Traipsing around one of the UK’s oldest university cities can be thirsty work. Fortunately, wherever students go, plenty of drinking establishments soon follow, and Oxford is no exception to this rule.
Although Oxford’s nightlife is on the quiet side with only a handful of clubs, the city more than makes up for its lack of late-night establishments with a host of historic pubs. There are plenty of quirky places to sip a pint, sample some pub grub, and marvel at where medieval residents of the city would have drunk.
While some of the oldest pubs in Oxford can be found in the city center, East Oxford is also famed for its eclectic nightlife, and the quiet suburb of Jericho boasts some of the city's most upmarket establishments. Explore Oxford one pint at a time with this alphabetical guide.
Renowned for being Oxford’s oldest pub, The Bear is almost as famous for its minuscule size as its age. Dating back to 1242, this unusual drinking hole is wallpapered entirely with a collection of club ties dating back to the 1900s. (Rumor has it that Oxfordians were offered half a pint of beer in exchange for giving up their neck gear to the landlord.)
Snaffling a seat in this tiny establishment might be tricky, but it’s definitely worth a try. The Bear is best in winter, when you can curl up next to its roaring log fire with a mulled wine and take in the pub’s remarkable history.
Trendy East Oxford is home to the city’s most vibrant late-night scene. Cross over Magdalen Bridge to find Cowley Road, a hub of independent bars, live music venues, and an incredible array of multicultural restaurants.
Although most of the drinking holes that line this famous street are bars, there are still some excellent pub options around here. Big Society is a trendy joint serving up craft beers and cocktails in jam jars to accompany ping-pong and foosball. They even have a small beer garden, which is unusual in this part of town. Expect hipster vibes and DJ sets into the early hours at one of Oxford’s most party-friendly pubs.
Bookworms visiting Oxford will be spoiled for choice when it comes to drinking spots. With multiple pubs boasting a literary connection, it can be tricky to choose where to enjoy a good read—but The Eagle and Child is perhaps the most well known.
Famous for its connections to writers such as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Hugo Dyson, The Eagle and Child now serves up pub food and real ales to Hobbit and Narnia fans alike. In spite of being bought out by a large chain in recent years, the pub has still managed to retain some of its character, displaying "Lord of the Rings" memorabilia and making the most of its famous connections.
An off-the-beaten-track recommendation for explorers, the Isis Farmhouse is a tranquil riverside pub accessible only by foot, bike, or boat. To get here, walk from Christ Church college all the way down the Thames (about a 30-minute stroll east) to discover a scenic garden and rustic interior, featuring boats hung from the ceiling and an open fire in winter. With regular live music and a small and simple food menu, the Isis is a favorite among East Oxford locals and a hidden gem for tourists.
Nestled away in a backstreet of Jericho, The Old Bookbinders Ale House is named for the nearby Oxford University Press, and a nod to the printers and publishers who used to reside in the village-like suburb. Nowadays this family-run pub is an old-fashioned drinking hole where you can always find a seat and a real ale. Step back in time to sample one of the carefully selected house beers, or choose from a rotating selection of guest ales, which often come from local breweries. They also have on offer savory crêpes for soaking up a few pints, as well as plenty of wines and spirits for non-beer drinkers.
Just 10 minutes north of the city center sits the ancient Port Meadow, a grazing land almost untouched for thousands of years. A walk through this scenic spot in summer will reveal Oxford residents enjoying wild swimming in the river that snakes through the vast field, the ruins of a historic abbey, and (perhaps most importantly) a gorgeous thatched pub nestled in the heart of the meadow. An 800-year-old establishment, The Perch boasts a beautiful garden, outdoor bar, and a sensational seasonal food menu—perfect for a post-swim drink.
West Oxford might be mostly residential, but there are still a few fantastic offerings for thirsty visitors venturing out of the city center. Conveniently close to the train station, The Punter is a perfect stop-off for travelers, serving up reasonably priced drinks and a vegetarian menu. Located on Osney Island, a quirky riverside community, The Punter’s best selling point is perhaps its proximity to the Thames. In the summer, drinkers can regularly be seen spilling outside to sip their pints by the river, or to watch boats pass by from the small paved beer garden.
Another East Oxford offering, The Rusty Bicycle is part of a small Oxford-based pub group with locations dotted throughout the city’s suburbs. Characterized by mismatched furniture and colorful artwork, The Rusty Bicycle is a favorite among residents, with such a cult following that they even shut down the local area during its annual street party.
As well as a wide-ranging drinks menu, The Rusty Bicycle also specializes in brunch, burgers, and pizza. Adventurous drinkers should ask staff for their Homemade Wonk, a rotating selection of infused vodkas and gins brewed behind the bar.
Dating back to 1381, Turf Tavern is something of a tourist hotspot in Oxford, and even served as a hangout for the "Harry Potter" cast when they were in town filming. Featuring low beams and small pubs, this historic pub is tucked down a winding alleyway close to the heart of the university. Lined by one of the last remaining segments of the medieval city wall, the beer garden of Turf Tavern is worth taking a seat in. But for a slice of Oxford history, you might like to stick close to the small front bar to experience what it might have been like to sip a pint in a pub hundreds of years ago.
Taking a seat in Jericho’s favorite Victorian pub is like stepping back in time. This upmarket gastropub has been beautifully refurbished to create the feel of an old-fashioned drinking hole, and boasts the best selection of whiskies in Oxford.
The Victoria’s famous pies are the perfect accompaniment to a pint, while a visit around the holidays will give you the chance to sample their hot toddies, mulled wine, and hot buttered rum. The Victoria also goes all-out with its winter décor, lining the ceiling with branches and Christmas lights while firing up a roaring log stove.
For the perfect independent pub in the middle of Oxford, The White Rabbit is hard to beat. It specializes in local ales, making it a must-drink for craft beer connoisseurs. Inside there’s a modern and trendy vibe, with friendly staff and an upbeat weekend atmosphere. Yet most visitors to The White Rabbit don’t come just for the booze—the pub is renowned for its pizzas and is even home to a branded gluten-free pizza company. With fresh ingredients imported from Italy and an extensive menu, you’re sure to find a delicious accompaniment to your drink.