Centuries of history, impressive architecture, tranquil gardens, peaceful waterways, fabulous eateries, excellent nightlife, theatres, concert venues, and event programmes. All are available when you’ve chosen where to stay in Oxford, for your next City-Break.
Attracting 10-million visitors a year, the historic city of Oxford lies just 60 miles from London, in the county of Oxfordshire.
Home to two universities, Oxford University, (often referred to as Oxbridge) and Oxford Brookes University, it has more than 30 colleges of learning, and attracts over 40,000 students a year to its acclaimed centres of higher education.
Oxford has also been used as a backdrop for a raft of film and TV blockbusters, including Brideshead Revisited, the Harry Potter movies, A Fish called Wanda, Saving Private Ryan, The Italian Job, Inspector Morse, Lewis, Endeavour, and many more.
With a population of 150,000 people, this beautiful medieval city is a bustling, multi-cultural, vibrant metropolis, offering something for couples, families, the young and the old.
Welcome to our pick of the six best areas to stay in Oxford.
Where to Stay in Oxford: 6 Best Areas
1. Oxford City Centre, the place to stay in Oxford for first time visitors
Oxford University has no campus as such. Instead, its 30-plus colleges are spread throughout the city, with a high proportion, including the famous Trinity, Balliol, and Christ Church colleges, located in the centre of town.
After dropping your bags in your chosen accommodation, head for Carfax. Carfax tower is all that’s left of the old 13th century Church of St Martin, and the area is considered the beating heart of old Oxford town.
The church tower has 99 steps, and a climb to the top will reward you with some excellent photo opportunities across the Oxford skyline.
If that sounds a bit to energetic so soon after your arrival, cross the junction to the High Street for a little gentle window shopping.
The Westgate Shopping Centre has undergone major refurbishment over the last few years, and with Queen Street, and Cornmarket Street, offers a large choice of your favourite high-street brands, designer stores, and independent retailers.
Off the centre’s main streets, in the smaller roads and narrow lanes you can seek out independent boutiques, vintage clothing stores, arts and craft studios, souvenir shops, and antique stores.
Also in the area is the old covered indoor bazar, circa the 1700s, and home to a host of independent market traders, with stalls selling everything from souvenirs and mementos to fresh produce, local honey and preserves.
Around the city centre you will also find many buildings associated with the university, including the Bodleian Library in Broad Street. Established in 1602, it is the university’s premier research library, and one of the oldest in Europe.
If the printed word is your interest, continue strolling Broad Street. You will find a plethora of independent bookshops, including Blackwell’s Book Shop. Trading since 1879, it is the largest specialist academic book seller in Britain.
Other places of interest in Broad Street include the Sheldonian Theatre and the Museum of History and Science.
In Beaumont Street, you will find the Oxford Playhouse, and Ashmolean Museum, Britain’s oldest open-to-the-public museum.
Take a little time out to visit Oxford Botanic Gardens in Rose Lane, established in 1621, and enjoy a visit to the Bate Collection in St Aldgate’s, with its collection of 2,000 musical instruments.
As you would expect from a city centre, for daytime refreshment, lunch, or evening entertainment, there are plenty of cafes and coffee bars, tea-rooms and bistros, wine bars, pubs, restaurants and take-aways to suit all tastes and age groups.
If you’re looking for livelier evenings, the pubs, clubs, and wine-bars around college areas usually attract the younger student clientele. While theatres and music venues host concerts, plays, and the performing arts throughout the year.
City centre accommodation is broad, and ranges from economical hostels, B&Bs, guest houses, Airbnb, and a full range of hotels. You can even book B&B in some of the university colleges.
2. Jericho, a beautiful suburb where to stay in Oxford away from the city bustle
Located to the north of the city, and a one-time industrial area just outside the old city boundaries, Jericho dates back to the late 18th century.
Once a red-light area in the 1950s, Jericho has over the years morphed into an increasingly affluent area, favoured by young professionals, well-off students, and London commuters. It is also home to the Oxford University Press.
The area is a mix of new builds, updated old Victorian terraced housing, and apartments converted from the old ironworks and warehouses that had for so long lain derelict.
The Oxford Canal also, has received a new lease of life, with well-maintained towpaths, waterside pubs and restaurants; and canal boats tied up at their moorings.
