Advice on Rushing through Oxford

Feb 1st, 2005, 04:07 PM
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Advice on Rushing through Oxford

We will be in London in March and are planning a day trip to Oxford. Unfortunately, we do not have time to do the town anything like justice, because the main reason we are going is for the car aficionado in our household (otherwise known as my dear husband) to tour the BMW Mini Cooper factory.

The only day that we can take the tour (which lasts about 2 1/2 hours) turns out to be the same day we already have theatre tickets in the evening. Therefore, we will have only a couple of hours to see anything in Oxford other than the auto plant before we have to be on a train back to London.

So ... for anyone who knows Oxford, a couple of questions:

1. What can we see / should we not miss in only 2 hours? I hate doing this kind of rushed sightseeing, but as long as we are going, I do want to see something of the town or university, so what do you suggest as the best approach?

2. The Mini contact person said we could get a bus from Oxford center to the plant but didn't give us any details. Does anyone know Oxford well enough to tell me if this is reasonably easy? Would we be better off taking a taxi?

Thanks for any tips or advice.
nonnafelice is offline  
Feb 1st, 2005, 04:27 PM
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here are some websites

Oxford Univ.

Oxford Visitors Information also has other links

City info buses in and around Oxford

For train info,

For bus (coach) transportation to Oxford from London, Oxford Express coaches leave from London's Victoria Station for the Oxford bus station daily about every 20 minutes, trip takes about 1 ¾ hours. The buses don’t require any changes, are cheaper, and the Oxford coach station is closer to the center of town than the train station is. There is also the “Oxford tube”, an express coach. Every 20 minutes, 24 hours per day.

Bus tours of Oxford,with commentary:

There is another tour company using minivans, called "Spires & Shires", 4 Walton Well Rd Oxford OX2 6ED,tel: 0865513998; fax: 0865791469.
This company offers daily half day tours to Blenheim, which you won't unfortunately have time for, as well as walking tours of Oxford. Reservations should be made in advance.

“Guide Friday” has an office at the Oxford rail station, call 01865/790522. Offers one-hour open-top bus tours
around Oxford. Call for seasonal schedule

The Oxford Story, 6 Broad Street phone 01865/790055 has an audio-visual presentation of Oxford. Daily 10-4:30. Family rates available.

Or get yourself into town and go to the Oxford tourist information center, where they offer guided tours of some of the Oxford colleges and notable buildings during the day The Oxford tourist information centre is at the Old School Gloucester Green, opposite the bus station. The telephone number is 01865/726871. They sell maps and brochures, tee shirts, and can book hotels for a fee.
Open Mon-Sat from 9:30 am to 5; Sunday and bank holidays in summer from 10-3. The walking tours of selected colleges leave (or used to leave) daily at 11am and 2pm. They do not include Christ Church or New colleges.. Don't miss Christ Church college, however, if you can. Note that not all Colleges are open to visitors all the time, and especially not during exam periods.

There is a very good suggested walking tour of Oxford and a map of the city center in the book
“Day trips London” by Steinbicker. Additional walking suggestions can be found at, search on Oxford.

Private guide for hire, recommended International Travel News November 2004: Chris Lloyd, He is a member of the Oxford Guild of Guides and has written a book on walking tours of Oxford (available amazon uk.) His price is the same for 2-19 people.

Museum of Oxford, on St Aldates. Among other things it has an exhibit on Louis Carroll, pen name of the author of Alice in Wonderland. Near there is Alice’s Shop where you can buy Alice-related souvenirs.

If you walk up St Aldates to St Giles, on the left is a pub called the Eagle and Child. Oxonians, including Tolkien and C.S. Lewis for two, often met there to drink and chat around the fire.

elaine is offline  
Feb 1st, 2005, 04:36 PM
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I would suggest getting through a couple of colleges - Christ Church is nice. Merton and Magdalen are also popular although I haven't seen them yet. I'm at New, which I enjoy as well.

Be sure to pass by the Bodelian Library and the Radcliffe Camera, as well as the Virgin Mary Church at High Street.

That's probably all you have time for.

