Oxford is one of the most beautiful cities to visit in the UK. For this reason it can be very crowded, particularly in summer. Locals avoid the centre in June and July when, not only is Broad Street blocked by celebrating undergraduates, but also by parties of English as a Foreign Language students walking ten abreast.
Nevertheless you can always have the city to yourself first thing so try to book somewhere central. Bath Place and The Buttery, though not the most comfortable places to stay, give you great access to all these beautiful buildings any time night or day. The Macdonald Randolph Hotel & Spa Oxford is similarly central and Malmaison Oxford, The Old Bank Hotel and Royal Oxford Hotel are in short walking distance of the city centre.
People are surprised how few hotels there are in Oxford given its popularity as a tourist destination, but the city's proximity to London means that many people just visit for the day. This is such a waste. You need at least two nights in Oxford to get a feel for the place - and at least one early morning walk when you only have the street cleaners and the pigeons for company.
Oxford has not gone down to boutique hotel route although Ethos Hotel, a boutique-aparthotel has a boutique look and feel. What you will find though is a lot of heritage-style hotels - the Old Parsonage Hotel, Cotswold Lodge Classic Hotel and the Macdonald Randolph Hotel & Spa Oxford itself - which play up to the image of old Oxford.
Last night my wife and I cycled back from dinner in the centre of Oxford (hire a bike, cycling is by far the best way to get around Oxford) and yet again I was struck by the unexpected beauty of the city as we came round a backstreet corner and found a vista I'd forgotten. Fortunately we live centrally so there was no question of having to drive back or get a taxi. I'd urge all visitors to do the same. Book into a hotel that's not too far out, hire a bike and enjoy.
Things to consider before booking
What kind of break do you have in mind?
There are very good cheap hotels in the centre of Oxford that are ideal for seeing the sights but you won’t want to spend much time in your room or the public areas (should there be any). The hotels further out are more comfy but you won’t have Oxford on your doorstep. With the exception of the Macdonald Randolph Hotel & Spa Oxford, you are going to have to choose between an ideal central situation and somewhere luxurious to curl up with a good book
Avoid most b&bs
Oxford has a small number of attractive guest houses and I’ve included these. It also has far too many places that are just cheap and depressing.
Parking is a big consideration if you are arriving by car
Parking on the street in central Oxford is a nightmare. It’s very expensive and you have to keep moving your vehicle. There is one underground car park near Gloucester Green and this is expensive too. A central hotel with free parking is a godsend. A central hotel with guaranteed free parking (rather than first come, first served) is manna from heaven.
Breakfast is sometimes included in your room rate and sometimes not. It’s worth checking on this. Moreover some hotels have just one cover charge for breakfast while others charge per item or offer Full English or Continental at different prices. Newspapers can be another thorny issue in British hotels. If you are offered a morning paper you have every right to ask if it’s complimentary or not. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.