For a small area a pleasant 20-minute stroll from the city – be warned. You could easily use up your city-break time just exploring what Jericho has to offer.
It has excellent nightlife, and arguably as good a food scene as the city centre. The names alone conjure up thoughts that you could be heading for something a little different.
Try Barefoot Jericho or The Jericho Café for brunch. Or The Rickety Press in Cranham Street for a decent pub lunch.
Walton Street is the place to head for in the evening, with eateries such as a Raymond Blanc, Brasserie Blanc, a Taiwanese Giggling Squid, a Mamma Mia’s Pizzeria, and an excellent Indian restaurant, The Standard.
On Little Clarendon Street you’ll find tapas bar Al-Andalus, and Lussman’s Seafood Grill and restaurant. For a little after dinner cocktail, look up The Duke of Cambridge or Freud.
For the shopping addicts, there are plenty of independent shops and stores where you can seek out those first editions or rare titles, old vinyl records and unique pottery. If you can’t find what you want, the Westgate Shopping Centre is just five minutes away by car.
For a little taste of the Oxfordshire countryside, head for the entrance to Port Meadow, just off Walton Street.
It is a 7-mile circular stroll that will take you around 300 acres of parkland, the ruins of an abbey, a sailing club, and three well spread out country pubs, where you can stop for a refreshing pint or pub lunch.
Evenings can be enjoyed with a romantic meal for two, or eating and drinking with fellow visitors or the locals. If you fancy a night in town, a cab will have you in the city centre in ten-minutes.
Jericho has a good selection of self-catering apartments, guest houses, B&Bs and a couple of period hotels.
3. Summertown, where to stay in Oxford in a relaxing upmarket area
Located north of Jericho, Summertown is a one-square-mile area of business and residential affluence.
With the Oxford Canal on the west side, and the Cherwell River on the east, it is four miles from the city centre, and a mile from Jericho.
Elegant (and expensive), Victorian and Edwardian houses line the streets. Prestigious businesses like Oxfam International, BBC Radio Oxford and BBC Oxford television studios share Banbury Road with new digital start-ups like Brainomix and Passle.
Although the area has a reasonable selection of the usual supermarkets, retail shops, cafes, and coffee shops, the hospitality sector is one of affluent pubs and restaurants.
For a good old English breakfast at down-to-earth prices, call into Oxo’s Café, on Islip Road. They also sell the basics such as milk, tea, sugar, and a daily newspaper for your self-catering stay.
For lunch, look up the Rose and Crown on North Parade Avenue. It’s a traditional British pub serving real ales, cider, wines and spirits, as well as pub snacks and main meals.
A little further along North Parade Avenue is Koto, a Japanese diner serving some of Oxfordshire’s best ramen.
For an enjoyable evening out, look up the Cherwell Boathouse Restaurant, on Bardwell Road. You can dine in the boathouse, conservatory, or, on those warm summer evenings, overlooking the river on their waterside terrace. A fabulous venue for that special occasion meal.
Airbnb, self-catering apartments, and a number of hotels are available around the Summertown area. All within easy reach of any attractions and venues you may want to visit during your stay.
Read also: Where to stay in London, where to stay in Bristol, where to stay in Birmingham, where to stay in Cornwall
4. Cowley Road, where to stay in Oxford on a budget
Stretching from the city centre at Magdalen Bridge, through to the industrial area of Cowley, Cowley Road is a built-up area of commercial and residential terraced properties.
Day and night, it is the main hub for shopping and socialising for east Oxford residents and students.
Close to Magdalen Bridge you will find the magnificent Magdalen College, founded in 1458. One of Oxford’s richest colleges, it is set in its own grounds, and visitors can enjoy the tranquil scenery walking around the Water Meadow, the Angel and Greyhound Meadow, the Bat Willow Meadow, and Fellow’s Garden.
Its ethnically diverse population hails from around the world, and their influence can be seen in the number of different places of worship, the increasing amount of street art, and the variety of retail outlets, cafes, and restaurants on Cowley Road and the smaller roads that lead off it.
July 5th is Carnival Day, and if you’re in the area it’s a must visit. The whole community, including local schools, join together for an extravaganza of elaborate costumes, singing, dancing, and parading through the streets.
