20 Muddy-approved attractions in Oxon
From the big-beast tourist destinations to our cool insider alternatives, read on for our pick of 20 unmissable attractions in Oxfordshire.
Headliner: Blenheim Palace, Woodstock
At the heart of the pretty Cotswold market town of Woodstock, the World Heritage Site is the only non-royal country house in England to hold the title of a palace – so yeah, it’s a pretty big deal. Go for the stunning Baroque architecture and grounds and stay for the many events the venue holds across the year, from exhibitions and outdoor cinema to food festivals, light trails and a brilliant Xmas market.
In-the-know intel: Stonor Park, nr Henley
Home to the Stonor family for 850 years, this historic house has brilliant walks aplenty with the vast grounds encompassing parts of both the Chiltern and Shakespeare Way. For the little people, there’s the Wonder Woods (we’re talking sandpits, seesaws, tunnels), plus a giant slide and 50 meter zip wire.
Headliner: Soho Farmhouse, Cotswolds
David Beckham’s favourite hangout (he lives next door) and Meghan Markle’s hen-do venue; you can’t get much more celebby than that, right? An exclusive members club, Soho Farmhouse is set in 100 acres of Cotswolds countryside with gorgeous riverside cabins and farmhouse retreats to stay in and four on-site foodie options including the formal Main Barn restaurant and Pen Yen Japanese grill. Beg, borrow and steal to get a friend to get you in!
In-the-know-intel: Jericho Tavern, Oxford
A major player on the Oxford music scene in the 80s and 90s, this funky pub and music venue, on Walton Street, has seen the likes of Ride, Radiohead and Supergrass perform inside (fun fact: Supergrass secured their first record deal after playing a gig here in 1994!).
Headliner: Old Fire Station, Oxford
Once a Victorian fire station, this arched red-brick building is home to Arts at the OFS, hosting regular exhibitions, comedy nights and indie theatre productions in its 124 seat theatre space and smaller, intimate show spaces upstairs. The building is also a social enterprise, shared with homeless charity Crisis, giving people experiencing homelessness the opportunity to volunteer and perform in productions.
In-the-know intel: Freud, Jericho
The sister venue of super-cool Freud bar on Shaftesbury Avenue, Freud Oxford is based in the imposing former St Paul’s church – think decadent stained glass and super-high ceilings with great acoustics. There’s a mega cocktail list to boot with over 70 choices.
Headliner: TVC, Oxford
Fancy stunning vistas with your cocktails? Set across four floors, The Varsity Club scores big for it’s stunning views of the Oxford skyline on its rooftop (plus the cocktails are pretty delicious too). Or, for more sky high tipple (with added smoke and flames), head to The Alchemist on Westgate Oxford’s rooftop – the cocktails are cooler but the view isn’t quite as good.
In-the-know-intel: Kazbar, Cowley Road
Excellent cocktails (fig and vanilla daiquiri, anyone?), a buzzy atmosphere and decent tapas put this quirky venue firmly on our hit list. The funky music and vibrant decor whizzes you off on a magic carpet ride to Morocco with its lanterns and mosaic tables.
Headliner: Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Great Milton
Does it need an introduction? For truly special fine dining, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is justly famous, and one of the most iconic gastro treats in Oxfordshire. The hotel opened in 1984, with Raymond Blanc’s restaurant quickly gaining two Michelin stars – an accolade that the restaurant still holds today.
In-the-know intel: Pompette, Summertown
With the city’s only Michelin-starred restaurant undergoing a mystery transformation (due to launch in Feb 2022 – watch this space) your next best foodie offering is the gorgeous Pompette. With glowing reviews from the likes of Jay Rayner and Giles Coren, this modern French restaurant offers up seasonal, European dishes that make the mouth water. Top tip – opt for the excellently-priced prix fixe lunch menu if you can, as the main menu comes in a lot steeper.
Headliner: Oxford punting
Is there anything more Oxfordian than punting? We think not! In central Oxford there’s Magdalen Bridge Boathouse where you can start your trip at Oxford Botanic Gardens and glide through Christ Church College. Or, a little further upstream you can hire a punt from Cherwell Boathouse and dine at its excellent AA Rosette riverside restaurant.
In-the-know intel: Benson Waterfront Leisure Park, Benson
For a lazy day on sailing down the Thames, head straight to Benson where you’ll find several boat hire options along with the Waterfront Café and Bistro with stunning views of the river from the terrace. There’s also riverside lodges and a campsite if you fancy an overnighter.
Headliner: Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
Winner of Best Family Attraction in 2019’s Muddy Stilettos Awards, the Pitt Rivers quirky collections are catnip for the little people (what kid wouldn’t be hypnotised by rows and rows or unearthed treasures?). The museum also has several family trails to help kids explore and learn from the vast collections.
In-the-know-intel: River & Rowing Museum, Henley
This sweet museum excels at creating exhibitions for kids with fun, interactive elements. There’s the museum itself to explore and an onsite café (with outdoor seating), plus you’re right next to a huge park and the river for walking and feeding the ducks.
