Christmas Break in Oxford: Top 5 Things to Do
Home to Harry Potter and J. R. R. Tolkien, Oxford is a truly magical place to live, study and visit. And when the undergraduates from Oxford University’s 39 colleges go home for their vacation in early December, the rest of the city gears up for the festive season. Spending a Christmas break in Oxford is something spectacular!
Oxford was named the “most Christmassy town in the UK” in 2019. So what’s the evidence? The number of Christmas lights in each home! Oxford houses have more festive lights (an average of 350 in each home) than any other city in the UK (with a national average of 131), as well as more baubles on their trees.
Christmas is always a busy and bustling time, and Oxford is no exception. Known as the city of dreaming spires, this time of year is when Oxford really turns on its charm. So, what’s on this year? In this short guide, we pick out the Top 5 things to do, see and experience on a Christmas break in Oxford.
1. Broad Street Christmas Market
No European city is complete without an enchanting Christmas Market. To find Oxford’s best Christmas market, head down to Broad Street, best known for its bookshops, and look out for the enormous Christmas tree.
You will probably smell this Oxford Christmas market before you see it — in a good way! The aromas of cinnamon, sausages and mulled wine all mingle together in the air, all made by local producers. Each market stall is brightly coloured and offers something different, from hand-made jewellery to winter clothing.
Also, local musical groups take turns singing carols or playing Christmas songs in the market. Even if you’re just passing through to get to the shops, it’s hard not to feel festive and joyful!
2. Ashmolean Museum
The Ashmolean is the world’s oldest university museum, having opened its doors in 1683. It focuses on art and archaeology and contains artefacts from all across the world.
Highlights include: the lantern Guy Fawkes was carrying when he was arrested trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament, and the stuffed body of the last ever European dodo.
A great festive way of getting into the collection is via the Ashmolean Advent Calendar. You can even get started on your Christmas shopping in the delightful museum gift shop. The Christmas menu is also now available in the Ashmolean rooftop restaurant, where visitors can take in Oxford’s spire-filled skyline.
3. Blenheim Palace
Anyone taking a Christmas break in Oxford would be well advised to pay a visit to Blenheim Palace, located in Woodstock, just a short bus ride from Oxford city centre.
Blenheim Palace is a majestic World Heritage Site and the birthplace of Winston Churchill, Britain’s Prime Minister during World War II. Blenheim has one of the most extensive (and expensive) collections of paintings, tapestries and furniture in Europe. If you need some fresh air, hop aboard the miniature train through the vast gardens, where you can experience the giant maze.
At Christmas, Blenheim transforms itself into a paradise worthy of Alice in Wonderland. A light show illuminates the palace and its gardens, including the Laser Garden and scented Fire Garden. The highlight is the dazzling Tunnel of Light, made up of over 100,000 individual bulbs.
If you need to do some last-minute Christmas shopping, it’s also worth taking a look at the Blenheim Palace Christmas market. Each stall looks like a wooden chalet, and there is a good range on offer from artisan local food to designer bags.
4. Carol Concert Evenings
Simply put, Oxford is the place to go for Christmas carol concerts. Whether it’s singing traditional carols or listening to festive classical music, there is something on almost every day in the run up to Christmas. These concerts are also a great opportunity to witness and take part in local Christmas traditions, not just the tourist highlights.
A traditional carol service combines carols, or popular Christian hymns for celebrating Christmas, with readings taken from the gospels that tell the story of Jesus’ birth. In the UK, they tend to be very popular with Christians and non-Christians alike. Often, the lights are switched off and everybody lights candles. Sometimes, hot mince pies and mulled wine are served afterwards to warm everybody up!
On top of local performers, such as the Jericho Singers, Oxford boasts some of the world’s best choirs and orchestras in the form of college choirs. The choir of New College, for example, has been around since 1379 and sings at Evensong six days a week. Visitors are always welcome!
Daily Info provides a calendar of concerts and carol services for Christmas 2019.
5. Christmas in Oxford = Oxmas
“Oxmas” is short for “Oxford Christmas” and is the name given by Oxford University students to their early Christmas celebrations. Because most students leave Oxford in early December, they celebrate Oxmas together on 25 November — exactly one month before Christmas Day.
Essentially, this is Christmas by another name. Colleges switch on fairy lights and put up Christmas trees with festive decorations. Most colleges organise a full Christmas dinner for their students, and some put on specific carol services.
Taking a Christmas break in Oxford will leave you with no shortage of options to get into the festive spirit. If there’s something you loved doing here and we haven’t mentioned it, we would be delighted to know!
Oxford is a magical place all year round!
If the UK winter is a little too cold, why not come to the Oxford Scholastica Academy in the summer?
Check out our Summer Courses, which exist to help you explore your subject, discover your career and prepare for your future. Along with university-style teaching, students have plenty of time to explore the city of Oxford!