area around New Bridge Street and Park End Street has quite a few clubs for you to choose from – The Bridge and Atik are probably the best of them.

Now go and rest your weary feet.

Love our 24 Hours in Oxford Guide? Why not share it on Pinterest (or any other social media)?!

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Oxford - Everything to do, see, drink and eat during a 24 hour trip.

24 Hours in Oxford. The most detailed free travel guide to Oxford you'll ever read.

Oxford Travel Guide: Your Ultimate Guide to 24 Hours in England's Historical City. Check out the Free Walking Tour and Everything You Need to Know For Your Oxford Trip Now
Oxford Travel Guide: Your Ultimate Guide to an Oxford City Break featuring Oxford University and a Free Walking Tour
24 Hours in Oxford, an Oxford travel guide with Oxford University, the pub favoured by JRR Tokien and CS Lewis and a free walking tour of Oxford. Read now.

You Might Also Like

16 Comments

  • Reply The Walking Map December 6, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    Now that’s an action packed day. Wow, back to the 11th century. Much older than Harvard!

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby December 6, 2016 at 2:28 pm

      There’s still more I could have included but thought that was the limit for one day! I love Oxford’s historical heritage – it’s everywhere you go.

  • Reply Gareth Thompson December 6, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    You certainly squeezed a lot into your visit to Oxford and honestly, it all looks so much fun! It would be awesome to stumble on a game of quidditch but hey, even if not, Oxford just seems a great place to simply wander around. Perhaps on a less action-packed day you could have checked out Oxford’s nightlife which some friends of mine assure me is a lot of fun

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby December 6, 2016 at 5:29 pm

      Hi Gareth – I actually went to uni in Oxford so have sampled the nightlife at leisure 😁 I’ve always preferred the cocktail bars to the clubs but it is a lot of fun.

  • Reply Hendrik December 7, 2016 at 7:56 am

    Such fun to read and admire your nice photos! Of course I wanted to say it immediately reminded me to Harry Potter 🙂
    Actually you really inspire me now to try out the tour with your time schedule, haha maybe next spring when the weather is nice again, because I saw Oxford only once when I was a kid, so highest time for refreshing the memories 🙂
    Thank you for sharing.

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby December 7, 2016 at 8:00 am

      Thank you Hendrik for your lovely words – I’m so glad that you like the article. Do give it a try – it’s an action packed day but really does take in the city’s highlights. Give me a shout if you ever have any questions, always happy to help where I can!

  • Reply lydia@lifeuntraveled December 7, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    I didn’t know there were 38 colleges in Oxford – wow! I’m always amazed at how schools used to be so beautifully built with such ornate architecture – definitely not like today’s schools. I took a picture of those exact same tiles in a small town in Laos!

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby December 8, 2016 at 4:52 am

      It’s so true. The buildings are just beautiful – and so varied! Thanks for your comments.

  • Reply Julie Cao December 10, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    I dont know if I can cram so much in so little time, but your picture is so beautiful and makes me want to go there immediately. The Christ Church Meadow is dreamlike in the mist. and I wont hesitate to end my day at Gee’s, and that restaurant seems especially cozy during the winter.

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby December 11, 2016 at 1:02 am

      It’s really not that big so you can definitely do it in a day! Of course if you had longer, it’s nice to take it at a gentler pace. It’s such a lovely destination – do go!

  • Reply Madi | Restless Worker December 11, 2016 at 12:59 am

    How much did you love Oxford?! it’s one of my favourite places ever! Plus Christ Church is soo cool!

  • Reply Sandy N Vyjay December 13, 2016 at 9:16 am

    Very interesting post. Would love to explore oxford someday. Great capture , specially the library one.

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby December 13, 2016 at 9:47 am

      Thanks Sandy – if you do go I hope that you love it as much as I do.

  • Reply kellybarcus January 16, 2017 at 7:59 pm

    Great guide! We loved exploring all of the colleges! How funny is it that they have a pub called The Duke of Cambridge. In Oxford, of all places ;P

    • Reply Julianna Barnaby January 16, 2017 at 8:01 pm

      Thank you! I’m really glad you like it. It is funny 😂 reckon they were feeling a bit cheeky when they did that!

    We'd Love To Hear Your Thoughts

    %d bloggers like this: