A day off in Oxford
Golden sunlight is streaming in through the windows. You haven’t spoken to another human in hours. Your 11-point Garamond is starting to look like hieroglyphics and your hieroglyphics are starting to look like blurs.
You need a day off.
You’re forgiven if you want to spend it in bed with Netflix and a sharing-sized packet of biscuits, but remember that Oxford is stuffed full of national treasures free to enter — either for students or for everyone — and perfect for a quick escape.
@oxfordbotanicgarden | Rose Lane
The University’s Botanic Gardens is one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world with over 8,000 plant species represented in its compact city centre location, facing Magdalen College. Tolkien is thought to have taken inspiration for the Ents in Lord of the Rings from his favourite tree in the gardens, a grand 215-year-old black pine.
Quietly adopt your own tree, flower or shrub and get started on your own wildly successful fantasy franchise. Free ideas: flamboyant palm trees that travel through time, alluring water lilies that trap unwary travellers and take their shoes, pampas grass that knew Stalin personally.
@ashmoleanmuseum | Beaumont Street
The cool white marble of the museum interior offers perfect calm for taking in its world-class collection of treasures — as education, as art, or as a backdrop to a quiet moment for yourself.
The cast gallery right at the back of the museum’s ground floor is a particularly good spot to look for inspiration, a cream cavalcade of heroes and monsters bathed in deep turquoise from the walls, or rest your weary soul on one of the plump velvet benches in the fine art gallery upstairs.
Ashmolean exhibitions are free to Oxford students — if you’re still town you can see America’s Cool Modernism until 22 July, exploring the ‘cool’ in American art in the early 20th Century and featuring 35 paintings never seen in the UK before.
From the end of August and all through Michaelmas Term you can catch Spellbound: Magic, Ritual & Witchcraft, the first exhibition to look at how magical thinking has been practised over the centuries.
Walton Well Road
According to legend, this luscious green swathe of land was a gift by King Alfred the Great to locals for their help in fending off marauding Danes. The meadow is still used as grazing pasture today for curious cows and horses who might join you for a picnic whether you want them to or not.
Only ten minutes’ walk from the centre of Oxford and handily close to colleges on the north side of the city, it’s perfect for getting completely out of the bustling spires into fresh air and open sky.
For the more adventurous, it’s also a favourite local spot for sailing and wild swimming.
Museum of Natural History
@morethanadodo | Parks Road
One word: dinosaurs. Oxford’s Natural History Museum, built in the same quirky Victorian Gothic style as its more famous cousin in central London, is full of them, along with a huge range of other fascinating creatures.
Upstairs you can even find some live creatures, including a colony of live bees and a Chilean Rose tarantula called Margot.
Also, you can touch a bear.
South Parks Road
The best thing about a beautifully kept park in the middle of the city like this is that it can be anything you need it to be for an afternoon: lunch spot, nap spot, people-watching perch, dog-watching perch, Quidditch pitch (yes, really), first-class cricket ground, book club venue, boating lake, breath of fresh air or running circuit. All totally free to everyone.
Just remember to lock up your bike by the gate, as it’s one of the few places in Oxford where you’ll have to leave it behind.
Modern Art Oxford
@mao_gallery | Pembroke Street
Modern Art Oxford is completely free and rotates its exhibitions several times a year. From now through September you can see A Slice through the World, a group exhibition celebrating the power of drawing in the digital age.
Pitt Rivers Museum
@pittriversmuseum | Parks Road
It’s easy to lose yourself in the Pitt Rivers, stuffed to the brim with treasures and trinkets from every part of the world and every time period. It’s like a Victorian cabinet of curiosities that opens into a Narnia of shrunken heads and wooden masks.
Accessed via the back of the Natural History Museum, Pitt Rivers is a firm favourite amongst Oxford’s residents and staff for its unique collection.