Visit Oxford or Cambridge: Choosing a London Day Trip

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by Paola Drexler


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If you’re visiting London and only have the time for one or two day trips, inevitably you will be trying to decide between planning a visit to Oxford or Cambridge – to of the world’s most iconic university towns.

In general, visiting Oxford is a great choice for those looking for a livelier city. On the other hand, Cambridge is a great choice for those looking for a quieter, picture-perfect getaway.

From London, both are easy to visit with lots of connections and a short travel time. Both cities have universities that are considered amongst the best in the world and are rich in history, as well as being located in the beautiful English countryside. However, which one should you choose to visit?

Oxford

Known for having one of the most prestigious universities in the world boasting alumni such as Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll and JRR Tolkien, the city of Oxford is not only a great representation of a quaint English town but also a major city for science, technology, art and innovation.

Radcliffe Camera in Oxford
Radcliffe Camera in Oxford

Accessibility

Oxford is easily accessible by most modes of transportation and is especially popular for visitors travelling from London as you can reach the city in around an hour by train.

One of the most convenient and best ways to do an Oxford day trip from London is by train. You can start your day by catching a train from Paddington Station in West London.

You can expect trains to pass more frequently on a weekday than on the weekend. So plan accordingly. You can buy tickets and view schedules here.

If you prefer travelling by bus, your journey will take a bit longer but the frequency in which the buses pass is better with the waiting time being no more than 10 to 15 minutes.

Of course, you can also drive to Oxford from London. You can browse options here if you’re looking to rent a car. Travelling by car can have the added bonus of being able to explore other must-see England destinations on the way.

Once you’re at Oxford, it is easy to explore on foot since the main sights are within the city centre.

Sheldonian Theatre
Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford

Affordability

When considering the affordability element to deciding whether to visit Cambridge or Oxford, the cost doesn’t differ too much.

Generally, statistics show that London is the most expensive city in the UK with other cities in the south of England including Cambridge, Brighton and, of course, Oxford coming in not far behind. That being said, this has more to do with the cost of living and is unlikely to have much of a difference to a tourist visiting for a day.

In general, you can expect a visit to Oxford to cost more or less the same as heading to Cambridge and will fall in line with your overall England travel costs.

Meadow Building at Christ Church College
Meadow Building at Christ Church College

Things to do in Oxford

There are so many things to do in Oxford. On a day trip to Oxford, you can go around the university town to the different University of Oxford colleges, walking the same paths numerous students and famous scholars have walked. You can book this walking tour or this guided walking tour to learn more about the history of the city.

In the heart of the city, you can climb up 99 steps to the viewing platform of Oxford’s highest building — the Carfax Tower. From the tower, you’ll get a stunning panoramic view of the old city from above.

From here you’ll be able to visit Christ Church College and see firsthand where some of the scenes from Harry Potter took place.

In fact, the dining hall in Christ Church was replicated to create the Great Hall of Hogwarts and seeing it is enough to make any Harry Potter fan swoon. Other filming sites for the movies in Oxford include the Bodleian Library and the New College. You can also view the gorgeous Gothic architecture of the Christ Church Cathedral and the college chapel.

Nearby, on Golden Cross, you’ll come across the popular Covered Market where you can browse to find what your heart desires whether that be clothes, treats or other fun things.

On High Street, you’ll be stopped in your tracks when you spot the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. The magnificent church has been a thriving institution in Oxford for over seven hundred years.

From here if you continue on St Mary’s Passage you’ll find the impressive Radcliffe Camera. Today, you can sit in the reading room of the Radcliffe but with its long and rich history, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you learn about it like how it’s the first circular library in England.

If you’re still in the mood for some reading, you can visit the original Blackwell’s bookshop and roam the store until you find your next book, music or work of art.

Last but not least, when you both towns, you’ll get a chance to experience the well-known colleges. Although the University of Oxford’s colleges are mostly spread out around the city, you can find what resembles a traditional main campus at the Science Area near the Radcliffe Camera.

If you have more time to explore, you can always stroll around the University Parks to the beautiful gardens. You can also take in the beautiful architecture at the Oxford Divinity School.

University Church of St Mary the Virgin
University Church of St Mary the Virgin

Day Tours from London to Oxford

If you’d rather take the guesswork out of planning your day trip to Oxford, then heading to the city on a guided tour is an excellent choice. There are lots of options that include stops in the city to choose from.

For example, this full-day tour or this full-day tour are great choices and they also include stops in some of the charming villages in the Cotswolds – not far from Oxford itself. So you get to explore more of England!

Another great option is this guided tour which also includes stops in both Oxford and some charming Cotswolds villages.

If you’re keen to see Stonehenge and Windsor Castle along with visiting Oxford, then you may find this group tour to be a great option.

And Harry Potter fans will absolutely love this full-day tour which includes a visit to the studio in Watford along with a tour of Oxford.

