Car-free aroundOxfordOxfordshire

Stroll through the flowering water meadows or out of town along the Thames; get a bus to Blenheim Palace or a train along the canal. Notorious for traffic jam nightmares, Oxford’s streets are often best negotiated on foot and the countryside nearby is full of fabulous farms and villages, pubs and palaces. These itineraries include: a walking guide to the city’s highlights; some ideas for hiking (or biking) further afield along rivers and canals, and some great day trips by bus, train or even boat.

  1. 3. Bus to Blenheim Palace

    One of Oxford’s most popular and rewarding day trips is to visit baroque Blenheim Palace, set in acres of rolling, landscaped park. Tapestry-hung staterooms, a magnificent library, fountain-dotted formal gardens, lakes, islands, woods and waterfalls: you can easily spend a whole day exploring Blenheim. And arriving by bus gets you a decent discount off the cost of a ticket.

    • Blenheim is open 10.30-5 daily and costs around £17 for car-free entry.
    • Buses (the S3, 7 or 500 park and ride) leave every ten minutes from Magdalen Street in the city centre.
    • The bus journey from Oxford takes just 20 minutes and drops you at Blenheim’s gates on the main road. From here, a stroll along the driveway, with views over Capability Brown’s park, brings you to the palace.
    • Show your bus ticket at the gate to get 30% off entry and walk through the imposing columns and pediments of the Great Court.
    • Heading inside the palace, follow the red carpet walkway through the Great Hall, with its painted ceiling, to writing rooms and saloons, state rooms and the spectacular Long Library.
    • Stepping out into the gardens, walk through the west colonnade into the lovely water terraces. Turn left across the South Lawn for more views of the palace and into the elegant Italian Garden. The gardens stretch south, through rockeries and roses to a beautiful cascade.
    • In front of the palace, a road leads over the Grand Bridge towards the distant Column of Victory. On the far side of the bridge, follow the path left and left again through a wooden gate to take a four-mile stroll along the lake and through the wooded park. At far end of the lake, continue left through a wooden gate and left again on a tarmac lane.
    • Eventually, crossing elegant Bladon Bridge, you reach the Pleasure Gardens. This trove of delights includes a maze, a butterfly house and a model of the neighbouring town of Woodstock. If you’ve had enough walking by now, a miniature train can take you back to the palace from here.
  1. 4. Bus to Cogges Farm

    Another great car-free outing from Oxford, takes you to Cogges Manor Farm near Witney. Goats, pigs and chickens in an idyllic rural setting with an old farmhouse kitchen, veg garden, apple orchard and stream.

    • Catch the S1 bus, which leaves every 20 minutes from Oxford’s George Street (stop A3) and get off, 45 minutes later, at the Griffin Inn in Witney. Stroll down Church Lane and turn right into Mud Lane to find the farm.
    • Downton Abbey fans can see photos and a video in the sitting room, celebrating the scenes that the popular ITV serial filmed on the farm in 2014.
    • Outside the farm’s back door, the colourful garden is always bright with seasonal flowers and vegetables. A path from the garden takes you, past the goats, to the pigsties and – nearby – a tea room in an old, beamed barn.
    • Don’t miss St Mary’s church, with its picturesque turret, left out of the farm past a stone wall full of doves.
  1. 5. Along the Oxford canal

    Walking or cycling beside the scenic Oxford canal is a peaceful way to spend the day. There are several lovely villages to explore and the railway runs parallel so it’s easy to reach the countryside here. Winding through the Cherwell Valley from Oxford to Banbury, you pass plenty of local pubs, as well as locks and bridges. Look out for the grooves in the stone made by horses pulling barges along this historic waterway.

    • One of the prettiest sections of this waterside towpath is the five-mile section from Tackley to Heyford. Trains from Oxford station to Tackley run a few times a day and take just nine minutes. Signed “Oxford Canal Walk”, the route involves crossing the railway at Tackley station and heading downhill on a muddy track. Turn left at the bottom (signed towards Kirtlington), follow the path right, over a series of bridges, to Pigeons Lock, and turn left along the canal.
    • Arriving at Heyford Wharf (next to Heyford station), you can have a waterside cream tea at Kizzies bistro while you wait for your train. This is also the home of Oxfordshire Narrowboats, where you can rent canal boats and cruise the waterways.
    • The trains are not expensive and a Cherwell Valley Day Ranger ticket gives you unlimited travel on summer weekend First Great Western train services between Oxford and Banbury for just £3.25 (or £2.10 with a railcard).

Look out for the Good Journey Mark – where car-free visitors are welcome and enjoy a discount