Look out for the Good Journey Mark – where car-free visitors are welcome and enjoy a discount
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. Birds-eye views and hidden treasures
There are already a ridiculous number of guide books to Oxford. Rather than try and replicate them – here is a highly selective survey of the city’s best views and visitor attractions.
- There are several towers offering panoramic views of Oxford and the countryside beyond: St Mary’s church, overlooking the iconic Radcliffe Camera, Carfax Tower at an ancient crossroads, with a view straight down the High Street, and the cupola on top of the Sheldonian Theatre with an aerial view of the neighbouring Bodleain Library. These all cost around £4.
- If you don’t fancy paying for your view, walk along lively St Clement’s Street, and climb up to the top of South Park (actually east of the city centre) for a perfect panorama of distant domes and dreaming spires.
- Other beautiful city walks include the circuit around Christ Church meadows, from Folly Bridge to the Botanic Gardens, and along the Rivers Thames and Cherwell. You can even rent a punt or rowing boat from Folly or Magdalen Bridges and see the city from the water, or take a summer trip to Abingdon with Salter’s Steamers.
- You have to pay £6 to get into Magdalen College, but Addison’s Walk makes it all worthwhile; the water meadows are home to the college deer in summer and autumn, and covered with rare snake’s head fritillaries in spring. C.S. Lewis walked here with Tolkien and a poem on the wall, near a view of the mill, reflects the Narnia writer’s faith that “This year the summer will come true.”
- Most of the colleges have started charging visitors now, but those that are still free include the lovely Corpus Christi and Exeter, both open in the afternoons.
- Also free, and sometimes overlooked, are Oxford’s marvellous museums. The Pitt Rivers houses shrunken heads, Egyptian cat sculptures and towering totem poles; the popular Ashmolean (don’t miss the pre-Raphaelite paintings on the top floor) is packed with treasures and there’s a little collection of bibliographic gems in the Bodleian’s new Weston Library.
2. Walk the Thames Path to Wolvercote.
Turn right and right again out of Oxford railway station, along the Botley Road, to find the Thames Path leading right, soon with water on both sides. Follow the path over a footbridge with lovely views across Port Meadow.
- At Binsey, a well-marked path leads left to the Perch pub (open daily from 10.30am).
- The ruins of Godstow Abbey are a mile further north near the Trout. This is the area where much of Phillip Pullman’s first Book of Dust novel is set.
- There are several great pubs along the route; besides the well-known, waterside Perch and Trout, Jacob’s Inn, with lovely old buildings, a warm atmosphere and its own farm animals, is in the centre of Wolvercote village.
- Like the cheaper White Hart next door, Jacob’s has the advantage of being right next to the bus stop for buses back to Oxford. Bus 6 goes every 15 minutes from Home Close round the corner and costs £2.10.