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Oxford, England

    My Travel Philosophy

    The first thing you should know about me when I travel, is that I form an opinion of a place based on how it feels. This feeling is a combination of first impressions, surprises along the way, and the overall vibe and energy of the local culture. Yes, I know this is completely subjective and potentially a bit woo woo for some, but that’s just who I am. I do it at home too. That’s how I’ve picked apartments and homes and cities to live in. Anyone else do this? 

    Here’s what I mean…

    Oxford feels like a rainy day in a hole in the wall bookstore full of people… when out of the corner of your eye, you spot a secret room. Pulled into this other worldly space, you lose yourself and find yourself in the same moment. The air smells familiar and ancient. There’s a sense that you’ve been here before and everything feels OLD, really OLD. The history is palpable and echoes of literary and historical icons who wander the streets and canals. The sporadic gentle mists of rain punctuate the daydream and are the perfect companion for your Oxford adventure. 

    Know Before You Go

    I woke up this morning, with Oxford on my mind. Sigh. I highly recommend that you go to this city if you can, even for a couple of days. My time in Oxford was short, but man did it make an impression on me!

    If you’re traveling to Oxford from London, the fastest way is to take the train. You can buy tickets here  for around $40. The ride takes about an hour and trains leave from London Paddington. 

    Getting to Oxford from London Heathrow Airport (LHR)

    On this trip, Oxford was my primary destination. So when I landed at London Heathrow Airport (LHR) I headed straight for the Central Bus Station at the ground level of Terminal 5. 

    Central Bus Station is an open-air bus station. Hop on the Oxford Bus (it’s the blue bus that says “Airline” on the side-and the electronic sign in front of the bus will say “Oxford”). Pro Tip: Buy your ticket BEFORE YOU GO. It’s incredibly easy to do. Download the app “Oxford Bus” It looks like this:  . Create an account, and then go to the drop down yellow menu and select “Mobile Tickets” and then select “Adult Flexible Return” This one will get you a round trip between Oxford and London Heathrow Airport and you can be flexible on the date and time of your return trip. IMPORTANT: Don’t activate your ticket until right before you get on the bus since the first leg of the trip will activate and it’ll only be good for 24 hours. The buses leave every 30 minutes or so–there’s a timetable available on the app or the bus station attendants can help answer your questions.

    Funny story, when I was first getting on the bus, I was super confused. I gave the busdriver my bag to store under the bus, and he asked me which stop I wanted to get off at. This was something I was completely unprepared for. So I panicked and determined that maybe I got on the wrong bus so when he wasn’t looking I grabbed my bag and went to sit on the bench to get my bearings and make sure I was getting on the right bus. When I realized I was in fact supposed to be on that bus, I went back and started to toss my bag back under the bus. The driver saw me and was not impressed. “What are you doing? I didn’t even know you took your bag. You’re not supposed to be here and you can’t do that.” It was embarrassing and not a great moment for Americans—sorry. See my above comment about slow-moving zombie-me. Anyway, that whole story is to say that when it comes to planning the actual traveling part of travel, I find it’s best to be completely prepared! So hopefully this will save someone the embarrassment of making my mistakes!

    Once you’re on and settled and have let go of any embarrassing travel blunders along the way, the bus ride takes about 1.5 hours. It makes a few stops along the way, but it’s an easy ride on a 2 story busy and overall pretty relaxing. I slept most of the way. It was much more comfortable than my seat on the flight! The countryside starts looking more and more picturesque the closer you get to Oxford. 

    P.s. I ended up getting off at Gloucester Green. This was right by my hotel and turned out to be a perfect central spot to walk around!

    Getting Around 

    Oxford is a walking city. At first glance the streets seem SUPER crowded, but then I realized…this is because no one is driving! Plus when I visited, it was in August, which is prime tourist time (i.e. lots of tour groups everywhere!). Don’t worry. Even in the peak tourist season, you can still get lost on quiet peaceful streets if you want to. Which I definitely did! I’m an introvert….have we met? 🙂

    Once you’re in Oxford, you can walk pretty much anywhere you want to go. If you’re not up for walking, you can hop on the bus. Just hop on at any bus station (you will see them everywhere as you walk around) and just tap your credit card when you get on and then again when you get off (otherwise they’ll charge you for the full ride). You can even take your luggage if you need to take a bus when getting to and from your hotel. 