With market stalls, bands, kiddies attractions and plenty of street food, it is a day for all to enjoy themselves.
Cowley Road is also close to the Botanic Gardens, founded in 1621. Originally for the study of the medicinal benefits of plants, today it continues to be a research department of the university.
Visitor attractions within three miles of Cowley Road include the Bodleian Library, the Museum of the History of Science, and the Ashmolean Museum, with others being quickly and easily reached by car, bus, taxi, or Uber.
One thing’s for sure, if you choose Cowley Road for your stay in Oxford, your evenings will never be boring. You can choose to eat Caribbean, Thai, Moroccan, Sri Lankan, Mediterranean, Slovakian, or Spanish cuisine, all situated along Cowley Road.
Throw in a couple of British restaurants, gastro-pubs, theme venues, and cocktail bars, and your evening in Cowley Road should be complete.
5. Abingdon, a bustling market town with plenty to keep the kids happy
Lying on the edge of the River Thames, Abingdon, full name Abingdon-on-Thames, is just six-miles from Oxford, and an excellent location for families wishing to explore both the city and surrounding areas.
With its riverside position, a history dating back to the early middle ages, and reputedly ‘the oldest, continuously inhabited town in England’, at least one day should be set aside to explore the town itself during your stay in Oxford.
Abingdon Monastery dates back to the 7th century. Minus its church which was destroyed by Henry VIII, a number of buildings still stand, including the 13th century exchequer, the bakehouse, the abbey gateway, Trendell’s Folly, St John’s hospitium for pilgrims, St Nicolas’ Church circa 1170, St Hellen’s Church, and the Long Alley Almhouse.
The magnificent County Hall, circa 1682 and on the town’s square, is also an interesting museum. The history of the town is told in various displays, including details of its bizarre bun throwing ceremonies.
On the roof of the hall is a purpose built viewing platform, offering fantastic views across Abingdon’s rooftops.
For the walking enthusiasts, there are some fabulous walks around the area including the River Thames towpath, which you can follow all the way into Oxford. A walk of around four hours, but well worth the effort on a sunny summer’s day.
For the return journey you could use the local bus services, which have a number of regular routes running between the city and Abingdon.
Abingdon Bridge was built in 1422, to replace the old ferry crossing the Thames. You can walk across to Nag’s Head Island and enjoy afternoon tea in the tearooms, or a pint of craft ale in the Nags Head pub. It is also the embarkation point for summer boat-trips on the river.
Abingdon’s impressive old High Street brings new meaning to window shopping, and is a mix of high street and independent shops, cafes, tearooms, pubs, and restaurants.
Around the surrounding area are also some superb places of interest for the whole family including the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, and Harcourt Arboretum. The Pendon Museum of model villages and trains.
Tours around Bothy Vineyard and the Loose Cannon Brewery. And Millets Farm Centre with its shops, garden centre, pick-your-own, falconry centre, petting farm, and kids play areas.
Abingdon has a good selection of all accommodations, including self-catering, B&Bs, guest houses, pubs, and hotels.
6. Oxford Airport, 6-miles to the northwest of Oxford city
For business flyers who like to mix work with a little leisure, or city-breakers who prefer to leave the car at home, staying close to the airport is often the preferred option. Especially so if arriving late evening. Or flying out early morning.
Airport hotels are often just a few minutes walk or five minute shuttle ride from your arrival point. Frequent and reliable public transport, buses and trains, are waiting on the airport perimeter to ferry you to your chosen places of interest, and back again.
No need to worry about looking for car parks, parking meters, or worrying about low emission zones or park-and-ride schemes.
Oxford Airport is a case in point. Also confusingly known as London Oxford Airport or Oxford Kidlington Airport, it lies just 5-miles from the village of Kidlington and 6-miles from Oxford – but 60-miles from London.
If your original plan was to find somewhere to stay in Oxford, to explore the city and surrounding area, perhaps there’s a better way.
Choosing to stay in an Oxford Airport hotel you can be in Oxford city centre in minutes. Or, in the same time, enjoying the quieter delights of Kidlington village (circa 1086), and its medieval architecture.
With its excellent public transport system, wherever you choose to stay in Oxford, you can hop on a bus and be somewhere else in minutes, enjoying everything you want to see in one of the UK’s favourite cities.