Oxford Skyline
Oxford Skyline

Cambridge

Located along the River Cam, Cambridge has a long history dating back to the 13th century which makes it a compelling and beautiful city to visit.

The university boasts alumni such as Sir Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking and Charles Darwin and the city itself has a lot to offer visitors. Visiting Cambridge as a day trip from London is a great way to experience this quintessential university town.

Accessibility

When choosing between Oxford or Cambridge to visit, you can take the distance into consideration. However, it takes around 1 to 1.5 hours to reach Cambridge from London – similar to that when travelling to Oxford.

If you’re looking to travel with ease and convenience, an excellent option to get to Cambridge is by train, just buy your ticket beforehand to save on tickets.

Another option is to travel by bus, although it takes longer you can save some money on the fare. One way of your journey will take about 3 hours and you can catch the bus at London Victoria Station. You can also browse the bus schedules here.

Similar to Oxford, once you arrive in the city it is easy to walk around to the must-see spots.

Peaceful Cam River
Peaceful Cam River

Affordability

In general, you can freely pick between Oxford and Cambridge to visit and choose which one you like the most without putting too much thought into the cost as the deciding factor.

Depending on what your plans are, you can control how much you spend when exploring the city. If you’re looking to stick to a budget, it won’t be a problem since most of the main attractions are free.

As mentioned already, there isn’t a huge difference in price between the two cities so this is not a major determining factor.

Trinity College in Cambridge
Trinity College in Cambridge

Things to do in Cambridge

On your visit to Cambridge, you’ll discover that there’s so much history and beauty all around the city. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the available activities and sights to see, you can join a free walking tour or this paid walking tour that can help lead the way around the city.

If you’re in the mood to explore on your own, you can’t go wrong visiting a few of the 31 Cambridge colleges to get a feel for the city. For example, two of the most popular colleges are Trinity College and King’s College.

You can pay to enter the colleges and even just admiring them from the outside is worth the visit but you can also get a good view from the grounds of King’s College or by entering through Trinity Lane to take a better look at Trinity College.

On Cambridge Market Hill, you can take a stroll through the market to search for delicious food, jewellery, clothes and other treasures.

To see and hear one of the city’s impressive works of art you’ll have to walk to the Taylor Library to see the Corpus Clock. The clock is more of an art display than an actual functioning clock because it doesn’t always tell you the accurate time.

For a bigger dose of art, you can visit The Fitzwilliam Museum free of charge. Here you’ll find treasures from all over the world including paintings, ornaments and trinkets.

After touring the museum, you can experience the city on the water and take a punt down the river. You can either do the punting yourself or relax and enjoy the ride while someone else does it for you.

To finish your day on a high note you can climb up the steps at St Mary’s church and get a mesmerising view of Cambridge from above. Of course, nothing beats unwinding with a pint at one of Cambridge’s many pubs.

Kings College
King’s College

Day Tours from London to Cambridge

If you’d prefer to head to Cambridge on an organised tour rather than deal with train timetables and transport yourself, then there are a number of different options available to you.

For example, this guided tour can be the perfect choice if you’re unable to choose between Cambridge vs Oxford and it will take you to both in one day! Perfect for the indecisive among us.

Another excellent option if you’re keen to simply visit Cambridge as a singular destination is this full-day tour from London. It includes a guided walking tour of the town along with some free time for independent exploration.

Cambridge University Grounds
Cambridge University Grounds

Oxford vs Cambridge: The Verdict

On the surface, there is not a lot of difference between Cambridge and Oxford so it can be a bit tricky to choose which is the better day trip option. However, both cities have their similarities and differences that make them each unique.

If you’re looking for a livelier city then Oxford is for you, but if you’re looking for a more picture-perfect city then Cambridge takes the win.

Oxford is also a good option for fans of Harry Potter as there are several filming locations scattered throughout the city. Due to its location, Oxford also make a good jumping-off point for exploring the towns and villages in the Cotswolds if you have the time.

Cambridge is smaller than Oxford but no less charming – in fact, it may be even more so! It’s compact nature makes it a joy to explore and the backs of the colleges and it’s ideal location on the River Cam make it a tremendous place for a historic and tranquil getaway. And though it is popular in both cities, Cambridge is also an excellent place to try your hand at punting!

No matter which city you decide on, you’ll finish your day trip with beautiful memories.

Both Oxford and Cambridge have a lot to offer visitors – from historic city centres, fascinating universities and a vibrant student life. You cannot go wrong with whichever you end up choosing.

Are you considering visiting Cambridge or Oxford? Have any questions about the cities? Let us know in the comments!

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Paola

Paola is a writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the state of Arizona in the USA, she lived in Germany before moving to the United Kingdom. Paola loves spending her free time travelling in Europe and sometimes ever further afield.

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