Emma and I recently joined a group of local bloggers for a sunny day trip to Oxford, courtesy of Marco Polo. We were invited along to celebrate the launch of Marco Polo’s new Oxford guidebook, the first to be launched in its upcoming series of UK city guides.
Although we only live an hour away from the university city, both of us had only seen a little of Oxford in the past – Emma having visited a few times over the years and I’d visited just once, when I came to review its ‘haunted’ Malmaison hotel.
So, I was excited to grab my guidebook and don my tourist persona, as we spent a day discovering some of the architectural, historical and foodie gems the city has to offer.
Brunch in Oxford
Our day started with brunch at the Handle Bar Café & Kitchen, a bright open space with a hipster vibe, situated above a bike repair store. As is my way I’d already checked out the menu before we arrived, but I was still struggling to decide what to have from its super enticing menu.
In the end I went with the coconut pancake stack, with bacon and maple syrup. A few of us indulged in a full breakfast spread, while the rest took the healthier option of smashed avocado on toast. All agreed their choices were delicious, and fully fuelled up, we grabbed our guidebooks and headed to our first stop, the Covered Market. An indoor sprawl of independent shops and stalls, you can find everything here from bubble tea and fresh flowers through to clothes, cakes and tourist souvenirs.
From here we took in some of the sights from the guidebook’s Discovery Tour. Walking down the historic streets was a joy in itself, taking in the rickety buildings juxtaposed with the new high street stores and peaking into quirky shops, but you can’t help but be awed by the gorgeous university buildings.
We stopped off for some snaps at several colleges including Queens, before reaching the river and watched the punting in action. By this point it was definitely the time – and weather – for a visit to a pub garden, and so we began to make our way towards one of the city’s most famous pubs.
Our route took us to another stop on the guidebook’s Discovery Tour Holywell Street. An Instagrammer’s dream, you’re greeted by a row of beautiful pastel coloured buildings. It’s no surprise that this is one of Oxford’s most photographed streets and I was excited to discover from the guidebook that no 99 was the home of J R R Tolkien in the 1950s!
A drink at the Turf Tavern
Time for an afternoon tipple, we arrived at the Turf Tavern and eventually bagged ourselves some seats. One of the most popular drinking spots for locals and visitors alike, it has a very colourful history, having been the drinking haunts of famous people such as Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde and Stephen Hawking, and actually dates back to the Middle Ages.
Refreshed and invigorated, we ended our tour with some of the city’s most famous sights – the beautiful Bridge of Sighs and the amazingly photogenic Radcliffe Camera. This circular library is one of the most iconic buildings in Oxford!
Afternoon tea in Oxford
The final stop was a special treat, champagne afternoon tea at the Vaults and Garden Café. Just opposite the Radcliffe Camera, it’s set in St Mary’s Church, and you can sit in the beautiful garden or head down into the vaults. As a large group, this is what we did and enjoyed our food in Congregation House, a room which dates back to 1320, and was actually Oxford’s first central university building!
The staff here were exceptional, attentive and more than happy to deal with our range of dietary requirements from gluten and dairy-free through to vegan requests. I’ll be writing a full review of the afternoon tea for my Global Afternoon Tea Series, so be sure to return to find out what I thought.
Our Marco Polo day trip was a wonderful taster to Oxford, but I know that we only scratched the surface of this historic city. Having delved into the guidebook on the train journeys to and from the city, there’s a lot more I’d love to see – such as watching students playing Quidditch in the university parks going on a ghost trail, or hunting for gargoyles and grotesques. I also spotted the Grand Café on our walk, which looks like it definitely needs to be a future stop on my Global Afternoon Tea Challenge!
I’m sure it won’t be long before I’m grabbing the Marco Polo guidebook again to uncover more of what this city has to offer, plus I’m also intrigued to try out the free touring app that accompanies the book. Having found the guide a great companion for my Oxford daytrip, I’m excited to see what cities will be next in the series!
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A big thanks to Marco Polo’s Hayley, Petra, Diane and Senja for the invite to join them, we had a wonderful day it was a pleasure to meet everyone. As ever though, all opinions are our own!