Oxfordshire is a county in southeast England. Its main centre is the city of Oxford. The area shares borders with Warwickshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.
From the ‘dreaming spires’ of the ancient University of Oxford – the oldest university in the English-speaking world – to the rolling hills of the Cotswolds, the county offers an abundance of history and culture. You can discover ancient civilisations at world-famous museums, visit the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, and wander round some of the UK’s most famous landmarks.
Largely ignored by the Romans, Oxfordshire was recorded as a county in the 10th century. Its university was founded in 1096 and grew during The Middle Ages. Its notable alumni includes Nobel laureates, prime ministers and foreign heads of state – Lawrence of Arabia, Sir Walter Raleigh, Aung San Suu Kyi and Bill Clinton among them. The county’s agricultural heritage persists. However, these days, there’s a high concentration of education, tourism, publishing, motorsport, and biotechnology industries in Oxfordshire.
The county’s significant settlements are Banbury, Bicester, Kidlington, Chipping Norton, Carterton, Witney, Thame, Chinnor, Abingdon, Wantage, Didcot, Wallingford and Henley-on-Thames. Oxfordshire's county flower is the Snake's-head Fritillary.
Road: Oxford city centre is surrounded by a ring road accessed by the major A40 trunk road, which connects to the M25 motorway via the M40.
Rail: Great Western Railways and Chiltern Railways operate local services with primary stations at Oxford, Bicester, Banbury and Didcot.
Air: The Oxford Bus Company operate an airline service to London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports.
Bus: Stagecoach’s Oxford Tube and the Oxford Bus Company operate regular coach services to Oxford from London. The city’s good bus network includes the City Sightseeing open-top bus and a Park & Ride service.
Foot/Cycle: Oxford’s historic centre is small enough to explore on foot or bike. The same applies to many of its towns, villages and much of its countryside.
“The place with the best quality of life for country dwellers has been revealed as South Oxfordshire,” reported The Daily Mail – citing Halifax’s annual top 50 list. The county scored well on health, happiness and life expectancy. The survey considers factors like residents' health, life expectancy, employment, school results, weather, broadband, crime rate, and personal wellbeing.
Meanwhile, Country Life analysed the best places to live for commuters in Oxfordshire. The publication mentioned Sutton Courtenay (where former Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and author George Orwell are buried) with its 17th-century riverside Mill House (now owned by Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton). Dorchester-on-Thames was seen as a somewhat prestigious “lively village” with its own annual music event.
Henley-on-Thames was described as home to the glitterati; its New Street being “a very pretty stretch of Georgian town houses”. The busy village of Sonning was cited for having “two hotels, a pub, an Indian restaurant and its own theatre”. Stratton Audley is a lovely village near Bicester Village retail outlet while Great Milton is an “unspoilt, rural idyll with plenty going on”. Hethe was described as “a lovely part of the world” and Blewbury “is a big but charming village with a lively social scene”.
A relaxed shopping haven in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside, Bicester Village is the UK’s most popular luxury retail outlet (with over 6 million annual visitors). Over 120 designer boutiques offer discounted goods. Oxford’s high street is lined with boutiques like Olivia May and quirky gift shops like Podarok, as well as the world-famous Blackwell's Bookshop that offers Literary Tours of Oxford. Oxford’s Covered Market was established in 1774, and is still a busy trading site.
For those enthralled by the county’s academic heritage, The University of Oxford Shop and the Varsity Shop help visitors find their perfect Oxford-themed souvenir. There’s a mind-boggling array of locally designed items up for grabs, including collegiate apparel plus an eclectic collection of specially commissioned gifts.
Oxford is the birthplace of Alice in Wonderland – so there are also slices of local history on offer at Alice’s Shop (which was a grocer in Lewis Carroll’s time). Step into the Victorian world of Alice and discover a treasure trove of gifts and memorabilia.
Sport: The county’s principal football team is Oxford City, who play home games at Marsh Lane in Marston. Oxfordshire County Cricket Club play at Banbury CC, Great and Little Tew, Challow and Childrey, Radley College and Bicester and North Oxford, Aston Rowant and Thame. (There are even plans for more future venues). Oxford Harlequins is a local rugby union club. The Oxford City Stars are an ice hockey team. Rowing mainly takes place on the River Thames (or ‘Isis’, as it’s known locally). The Roger Bannister running track (aka the Oxford University track) is where the eponymous athlete first broke the four-minute mile in 1954. There’s also the Oxfordshire Golf Club near Thame.
Cultural: The Oxford University & City Walking Tour takes you inside the university’s famous colleges. There are also Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter tours. Christ Church Cathedral serves as both a cathedral and college chapel. Oxford Playhouse has hosted the likes of Rowan Atkinson, Ronnie Barker, Dirk Bogarde, Judi Dench, John Gielgud, Ian McKellen, Dudley Moore, Bill Hicks and Maggie Smith. There’s the Ashmolean Museum; The Museum of Natural History (containing the remains of the Oxford dodo); the Museum of the History of Science; The Oxford University Museum of Natural History; and the Pitt Rivers Museum. Oxford Castle Quarter once hosted the Norman Oxford Castle and infamous Oxford Prison.
Outdoors: Blenheim Palace is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill – and a World Heritage Site. There are Christ Church Meadows, South Parks, University Parks and Port Meadow. The world’s oldest botanic garden lines the banks of the River Cherwell. There are exotic gardens at Cotswold Wildlife Park, Peto’s Water Gardens at Buscot Park, autumn colour at Batsford Arboretum, deer and birdlife in Stonor Park, as well as Waddesdon Manor and Waterperry.
Events: On ‘May Morning’ (the first of the month)choristers sing from Magdalen Tower before Morris Dancers invade to celebrate in the streets. In July, Alice’s Day turns Oxford into Wonderland in memory of Lewis Carroll’s famous story. There’s also the colourful Cowley Road Carnival. At the end of November, the Christmas Lights Festival rings in festive season cheer with music, illumination and other happenings.There’s also the annual Bike Oxford; Oxfordshire Artweeks is the country’s oldest and biggest open studio event; MCS Arts Festival celebrates the rich local cultural heritage. Henley on Thames features the Royal Regatta, a key event of the English social season.