Oxford is a perfect tourist destination for history buffs and book nerds alike.
With its university, literary links that stretch from Alice in Wonderland to Harry Potter, and its quintessentially English pursuits, such as punting on the river, it’s easy to see why Oxford has charmed many.
The city is small enough to explore on foot but large enough that you can spend a few days without getting bored.
Oxford budget tips
What’s the downside? Well, because of its popular attractions and proximity to London, Oxford is not always a cheap city to visit. But we’ve pulled together a few tips so you don’t have to lose out and to help make a stay a bit more affordable.
How to get there
Oxford is well served by public transport. You can take the airline bus from Heathrow (£23 single) or Gatwick airport (£28 single) directly to Oxford. Services run throughout the night too.
If you are traveling from London, there are regular trains from Paddington station, which take about an hour. However, a cheaper option is to take a bus. The Oxford Tube picks up from Victoria, Marble Arch, Notting Hill and Shepherd’s Bush, while the X90 picks up from Victoria, Marble Arch and Baker Street. Both take around 1 hour 40 minutes and cost around £15 for a round-trip ticket.
When to go
Oxford is charming all year round. But, for the cheapest deals, try and avoid the boom months of July and August and, whenever you go, book your hotel well ahead of time.
What to see
The great news for budget travelers is that Oxford historic center is best explored on foot. There’s a lot of pleasure to be had from wandering its twists and turns. Keep your eyes open for the Bridge of Sighs, so named because of its supposed resemblance to the Venetian original.
Free walking tours
Learn more about Oxford by taking one of the free walking tours available from Footprint Tours. Running several times every day of the summer months, they take about two hours. Even better: once finished you get a sticker entitling you to discounts in several Oxford places.
Visiting the colleges
Another must-see is the colleges that form Oxford University and give the city its unique feel. With 38 in total, you’ll never see them all, so pick carefully. Only some colleges allow entry to tourists and many charge admission. Christ Church is the most well-known — especially as its dining hall and grand stairs inspired the look of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films — but it’s also the most expensive to visit, costing £10 entrance at peak times (July and August).
If you want to get a sense of an Oxford college, but aren’t so fussed about which, All Soul’s, Corpus Christi and Lincoln College are all free to enter and have gorgeous buildings and grounds. You can see a full list of colleges, opening hours and charges here.
Books, books, and more books
The Bodleian Library is one of Oxford’s star attractions and a bibliophile’s dream, containing over 11 million printed items. You need to take a tour to enter, however, and a standard 60-minute tour is £9, with no concessions available. Taking the 30-minute ‘mini’ tour for £5 instead is a slight saving or you can upgrade for a 90-minute tour for£15. All tours are first come, first served.
Missed out on the Bodleian? Booklovers can seek consolation in Blackwell’s bookshop. It stocks over 200,000 titles – browsing is free, but we won’t be accountable for the amount spent on books!
Visiting free museums
A boon for budgets travelers is Oxford’s excellent free museums. The Ashmolean Museum has an amazing collection, spanning everything from Anglo-Saxon discoveries to modern Chinese art. For a more esoteric experience, check out the Pitt Rivers Museum, a unique collection of archeological and anthropological items. Modern Art Oxford caters for more contemporary tastes.
Where to eat
Head to the city’s historic covered market for top budget eats. There you’ll find Pieminister selling deliciously filling British pies. A traditional steak and ale treat costs £5; sides such as mashed potato and mushy peas are extra.
Another option is the takeaway-only Alpha Bar, where it’s possible to grab lunch for around £5. Specializing in sandwiches and salads, they also have daily warm specials like a tasty-sounding lamb shoulder.
Finally, for those with a sweet tooth, swing by Ben’s Cookies for generous cookies, priced by weight. Warm from the oven, they’re at their best eaten fresh and gooey.
Outside of the market, Mission Burrito has a couple of locations in Oxford, and a satisfying burrito costs under £6. Also worth checking out is The Companion Café and Bread Bar. It’s slightly pricier but does delicious breakfast and sandwiches using the local Natural Bread Company’s own sourdough.
Where to drink
For a drink in a pub that has plenty of stories to tell, seek out the Turf Tavern — its foundations date back to the 13th century and, rumor says it’s where Bill Clinton famously didn’t inhale. The pub itself is a charming, low-ceilinged affair, with a large outside area. With a well-priced selection of drinks and free Wi-Fi, it’s a definite winner.
The Jam Factory’s previous life was as a factory where Frank Cooper’s marmalade was made. It’s now an arts center with its own restaurant and bar and has a happy hour on drink every day from 3 pm until 7 pm. As a bonus, take one of the many classes or even join the scrabble group that meets here regularly.
Where to stay
Just like finding a cheap room in London, Oxford can be a bit tricky to find a good hotel at a good price. But there are several options, from affordable bed and breakfasts to popular hostels with dorm beds and private rooms. Search over 80 hotels in Oxford to find the best rates. Just remember to book as far in advance as possible, as the best deals fill up fast.
A few of our picks include:
Becket Guest House
The colleges are a short walk away from this no-frills guesthouse where the price is right. Rooms come with flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi.
Golden Cross Guesthouse
This charming stay is a nice choice for those Cheapos willing to share a kitchen and a bathroom. Select rooms come with views of the city, and the hospitable owners make for a friendly stay.
Lake Street Accommodation
These family-run apartment-style rooms score high with visitors. The neighborhood location puts you close to a lovely footpath when you want some fresh air. A double room with a private bathroom goes for just over $100 per night.
If you don’t mind sharing a dorm room, you can stay at this popular hostel for around $20. It’s located in the city center and has a rooftop terrace.
Another way to get a taste of Oxford life is to stay in a college overnight. Many rooms in Oxford colleges are available outside term time, at prices starting at £30 a night. Book in advance and avoid the weekend for the cheapest stay. Check out University Rooms Oxford for more information.
Have you been to Oxford? What are your budget tips?
Source: Euro Cheapo