Oxford: More Than A Charming University Town
Oxford is undeniably an university town. The academic energy feels tangible with the abundance of libraries, courtyard quads, and even historic pubs.
However, there’s something about the ubiquitous golden hue that draws you in.
The city revolves around the University of Oxford, which dates back to 1096, making it the oldest English-speaking university.
Furthermore, the world’s second-oldest university that is still in full operation.
Given that the university dates back to the 11th century, the architecture around the city reflects as such.
Yet, the medieval ambiance is combined with an influx youthful energy, with a revolving circuit of incoming and graduating students.
More recently, at least within the past 200 years, Oxford has taken shape by a series of independent universities.
More specifically, the university is comprised of 38 self-governing colleges, with distinct specialities and structures.
Will and I made a home in Oxford for four nights. Well, in Littlemore, actually.
We stayed in an airbnb that was a shared flat in the Grade II-listed St George's Manor development. What the listing failed to mention was that the flat was formerly connected to the late Littlemore Mental Health Centre.
To our knowledge, no ghosts resurfaced during our stay. The brightly renovated, high ceilinged flat had a lovely view of the courtyard out of the large sash windows.
We chose to stay outside of the city to take advantage of the more natural surroundings, which truly defined our experience.
There were several lovely paths with easy access to escape the congested downtown.
Our walk along the River Thames was just under an hour, and became increasingly familiar.
On a personal note, watching the rowing practices, the different exercises, hearing the coxswains commands, evoked an immense amount of nostalgia.
I was the bow of the lightweight four in high school for four years and it was one of the most character building experiences.
Merely walking by the boathouse row brought back a flood of beautiful and painful memories.
Although we were staying in a residential neighborhood, the historic presence of Oxford’s history was ever-present.
We didn’t have to travel far to discover secret gardens and old mills.
There was a series of local neighborhood pubs that lined that river walk, famed for their authentic feel.
Once we did near the town, more established bars and pubs started to come into sight.
In fact, Oxford is acclaimed for being home to some of the last few proper British pubs. Partially due to the professor and student population.
Various watering holes line the alleyways and hold a tremendous history within their own right, with notable authors such as CS Lewis being regulars.
Upon first walking into the center of Oxford, it feels like stepping back in time, minus the traffic.
Sure, Oxford is consistently lauded as one of England’s most picturesque cities, but there’s an overwhelming exciting energy in the streets.
I suppose the mere proximity to the academic prestige feels noble.
There’s ample to learn in Oxford, so as a visitor you have to pick and choose. We did take one tour, and that was of the Bodleian Library.
The primary library of Oxford is the second largest library in Britain and one of the oldest in Europe.
While the Bodleian Library in its current state officially dates back to 1602, it was actually believed to be founded in the 14th century.
It’s deemed a reference library. Thus books can only be used in the reading rooms, and not borrowed off of the premises.
We explored the Radcliffe Camera, which neo-classical design was constructed in the 18th century, and holds the Radcliffe Science Library.
Unfortunately, since it was the week of exams, we weren’t able to explore inside some of the campuses more in depth.
Apart from the Gothic chapels and ancient cloisters, we were impressed with the gardens.
Adding some needed color to the infamous overcast city.
However, we were also treated to a series of uncharacteristically sunny days.
There was a semi-elusive bus that brought us into town. Due to it’s unreliability, most of the time, we opted to walk.
On a particularly nice day, we followed a further path down the River Thames.
The manicured pathway was quite idyllic.
Although we enjoyed exploring downtown Oxford, one of the major perks of staying outside of the city was the easy access to nature.
We were really comfortable in Oxford and made a home in our neighborhood.
Most nights, we’d pick up an easy dinner from the nearby Waitrose or Tesco. The prepared food section blew us away. It’s an entire market that has yet to reach the States.
I was also battling a pesky cough for the past month. We decided it was finally time to see a doctor before our English road trip.
Our airbnb host recommended his doctor, which proved to be such a foreign experience. It was a bit of a trek on foot, so if nothing else, we were able to explore some more of the surrounding neighborhoods.
After a couple of visits since we didn’t have a reliable call-back number, we finally saw a nurse practitioner. When the visit concluded, I went to checkout, and there was no fee. I had a back and forth with the receptionist about my co-pay, but she legitimately didn’t know what I was referring to. As Will and I walked out without paying for the consult, he noted that he felt that we were stealing, getting away with robbery (thanks English taxpayers!)
But nope, that’s socialized medicine for ya! If more Americans experienced a similar situation abroad, the sentiment around health care in the States would be much different.
Since we didn’t have a set agenda, we spent our time finding local gems, such as the Oxford Covered Market.
With over 50 traders, some of the stalls were a bit quirky. Certainly an array of goods.
When the weather was favorable, we spent entire days outside.
Since pricing was more expensive in England, as to be expected, we typically packed a picnic lunch.
When it did predictably start to rain, we’d pop into secondhand shops or bookstores. Although a chain, we spent hours in Waterstones.
And my obsession the The Great British Baking Show continued.
As a change up, we grabbed lunch at Sticks n Sushi on the rooftop of Westgate. We all ordered the bento box lunch special.
Will’s parents met us late afternoon, and it was heartwarming just to see them. We took a nice walk in The Oxford University Parks, before it started raining.
So we stopped in The Grapes right of George Street to dry off.
The historic pub dates back to 1820, and it had such a cozy feel, we stayed for a couple of rounds. It was a fantastic of merging of worlds, and meant so much that everyone came out.
Especially Will’s parents. We’ve been talking about a road trip in the English countryside for a while.
Our last evening in Oxford got us excited for all of the charming pubs, unexpected nature walks, and hidden gems that we had yet to discover.