Updated December 6, 2023
When you think of Oxford, the first thing that comes to mind is Oxford University. But Oxford is also full of charming cobblestone streets, magnificent architecture, and beautiful university parks and waterways that make spending a weekend (or a week) delightful.
But you must answer one vital question as you begin planning your trip: Where should you stay in Oxford to fully immerse yourself in its enchanting atmosphere?
From charming boutique hotels to more contemporary luxury retreats, and even rooms in the colleges themselves, Oxford has a lot of options to choose from. Let's look at some of Oxford's most exceptional stays that will enhance your time in one of the United Kingdom's most beautiful cities.
When it comes to iconic establishments in Oxford, The Randolph Hotel, now a part of Graduate Hotels, reigns supreme. Located in the heart of the city centre, this distinguished landmark Oxford hotel has been welcoming guests since its grand opening in 1866.
If you're searching for a historic stay in Oxford with just a touch of whimsy, look no further than the Randolph Hotel.
A Storied Past
As you walk up the stairs to the front doors, it feels like you're entering a portal to the past, but at the same time it doesn't feel stuffy or dated. With attentive staff and striking Victorian architecture, the hotel has an air of approachable elegance and sophistication.
It's no wonder that, over the years, it has hosted many notable guests, including famous authors, politicians, and even royalty.
The grand staircase, which wraps around the reception desk, is the centerpiece of the building. Its walls are punctuated by stained glass windows, and in the center of the staircase you'll see hand-made tapestry collegiate shields of Oxford's many colleges.
Timeless Charm and Modern Comforts
While it's Oxford's oldest stately hotel, The Randolph seamlessly blends timeless charm and modern comforts. Each of the rooms and suites provides a luxurious and whimsical retreat.
With wallpaper that includes depictions of many of the birds and flowers found in Oxford's parks and meadows, plush linens, and a desk and chair that make you want to sit and start writing your first (or next) doctoral dissertation, you'll feel a world away from the bustling street outside.
The hotel pays homage to Lewis Carrol, the author of "Alice in Wonderland," who was a lecturer at Christ Church College. My favorite detail in the rooms is the bedside lamps, with one side of the bed having an Alice lamp and the other a White Rabbit lamp.
The university theme works its way through every detail at The Randolph. Even the room keys are made to look like student ID cards belonging to some of Oxford University's most famous alumni.
One of the highlights of The Randolph is its dining options. The Alice Restaurant features a delicious menu inspired by locally sourced ingredients and expertly crafted dishes. While the service was a bit slow when I ate there, the food was excellent.
You can also enjoy traditional English afternoon tea in The Alice or The Drawing Room. On the weekends, the tea in The Drawing Room also features live piano music.
After a day of exploring the city, unwind with a drink at The Morse Bar. It's named in honor of the beloved Oxford-based detective created by Colin Dexter, who was a regular and penned many of his works sitting at the bar.
Between sightseeing and scholarly pursuits, consider indulging in a bit of pampering during your stay. A visit to the decadent spa for a massage or facial may be just the thing.
The Randolph Hotel has an excellent location for a stay in Oxford, with easy access to everything the city offers. Situated across the street from the Ashmolean Museum and just a stone's throw away from iconic landmarks like Christ Church College and the Bodleian Library, you'll find yourself in the center of Oxford's cultural and intellectual area.
The Old Bank Hotel
If you're looking for a blend of modern amenities and decor with historic charm and an ideal location, consider The Old Bank Hotel. A trendy and sophisticated haven, it's the best of both worlds.
A Glimpse into the Past
A former 18th-century banking establishment with roots that go back much farther, The Old Bank Hotel has expertly repurposed this historic building to offer a boutique, luxury experience.
The privately-owned hotel opened in the late 1990s after a complete redesign. The interior is designed with old-world charm and modern comforts, with sleek furnishings, plush fabrics, restful colors, and understated luxury. The Old Bank Hotel effortlessly combines old-world charm and modern amenities.
The Room with The View
For some of the best views in Oxford, book a stay in "The Room with The View." This spectacular room features floor-to-ceiling windows and a private rooftop terrace, giving you a front-row seat to the captivating skyline of Oxford.
Wake up in a sumptuous bed, cocooned in soft linens, and the world unfolds before your eyes with the simple touch of a button. The curtains part to reveal Oxford's famous skyline, with the spire of St. Mary's Church, the majestic Radcliffe Camera, and the captivating quad of All Souls College coming together in a beautiful architectural symphony.
Step out onto your private terrace, where you can savor a glass of champagne in your sanctuary above the bustling city centre streets below and soak in the beauty of Oxford's dreaming spires at your leisure.
Unbeatable Location and Memorable Experiences
The Old Bank Hotel has one of the best locations in the central Oxford, right on High Street and steps from the Radcliffe Camera and Bodleian Library.
Beyond the prime city centre location, the hotel offers a range of experiences to enrich your stay.
Situated in the heart of Oxford, steps away from the Radcliffe Camera and Bodleian Library, The Old Bank Hotel boasts an unbeatable location that puts you within easy reach of the city's most iconic attractions.
