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.

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