Vanbrugh House Hotel, Oxford, hotel review
Turn the corner at the end of Oxford’s bustling high street and you will find a beautiful 18th century building on a quiet road – this is the Vanbrugh House Hotel.
Designed by English architect Sir John Vanbrugh, the man behind Blenheim Palace, the stone building is now a stylish boutique hotel.
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There are 22 rooms, including four suites, and a small dining area for breakfast and lunch. As with the rest of Oxford, the building has a rich history, in fact, the wall behind the breakfast bar is one of the few surviving parts of Oxford’s medieval city wall.
How to get there
The hotel is a 10 minute walk from Oxford train station and there’s no need for a car once you arrive. You can walk from one side of town to the other in around 15 minutes, so the best way to explore is on foot.
What’s the room like?
We were staying in the Vicarage suite – a gorgeous room with its own private garden and entrance, as well as a huge bathroom with his and hers baths, a TV and shower. The wood-panelled walls and thick carpet gave the room a luxurious feel and the four-poster bed was incredibly comfy. The room had everything you could want – dressing gowns, slippers, a hairdryer and a good snack supply – and when we realised we had both forgotten toothpaste, the manager brought some straight to our room.
How was breakfast?
Hotel breakfast is one of my favourite things about going away so I woke up excited for it. There was a selection of cereals, croissants, fruits and hot food to order. My boyfriend Jack, who came on the trip with me, really enjoyed his cheese and mushroom omelette while I had Corn Flakes with a fruit compote, toast with jam and perfectly boiled eggs with soldiers… I did say I love hotel breakfasts!
What’s the damage?
Small double rooms start at £136 per night, with breakfast included. The Vicarage Suite is £285 per night.
What’s in the area?
Oxford is best known for the university, which dates back to 1096, making it the oldest in the UK. As the 38 grand colleges are dotted around the cobbled streets, it would be nearly impossible to walk around Oxford without visiting one, even if only to peek over the garden wall to watch students playing croquet. My favourite was The Union – a gothic building which, for over 200 years, has been used for the Oxford debating society. The starting place for prime ministers and politicians and host to historical figures like Malcolm X and O.J Simpson, it’s a fascinating place to visit.
If you want to learn more about architecture, art, history or even about Oxford’s dark past then I would recommend a guided walking tour with local expert Isabella. She will tailor the tour to suit your interests and take you to colleges, museums and libraries. On our tour she even took us into a student’s dining hall. Isabella was lovely and a real laugh and her knowledge of Oxford was incredible. Don’t fall for the self-taught ‘tour guides’ with stands on the high street, if you want real history – book an official tour. The hotel will book this for you and it costs £90 for two hours (plus entry to any colleges).
There’s no end of ancient pubs in the area, each serving local ales and craft beers, so make sure you pop in for a pint. The Bear Inn is one of the oldest pubs in Oxford, dating back to 1242, and the tin-topped bar is so small you can just fit three people in to order. Squeeze yourself inside or enjoy an ale in the sunny pub garden.
Once you’ve seen Oxford’s centre, stroll through the immaculate gardens of Christ Church college. The huge building is a famous landmark – the dining hall was actually used in every Harry Potter film – and you can buy tickets to see inside but it’s the gardens which took my fancy. Follow the stone path under a canopy of trees until you reach the winding river (this is the Thames, but not as you know it) here you can hire a punt, watch students float by or walk full circle around the beautiful meadow.
What about places to eat?
You must explore the best of the independent restaurants that Oxford has to offer.
For lunch, or a quick coffee, try Turl Street Kitchen. Started as a student initiative and now supporting several Oxford charities, the relaxed vibe and quirky, mismatched furniture will draw you in. The coffee is great and the menu is local and seasonal.
If it’s pizza you’re after, you can’t miss The White Rabbit. Actually an independent pub, it’s run by young friends in their twenties who love pizza and a pint. They make their dough fresh every day and stock a wide range of local ales. I loved their thin, crispy pizza with chorizo and homemade chilli oil.
Our favourite restaurant was The Old Bookbinders. After being told they were fully booked on the phone, we thought we would try for a table anyway and took a short walk along the pretty canal to the traditional English pub. Inside I was surprised to find a candle-lit restaurant serving the best rustic French food. We managed to snag a table and both ordered entrecôte steak with fries and lots of garlic butter. The atmosphere was buzzy and the staff were fantastic, recommending a brilliant bottle of red which matched well with our meal. We had a lovely evening here, I would go back to Oxford just to visit this restaurant alone.
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