Beyond its prime location, The Old Bank Hotel offers a range of experiences to enrich your stay. Indulge in a delectable dining experience at Quod, known for its creative menus and delightful atmosphere.
If you want to explore the city, the hotel offers complimentary bicycles. Or if you'd rather spend the morning reading a good book or lingering over a newspaper, sit in the residents-only library overlooking the Italian garden and terrace. Every moment you spend at The Old Bank Hotel will be a memory to cherish.
The Malmaison Oxford
If you have a penchant for the unconventional, you'll be delighted by The Malmaison. This former prison-turned-hotel offers a unique blend of history, luxury, and just the right amount of eccentricity, ensuring a stay that is anything but ordinary.
You know it'll be a unique stay when the hotel's tagline is "Better than your average prison."
A Slice of History
The Malmaison has a rich and intriguing history, dating back to its days as an 18th-century prison. Carefully transformed into a stylish boutique hotel, this intriguing escape has preserved its most fascinating architectural features while creating an air of modern comfort.
The building's former purpose as a prison adds a unique charm, blending the past with the present for a memorable experience. While it's a bit farther from Oxford's center, it's about halfway between the train station and the High Street. It's also an excellent location for visiting Oxford Castle and Prison, right next door.
At The Malmaison, the experience goes beyond the luxurious accommodations. Indulge your senses at the hotel's renowned Chez Mal Brasserie, where culinary delights await.
From delectable dishes crafted with locally sourced ingredients to a carefully curated wine list, every meal is a feast for the taste buds. And as night falls, the evocative bar provides the perfect haven for relaxing and mingling.
Consider booking a Standard Cell or Club Cell room to stay in the prison's former A-Wing, where prisoners used to stay for free. Your stay won't be free, but you can come and go as you please.
In a quiet residential neighborhood just five minutes from the train station, The Porterhouse is a charming 7-room pub hotel that beckons you with its rich heritage and warm hospitality.
This boutique pub hotel offers a unique blend of history, comfort, and a relaxed ambiance that will make your stay in Oxford memorable.
A Quiet Haven
Step into The Porterhouse and you'll be stepping into history itself. The pub hotel occupies a historic building that has witnessed centuries of stories and the ebb and flow of time. Once a thriving coaching inn, the echoes of travelers and adventures of the past still linger within its walls.
The Porterhouse celebrates its heritage with charming details and nods to its past throughout the hotel. Every corner tells a tale, from the antique furnishings to the carefully preserved architectural features.
If you prefer to be in the middle of the city, there may be better choices than The Porterhouse since it's about a 20-minute walk to the Oxford city centre. But it may be the best area if you're looking for someplace cozy, authentic, and quiet.
Experiences to Savor
As the name suggests, The Porterhouse is all about the steak. It's a meat-lovers delight with all their steaks aged in-house and hand cut.
But make sure to allow time in the morning for breakfast as well. The eggs benedict are excellent. The staff is also delightful, friendly, and helpful, working hard to ensure your stay is perfect.
The delight here is in the details, and this charming hotel stands as a testament to the charm and allure of small-scale, heartfelt hospitality.
Where else to stay in Oxford: Consider an Oxford College
While most of us won't be students at Oxford University, that doesn't mean we can't pretend we are while term is out!
Steeped in centuries of academic tradition, a stay in one of the colleges offers a unique opportunity to live like a student, surrounded by the rich history and intellectual energy that permeates the city.
A Glimpse into Scholarly Life
Staying in a room in one of the colleges gives you an intimate glimpse into the daily life of the university.
You can wander the cobblestone paths and courtyards and be transported to a world of scholarly pursuits and academic excellence.
The architecture of the colleges, with ornate facades and majestic towers, is a constant reminder of the centuries-old traditions that have shaped Oxford's intellectual heritage.
Each college within the University of Oxford has its unique history and character. Consider the medieval splendor of Christ Church College, with its grand dining hall that inspired Hogwarts, or the tranquil gardens of Magdalen College adjacent to the Oxford Botanic Garden.
One of the benefits of staying in a college is having breakfast in the college dining hall. It's a fantastic opportunity to see some of Oxford's most beautiful and historic buildings without the crowds of tourists that generally accompany a visit.
Planning Your College Stay
Staying at an Oxford college is a unique and sought-after experience, but most availability is limited to vacation periods during April/May and July-September. You'll want to plan your stay well in advance since you'll need to work around the college's term schedule.
Remember that while staying at an Oxford college, you'll be expected to respect the rules and traditions of the institution. They also don't allow children due to the quiet and studious nature of the colleges. Some rooms are in the main college residence halls, while others are nearby. Read the room description carefully to know what you're booking and what's included.
Many of the rooms are up several flights of stairs, and some have en-suite bathrooms while others have shared bathrooms that may be located on another floor. If you have mobility issues, you can request a low floor when you make a reservation, but the college may be unable to accommodate the request.
The bottom line
Oxford delivers on all fronts, whether you're seeking a romantic getaway, cultural immersion, or a serene and scholarly retreat. The enchanting allure of the city, with its dreamy spires and timeless charm, is matched by the exceptional Oxford accommodation that awaits your arrival.