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What vaguely academic type hasn't imagined themselves strolling the hallowed - and cobbled - lanes of Oxford, between the 'dreaming spires' and Gothic architecture the colour of biscuits? And in person it's even better than what you can imagine. Plus all of our recommendations for the best places to stay in Oxford are ideally located to make the most of this city.
There's a youthful energy about the place, which comes from having such a large population of open minded students. And as well as the 'gown' element of Oxford - the tours of university grounds and visits to the Ashmolean, there's also the 'town'. And the river.
Oxford's oldest colleges are around 700 years old - a spectacular age for a university building to remain so unchanged for - so the colleges, scattered around the city, make up many of the main sights of Oxford.
On a short break visit to Oxford it's also worth trying to fit in at least one museum, (the Ashmolean being the obvious one), a stroll around the outside of the Radcliffe Camera, see something of the Bodleian Library, and, if the weather allows for it, go for a punt on the Isis.
You may also want to visit the Museum of Oxford, which tells the tale of the city, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, home to the Oxford Dodo, and the Pitt Rivers Museum, an ethnology museum still arranged in the Victorian style.
Jericho is the trendy, artsy end of Oxford, and where you can find the art house cinema, fringe style theatres and plenty of hipster bars and restaurants, or if you're after something more upmarket try Summertown to the north.
Oxford has a notoriously challenging one way system, and limited parking, but many of the main sights in Oxford are within walking distance of the centre of town. And remember, much of Oxford's traffic is of the two-wheeled, self-propelled variety, so if you want to explore further then maybe consider hiring a bike? Many of the best places to stay in Oxford will be able to help you with this.
For a City Break
- The Randolph is an Oxford institution - if you're a fan of the Inspector Morse series you'll have seen it several times, or read about it. The building, in the centre of town, is Gothic revival, but with a fashionable vibe, and the baronial restaurant is a 'place to go' for locals as well as visitors. It has a spa, antiques, family suites, free wifi and a great wine list. And it's the best (and only) place to stay in Oxford if you're looking for five stars.
What could be more romantic than punting on the Isis and strolling amongst the beautiful grounds and even more impressive buildings of this wonderfully aesthetic city?
- Recently completely renovated, wisteria clad country house, the Old Parsonage Hotel is one of the best places to stay in Oxford for couples. They have a wedding license, so they're well geared up for special occasions with their superb new beds, excellent brasserie, romantic log fires and pretty roof terrace. And they can also provide you with the perfect transport for hopping between Oxford's most romantic spots: bikes and punts (for the River Cherwell).
For History Buffs
As well as visiting as many colleges as are open to the public when you're in Oxford - out of term time is the time when the largest number of colleges are open to visitors - those interested in Oxford's history should try and see All Souls, which supposedly has the world's hardest entrance exam, and New College, which straddles Oxford's ancient city walls.
Malmaison Oxford has become well known for the previous inhabitants of the building - prisoners. Yes, this now quirky and contemporary hotel was once a castle and a prison, and it still has the heavy doors, with their telltale dents, and barred windows to prove it.
But it's surprisingly light and airy too - the vast, three storey central atrium is spectacular, and you can sit outside in the Exercise Yard or sip cocktails in the Visitor's Room. This is one of the best places to stay in Oxford whether you're local or visiting - it's a real experience!
If you're happy with your spires and traditional sandstone outside and like something a bit more contemporary inside, book a room at the Old Bank Hotel. This was an old bank, and the Georgian facade makes that very clear, but parts of the building are Elizabethan, and in the Tudor part there are some spectacular exposed beams and latticed windows. But even the most traditional features are finished with a stylish, contemporary edge. There's modern art on the walls and the brasserie is always packed.
Best Hotels in Oxford
Malmaison Oxford 95 rooms from $233Oxford (3 New Road)
Fantastically modern interiors and stunning atrium in this atmospheric castle and former prison. Sleep in converted cells with original fittings and Gothic colours. New, airier rooms are also available in the additional buildings. Good brasserie food and a smart neon-lit cocktail bar.City Style - Modern hotel in the heart of historic OxfordLocal markets - Oxford Covered MarketSights nearby - Bridge of SighsGreat walks - Good for walkers.Recommended by - Frommers, Good Hotel Guide, Kiwi Collection
Old Parsonage Hotel 35 rooms from $254Oxford
A luxury boutique hotel in a wonderfully old building. The rooms have simple contemporary design. Bathrooms are pleasingly indulgent. A small but well stocked library is awaiting academics. The restaurant is excellent. Highly recommended.Writing a novel - This recently refurbished masterpiece was once home to Oscar Wilde, sit in the luxurious library and draw inspiration.Great walks - Book a guided walking tours of the city and University Colleges.Sights nearby - Visit any one of the 38 University Colleges.Full of characterRecommended by - Tablet, Frommers, Good Hotel Guide, Sawdays
Old Bank Hotel 42 rooms from $254Oxford
Sophisticated hotel with buzzing restaurant and bar. Tudor interiors updated with chic styling and large beds. Discreet and laid back luxury and perfectly positioned for sights. Contemporary art on the walls. An ideal city stay.Local exploring - Neighbouring some of the oldest Oxford colleges and within walking distance of shops, theatre and the city’s Botanical Gardens.City Style - Georgian alcoves, wood-paneled walls and large sash windows meet bold modern art and understated elegant interiors.Sights nearby - Plenty of sights to see nearby, the hotel is opposite St Mary’s Church, and neighbouring University and Merton.Great walks - Riverside and meadow walks from the hotel or walking tours with a guide.Recommended by - Tablet, Frommers, Good Hotel Guide
The Randolph 151 rooms from $268Oxford
Robustly elegant, quintessentially English and extremely comfortable, The Macdonald Randolph Hotel is perfectly situated on the corner of Beaumont Street and St Giles, within easy walking distance of enough historic sites to satiate the appetite of the most culturally hungry traveller.Great walks - Oxford's size makes it a wonderful city to explore on foot, wander the streets and soak up the history.SpaFour poster beds - For romantics.Recommended by - Frommers, Good Hotel Guide