Next time you visit London, take the – 1 hour only – train to Oxford and spend 24h in this medieval town on the edge of the Cotwolds. Where to eat, what to see (Colleges! Libraries!) and where to sleep? These are my Oxford city short break favorites. You might bring an umbrella or raincoat. We needed both but it didn’t spoil the fun.
Where to sleep in Oxford?
We choose to sleep behind bars. The luxury boutique style. The Malmaison Hotel is a converted prison in a medieval (that word will keep coming back when Oxford is involved) castle, one of the oldest spots in the city. After a hilarious Fawlty Tours moment with an intern, she couldn’t find our room so we walked up and down along the prison gallery behind her until we took over and showed her where the room was, we entered our ‘cell’. There was nothing spartan about it. Think all the luxury amenities you need, crispy bed linnen, rain shower and so on.
We arrived late on a Sunday afternoon, perfect time to check-in, get settled and start with a GT in the bar before dinner.
Where to eat in Oxford?
Since we were in a really nice place, we decided to stay – and eat – in. Leave the rest of Oxford for the next day.
The Mal Brasserie serves classic dishes with a modern twist. The menu offers a great variety, also for those not into large Black Angus steaks. I had a delicious tuna tartar starter with avocado, wasabi & soy dressing. Followed by half a grilled lobster. Lean and mean.
The next day after our first College visit, we had a full Italian lunch – beetroot salad and pasta – at Marco Pierre White restaurant. Italian heritage New York style, nothing British about it but a perfect place to digest our morning Oxford impressions.
What to see in Oxford?
Oxford really is about stepping back in time, some 1000 years ago. Impressive medieval architecture is all around as are students. Well, not medieval but a multitude of them. And tourists. Everywhere.
Our first stop was Magdalen College (pronounced Mawdlin), one of Oxford’s most prominent colleges. Founded in 1458 and once home to Royals, famous alumni and Nobel laureates. Think King Edward VIII and Oscar Wilde.
Wandering around the well-worn paths of these extensive grounds was fascinating. As were the white Annabelle hydrangea bushes which laced the ancient interior Cloister walls. Unfortunelately the downpour of rain forced us to skip punting on the River Cherwell.
After lunch, cross High Street to visit the Bodleian Library, one of Europe’s oldest and grandest in size. And Hogwarts library in Harry Potter films. Since it was very crowded we decided to cross High Street again and take a guided tour at Merton College, where Bodley went to university. Founded in 1264, it feels like time has stood still once you step through the college gatehouse. The meadows, quadruples – do not walk on the grass! – chapel, choir and library (highlight) are so beautiful and tranquil.
Where to shop, you say? Well, unless you are into college wear stating Oxford University I suggest you save that urge for London. Ancient Oxford is all about history, students and culture and makes you feel smarter just by walking around. If only.