Experience Oxfordshire For Heritage
Oxfordshire is a place steeped in history and heritage. Meandering across the county, the River Cherwell and River Thames can guide you through Oxfordshire’s rich heritage. Follow the River Cherwell through the north of the county, with pretty villages built from the richly coloured local Hornton ironstone, the market towns of Bicester and Banbury, plus welcoming pubs and blissfully quiet walking trails. In this 3 day heritage-focused itinerary, explore Woodstock, near Blenheim Palace, before spending time in Oxford and finally travelling south along the River Thames towards the ancient Ridgeway Trail.
Day 1 – Bletchley/Banbury/Woodstock
Start to your day at Bletchley Park, on the outskirts of Milton Keynes – once the top-secret home of World War II codebreakers and the birthplace of modern information technology. Bletchley Park is just a fifty-minute drive from central Oxford, allowing you to take your time to immerse yourself in this fascinating piece of British heritage.
From Bletchley, head along the A421 to Banbury – a historic market town nestled in the gentle rolling hills in the north of Oxfordshire. Make sure you take a guided tour of the historic Tooley’s Boatyard which dates from 1788 and is the oldest dry dock working boatyard on the inland waterways. There are inviting cafes and pubs in Banbury’s Old Town, including the 16th century Ye Olde Reindeer Inn where the wood-panelled Globe Room is believed to have been used by Oliver Cromwell as a base during the Civil War.
If you would like lunch in the countryside, Nicholsons is a plant nursery a 20 minute drive from Banbury. In addition to Nicholsons’ huge range of trees and plants, you’ll find a Yurt Café hidden amongst the greenery. The Yurt is a world away from traditional garden centre tearooms. Enjoy coffee and cake or a seasonal lunch.
For families, the moated manor house of Broughton Castle is well worth a visit (10 min drive from Banbury). Built in the 14th century, the castle stands on an island surrounded by a moat. The castle’s gardens and grounds are delightful and a great place to take a long walk.
Alternatively, there is a rich brewing heritage to discover in the village of Hook Norton (20 min drive from Banbury). You can enjoy a tour of the Victorian Hook Norton Brewery which is still thriving today and supplying many local pubs.
After an afternoon exploring the Cherwell valley, make your way south to Woodstock – a picturesque Georgian town located on the edge of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. With streets of attractive honey stone buildings, Woodstock is a great place to base yourself, within easy reach of Oxford and the Cotswold countryside. Spend a relaxed evening strolling through the town. If you have time, pop into its sweet bookshops and cafes, or learn more about Oxfordshire’s heritage at the Oxfordshire Museum and Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, both of which are in the centre of Woodstock.
Macdonald Bear Hotel: Spend your evening cosied-up in the centre of Woodstock at the Macdonald Bear Hotel. The 13th century coaching inn combines history and culture with luxurious facilities. The Bear boasts beautiful views of Woodstock, and is a short walk to the gates of Blenheim Palace.
Heythrop Park Resort: 20 minutes from Woodstock is Heythrop Park Resort. Set amid a 440-acre estate of stunning scenery, Heythrop Park Resort also offers golfing and a soothing health club. An original 18th century manor house merged with a stylish, contemporary building, the hotel bridges age-old decadence and contemporary style.
Holiday Inn Oxford: If you wanted to base yourself closer to Oxford city centre, Holiday Inn Oxford is conveniently located next to the A34. The hotel offers excellent Executive and Family rooms, with free Wi-Fi access and a fitness centre on site.
Day 2 – Woodstock/Oxford
Wherever you stay, reserve the morning for exploring magnificent Blenheim Palace on the edge of Woodstock. Home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, Blenheim Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site boasting beautiful Baroque architecture, 2,000 acres of landscaped parkland and stunning formal gardens. Enter the Palace and explore the gilded State Rooms for yourself or organise a private tour to see even more of the Palace.
If you have time, travel 3 miles south to Long Hanborough to Oxford Bus Museum & Morris Motors Museum. The museum’s hall is packed with historic buses, and even a horse tram from the 1880’s. The museum also houses a collection of 50 historic bicycles, as well as a collection of Morris Motors vehicles.
Treat yourself to lunch in the grand setting of Blenheim Palace. Visit the stunning Orangery Restaurant for lunch or a traditional afternoon tea. Or try the Oxfordshire Pantry or Water Terrace Café for coffee, cake, sandwiches and pastries.
Alternatively, enjoy the delicious food on offer at the Macdonald Bear Hotel Restaurant, known for their classic British menu with its seasonal ingredients and fantastic wine list.