I'm not that familar with the bus information, but if you can swing it I'm sure it would be much, much cheaper than a taxi. I really haven't seen very many taxis around, by the way. Lots of walking and bicycles.
JoeTro is offline  
Feb 1st, 2005, 04:41 PM
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One more thing. You'll want to look at this site:

especially the maps. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to mention this before, the rail station is a bit far from the places I've mentioned. The coaches would get you closer, but you are right about the time crunch and traffic. I went into London during morning rush hour once and it took forever.
JoeTro is offline  
Feb 1st, 2005, 09:51 PM
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all sorts of good ideas -- but my suggestion is -- change your theatre tickets to a different evening. Then you can actually see some of Oxford w/o having to rush back into London
janis is offline  
Feb 1st, 2005, 11:08 PM
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To get to the BMW factory you can get a 5 or 10 bus. But if you're short of time, I don't recommend it.

Not all buses for Horspath Rd (the plant entrance) start at the station. They crawl through the middle of Oxford (with the advantage of a ride along the High St, which is one of the city's sights). But, because the driveable streets are narrow, and Oxford is over-bussed, they're amazingly slow, taking at least 30 mins if the traffic's not too awful (which it usually is). A taxi from the station OTOH is likely to go a less charming route round the city's ring road and get to the factory in about 10 mins.

It's not easy to hail a taxi from the factory, whereas it's easy to find the bus stops at the factory, so you're probably best off getting a bus back into town. Get off at the Queen's Lane stop on the High St (do NOT confuse this with Queen Street) and follow one of Elaine's walking suggestions, making sure you're armed with a good map. Do not be tempted to take a bus tour of the city: these are great introductions to London, but the buses can't get into some of Oxford's nicest streets and therefore miss Oxford's only must see.

Which it doesn't really have. There's no one truly outstandingly beautiful thing to gawp at. What it has got are some wonderfully atmospheric streets and one stunning square. The closest to a must see is the meander through some of these streets.

The individual colleges are often inaccessible to visitors and are quite pricey to get into when they're open. Christ Church, the largest and about the most spectacular, is quite untypical of the other colleges: it lacks their intimacy and is typical of the grandiosity and pomposity that's inevitable whenever politicians start interfering with education (Cardinal Wolsey was just as good at wasting public money on monuments to himself as his successors 450 years later)

As a minimum, therefore, from the Queen's Lane/High St stop, do the following:

Walk west along the High St to the intersection with Turl St. Turn right and walk to the end of this street. At the end, turn right into Broad St. A couple of hundred yards on, turn right (if possible through the Bodleian library quadrangle and out the other side) through Radcliffe Square and then back into the High St. Cross over and go back towards the bus stop, turning right into Merton St. Follow it briefly south then west, turning off it to your left half way along, following a narrow path that leads into a broad open meadow.

Turn right into this meadow, following the broad walk till it comes out onto a main road (St Aldate's). It's now a ten minute brisk walk back to the station.

If you've time to fit a visit into a college, I'd skip Magdalen too (though it's among the most interesting) as it's rather out on the edge. Joe's suggestion of Merton's a good one, as it's far more typical than those most often visited, it's on this quick dash route and its library is amazing.

Don't worry about dashing through Oxford. The university specialises in glib superficiality (Tony B Liar and William Jefferson Clinton are distressingly characteristic products). There is no better introduction to the place than a couple of seconds' brief attention - provided you remember to affect the subsequent pretence of great expertise derived from extensive learning.
flanneruk is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2005, 06:11 AM
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FlannerUK, you crack me up! Thanks for the great information, and the laughs.

Thanks to JoeTro and Elaine, too, for the excellent pointers. I think my original post was a bit misleading, in that I didn't specify that our Mini tour is in the afternoon. When that's over, we have to rush from the auto plant to the train station, and our see-Oxford time will only be in the morning. So I'm thinking maybe we should try to find a taxi to take us out to the plant and see if we can get the driver to agree to come back to pick us up once the tour is over (approximately 3:30 pm).

Janis, I agree it would be nice if we could change the theatre tickets, but the night we're going is the only one the play ("His Dark Materials") is on while we are in London. In fact, we were lucky to get tickets at all, as the National Theatre website shows it completely sold out. But thanks to a good tip from Fodors (what a wonderful resource this is!), I found the theatremonkey site, where I was able to book two seats. The Pullman books on which the play is based are among my favorites, and I really want to see this production. (We're only seeing Part 2, as Part 1 was completely unavailable, but we do know the story, and the reviews say Part 2 is the better half.)

