Original Oxfordian Laura guides us through her historic hometown, sharing her favourite boutique hotels and insider tips along the way…
Cultural, classy and oh so charming, Oxford is the old school city that stays endlessly enchanting. This dreamy destination entices visitors with its spires, it’s cobbled streets and its riverside, seducing you with secret side streets and doorways that glimpse into otherworldly sights (it’s no wonder Harry Potter was filmed here).
I grew up just outside the city, and Oxford has long had a place in my heart. Although it’s not unheard of to see a robed academic whisking past you on two wheels or to find yourself sat in a pub that Tolkien once drank in, Oxford retains a friendly, youthful charm. And whether you come here to shop, visit the theatre or explore the museums, there are some beautiful places to stay. Here are some of my favourite picks for a stylish break.
The perfect boutique hotel for a classic Oxford stay
I used to walk past The Randolph’s fancy entrance as a child and wonder if one day I’d get to step inside. Its grand stone archway and soaring English flags just ooze that classic Oxford vibe, making it the perfect pick for a quintessentially English city break.
I finally got to stay here last year for a girls’ weekend away and it was the perfect setting for some pampering in the spa. Afterwards you can indulge in some afternoon tea in the drawing room, and the cherry on top? It’s right opposite one of my favourite museums in the world, The Ashmolean.
When you arrive at The Randolph, make sure you have a drink in The Morse Bar. This tiny wood panelled bar has been seen on screen in the TV series Inspector Morse: it’s a true Oxfordian institution and well worth a quick welcome drink.
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“The Randolph sits on the north side of the city, making it ideal to explore Jericho, one of my favourite city suburbs. From Walton Street to Little Clarendon Street, this stylish pocket boasts fancy cocktail bars and chic boutiques, and you must visit the George and Davis ice cream shop – which opens until midnight and is popular amongst the locals for a quick ice cream after a night out.”
Boutique ‘prison’ hotel for a truly unique stay in Oxford
There was a definite buzz when The Malmaison came to town, primarily because it set up shop amidst the bars of an old Oxford prison, giving the inmates’ beds a new lease of life with stylish rooms that you’ll certainly never want to break out of. Many of the rooms sit behind the old prison doors, and the main hallway has kept its cell block vibe.
This oxford prison hotel sits in the city’s new castle quarter, which has a handful of places to eat and drink. You can also grab some great food in the stylish Malmaison brasserie, they do a really reasonable fixed price menu and the bar upstairs is great for cocktails. Top tip: try the gin and honey Beehave!
The Malmaison is also the perfect place to stay if you want to check out Oxford’s brand new Westgate Centre. Oxford shopping used to be a bit of a city sore point, but this new complex has totally changed the game. You’ll find retail therapy galore and an amazing rooftop filled with restaurants and bars where you can enjoy some stellar views of the city. There’s also a Curzon cinema if you want a super chic setting to watch the latest film… again, with a cocktail in hand.[button text="Compare prices" href="https://www.trivago.co.uk/?iGeoDistanceItem=139392"]
A stylish boutique pub-hotel on the River Thames
The Head of the River is an Oxford institution. Sitting just beside Folly Bridge on the banks of the River Thames, it is where I spent summers in the sunshine. Its huge outdoor terrace is always the first port of call when the sun comes out at the weekend.
Recently renovated, both the pub and its rooms are stylishly designed, and each is named and decorated after a famous Oxford figure, from Lewis Carroll to John le Carré.
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Breakfasts here include hipster classics such as avocado on toast, but you can also eat simple Brit pub dinners from pies to fish and chips.
If you want to explore the city on the water, walk just a few doors down to Oxford River Cruises, where you can hop on anything from a picnic cruise to a mad hatter’s tea party. Or head across the road to Salter’s Steamers if you fancy joining the punts and rowing boats that meander past the Head of the River’s terrace.
The pub is also in a great spot for walks around Oxford’s famed parks – Christ Church Meadow sits just behind and is perfect for a stroll between sightseeing and shopping.
Charming boutique country hotel by Oxford University
Tucked beside the University of Oxford sits the wisteria-covered Old Parsonage. Boasting a Cotswold country house feel amid the city, this is one of the best Oxford boutique hotels for sightseeing weekends. Many of the university buildings are nearby, and two of my favourite sights – the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum – are a short stroll away.
Visit the Old Parsonage in the summer for afternoon tea in their walled garden, or go during the winter for cosy coffee in the library. Make sure you take one of the hotel’s vintage style bikes out for a spin to explore the city like a local. Head to nearby Oxford University Parks for traffic free cycling, take a picnic or ride down to the Cherwell Boathouse to hire a punt for the afternoon.
The Old Parsonage bar and grill serves up tasty food in a setting of plush velvet seats, flagstone floors and walls covered with oil paintings; alternatively, one of my favourite restaurants in Oxford, Gees, sits just a few doors down.
“I used to wander past as a child and dream of who was inside this romantic conservatory. I love how magical it is in the winter evenings with its fairy lights glowing under the glass, but it’s also a great place for springtime lunches and some fab cocktails.”
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The perfect city centre boutique hotel in Oxford close to all the sights
Right in the heart of town, nestled between Oxford’s famous colleges, is The Old Bank hotel. Set in an impressive Georgian townhouse, this chic spot is one of the best hotels in Oxford city centre; it’s just a stone’s throw from famed sights such as the Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian Library.
You can easily sight-see on foot from here, wandering across ancient colleges and the Modern Art Museum, or you can shop at the Westgate or catch a show at the nearby theatres. One of Oxford’s oldest pubs, The Turf, can also be found nearby. Hidden down an alleyway and a favourite with the locals, this 13th-century gem is one of the most notorious but hard to find spots in the city. As a student, I could never remember how to find way back here, but this has definitely become a little easier now thanks to the invention of the smartphone…[button text="Compare prices" href="https://www.trivago.co.uk/?iGeoDistanceItem=46433"]
“The Old Bank Hotel is also home to another favourite Oxford restaurant of mine, Quod. It’s a bustling brasserie that sits between huge arched windows and an onyx bar. It’s also famed for its artwork, don’t be surprised if you spot a Damien Hirst on your travels…”
A writer living in London, Laura is currently working on her debut novel – a fictional tale inspired by her travels across America. When she’s not checking out the ideal hotel bed thread-count, she’s penning short stories, writing for various publications & brands, and sharing fashion tales on her blog, LauLauLand.