As the home of the world’s oldest university (don’t tell Cambridge I said that) and some mighty fine architecture, the city of Oxford has a reputation much greater than its diminutive size.
For this reason, thousands of travellers from all over the globe visit each year, many choosing to stay a few days to explore the colleges that form the university, in addition to soaking up a bit of city life.
There’s plenty of demand for accommodation, but in high season, supply can be scarce, so be sure to book ahead during the summer months.
The City Centre
Understandably, this is most visitors’ ideal location when it comes to lodgings. A hotel in the heart of the city has the bonus of having a host of attractions (including most of the colleges) and restaurants on its doorstep, but prices generally reflect this. If you’re looking to indulge, opt for either classic glamour at the grand dame of Oxford hotels, The Randolph, or choose designer-inspired elegance at the Malmaison in the Oxford Castle Quarter.
The imposing façade of the Randolph conceals stately rooms updated with all the 21st-century creature comforts you would expect of a five-star hotel, in addition to elegant lounges ideal for afternoon tea. You don’t have far to walk to reach the city’s sights (the Ashmolean Museum is directly opposite), but if you need to rest your weary body, there’s an on-site spa.
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By contrast, resting your head in a prison cell may sound decidedly less tempting, but the spectacular conversion of Oxford’s former jail into the plush Malmaison hotel will win over design mavens and lovers of all things cutting edge. These days, the interior’s far from spartan, but nods to the building’s former use remain: some rooms retain the original cell doors (fear not, bedrooms are larger than the cells used to be) and the courtyard is nicknamed the ‘exercise yard.’ The on-site restaurant and cocktail bar are both top spots on the local drinking and dining circuit, so guests don’t have to travel far to experience some of the city’s finest food.
If you’re looking for something a little more intimate, the Old Bank Hotel in the heart of the city is a boutique hotel with a purely Oxfordshire heritage; there are no chains behind this enterprise. With an exclusive 42 bedrooms, it’s a tastefully-decorated, well-designed place with a perfect location opposite Queen’s College on the High Street.
If your budget’s a little more bargain basement than boutique, try renting a room at one of the central colleges. Many of them offer accommodation to travellers outside of term time. While the rooms available won’t be as plush as a hotel, you’ll have the chance to see how university students live and catch a glimpse of daily life at the ancient academic institution that is the University of Oxford.
Beyond The Centre
As it’s a small city, staying outside of central Oxford doesn’t have to mean staying far from it. Choosing accommodation in one of the outlying neighborhoods allows you to cut costs and experience a different side of city life. In vibrant Jericho, an upmarket area popular with arty, cocktail bar-frequenting types, you can stay at the Richmond Hotel, a small bed and breakfast located above the deservedly popular Lebanese restaurant Al Shami.
Further north of the city in Summertown (reached by bus no. 2), both the Galaxie and the Remont offer stylish lodgings for less financial outlay than their central counterparts. These small hotels may not have all the luxuries of those in the city, but they are comfortable, modern and well-located (10-15 minutes by bus from the centre). The Headington area is another prime spot for bed and breakfast accommodation, and is also easily accessed by bus. Options here include Pickwicks and the All Seasons Guesthouse.
For those who prefer to save their cash for wining and dining, Oxford has two hostels a short walk from the city centre: Oxford Backpackers and the Oxford YHA. Both are modern and well-equipped, with a party vibe at the former and a more family-friendly feel at the YHA.
Into The Cotswolds
Rather than day-tripping from Oxford to the countryside, you could base yourself in one of the Cotswolds’ lovely villages and venture into the city for the day. The small town of Woodstock is well-connected to Oxford by bus, and has the bonus of being the home of Blenheim Palace, one of Oxfordshire’s top attractions. It’s also an incredibly picturesque place, with ivy-covered buildings and little streets lined with enticing restaurants and shops. The top spot to lay your head is Hope House, an ancestral home converted by its owners into luxurious boutique lodgings. With just three (enormous) suites, it’s an exclusive destination – but the warm welcome is far from snooty. Hope House is also renowned for its excellent breakfasts, made with locally-sourced produce as far as possible; even the honey is produced by bees on Blenheim Palace estate.
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A little further afield, chi-chi Chipping Norton is also worth investigating for accommodation (with the bonus of some possible celebrity sightings), while Banbury and Bicester are cheaper (but less glamorous) options as bases to visit Oxford.