Oxford is a charming city, famed for its prestigious university. It can be stuffy at times, feeling a bit too proper and strict, and lacking the cut-loose university town feel that cities like Bristol have. However, the city and old architecture is beautiful and I loved wandering through the campus and having a cheap beer at one of the student pubs. This city has a lot of history and the university is one of the oldest in the world. If that’s something you are into (I am!), consider a visit — it’s a short ride from London anyways. It’s an easy day or overnight trip and, since it’s a university town, there’s plenty of affordable options here too!
Hostel prices – Hostels range from 15-20 GBP for a dorm room, and some offer a discount for staying a week (usually around 72 GBP for the week). There are not many hostels in the city, however, so be sure to book in advance. All of the hostels in Oxford offer free WiFi, and half include free breakfast. If you want a private room, expect to pay close to 70 GBP per night.
Budget hotel prices – The average private room in a budget hotel (for a twin/double) costs between 60-80 GBP per night. Hotels and B&Bs outside the city center are cheaper, so be sure to shop around. Airbnb is available in the city, though don’t expect a wide variety of options. For a bed in a shared room, you can expect to pay 30 GBP per night and closer to 80 GBP for entire apartment/home.
Average cost of food – If you eat out, stick to the cafes centered close to the university. Most give discounts to students, and whether you pick up a sandwich, salad, or bagel, you won’t pay more than 7 GBP for a meal (even if you aren’t a student). Fast food (think McDonald’s) will cost you around 5 GBP, and a pint at a tavern will cost around 3 GBP. If you want a nicer meal at a sit-down restaurant expect to pay around 25 GBP, including a drink. If you plan on cooking for yourself (which is the best way to save money here) expect to spend 40-50 GBP per week on groceries.
Transportation costs – Oxford is an easily walkable city and compact enough to get around by foot wherever you need to go. The town is also bicycle friendly, so consider renting one for less than 13 GBP a day. Getting to the city itself is quite straight forward, as it’s just under 100km from London. Trains can make the journey in 1-2 hours (buses will take a little longer) with tickets costing between 10-60 GBP, depending on when you book.
Suggested daily budget – 45-55 GBP / 55-65 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Get cheap food – Head out to student housing areas like Jericho and the Cowley Road for food. A taste of local flavor and an affordable meal make this a good option.
- See the student theater – You can see cheap and cutting-edge student theater during term time for a couple of pounds at the Burton Taylor theater (near the bus station).
- Walk the city – Since Oxford is on the smaller side you can walk the city quite easily. Save your money and explore on foot — it’s a great way to get a feel for this historical locale!
- Couchsurf – If you want to save money AND get some local insight, couch surfing is for you! It’s a great way to find out more about the city from the locals who live there so be sure to give it a try. Just send your requests in advance since there are not an abundance of hosts (it’s a small city, after all).
Top Things to See and Do in Oxford
- The Ashmolean Museum – Founded in 1683, this is Britain’s oldest public museum. It recently went through a renovation and displays Ancient Egyptian art, as well as an impressive Eastern Art collection. Make sure to see the Amarna Princess Fresco and the Alfred Jewel before you leave. Admission is free.
- Tour Oxford – You can take guided tours of all the colleges in Oxford. They provide a look at university life, the history of the school, the architecture, and more. Most colleges require an entrance fee, but if you go on the tour set up through the tourism office, you can avoid the cost.
- University of Oxford Botanical Gardens – The Gardens are one of Oxford’s most scenic spots to take in the scenery and slower pace of town. It’s a great place for a quiet stroll, and admission is only 5 GBP (discounts are available for students and seniors).
- Visit the Covered Market – This historical market is a great place to walk through and taste the local food. There are a lot of homemade meals served here, and it’s the best place to do some cheap shopping for groceries in the city.
- Visit Balliol College – Founded in 1263 and part of Oxford College, this college was one of the first to create academic opportunities for women. Sit on the lawn, bring a lunch, and soak up the friendly and informal vibe of Balliol College for an afternoon.
- Hertford Bridge – Known to the locals as the ‘bridge of sighs’ because college students would sigh under it on their way to take their exams. It’s a pretty bridge, and you can walk underneath the bridge to the Turf Tavern and commiserate with the students over a pint.
- South Park – Located in east Oxford, South Park is the largest park in Oxford, with free admission and a sweeping view of the city. On a nice day, the park is filled with people getting a tan, playing sports, and eating. Pack a lunch and enjoy a nice picnic!
- Bodleian Library – As the main research library of the University of Oxford, the Bodleian is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. It opened in 1602, and was based on the collection of Thomas Bodley. Presently, it has one of the largest collections of books in the world. The architecture on the building is very beautiful, making it definitely worth a visit!
- Punting – During the summer, punting is an ever-popular activity. Punting is essentially pushing a boat around the rivers and canals of the university of a pole. You can rent a boat or hire someone to take you, and many bring food and wine with them to make for a more interesting day. Rentals cost around 20-25 GBP per hour, and can fit up to 5 people.
- Oxford University Museum of Natural History – This museum holds the University’s scientific collections of zoological, entomological, geological, paleontological, and mineralogical specimens. The exhibits are devoted to the history and diversity of life on Earth. If you are interested in learning about nature, then this extensive collection is for you. Best of all, it’s free!
- Oxford Castle Unlocked – This 1000 year old castle/prison is an interesting exhibit of medieval life. Originally built in the 11th century, there are plenty of stories to read about past inmates and the crazy forms of punishment that were practiced at the time. There is also a two-hour historical ghost walking tour that departs from here. Admission is 10.75 GBP, with discounts available.
- St. Mary’s Church – Located on the Thames, you have to travel by boat to get here. The architecture of the church is really unique and well preserved. It is too often overlooked, so don’t miss it.
- Blackwell’s Books – For the bookworm in you, this 10,000 square foot store is the largest bookstore in Europe. If you’re in need of some new reading material (or just like to browse) be sure to check it out.
- Blenheim Palace – This underrated attraction is just eight short miles outside of Oxford. Featured in the movie Hamlet, it’s a magnificent place to check out. Aside from the amazing architecture, the rooms are preserved with their original furniture and the grounds include a beautiful garden and a butterfly house. Admission is steep, however, with adult tickets priced at 24 GBP.