A Day Trip from London to Oxford
Alright, ladies and gentlemen, this is my last and final post about my adventures in London and England. Try not to shed a tear, okay? Meanwhile I'll just be over here trying to book a ticket to return ASAP.
Let's be honest: I saved the best for last. Our day trip to Oxford was one of my favorite things we did during our vacation. While I loved exploring all the museums and eating my way through most of London, Oxford had the British charm you just can't get anywhere else. Even though we didn't make it inside the more famous parts of Oxford University, I swear I could go back and just wander for hours.
How we got there
Much like our day trip to Brighton, we chose to visit Oxford because of the easy accessibility from central London. While there are multiple trains that run out of London, we opted to take a bus to Oxford. The choice was two fold: one, it was cheaper and, two, it would give us a chance to see a little more of the English countryside.
We rode the X90 Oxford bus which takes about 100 minutes to get from Victoria station in London right to the heart of Oxford. At least it's supposed to, but we'll get back to that one later. It was only 18 GBP round trip per person and there was free wi-fi on board a double decker coach bus. Sold!
What we did
Since we got a late start from London (darn if that hotel bed wasn't a big marshmallow that swallowed me up!), we didn't arrive in Oxford until about 1pm. By the time the bus pulled into the depot we were starving! Luckily we were right around the corner from Oxford's Covered Market.
The Covered Market has produce vendors, butchers, specialty food retailers, and food stalls. We decided on lunch at Pie Minister which had a cozy little restaurant/stall right in the center. Omgsh were those pies good!
After perusing the market, we decided to embark on a tour of the town. While there were many, and I mean many, tours available in Oxford (again, next time we're avoiding Europe in August) I did my research before we left and found this walking tour from The Discoveries Of. It was a comprehensive walking tour of all the major sites in Oxford. We could do it at our own pace and skip anything we didn't want to see. While the tour was very detailed, sometimes we got a bit turned around. Better GPS might have helped too...
We started our tour by walking over to the Ashmolean Museum. Founded in 1683, Oxford University's museum of art and archaeology has some incredible works of art from around the world. It might not be as big as some of the museums in London but it's PACKED with amazing art from history.
From there, we did get a bit lost but ended up seeing the famous pub The Eagle and Child. This is where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used to hang and presumably imagined Narnia and the Shire. Then we saw an open college across the way, St. John's, to be exact.
Oxford University is made up of several different colleges, each with their own culture and rules. Some are more famous, like Christchurch College where parts of Harry Potter were filmed. They each have their own rules for visitors, tours, etc. and many people said that you should either plan ahead or take a detour when you see an open college.
From there we walked back through town to see some of the more famous buildings in Oxford. The first one was the Sheldonian Theater, where Oxford students graduate. It was also the first major commission for Christopher Wren who also designed the famous St. Paul's Cathedral in London.
Right next door is the Divinity School and the Bodleian Library. Like almost everything it looks amazing from the outside and from the inside. However, we only got a brief glimpse of the inside because we didn't schedule a tour. Well, we almost got to see the inside. As we were walking around, we saw the doors open to the building and thought that's where you were supposed to buy a ticket. Instead we got ushered inside the first room of the Divinity School, this beautiful room of Gothic architecture with vaulted ceilings and all. Then we realized we somehow joined a German tour group. We got out of there real fast! You can buy tickets for a timed tour but we had much more we wanted to see.
From there we wandered over to the Bridge of Sighs. You read that right: there is a Bridge of Sighs in Oxford, too. It's an exact replica of the one in Venice but this one made for students lamenting their grades, not going off to be executed. Also, right around the corner is The King's Arm. It's a pale pink pub which has hosted both William Shakespeare and Hugh Grant. How's that for marketing in the millenium?
The Radcliffe Camera was another building we didn't get to see the inside of, but seriously, it didn't matter. It's a stunning stand alone building that is accessible only if you're on one of the tours from the Bodleian Library.
That leads me to my favorite part of our trip to Oxford: University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. University Church is Oxford University's official church and a church has been on that site for over 1,000 years. I don't know how British people can get over looking at the floor of their churches and seeing tombs with dates like "1623" right there at their feet.
For only 9 GBP you can climb to the top of University Church and get 360 degree views of Oxford. While we skipped a lot in order to squeeze in more of Oxford, you better believe that we climbed up there. It is not for the faint of heart; the balcony is barely big enough for you to squeeze by other tourists. But it is 100 percent worth it.
After winding our way down from the top of the church, we hooked a left to sneak between the church and a building next door. I felt this was the most necessary part of our adventure because we saw the Narnia door! This door with two carved fawns and a giant lion's face is what inspired C.S. Lewis to write The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Tons of people just walked right by it but I thought it was such a treasure.
Next we walked down High Street, the main drag of Oxford. We walked by the Examination School where students take their exams and saw a few more colleges of Oxford. Another priority of mine, besides soaking in up allll the Oxford charm, was to visit the oldest known coffee shop in England.
The Grand Caffe is considered to be the oldest coffee shop, as recorded in someone's diary. It's guilded and just the right amount of fancy. They do a full tea service, however, we wanted to make sure to see as much as possible. So I got a pot of tea and Nick got iced Turkish coffee and it was totally worth it to sit in such an old coffee shop.
From there we took a quick detour to the bridge over the Isis River, mostly to see the boats punting, and then off to Christchurch Meadow. I think there was a hole in my life where beautiful English meadows should be. Seriously, I love those beautiful open meadows!
Even though I could have wandered around the meadow forever, we wanted to try to make it in time for the last tour of Christchurch College. As I mentioned before, this is where some scenes from Harry Potter were filmed. Christchurch's library is the Great Hall of Hogwarts!
So as hard as we hustled to make it over to Christchurch, we arrived 15 minutes after to the last tour left. Oh well, just another excuse to go back to Oxford. Instead I took about 900 pictures of the beautiful outside of Christchurch and the gorgeous gardens that surround it.
Exhausted from all the meadow wandering, we decided to grab a drink in one of the many pubs recommended to us. My vote and our ultimate choice was for the Duke of Cambridge. How can you resist a pub with Prince William's profile painted on its sign? Even if it didn't sport numerous paintings of Prince William, it has a pretty good happy hour. It was on a street with a couple of other pubs so if you wanted to do a little pub crawl, that might be the place. But we needed to head back to London eventually so we holed up at the Duke of Cambridge.
Finally, before hopping the bus back, we decided to grab a quick bite at The King's Arms. A note about pubs in Britain: they are so much nicer than the "pubs" we have here. I always hate going to have dinner at a pub because they're usually dirty, dark, and the food is fried or not very good. But in England, I loved every single pub we went into. They may have been dark but they were cozy and most definitely clean. I got the most amazing baked potato, adorably and more sensibly called a "jacket potato". I loved sitting in the window of the pub, sipping a beer with Nick, and watching Oxford quiet down for the day.
Now let's get back to that bus ride. The X90 bus between London and Oxford takes about 100 minutes and runs every hour on the hour. So convenient! However, you need to make sure to get on a working bus. We literally got to the second stop, just on the outskirts of Oxford, when the driver told us that the bus was not functioning correctly and we needed to get off. Okay, another bus was there in 10 minutes.
Driving down the highway on the way to London, the bus suddenly pulls over again. The driver informs us for the second time that the check engine light was on and we couldn't go any further. Fortunately for us, the bus company was super prepared. It only took maybe 15 minutes more before another bus picked us up. We arrived in London about an hour and a half behind schedule.
Despite the return trip bus shenanigans, the trip to Oxford was totally worth it. Nick and I have already marked it for a return trip.