three other Monday Dreaming posts about it. But the fact is that we were there for a too-brief two days and I’ve been dreaming of a return every since.
We visited Oxford on a weekend in mid-July. If you can get there during the week in the summer, I think you’ll find it somewhat less crowded (Saturday in particular the streets were full – and I mean truly full to the point where it can be a bit hard to walk – of young people of seemingly every nationality). But I wouldn’t worry too much about it if the only time you can manage is during tourist season. For one thing, if you go when school isn’t in session, you can stay in one of the dorms. And between the golden summer light, the long days, and the blooming fragrant gardens, it’s worth braving a few crowds.
So what can you do in Oxford with kids?
Stroll along the Cherwell. When we planned our trip to Oxford, I had romantic images of us “punting” along this lazy river. That would be renting a small, flat boat called a punt that is pushed along by a skipper who stands at the back with a pole. However, it quickly became apparent that everyone else had the same notion that I did, as we couldn’t even get near the landing stage for the punt rental establishment by Magdalen Bridge because of the crowd. But there is a path that runs along the river between Christ Church meadow and Magdalen College and this makes a lovely spot for a walk. In addition to enjoying the river, you’ll see some iconic vistas that might have you looking around to see if you really are still in the 21st century.
(It would also make a great place to ride bikes, as we saw many people doing, but when we tried to rent them, the cleverly named but inconveniently located Cycoanalists was out. Clearly on summer Saturdays it’s best to make reservations or get there when the shop opens.)
Check out the Oxford Dodo. The Oxford University Museum of Natural History is not to be missed. It is full of all kinds of curiosities from dinosaur bones to giant coral to a host of beetles to a model of this bird made famous in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Be sure to ask at the front desk for the scavenger hunt activities for kids.
See the spires at eye level. Carfax Tower is all that remains of a 19th-century church that once stood in the center of the city. Pay a small fee and climb 99 (quite steep!) stairs to the top where you are rewarded for your efforts with some impressive views of the colleges surrounding it.
Eat some ice cream at George and Danver. Handmade in right on Little Clarendon Street, this is Oxford’s answer to Ben and Jerry’s, complete with cows featuring prominently in the décor (although as I understand it, these are local Jersey cows). I recommend Golden Secret, which contains chunks of honeycomb and chocolate.
Tour the colleges. Since we were only there for a couple of days we only had time to tour Christ Church College and New College, but I recommend them both for their beauty and historical import. Kids who like the Harry Potter books will especially enjoy the dining halls, which look like they could have come out of Hogwarts (and in fact, the Christ Church dining hall appears in the movies). There are 38 colleges altogether, and you can visit many of them. Each college runs its own tours with its own hours; some are free, some charge admission; some of them are self-guided, some are led by students. Visit the university website to plan which colleges you’ll see and when.
There are also a number of themed walking tours of Oxford available, if you’ve got a specific interest.
Do a bit of reading at Blackwell. This monumental bookstore contains the largest reading room in Europe. They’ve got academic experts on hand to answer questions and offer literary walking tours of the city. If your children are like mine, they’ll be very happy to settle in for a nice long explore of the extensive children’s section. You might all just find some reading material for the trip home.
Look for gargoyles…or angels, or weather vanes, or the huge heads that surround the Sheldonian Theatre. There’s no shortage of architectural details to enjoy on the many ancient buildings around this gorgeous city.
One more tip: It’s worth buying a ticket for the City Sightseeing bus for at least one day of your trip. Not only will this hop-on/hop-off double decker take you everywhere you want to go around the city center, often the views from the top are among the best you’ll get of some of the colleges. And if you get tired of listening to the guide (or aren’t in the mood) simply don’t use the headphones.
And with this post, I complete another dream – I think I’ve finally covered everything from our trip to Great Britain last summer. For now, you can visit my England category page to read all of my posts about what we saw and where we ate, but I am working on finding a better way to share itineraries from our family journeys. Stay tuned
And I know that our visit to Oxford was all too short – if there’s something I’ve neglected here that’s not to be missed, please share it in the comments.