Whether you fantasize about Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and sharing a pint at The Eagle and the Child, romanticize the idea of studying in the hallowed halls of one of the world’s oldest and most revered universities, or are lured by punting and picnics along the River Cherwell, a trip to England is rarely complete without visiting the Dreaming Spires of Oxford—trust me, I remember the excitement of my first visit!
If you’re worrying about the cost of an entire weekend (or week days) in Oxford, stop right now, grab a cuppa, and keep reading. You can do it for £100!
*Note: I am writing with the assumption that if traveling from London you have an Oyster Card—if you don’t, plan on picking one up as it will save you time and money. If you’re traveling from another city in Europe, check out our cheap Intra-Europe flights to help get you there!
First, pick your point of departure (Paddington Station if you’re in London), go to the National Rail website, and check ticket costs for the days you plan to travel. You’ll want to do this as far in advance as possible (£8 one way!). However, based on a quick check, it is possible to find tickets under £12 one way even a couple of days out. If you want to get the most of your time in Oxford, leave mid to late morning on your day of departure and schedule your return date for the evening. Most hostels will let you leave your belongings in their luggage room after check-out. *Note: Give yourself enough time to travel to Paddington Station with your journey beginning in off-peak hours (after 9:30am) if you want to save a few pounds.
Also, often when purchasing your tickets, there is an option to pay an extra £2 for a PlusBus pass for Oxford that can be used on your day of arrival and departure. I recommend this only if you have locations within the radius of the bus zone that you want to visit without walking (for instance, if you plan to visit C.S. Lewis’ home in Headington, get a pass—I walked the three miles there and was thankful for the bus ride back). Regardless, when you arrive in Oxford, grab a map of the city from the station (or your hostel) so that you can figure out how to get to all the places you want to go!
Now that you’ve chosen your dates, it’s time to book where you’ll stay while in Oxford (and I suggest booking way in advance). I recommend the YHA Oxford. It’s friendly, clean, safe, inexpensive, a 3-5 minute walk from the train station, and is only £22.25/night** (excluding breakfast). Other options include (with comparable prices): Oxford Backpackers Hostel (with continental breakfast) and Central Backpackers Oxford (with light breakfast). All three locations have self-catering kitchens, which is a great cost saver!
While chatting with colleagues one day at work, I said, “There’s a lot of life to live and meals to eat.” Yes, our next topic is food, and that one needn’t suffer while traveling on a budget. There are many pubs, restaurants, and cafes from which to choose. However, I recommend, upon your arrival, taking a little walk to a local grocery store and purchasing a few weekend basics (yogurt and muesli, bread, jam, cheese, milk, eggs, fruit—whatever you want) and preparing most of your own meals in the self-catering kitchen. A complete food-shopping guide is here, however, most of your needs can be met at one of these places (an easy walk from any of the hostels):
If you want to splurge on a pub night or special meal, I can personally recommend The Eagle and the Child and Dosa Park, a hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant that is barer than McDonalds and with food as flavorful as the colors in a Pashmina scarf.
The Eagle and the Child is renowned as the meeting place of the Inklings, of which C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were a part. It is still a functioning, lively pub with books and games and cozy corners beckoning guests to settle in for a fun evening, and maybe even some silent pondering of the discussions and stories that have bounced off the walls for decades. (If you’re like me, you’ll want to preview drinks and prices).
When visiting someplace new, do you keep your nose on high alert for the best Indian food? If you do, you’re in for a treat. Dosa Park has unbeatable prices, friendly service, and delicious choices. I was wary of the appearance, but every review kept talking about the incredible flavors. The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” applies. A bonus: it’s right across from the train station, in case you need a bite before leaving town.
Now that you know when you’re leaving, where you’re staying, and that you won’t starve or go broke eating…let’s discuss the best places to visit for low or no cost! Whether you enjoy walking, museum hopping, bookstore stopping, or visiting the places you’ve read about, there is something for everyone. But, I have a few favorites to share!
- The Oxford University Museum of Natural History and The Pitt Rivers Museum (archaeology and anthropology): FREE! (and in the same building);
- The Ashmolean Museum (statues, mummies, instruments, and more…): FREE!;
- Walk through/by the Bodleian Library and Radcliffe Camera: wander the courtyard library for free; tour fees vary;
- Visit the colleges of Oxford University (LOVE the gardens): prices vary £0-8.50;
- Blackwell’s bookstore for new, old, and ancient books: looking is FREE!
- C.S. Lewis’ home, The Kilns: £10 (adult), £8 (student), £6 (child).
PLUS, if you’re interested in attending any University of Oxford events, they are open to everyone! (And other Oxford events!). Looking for even more activities? If you’re willing to spend a little extra money, check out the City Sightseeing Oxford Hop-On Hop-Off Tour for easy access to all of the city’s top attractions!
Oxford is a beautiful and historical city, whether you walk it alone or with a friend. There is so much to do and see without spending a pence. Plan in advance, leave room for spontaneity, wear comfy shoes, and enjoy!
**Cost based on a dorm style room on a weekend during peak season; prices change depending on the season.