Outside the City
One of the wonderful things about Oxford is that it is located in Oxfordshire, one of the most beautiful counties in England. If the big city becomes too cloying, consider visiting one of these spots for the best day trips near Oxford.
Blenheim Palace, Woodstock
One of the most famous attractions outside of Oxford, Blenheim Palace is the only non-royal, non-church property in England to hold the title of “Palace”. It is the official residence of the Dukes of Marlborough and was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1987. It is also notable for being the birthplace of wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Blenheim Palace was given as a gift to the 1st Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill in 1705 by Queen Anne. Blenheim Palace is built in the English Baroque style, an architectural style which was in vogue for only the 60 years following the Great Fire of London. Despite being the official residence of the Duke of Marlborough, Blenheim Palace is open to the public and the grounds feature a maze, a gilded cage, and a miniature train open for rides. The Palace is easily accessible from Oxford via a dedicated bus.
Broughton Castle, Banbury
Not strictly speaking a castle, Broughton Castle is a medieval fortified manor house located in Banbury, 45 minutes north of Oxford. Broughton Castle was built by Sir John de Broughton in 1300, strategically built at the intersection of three rivers to form a natural moat. The manor was sold to the Bishop of Winchester, William of Wykeham in 1377. It has remained in the Wykeham family ever since. It was a key royalist stronghold during the English Civil War, and despite it being built in 1300, most of what is present today dates to the 1550s. But don’t be put off by the fact that it is a mere 470 years old rather than the grander 720 it claims, the site remains very lovely. It was one of only 20 buildings to be awarded 5 stars in Simon Jenkins’ book, England’s Thousand Best Houses.
Fairy-tale Farm, Chipping Norton
Fairy-tale Farm is a truly magical place. Located a 45-minute bus ride from Oxford City Centre, Fairy-tale Farm blends farm animals, adventure, and fairy-tale stories. It is also the first attraction in the UK designed foremost to be accessible to disable children. It was founded by Nick and Nicola (suitably fairy-tale names for a fairy-tale experience) whose daughter has cerebral palsy. They realised that there was nowhere truly accessible for their family to visit, and they founded the Fairy-Tale Farm in response. The farm is divided into six areas, Huff and Puff, Enchanted Walk, Alfie and Friends, Jack’s Yard, Wilderness Walk, and Fairy Dell. There is even a Dino Valley attraction opening soon!
If cash is burning a hole in your pocket and designer goods are a weakness of yours, there is no finer choice than a trip to Bicester Village. Located a 15-minute train ride from Oxford station, Bicester Village features boutiques from designer names such as Moncler, Armani, Orlebar Brown, and any other brand likely to feature on the Instagrams of the rich and famous. These brands aren’t as inaccessible as you might think, however. Bicester Village is a luxury outlet. Already offering discounts on London prices, you can secure additional discounts of up to 30% by joining their membership programme.
Bilbury is a village in the Cotswolds less than an hour away from Oxford and is the type of place you might imagine all of England resembled – if only impression of the country was a certain kind of American film. Though small, Bilbury is quaint and beautiful. William Morris called Bilbury England’s most beautiful village. It contains Arlington Row, a row of houses originally built in the 14th century and now owned by the National Trust. A photograph of these houses even sits on the inside cover of UK passports!
Hook Norton Brewery
An easy journey from Oxford in Chipping Norton is the Hook Norton Brewery. This independent brewery is situated a striking building which reminds me of the Weasley’s house in the Harry Potter films. It is where Old Hooky beer is brewed, and the brewery offers regular tours so you can see how your favourite beers are produced. The tour ends with a tutored beer tasing in the cellar so upon returning from your visit you can impress everyone with your new-found knowledge. If you are lucky, you might encounter Nelson and Lucas, the company’s Shire horses. Nelson and Lucas are employed by the brewery to delivery beer to local pubs, a tradition which dates back to the brewery’s founding in 1849! Shire horses are an endangered species and Hook Norton Brewery runs awareness campaigns in support of these hardworking and elegant creatures.
Located just outside of the Oxford ring road, Shotover Country Park is almost 120 hectares of forest which dips into hidden valleys and stunning landscapes. Because of the varied landscapes including marsh, lowland heath, coppice woodland, and meadow, the park is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. In 1984, David Steel wrote a book called Shotover: The Natural History of a Royal Forest which explained the importance of Shotover’s habitats and the history of the park
Ok, it’s cheeky of me to include London on this list. But the Big Smoke is but a 50-minute train ride away from Oxford, making a day trip to see a play on the West End, drink in an underground speakeasy, or shop refined elegance on Old Bond Street entirely feasible! And don’t worry about getting carried away and missing your train home, there is a dedicated coach service, the Oxford Tube, which runs all night from London Victoria.
- Adam Johnson, St. Catherine’s College alumnus