Well, at least the trip to Oxford (the non-automotive part) should be a good lead-in to the play, since the story is partially set in Oxford (even if not exactly the Oxford of our world).
nonnafelice is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2005, 08:37 AM
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I've been thinking some more about our Oxford itinerary, and doing some research using the info you helpful people have directed me to.

Here's my latest idea. As others have said the bus (Oxford Tube or Espress) is a more economical and flexible way to go than the train. We could also leave London a good bit earlier on the bus (can't really leave until almost 9 am on the train in order to get a halfway reasonable fare). And on the train we are also constrained on return times, plus the rail station is some ways out from the center of town.

So if we got an early start and took the bus to Oxford Centre, we could arrive maybe around 9:30. That would give us close to 3 hours in town. We could then take a taxi out to the BMW plant for our tour at 12:45 and ask the driver to pick us up at 3:30. From there, the cab could take us to the outlying bus stop at Thornhill, which would at least cut out the Oxford city traffic and shorten the ride back to London by maybe 15 minutes.

Another good thing about this plan is that we'd probably save enough by taking the bus to pay for the taxis.

Those who know the London / Oxford traffic patterns -- if we left the Oxford Park and Ride by 4 pm, would it be reasonable to think the bus should get us back to London by 6? The schedule says 100 minutes, more at rush hour. I know an accident could always create havoc, but at least we would be going in to London, and presumably more of the rush hour traffic would be leaving town.

One other question on the fares: There is apparently an over-60 fare. Do you need any special senior card or anything to get this, or only proof of birth date?
nonnafelice is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2005, 09:07 AM
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Why do you need to be in London for 6? I thought you were going to the theatre?

I'd say you've no chance on any day of the week, and certainly not on any weekday. Pity, because the Thornhill idea was v. crafty.

Apart from the significant amount of reverse commuting, you cross several particularly nasty choke points in the London area. However if you get a bus round 4, you've a reasonable chance of making a 7.30 curtain up.
flanneruk is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2005, 09:12 AM
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For the over-60 subsidy, you need to buy a Senior Railcard, which costs £20 each.
flanneruk is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2005, 09:32 AM
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flanner has the on-site knowledge - I used to drive into London frequently (a couple of times a month for 4 or 5 years) but it was along time ago.

But my general impression is -- the coach does make sense for getting out to Oxford early and economically. Unfortunately, it makes almost no sense for your return journey.

Simply forget about having time for dinner in London or to get back to your hotel to change/freshen up (I assume that's why you want to be back by 6 p.m.)

If you took the train you would have a much better chance. Or, if you take the bus, plan on going straight to the theatre from the bus station - and keep your fingers crossed the whole way.
janis is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2005, 09:38 AM
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I have another idea that may sound like blasphemy - but you might want to consider it . . .

Is the factory tour more important for your husband, and is the play more important for you?

If so -- you could go to Oxford together, and you could return to London on an early train or bus. You could freshen up and have an early dinner in London and go to the theatre. He could take the tour, grab a quick bite somewhere and take a later bus/train back to London.

If he makes it in time -- terrific, if not you at least will make the curtain and he can enter during the interval (or skip the play if he wants)
janis is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2005, 10:41 AM
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Or, when in Rome...

I know it might be a girl thing, but what's all this freshening up stuff? Mrs F - like the rest of us - will do a day's work, hop on a train or bus (which are all well equipped with decent loos, as by a bizarre coincidence the bus and train companies have all upgraded their equipment in the past three months), and go to a theatre in what she's been wearing all day. That's why we all find these posts saying "what should I wear to the theatre?" so weird. You wear what you've been working in.

Now I realise Dark Materials is a 7.15 start and it's 3 hours. But none of us would bother going the long way round from working out of town just to see a play. There are reasonable places around to eat after the play. And can't you do an "eat half in the interval and half at the end" deal at the National? (Not sure, as we never eat there, but...)

