While it was not a white Christmas this year, Oxford is still worth braving the crowds and the elements for. It is the perfect long weekend getaway type of city. Oxford has managed to maintain its old world charm of cobbled streets and heritage buildings.
I first visited Oxford about 20 years ago on a group tour, which only really gave me an afternoon to try and cram a lot of sightseeing in. While possible to do, I did not get a chance to really immerse myself into the city culture. So last Christmas I added a day trip to give myself time to explore.
Oxford is an easy train trip from central London with Southwestern railways adding more services to their routes recently. During holidays and busy periods it is worth booking in advance, but at other times you can buy a ticket on the day or through their App. Upon arrival into Oxford, it is a short five minute walk from the station into the city centre.
Oxford itself is a university city, but not just one university. It is made up of many different colleges. Each college is independent of the other, but share the same branding as Oxford University. The university buildings are the main attraction, including Radcliffe Camera and the Bridge of Sighs. Once you have walked the cobbled streets between the university buldings, there is much more to see.
The covered markets on the HIgh Street get a Christmas makeover at holiday time. As you walk through one of the largest inside markets in the northern hemisphere, Christmas is all around you. There are giant fur Christmas trees, giant rabbits and tasty treats throughout for you to take home.
Located in the town hall is an exhibition on Alice in Wonderland. Oxford was the birthplace of the classic story written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgeson (Lewis Carrol) in 1862. His inspiration for the lead character Alice was inspired by 10 year Alice Liddel, the daughter of Christ Church College Dean HG Liddel.
Lewis met young Alice on a boat trip on the river with her friends and told them a story about a little girl searching for adventures. The Alice in Wonderland exhibition is currently located in the Town Hall, but for Alice memorabilia visit the Alice Shop on Aldgate Street.
The grounds of Christ Church College are open for people to walk through, walk their dogs or come up with their own story ideas for children’s stories. The lush green trees, open fields bordering the river are peaceful and serene as you imagine a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party set up on the football field.
Oxford at Christmas time is worth braving the cold for. While it is touch and go on the snow front, the atmosphere of people out and about makes up for it. The Christmas markets take over the High Street. Once you finish browsing the stalls, warm up with a cup of mulled red wine. The spiced wine is soothing and warms you from the inside. Warm enough so that you can continue your Christmas adventures in Oxford.
If you have been to the United Kingdom, you will know that there are castles from north to south of the country. Some more famous than others. However, it is worth spending time on a visit to Oxford Castle. Upon entry to the castle grounds you will notice a big, green mound of grass with a flagpole atop of it. This was in fact the site of the original structure.
The castle you visit today was built as a prison which was used inthe early days to imprison misbehaving students. When the civil war began in 1642, the castle was used to hold prisoners. It was not until 1531 when the castle was formally turned into the County Gaol. In 2006, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II opened Oxford Castle to the public for the people to relive 1000 years of history.
At the end of the day, in true British tradition, you cannot leave Oxford without a visit to an English pub. But do not just settle for any pub on the High Street, ask a local for directions to St Helen’s passage. A couple of narrow turns will have you at the turf Tavern, a 12th Century pub. It is the smallest pub in the country and thought to be the oldest still in operation. For those who are Inspector Morse fans, you may find the Oxford Streets you have walked through during the day seem very familiar.