Where’s the university, people ask when they first visit Oxford. Truth is, it’s all around you, with 39 colleges scattered about town – just follow those famous dreaming spires. In the same way, the best hotels here aren’t the most obvious ones – this is a city of small properties, and some of the best are a short bus ride from the centre. Don’t dismiss the surrounding villages, either, which are not only gorgeous, but also home to superb hotels.
Staying the weekend? Do one night in town and one night outside it, for an added Cotswoldy vibe. Here are the best Oxford hotels.
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Best for atmosphere: Malmaison
Sure, a night in the cells isn’t to everyone’s taste, but for those who don’t scare easily, this – located in the former prison – is hands down Oxford’s most atmospheric hotel. Choose your location from the Governor’s House, the House of Correction or A wing (the most Instagrammable one), where each room sprawls across three former cells and the access corridor is the real jail wing – an open hangar of a place, with the original cell doors still in place and metal steps and walkways threading through the air.
Doubles from £129, room only
Best for business: Old Bank
Plum on the High Street opposite Radcliffe Square, this hotel on top of popular restaurant Quod offers quintessential views of the dreaming spires (and is itself in an 18th-century building). The owner is an art collector, so inside you’ll find plenty of pictures and sketches livening up the walls. It’s smart, chic and good for business – rooms are modern without being over the top – though standard rooms can feel a little tight. They lay on free bikes and a daily walking tour for guests, and the residents’ bar in the library is open till 2am.
Doubles from £230, room only
Best for breakfast: Burlington House
More boutique hotel than B&B, this – a 10-minute bus ride north of the city centre in the peaceful Summertown neighbourhood – manages to be homely without being twee, and smart but not smart-by-numbers. The 12 comfy, triple-glazed rooms have jaunty feature wallpaper and clashing chairs and cushions, while ebullient manager Nes is like a long-lost cousin who’ll knock you up a feast of a breakfast, including homemade bread, yoghurt and granola, and marmalade or gruyere omelettes.
Doubles from £113, B&B
Best for value: Mercure Eastgate Hotel
You wouldn’t know this 17th-century coaching inn that’s played host to the likes of Lewis Carroll and JRR Tolkein is today a chain hotel. That’s because Mercure has used the lightest of touches, splicing four heritage buildings together opposite Magdalen College and its famous belltower. The cosy rooms have feature walls sporting blown-up photos of famous Oxford sights, while the Keepers bar and restaurant has drinks and dishes featuring local Cotswold honey. Pick a room overlooking the ancient Exam Schools.
Doubles from £113, room only
Best blast from the past: Porterhouse Grill & Rooms
The Porterhouse opened by the station in 2017, and blasted onto the scene with an excellent steakhouse downstairs and seven slick, large rooms above it. There’s an urban retro feel to the decor – think brass art deco-style lamps and velvet petrol-coloured headboards, paired with Somnus beds and Scandi wood furniture. Sleep well – because there’s steak for breakfast.
Doubles from £151, B&B
Best for location: Vanbrugh House
Each of the rooms at this grand, three-storey Georgian house opposite the Oxford Union debating society (yes, the one all those politicians were president of) is named after a person or thing connected to Oxford. And in case you’re not up on your history of, say, Lewis Carroll or said Oxford Union, each tells the history of that person or place in the room. The style is a deliciously modern update of “traditional”, with wood-panelled walls painted in shades of cream and dove, standalone bath tubs and plush velvet sofas, while bathrooms are stocked with White Company toiletries. Location-wise, you can’t get more central.
Doubles from £100, B&B
Best for river life: Voco Oxford Thames
This is a good bet for those who want a taste of country life but want an easy bus ride towards the dreaming spires. Set in a manor dating back to the 1400s (though what remains is mainly 18th century), it sprawls in 30 acres of grounds on the bank of the river Thames in Sandford, just beyond the bottom of Abingdon Road (one of Oxford’s main roads in and out of town). Despite the history, rooms are modern (and, yes, a wee bit boutique-by-numbers). Voco is the sustainability-focused brand of IHG (Intercontinental Hotel Group) – initiatives include duvets and pillows filled with 100 per cent recycled materials and bulk-sized amenities.
Doubles from £130, room only.
Best for a boozy break: Head of the River
On the riverbank just below Christ Church, perhaps the university’s grandest college, the Head of the River pub has long been one of the best places to while away an afternoon. Now you can continue into the night, with 20 gorgeous rooms that walk the line between fun and overly styled, with features including walls dressed in faux bookshelf wallpaper, retro iron bedsteads and exposed brick detailing. Breakfast is in the pub downstairs.
Doubles from £144, B&B
Best for luxury: Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons
Yes, it’s 12 miles out of town, but if ever there was a reason to taxi into the city, this is it: a 15th-century Chiltern manor house that’s spent the past 35 years as a two-Michelin-starred temple to food, thanks to owner Raymond Blanc (who runs a cookery school, plus a gardening school, onsite). Expect individually designed rooms – some flouncy, some rustic, and some modern or masculine – and beautiful, wanderable gardens. But it’s the service that really stands out: from the fires that are discreetly lit while you’re at dinner, to the wake-up pots of tea in the morning, there’s an uncanny level of mind-reading.
Doubles from £695, B&B
Best for relaxation: Artist Residence
Want a taste of country life but can’t stretch to Le Manoir? Try this, 10 miles west of the city, in the village of South Leigh, on the way to Witney. Part of the boho Artist Residence mini chain, this 16th-century thatched and mullion-windowed inn has eight bedrooms (three of which are in the converted outbuildings) plus a shepherd’s hut. It’s a mix of traditional and daring, pairing William Morris wallpaper with House of Hackney’s finest, plus Kit Kemp-style brightly patterned beds, chairs and even tiles.
Doubles from £95, room only
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