Incidentally, don't stay on the bus to the end. Your real problem is likely to be what happens east of the M25, since the first 35 miles are normally just a bit sluggish at that time. At the height of the rush several hours, I'd be strongly tempted to get the Oxford Espress bus (where do they get these silly names from?) to Hillingdon, then get the tube (50 mins to Waterloo, but a near-certain risk of being a lot longer by road). Actually, I wouldn't: I'd get the train, but I can see why that might trouble you.

If the driver - who's far more expert on the minutiae of rush hour travel than anyone on this board - isn't sure about Hillingdon, get off early anyway - if it fits with your outward journey at Baker St on the Oxford Espress - and get the tube. Around 6.30-7pm, any stop will work out quicker than staying on till Victoria, but Baker St, uniquely, is on a direct line to Waterloo.
flanneruk is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2005, 10:53 AM
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I get a student discount for simply showing my student card. I'm not quite sure how the senior discount works, but I imagine that just showing proof of age to the driver would be sufficient. You do NOT need a rail card to get discounts on the Oxford Espress or Oxford Tube. If you take the rail, you do.

As for traffic, I did go in to London one morning to catch a flight. It was a Monday morning and I wasn't thinking, but I definitely caught morning rush hour traffic. They were running at least an hour behind. I got off at the first stop in London and Tubed it. So that might be a bit risky if you leave at 4 pm and need to get there by 6. Where exactly in London do you need to get to?
JoeTro is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2005, 11:06 AM
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Another idea. Price this before hand, but what if you took the Espress into Oxford one-way, and the train back? That might solve your traffic problems, let you get into Oxford whenever, and give you an okay price?
JoeTro is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2005, 01:32 PM
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You guys have some great suggestions -- thanks for considering my problem. It wasn't that I thought we had to be back by 6 to freshen up or whatever, although I was hoping we could at least grab something to eat before the play, since we won't have too much time in Oxford for food. It was more wondering what a normal travel time would be between Oxford and London on a Friday afternoon. Since you tell me it's more like 3 hours than 2 at that time of day, it doesn't leave much cushion for unexpected delays and again, as you say, puts us back on the train.

And I do see what you all mean about the byzantine fare structure on the rail. It's very weird that a return ticket costs just about the same as a single (only about £1 or less difference between the two).

The cheapest round trip fare we can get on the train is the Apex advance purchase of £10, which means leaving London no earlier than 9 and departing Oxford at 5:15 pm. (For some reason 5:15 is the only return train that shows up on the Apex fare option.)

That would save quite a bit over the "Cheap" return fare of £17, which doesn't let us leave London significantly earlier. Its only advantage is that we could leave Oxford a bit earlier than 5:15. But a 5:15 departure would still get us back to London by 6:30, which should be okay if we just take the tube directly to the theatre from the station and maybe find a snack there before the curtain.

Anyway, I think now maybe the best strategy is to book that Apex return ticket, since we don't save anything by going only one way on the train, and we certainly shouldn't have any problem getting to the train station by 5:15.

Janis, you are right about the discrepancy in the priorities here! I might consider your idea if I thought there was a good chance I wouldn't make the play. But I think we probably can manage okay if we return on that 5:15 train together. I do hope you aren't going to tell me that the trains don't generally run on time!
nonnafelice is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2005, 02:32 PM
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>'I do hope you aren't going to tell me that the trains don't generally run on time'<

papagena is offline  
Feb 4th, 2005, 07:41 AM
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I've just been looking through some of the references Elaine posted (great list!) and found one that apparently has changed. I had to poke around to find the new URL, so thought I'd post it here, as it is a good article.

Instead of eurodata, the site is now, and bills itself as the online magazine of European travel. I wasn't familiar with it, and it appears to have a good compilation of articles on many European destinations.

The Oxford article is at:

and the full list of articles is at:

And while I'm posting -- does anyone else have a comment on the general reliability of British trains, specifically the Oxford - London line?
nonnafelice is offline  
Feb 4th, 2005, 08:16 AM
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According to the official statistics from the SRA (the rail regulator), First Great Western Link had an 82.3% on time average for the first nine months of 2004. This is above the average for the UK rail system as a whole.
ron is offline  
Feb 4th, 2005, 08:38 AM
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have you considered going to oxford the day before your tour and spending the night there?
Underhill is offline  

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