Headliner: Cotswold Wildlife Park, nr Burford
The Cotswolds is associated with pretty stone architecture, farmers’ markets and countryside rambles, but the 160 acre Bradwell Grove estate, two miles south of Burford, is home to something else entirely – over 260 species of animals! One of the UK’s largest zoological collections, Cotswolds Wildlife Park has all the best characters from the animal kingdom from rhinos and giraffes to lions, zebras and monkeys (watch out for the sandwich-stealing ones).
In-the-know intel: Crocodiles of the World, Brize Norton
Hey what’s up, croc? There are all sorts of scaly happenings going on at this crocodile conservation site including croc keeper experiences, underwater viewing tunnels and the chance to see some of the world’s most endangered species including the Cambodian Siamese Crocodile. It’s also one of only four UK zoos to house a Komodo Dragon – pretty cool, right?
Headliner: Uffington White Horse, Uffington
One of Oxon’s coolest landmarks, the internationally renowned giant Bronze-Age chalk horse can be seen from miles away leaping across the grassy hillside. Climb to the top (warning: be prepared to work those glutes) for stunning views over six counties.
In-the-know intel: Greys Court, nr Henley
Set in the rolling Chiltern hills this 16th century country manor house is one of the National Trust’s hidden gems and has some of the best bluebell displays in the county. History buffs will love the walled gardens set amongst Medieval ruins, the 14th century Great Tower and, erm, the rare Tudor donkey wheel.
Headliner: Oxford Botanic Gardens
The oldest of its kind in the UK (founded in 1621, fact fans), Oxford Botanic Gardens is a slice of beautiful green space slap bang in the middle of the city centre with over 5,000 species of plants and flowers set with its 4 1⁄2 acres of walled gardens and pretty glass houses. The garden’s sister site Harcourt Arboretum, a 15 minute drive south of Oxford in Nuneham Courtenay, is also well worth a visit to watch the leaves change (look out for peacocks strutting around too).
In-the-know intel: Rousham Gardens, Rousham
Rousham Gardens, a 15 minute drive from designer shopping mecca Bicester Village FYI, is truly magnificent. Though well known amongst the green-fingered it’s lesser known to the general public, so you’re guaranteed a quite afternoon wandering around the grounds (it helps that no under 15s are allowed too). Designed by famous English architect and landscaper William Kent, many of the 18th century features are still in situ today including the ponds, Temple Mill and sham ruin known as the ‘Eyecatcher’.
Headliner: Ashnmolean, Oxford
With its imposing pillars and late Victorian architecture, The Ashmolean Museum is hard to miss – and good job too. The museum curates and shows incredible exhibitions every year from modern art to ancient history (right now you can see Young Rembrandt until 1 Nov 2020). There’s also a cool rooftop terrace restaurant with sweeping views of Oxford, although it’s currently closed due to Covid.
In-the-know intel: Creation Theatre
True to its name, Creation Theatre is the crème de la crème of the indie theatre scene in Oxfordshire with wildly inventive and brilliant performances. You’ll find them popping up in unusual locations across Oxfordshire with previous shows being held at Blackwell’s Bookshop, on the escalators at Westgate Oxford and on boats on the Thames riverbank.
Headliner: Bicester Hotel Golf & Spa, Bicester
Set in the stunning Oxfordshire countryside this hotel is a big hitter when it comes to spa and leisure facilities with – deep breath – a hydrospa, pool, foot spa, feature showers, private garden, six luxurious treatment rooms, two pedicure rooms, nail bar and spray tan room (the sauna and steam room are currently closed due to Covid). Then there’s the brand new Performance Centre featuring a huge gym, 200m outdoor swimming lake and assault course. Wowzer.
In-the-know-intel: Cowshed Spa, Soho Farmhouse
Soho Farmhouse is a member’s club but persuade a mate to take you along as a plus one for an overnight stay and you’re free to roam amongst the beautiful people and the excellent on-site Cowshed spa. It features a large gym in the basement, a hair salon and a show-stopping indoor/outdoor pool with views across 100 picture-perfect acres of Cotswolds countryside.
TV SERIES SPOTTERS
Where to begin? The city of dreaming spires has been featured in too many TV shows to count but the Radcliffe Camera and the surrounding cobbled streets is a favourite of Inspector Morse, Lewis and spin-off show Endeavour. You can also spot the city in the recent BBC adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.
In-the-know-intel: Broughton Castle, nr Banbury
An absolute must in our opinion – a stunner of a moated house (though it’s called a castle), it’s the perfect size to keep smaller kids entertained, with beautiful gardens for letting off steam after they’ve seen the coats of armour and original furnishing within. You might recognise it from BBC2’s Wolf Hall, plus it also had a cameo in the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love starring Joseph Fiennes – fitting given that Broughton Castle belongs to a branch of the Fiennes family!