At a glance, Oxford’s austere beauty may appear to suggest a unilaterally correspondent social culture of upscale dining, formal attire, and vintage champagne.
For a more accurate insight into the city and its occupants, look to the Oxford Circuit: a marathonic drinking route linking over 20 pubs throughout the city. Besides Thor’s experience at Útgarðr (an apt predecessor for the city whose local university offers one of the best Old Norse curriculums in the world), there has rarely been a feat of drinking so ludicrously prolonged or wholly worth attempting.
The Oxford Circuit displays a particular ingenuity by incorporating many of the city’s most iconic landmarks in its route. As a result, anyone who completes the daylight portion of the Oxford Circuit will encounter many of the city’s attractions without the need for a guided tour.
Stop 1. George Street Social
For the herculean task at hand, it is essential to start off well-fed and, if possible, a little drunk. Equal parts restaurant, bar, and coffeehouse, George Street Social has it all covered.
Everything on the brunch menu is excellent, but the most fun is the bottomless brunch special. Book a 90-minute table slot in advance and enjoy a brunch item of your choosing accompanied by unlimited Prosecco or house beer.
Stop 2. Teardrop
Enter Oxford’s Covered Market, where electronics stores, florists, butcher’s shops, and other establishments of varied purposes cluster together to form a schizophrenic window-browsing experience: a shop displaying iPhone chargers is equally likely to be followed by one displaying bouquets, shampoos, animal viscera, or practically anything else.
Stop for a pint at Teardrop, a nano brewery that lives up to that term twice—it crafts its own beer and it is roughly the size a postage stamp. The fantastic in-house specials have helped this spot to establish its reputation as one of Oxford’s better breweries of any size.
Stop 3. The Varsity Club
Exit the Covered Market onto High Street, then corkscrew skywards along with a seemingly endless flight of stairs to the topmost floor of The Varsity Club.
In addition to excellent cocktails, TVC offers one of the best views in all of Oxford. Grab a drink and gaze in wonder at the city's exquisite skyline of gothic, baroque, neoclassical, and Saxon architecture.
Stop 4. Oxford University Botanic Gardens
Forego the High Street in favor of the quieter Merton Street, then turn onto Rose Lane to reach the Botanic Garden.
Disappointingly, Oxford University has not yet realized the inherently fun potential for installing a beer garden in its botanic one. Even as a “dry stop,” though, the oldest botanic garden in Great Britain is more than worth a visit for its sheer beauty.
Plus, fans of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy who do not mind crying publicly at the sight of a bench (or who can somehow recall the end of The Amber Spyglass without doing so) should be sure to stop by Will and Lyra’s.
Stop 5. The Grand Café
Cast a glance towards Magdalen Bridge, under which punters drift along the River Cherwell. Then, head back up High Street towards the Grand Café.
Believed to be the first coffeehouse in England, the Grand Café is now a popular meeting spot for young professionals, as well as the nearest source of alcohol for traumatized Oxford students emerging from the adjacent Examination Schools.
Stop 6. Vaults & Garden Café
Turn onto Catte’s Street and watch in awe as this quiet side road transforms into the cobblestone heart of Oxford’s spectacular Radcliffe Square.
From the patio of the Vaults & Garden Café, one can take in the stained-glass mystique of All Souls College, the gothic spire of Exeter College's chapel, and of course, the most iconic landmark in the city: the magnificent Radcliffe Camera.
Stop 7. The Turf Tavern
Continue on Catte Street out of Radcliffe Square. On your way, take a look down St. Mary’s Passage for a glimpse of the lamppost that inspired the one in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.
Next, continue onto New College Lane towards stunning Hertford Bridge, better known as Oxford’s Bridge of Sighs.
Now, find St. Helen’s Passage: an incredibly narrow, blink-and-you'll-miss-it passageway to the secluded Turf Tavern. In Oxford, the Turf is known for its excellent lunch offerings. Elsewhere, it is known as the spot where Bill Clinton once smoked marijuana (and definitely did not inhale).
Stop 8. Ashmolean Museum
Exit the Turf Tavern, pausing to admire the soft-hued buildings on Holywell Street. Then, take Broad Street onto Beaumont, towards the Ashmolean Museum.
If you remembered to book your table in advance, enjoy an excellent afternoon tea at the Ashmolean’s rooftop restaurant— preferably on its outdoor terrace, which offers yet another exquisite view.
Stop 9. The Eagle & Child
Head back down Beaumont Street and turn onto St. Giles Street once you see Martyr’s Memorial.
Stop in for pints at Eagle and Child, best known as the preferred haunt of the Inklings: an informal literary club for Oxford students, which later became legendary for the success of several members-turned-authors, including C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien.
The Eagle & Child is temporarily closed as it undergoes continued renovations to be made into a hotel. For an alternative, try The Royal Oak, about five minutes up St. Giles’ Street.
Stop 10. The Rose and Crown
Turn onto North Parade Avenue, one of Oxford’s most charming streets. Its whimsical pastel tones, flower garlands, and fairy lights inspire delight in anyone who steps (or, in this case, staggers) down its path.
Head into the Rose and Crown—impossible to miss, given its pink exterior—and order from their vast selection of beers and wines. Although the pub’s interior is small, its outdoor courtyard is spacious.
Stop 11. The Perch
The longest stretch of walking on the Circuit is also the most beautiful. In the 25 minutes that it takes to reach the next stop, the cityscape gives way to the verdant, riverside lushness of Port Meadow, used as grazing pasture by local horses.
Cut through the fields of grass and walk along the riverbank until you reach Medley Bridge. Cross over, then follow the well-trodden footpath straight to the Perch: the final stop on the Oxford Circuit’s daytime route. Pick a comfortable spot at one of the outdoor picnic tables and watch as the sun sets spectacularly over the Thames.
Coming Soon: Oxford's Most Legendary Pub Crawl (Night Route)