I really didn’t want to like Oxford, or as we call it in Cambridge, “the Other Place.” I’ve always strongly stated that Cambridge is so much better but the reality is that actually, they’re just different. “The same but different” is how a colleague described Oxford before my visit and they were right. The streets have a similar feel, they both feature golden sand bricks and stunning architecture and they are both famous for their universities and punting – but they also have a very different atmosphere. Oxford is bigger and more spread out, meaning you have to cover more ground to see the well-known sites and it is more known as a filming or literary location, including Morse, The Golden Compass and of course, Harry Potter.
When I was invited to review the Doubletree by Hilton Oxford Belfry and explore the city with Experience Oxfordshire I was excited to put aside my prejudices and see what Oxford had to offer! Here are my five favourite things about Oxford I learnt from my break:
AD: Gifted Stay and Press Pass. I was invited to review the Doubletree by Hilton Oxford Belfry in exchange for this blog post and I received a press pass from Experience Oxfordshire, which included guided walking tour tickets and entry to the University colleges.
The Doubletree by Hilton Oxford Belfry taught me what all the fuss about the Hilton brand is about! We had wonderful service from the first welcome, where we were greeted by friendly staff and a warm chocolate cookie; a famous perk of a Hilton stay which I was a huge fan of. Although the location was a little further out from the city centre than I would normally consider, the hotel was so gorgeous it really didn’t matter. Our room included the biggest bed I’ve ever seen in a hotel, loaded with pillows and a thick marshmallow duvet, as well as a spotless bathroom with a huge rainforest shower. The space was more than enough for two people and even included a sofa area, which was perfect to enjoy a bottle of wine and a catch up. Often the reason I choose an AirBnb over a hotel is for the added communal space but the Oxford Belfry delivered this alongside all of the perks of a high-end hotel including a gym, spa and free parking.
Another brilliant perk of the hotel was the on-site restaurant . Honestly, I expected it to be quite average as I’m always a little sceptical of hotel restaurants in locations when they don’t need to produce particularly good food as they will have guests dine there regardless. However, I was so impressed with the varied and great value menu that we enjoyed. The pork belly was melt in the mouth, and there was a impressive wine list to choose from. We didn’t feel like we had compromised at all by eating in the restaurant and I would recommend it in its own right!
I love a walking tour to learn as much as possible about a city in a limited time and Experience Oxfordshire offer the official walking tours of the city. We chose the Oxford Official University and City Walking tour, which promised a two hour tour of the university buildings, including access to one of the colleges where the students live and study. Our tour guide Magnus was friendly and informative and tailored the tour well to the group. We learnt all about the history of Oxford, explored Balliol college and as our group (including me) were literary fans, Magnus also included lots of information about Harry Potter, Morse, His Dark Materials and CS Lewis. For example, did you know that the Hogwarts staircase, Hospital Wing, classrooms and corridors were all filmed in Oxford?
As well as how informative they are, I love walking tours because they point out so many tiny details which you would simply walk past if you weren’t with a guide. We learnt about a patch of cobblestones outside Balliol which marks the site where three Protestants Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer were burnt at the stake by the order of Bloody Mary is 1555, spied a Anthony Gormley sculpture on top of a corner building and learnt about the literary faces designed by schoolchildren and carved into gargoyles outside the Bodleian Library, including Aslan and Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
CS Lewis is one of the most famous graduates of Oxford and on our walking tour, we visited the spot which allegedly inspired his most famous book, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Down a tiny passageway alongside the Bodleian Library, there lies one of Oxford’s many pubs. The story goes that CS Lewis left the pub on this alleyway late one night and was greeted by the sight of snow, a single solitary lamppost and some golden fawn statues which adorn the doorway opposite. These three elements combined in his mind to inspire the world of Narnia in the wardrobe and the character of Mr Tumnus.
Turf Tavern is a pub hidden down a tiny alleyway just beyond the Bridge of Sighs, serving a gigantic Sunday Roast. It’s well known in the city as the spot where former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke set a Guinness World Record for downing a yard of ale in just 11 seconds! It was another gem that we would have never have spotted if not for our guide and we were very grateful for his tip as we tucked into giant homemade Yorkshire puddings with plenty of gravy. If you want to surround yourself with more literary heritage, head to the Eagle and Child . It’s famed as a drinking spot for CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and fellow authors who formed “The Inklings” and the perfect place for a cosy pint.
We definitely didn’t have long enough to explore the breadth of what Oxford has to offer and there’s so much to do outside of the city in Oxfordshire. Outside of the city centre, you can explore the home of William Morris Kelmscott Manor, Bleinham Palace, the incredible sounding Crocodiles of the World and the beautiful Cotswolds. Experience Oxfordshire is packed full of things to do and I’m already planning a trip back to explore more of the county!
Oxford is the perfect spot for a long weekend and as much as I don’t want to admit it, a part of the UK of which I am now a fan! Have you visited Oxford? Where would you recommend?