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Known for being the city of dreaming spires and for having the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford has more clout than most other places of its size. The city centre is compact and simple to get around on foot, which makes it easy to explore this world-famous, culturally diverse, academically-important area in just two days.

Radcliffe Camera, Oxford © Amy Pay / Lonely PlanetEnjoy Oxford’s architecture, including the wonderful Radcliffe Camera, on a two-day city trip © Amy Pay / Lonely Planet

Day one

Morning

Start your Oxford adventure by filling up at Turl Street Kitchen, a low-lit city centre eatery serving locally sourced food and great coffee. The breakfast menu, served 8-11.30am, caters for fans of fried breakfasts as well as those who’d rather have a healthier option.

After fuelling up it’s time for some insights into academia, starting right in the centre of Oxford with the Bodleian Library complex, one of the oldest libraries in Europe and home to over 11 million books. As you walk east from Turl Street Kitchen to get here, take time to appreciate the architecture along the way, including Oxford’s own Bridge of Sighs(officially Hertford Bridge), the domed Radcliffe Camera at the foot of Catte Street, the decorative walls of the library’s Old School quad, and the Bodleian entrance door itself on Broad Street, decorated with college coats of arms.

To get inside the Bodleian you have to join one of the tours, but it’s well worth the cost of the ticket (£6-14). A typical visit will include stops inside the 15th-century Divinity School, the dark medieval Duke Humfrey’s Library, the Radcliffe Camera, the underground reading rooms and the Gladstone Link, a hidden tunnel. You may recognise some of the locations from films including the Harry Potter series.

Bridge of Sighs, Oxford © David Ionut / ShutterstockOxford’s Bridge of Sighs make a perfect photo stop on a walk around the city © David Ionut / Shutterstock

Afternoon

For variety and authenticity, head to the Covered Market for lunch. From the Radcliffe Camera, walk down Brasenose Lane onto Market Street then look for the market on your left. Tuck into the best salad boxes in the city at Alpha Bar, a hearty pie from David John Butchers or authentic Chinese street food from A Taste of China.

For an afternoon change of perspective, retrace your steps to visit St Mary’s Tower, part of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin on Radcliffe Square. Climb up the narrow spiral staircase and find yourself on a platform circling the top of the tower. From here, you can take in spectacular views of the Bodleian complex, various colleges and the spire-studded streets of the city.

Once back on the ground, while away the afternoon wandering through the nearby streets filled with independent boutiques and big-name shops. Be sure to stop by the huge 19th-century Blackwell’s bookshop on Broad Street and the curious Objects of Use on Market Street.

Objects of Use, Oxford © Amy Pay / Lonely PlanetBrowse Objects of Use for an interesting Oxford souvenir © Amy Pay / Lonely Planet

Evening

After the busy day, relax and reminisce over a meal at one of the city’s top-rated independent restaurants. Pierre Victoire on Little Clarendon Street is a perfect date-night location, with authentic French cuisine and candle-lit tables. Alternatively, there’s Al Andalus, a tapas bar that brings the tastes and smells of Spain’s best nibbles to Oxford.

Make time after eating for a nightcap at The Eagle and Child on your way back. It’s a lovely, traditional British pub that has been a favourite with CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and many other Oxford luminaries (and visitors) since the seventeenth century.

The Eagle and Child, Oxford © Amy Pay / Loney PlanetDrink in literary history at the fabled Eagle and Child © Amy Pay / Loney Planet

Day two

Morning

Start your day with a walk around Port Meadow, an ancient green space beside the River Thames near the Jericho neighbourhood. Having whet your appetite with the stroll, head to the Jericho Café and take your pick from a range of breakfast dishes including waffles, croissants and oak-smoked salmon on sourdough.

Next head south towards the city centre for a spot of art and culture. Choose from the Pitt Rivers Museum of Natural History, the Ashmoleanmuseum of art and archaeology or Modern Art Oxford.

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford © Patchamol Jensatienwong / ShutterstockThe Ashmolean is one of many excellent museums worth exploring © Patchamol Jensatienwong / Shutterstock

Afternoon

If the weather’s on your side, head outdoors again for a ramble with a view through Christ Church meadow, an idyllic park adjacent to Christ Church College (tours of which are available). It’s a popular spot for tourists, students and punting boats, with riverside paths, tree-lined trails and views back to the city’s glorious skyline. If you’re hungry, pick up a take-out bagel from George & Danver on St Aldate’s. The pizza one is especially good.

Punting in Oxford© Daisy Daisy / ShutterstockTake a punt along the river for a duck’s-eye view of Oxford © Daisy Daisy / Shutterstock

Evening

For the evening, try something different with a trip down Cowley Road, Oxford’s street for all things indie and alternative. Tuck in to spicy Moroccan dishes and heady cocktails at the souk-inspired Kazbah restaurant. You could see the night out here or head up the road to The Big Society, a trendy bar and social spot where you can drink beer while playing table tennis.

Where to stay

Old Parsonage Hotel Once the home of Oscar Wilde, this 17th-century period property is now a modern boutique hotel. The rooms are luxurious, juxtaposing contemporary art with historic features.

Malmaison This upmarket hotel is the result of the conversion of a former prison. It’s tastefully done, retaining features like the cell doors as a nod to the past, but with all mod-cons in the warm, plush rooms.

How to get there

By train

Oxford Station is the most central for the city. You can get a direct train from Paddington and Marylebone stations in London, plus from Birmingham New Street.

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