In the afternoon, travel to Oxford to experience the heritage of this great seat of learning.
Whilst you’re exploring the heart of Oxford, don’t miss the incredible museums. Choose from the Ashmolean museum, Britain’s first public museum and home to world-famous artefacts and collections, the History of Science Museum, the Museum of Natural History and neighbouring Pitt Rivers Museum, the University of Oxford’s quirky museum of anthropology and world archaeology.
Christ Church College offers insight into the heritage of the University of Oxford Colleges (though many colleges are open to visitors in the afternoons) – take a headset tour of the unique college and cathedral to explore for yourself. If Christ Church’s Alice in Wonderland heritage is curious(er and curiouser) to you, be sure to visit Alice’s Shop across the road on St Aldates to find the perfect Alice gift!
To delve deeper into Oxford’s history, visit Oxford Castle & Prison to explore its 1,000 year history. Step back in time with costumed guided tours and see fascinating stories come to life. Descend into the atmospheric crypt of St George’s Chapel, where you can touch the stones where Oxford University was rumoured to begin and stand in the birthplace of King Arthur.
To learn more about the history of the University of Oxford, join a walking tour with Uncomfortable Oxford. Walk the streets with a critical eye and learn about Oxford’s deep connections to Empire, its legacies of wealth and privilege, and discover untold stories.
Malmaison: Set within the walls of medieval Oxford Castle, boutique Malmaison hotel is a converted prison with all the luxurious amenities of a 4-star hotel. Their bedrooms are rather more spacious than your average jail cell! Enjoy dining in their stylish Brasserie, within one of the most unique hotels in Oxford city centre.
Jurys Inn Oxford: Just a short drive from Oxford city centre, Jurys Inn Oxford is a great base for adventures in and around Oxford. The hotel also features Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse, Bar and Grill. The restaurant combines British and French influences to serve up perfectly-cooked dishes and hand-crafted cocktails.
Royal Oxford Hotel: The Royal Oxford Hotel provides comfortable accommodation just a few minutes walk from Oxford Railway Station.
Day 3 – Oxford or Abingdon/Ridgeway
If you don’t want to leave Oxford to explore the historic Ridgeway Trail in the south of Oxfordshire, then why not spend another day exploring Oxford’s rich heritage? There’s so much to discover in Oxford! You could pre-book an Oxford Official Walking Tour for a guided walking tour around more of Oxford’s iconic sites. Tours are led by accredited guides and usually include entry into one of the University of Oxford’s 39 colleges.
Make the most of your day by heading straight out of Oxford in the morning. Drive down the A34 to Abingdon, a quaint, bustling market town by the River Thames, just 6 miles south of Oxford. Steeped in history and dating back to Saxon era, Abingdon-On-Thames boasts a wealth of architecture, historical treasures and beautiful walks by the River Thames.
Stop for a coffee and cake in one of Abingdon’s independent cafes, or visit the café in the elegant Town Hall, home to Abingdon Museum.
Continue south-west to Uffington to begin exploring the Ridgeway. The Ridgeway Trail is steeped in history, having been used by traders and invaders as far back as 5,000 years ago. Begin at White Horse Hill, where you will find the famous Bronze Age White Horse – the oldest chalk figure in Britain, dating back over 3,000 years. This is the highest point in Oxfordshire with views across 6 different counties. There is plenty of parking in the National Trust car park at White Horse Hill.
Drive east to Wantage to discover the stories of King Alfred the Great who was born in the town in 849AD. This historic market town offers independent shops and places to eat, as well as the Vale and Downland Museum which has won awards for being family friendly.
Head to nearby village Sparsholt for a nice lunch at The Star, or take a walk up to The Ridgeway to the historic village of Letcombe Basset, where you may like to stop for lunch at The Greyhound pub.
A lovely afternoon stop is at Goring and Streatley, where The Ridgeway meets the River Thames. Linked by a bridge in 1837, Streatley and Goring are picturesque riverside villages with numerous places to eat.
From Goring, drive north along the river to Wallingford. Wander the cobbled streets of the historic market town and discover the town’s links with crime novelist Agatha Christie, as well as the ruins of Wallingford Castle and the excellent Wallingford Museum.
For dinner, drive north along the river to Burcot. The Chequers at Burcot is a beautiful thatched gastro-pub, offering a warm and friendly atmosphere, with locally-sourced contemporary British food, including famous sharing boards and steaks.
If you would like to stay in South Oxfordshire for longer, check into The Chequers’ boutique hotel, or stay in Wallingford at The George Hotel, a 16th century coaching inn.