Oxford, England Travel Guide & Things to Do: Nine Highlights

THE SINGLE COLLEGE

Oxford’s character comes from its famous university colleges. If you choose just one to visit, then Christ Church is the largest and is surrounded by architectural grandeur. It also has its own cathedral, a gallery dotted with Old Master paintings, and an absurdly incongruous sprawling meadow, where grazing cows roam in the sun. See chch.ox.ac.uk

THE SINGLE BOOKSHOP

Photo: iStock

Members of Oxford’s prestigious alumni list, containing many world leaders and Nobel laureates, have one thing in common: they’ve probably all bought books from Blackwell at some point. Broad Street’s academic and specialist bookshop is a treasure trove of obscure subjects, voluminous tomes and great thoughts. See blackwells.co.uk

THE SINGLE VISIT

Of course, books aren’t just read at Oxford, they’re also written. And Oxford Official Walking Tours runs a guided walk that visits the former haunts of Oxford authors CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. If Narnia and Hobbits aren’t for you, the company also runs themed tours around Inspector Morse and supposedly haunted sites. See oxfordofficialwalkingtours.org

THE FAMILY FAVORITE

There are more great tales at the Story Museum, which immerses children in over a thousand years of stories. The presentation is fabulous, whether it’s listening to Grimm’s fables and fairy tales in an inner forest, bouncing on the bed in a model of Horrid Henry’s bedroom, or learning to draw cartoon animals in the comics section. Amid interactive entertainment, Oxford classics, from the Arthurian legend to His Dark Materials, take pride of place. See storymuseum.org.uk

THE ONLY JAIL

The Oxford Castle and Gaol complex includes St. George’s Tower, which is over 1000 years old and widely regarded as the oldest non-religious building in England. Very enjoyable tours cover a series of tumultuous stories – a queen on the run, a deadly curse, a hangover ghost – while climbing the tower, descending to the crypt and showing the eerie old prison cells . See oxfordcastleandprison.co.uk

THE UNIQUE MUSEUM

tra22-oneoxford One & Only guide to Oxford Images provided for Traveler Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford - © Pitt Rivers Museum _ Experience Oxfordshire

Photo: Pitt Rivers Museum/Experience Oxfordshire

The Pitt Rivers Museum is not so much a museum as it is a staggering accumulation of international clutter. It’s firmly in the stuff of the glass cabinet presentation school, but the barrage of anthropological plunder is so dense you can’t help but find it amazing. Going from Algerian surgical instruments to Chinese pigeon whistles, Polynesian canoes and Greenlandic clothes has a deliriously trippy effect. See prm.ox.ac.uk

THE ONLY BOAT TRIP

tra22-oneoxford One & Only guide to Oxford Images provided for Traveler Salter's Steamers boat cruise, Oxford - © Salter's Steamers _ Experience Oxfordshire

Photo: Salter’s Steamers/Oxfordshire Experience

Salter’s Steamers run 40-minute boat trips along the River Thames, passing geese, scenic bridges, college boathouses and practicing rowers. There’s also a sense of heritage with cruises departing from the River Island where the Salter Brothers began making riverboats over a century ago. If you want to explore the river on your own, Salter’s Steamers also rents rigs. See salterssteamers.co.uk

THE ONLY RESTAURANT

Of course, you might prefer to enjoy all that river activity from the bank, wine in hand and feast before you. This is where the Cherwell Boathouse comes in. The menu is meant to be modern European, although there are some local touches with chicken raised in the Cotswolds and strawberries picked nearby. A sommelier is on hand to choose the perfect bottle to watch the gamblers go by. See cherwellboathouse.co.uk

THE ONLY HOTEL

Jury’s Inn may be a chain hotel north of the city, but it has a bit of character in its surprisingly unusual maze of hallways and the Oxford skyline painted above the headboards. It also has its own swimming pool for cooling off, which is extremely rare among Oxford hotels. Affordable rates from £85 ($150) per night also help considerably. See jurysinns.com

ONE MORE THING…

Grand Baroque Blenheim Palace, with lavish interiors, a huge art collection and seemingly endless gardens, lies 10 miles northwest of Oxford. It also happens to be the birthplace of Winston Churchill. A visit includes the room where he was born and the Churchill exhibit, which explores the life and legacy of the British warlord.

David Whitley was a guest on Experience Oxfordshire (experienceoxfordshire.org).

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