    You can also take a good old fashioned taxi or Uber. But the bus is so easy and cheap, and runs so regularly, you’re better off bus-ing it or walking!

    What To Expect

    They speak English in England :) Shocking, I know. So don’t expect there to be a big language barrier. I’ve been to England before –a couple of times–so this wasn’t my first trip across the pond. For whatever reason, this time, I was kind of surprised to find that I felt a bit of a culture shock. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it, but everything felt just a bit… different. It’s like I was Alice in Through the Looking Glass!I found myself frequently asking, “is this an intelligence test?” It’s like everything is just different enough to be confusing. 

    So my best advice is to embrace the change and take nothing for granted. Ask questions if you’re not sure. Be respectful of the rules and don’t let the fact that English is the national language fool you into forgetting where you are!

    Everyone I met was very nice and helpful. Only one caveat…and this is a bit of a generalization I know. My sample size is small.  I ran into several college age English young adults who were VERY critical of the United States. As I walked around, I overheard more than one conversation where they shared their disgust with America–their words not mine. One of them claimed to know all about the United States based on their time as a grad student spent going to frat parties. Ummm…

    I only mention it because it happened more than once and some of my friends overheard similar conversations.  All of us were sure we knew everything about everything at some point. No judgment here. Just kids growing up and learning about the world and talking about their experiences. But it was a bit off-putting and something I only heard in England. Just saying. Be nice and remember that no one can understand a culture after only a brief encounter! Same for me and my experiences!

    Travel is important and sacred, and I love that each place I go becomes a part of me. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience this beautiful city firsthand. Oxford is steeped in history and is unbelievably beautiful, and I would go back in a heartbeat!

    Food & Drink

    Food is the ultimate insight into a culture. The ingredients reveal stories of history and tradition, of hardship and innovation, and of joy and connection. Food is intimate and it speaks to your soul in a million sensory ways if you let it. Most of my vivid memories of traveling throughout my life are centered around food and drink. I know this may say more about me than about the food itself, but it’s true. Something about experiencing a location with all my senses taps into every part of my brain and solidifies some pretty stellar memories! I’m so incredibly grateful for food!

    When I’m home I have very strict nutrition guidelines that help me feel my best (here’s a post on my nutrition journey if you want to know more on that) but when I travel, I surrender to the flow and embrace every single mouthful. 


    My advice is to always ask locals for recommendations, try new things (even if they’re scary –be brave!), avoid identifying the meat until after the meal is done, and ALWAYS have dessert!  

    Must Try Food & Drink List

    I’m not going to sugarcoat this. English food is not everyone’s cup of tea. *Pun intended. But one of my favorite parts about traveling is to eat things that I wouldn’t normally eat and embrace the novelty! Here’s what you need to eat and drink in Oxford for the full experience!

    What & Where to eat in Oxford:

    • Shortbread cookies! I brought a few boxes home and was sad when they were gone. Here’s my favorite brand * I could not get enough. So simple yet so perfect. Paired with a hot cup of tea and there’s nothing better!
    • Tea! There are many places offering a traditional English Tea Time with finger sandwiches and pastries. I love the tradition of slowing down in the middle of the day…and eating delicious finger foods!
    • Fish and Chips-when done well, the fish is light and flaky without being greasy. Chips (aka french fires) are slightly crisp on the outside and soft in the middle.
    • Najar’s Place Falafel and Sandwich Bar- This small, unassuming stand is a staple for amazing Lebanese Falafels and Wraps in Oxford. To see the menu, just google “Najar’s Place Oxford UK”. Located at 17a St Giles’,Oxford OX13LU, United Kingdom, this place is a MUST STOP. Everything is so flavorful and there’s almost always a line! YUM. 
    • Curry—Not the food most people think of when thinking of England, but the curry here is amazing! We ate at the restaurant, ThaiKun. The atmosphere is laid back and almost silly, but the curry is serious-ly good!
    • Traditional English breakfast aka “The Fry Up”–eggs, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, black pudding (don’t ask), fried and toasted bread, baked beans, back bacon, bubble and squeak (A fried cabbage and potato mixture). The Fry Up is so steeped in tradition, that I can’t do it justice without linking to the official English Breakfast Society’s website: (https://englishbreakfastsociety.com/full-english-breakfast.html)
    • The Alice is found inside the Randolph Hotel, where we stayed. The decor is upscale and light from the chandeliers showcases the fun art depicting characters from the beloved story, Alice in Wonderland. 
    • Also at the Randolph hotel, is the Morse Bar. A charming lounge with delicious themed cocktails! I ordered  the “Down the Rabbit Hole” and “Queen of Hearts.” We snuggled up on the couch and had a few drinks before heading out for the night. 
    • For insta worthy cocktails and a unique experience, head over to The Alchemist. This fun restaurant and craft cocktail kitchen is located on the roof of the outdoor mall in Oxford. The cocktails were such a highlight and enough to encourage anyone to daydrink! (As if I needed an excuse!) I tried the Lightbulb Moment and Pop Notch! For food, I ordered the edamame and the pan-fried vegetable gyoza. 
    • My first stop when I arrived in Oxford was for coffee! I was running on fumes and needed my fix. Plus it was a crisp 65 degrees with a gentle wind and that screams to me : sidewalk cafe! I found this amazing place called the Organic Deli and Cafe. The owner was extremely nice and got me set up with a cappuccino al fresco. heir menu has amazing organic and vegan options and I wish I could have tried more. Some friends of mine who had stayed in Oxford for over a month, actually became regulars here so I know second hand that everything on the menu is amazing.

    Where To Stay

    Check this out if you’re looking for insight into HOW TO CHOOSE THE PERFECT PLACE TO STAY

    This is where we stayed:The Randolph Hotel. This hotel is amazing and embodies the quintessential spirit of Oxford…if you’re feeling fancy! It was beautiful! The theme was Alice and Wonderland (my favorite childhood book/ Disney movie). 

    I arrived several hours before check-in, but the hotel was more than willing to store my bags at no cost while I explored the city. They also have a spa and hotel guests can access the relaxation retreat area with steam room, sauna, ice room, and hot tub. 

    Top Things To Do

    There is so much to choose from when building your Oxford itinerary. How you experience this city is completely up to what kind of experience you want to have. So before you choose, ask yourself what you want and then do it! **I’m channeling my inner Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland vibes with those sentences**

    You can choose from literary themed itineraries:

    Harry Potter

    Alice in Wonderland

    Lord of the Rings

    You can choose historic and museum itineraries:

    List of top attractions

    Or you can do like me, and throw all that out the window and just lose yourself in the beautiful streets of Oxford. Just to give you an idea of what my itinerary included,  My personal sole goal in visiting Oxford was to read a book for hours under a tree. Mission Accomplished :)

    I can’t speak to the other months, but Oxford in August is pretty crowded. More crowded than I expected, and more crowded than I prefer. This may have influenced my choice to take the road less traveled in my explorations. As I started walking, I would look for the road that had less people and choose that one and then find another road that looked beautiful and take that one. This exploration on foot perfectly embodied the J.R.R. Tolkien quote, “not all who wander are lost.” Well I was lost in a way, but I was so happy to be lost. I didn’t want to be found. Ever. 

    My wanderings took me north and I found a beautiful canal where I can definitely imagine myself living in any one of the homes on the water. #CanalLife. 

    Final Thoughts…Would I Go Back?

    I love Oxford, and I’m so grateful to have had to opportunity to visit and leisurely stroll around aimlessly. The vibe is good and I hope to go back for another few days in a different season to experience all that this beautiful, historic city has to offer.

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