As a traveling couple, we try to find romance wherever we go and, if we can’t, we create it for ourselves. A cozy pub or a stunning sunset can make for a romantic day out but, if you visit Oxford or Cambridge, UK, you only need to step outside to start feeling the romance. Both Oxford and Cambridge are home to the UK’s most famous universities, meaning the towns are full of historic buildings, quiet parks, and tiny pubs – some of our favourite places for romantic days out! As different as the two universities are, the towns are quite similar in the romantic experiences that we offer, so we decided to combine them into one swoonworthy list of romantic things to do in Oxford & Cambridge.
We visited Cambridge in the autumn and Oxford in the winter, but many of these romantic activities can be done year round. And some of them make for great date night ideas in Cambridge and Oxford! Because you don’t need a massive gesture or reservations at an expensive restaurant to have a romantic day out in Oxford or Cambridge; sometimes, all you need is a moment. For us, it’s all about the moments where we are both looking at the same thing, or standing in the same place, and all we can think is, I wouldn’t want to be here with anyone else. Our day trips to Oxford & Cambridge provided plenty of these moments. This post contains some of our favourites.
Romantic Things to Do in Oxford & Cambridge
While Oxford & Cambridge like to point out their differences in a competitive manner (like any good university rivalry), the towns are quite similar. Oxford and Cambridge both offer so much history and beauty, served in the form of charming anecdotes and architectural wonders. They both have an impressive list of alumni. And not many tourists visit one without visiting the other. In fact, on our tour in Oxford, everyone was comparing the two and struggling to decide which they liked better!
The other thing that Oxford and Cambridge have in common is their natural romantic atmosphere, which is easy to believe given all those stunning buildings previously mentioned! Oxford and Cambridge are full of opportunities for date nights and romantic days out. Here are some of our favourite romantic things to do in Oxford and Cambridge:
Picnic & Punt Down the River
When people think of Cambridge, they often think of punting down the River Cam. It’s a major tourist attraction in Cambridge and something that pretty much every visitor wants to try. But did you know that punting is also a thing in Oxford? The River Cherwell is just as popular for groups attempting to push themselves down the river.
Now, you might wonder what is so romantic about bumping into other boats while crammed onto a chauffered punt with other tourists, but here we are talking about simply hiring the punt for day, not going on a guided tour (though we recommend the guided tours, too!). The large punting companies in both Oxford and Cambridge offer the opportunity to hire a punt by the hour or for the day. Grab your loved one, pack a picnic, and take the little boat out for a ride. While the whole getting the boat from Point A to Point B thing might be hard work, finding a quiet spot and enjoying each others company will make it all worth it.
For the most romantic experience possible, go in the off-season when there are fewer people out and about. Head in the direction of the countryside, as opposed to the centre of town, and find a little spot where you can park the boat. Bonus points if you are able to catch a sunset from the water!
Go Punting in Oxford or Cambridge
- Oxford: Magdalen Bridge Boathouse (1 February – 30 November)
- Cambridge: Scudamore’s (Open year round, except Christmas Day)
Looking for the experience without the effort? Consider a private or shared punting tour, like this one available in Cambridge.
Enjoy a sunset stroll around campus
I do not know if pink skies in England are a thing that I just haven’t noticed before, if we are visiting these places at the right time of year, or if it’s just the buildings in Oxford and Cambridge that are illuminated so perfectly as the sun starts to go down. Whichever it is, though, dusk in these historic towns is a beautiful, and incredibly romantic, time of day.
When we went punting in Cambridge, our guide pointed out the sky, but I noticed it myself in Oxford – once the sun goes away, before it’s completely dark, everything is so beautiful. A stroll under the soft, pastel-coloured sky is a perfect way to end (or start) a date night in Cambridge or Oxford. Allow yourself ample time to wander the streets hand in hand as the sun makes its way down and the building are illuminated by their lights.
Find the most romantic spots at Oxford University and Cambridge University
Campuses, especially old ones, are full of beautiful spots that can be extremely romantic if you are with the right person. Whether it’s an old building, a stunning church, or just a place that is special to you for some reason, it’s worth sharing with another person.
One of the stops on our guided tour of Oxford University was the Divinity School – one of the most beautiful rooms I have ever been in, and one that you’ll instantly recognise if you’re a Harry Potter fan. The first thing I asked our guide when we walked in was if people can rent it out for their wedding. Of course, it’s a bit too late for us (and probably out of budget), but the room is so perfect that you can easily see why someone would want to get married there – or have one of those Bachelor-style one-on-one dates with a string quartet playing in the background!
Universities like Oxford and Cambridge are full of stunning gardens, incredible architecture, and so much character. Wander around and find the spots that scream romance to you.
Visit outside of term time to have the place to yourselves
The high-season equivalent for universities is term time – when students are running around frantically, buildings are closed for classes or events, and friends and families are visiting. We love traveling during the off-season in general (click here to find out why!), so it’s no surprise that we find Oxford & Cambridge to be the most romantic outside of term time!
When you visit outside of term time, you can truly make the place yours. It is possible that certain buildings will be closed, or that some tours will not run. However, you can see a lot from the outside, and the peace and quiet of an empty town adds a lot to the experience.
Cozy up in a pub
When you’re all wandered out, find a cozy spot in a pub and settle in for a few hours. Eat, drink, and let the romance continue! For the most romantic experience, find a pub off the beaten path. Pubs on the main street will often be owned by chains, and will lack the authenticity and charm of independent ones. In the winter, a wood-burning fireplace adds to the atmosphere; in the summer, find one with a secret garden. We love using the CAMRA Good Beer Guide to find pubs in the UK – anything with “locals” or “historic” in the description will likely yield at least some charm and will oftentimes be extra cozy and romantic.
Romantic Pubs in Oxford
Our favourite pub in Oxford is actually on one of the major streets – The White Horse. It’s a tiny, locals pub so if you find a seat, you’ll probably want to stay there all day! The food (and mulled wine) are great and you’ll get an interesting mix of locals and tourists joining you inside.
We also visited the historic Chequers on our romantic day out in Oxford – while the food was nothing to rave about, the atmosphere was so romantic. Even though it’s a large pub, it still feels a lot like I imagine it did back in the 1500s. Yes, it’s that old – and in a Grade II Listed Building, too!
Romantic Pubs in Cambridge
Wood burning fireplaces and river views – what more could you want in a pub? Fort St. George is a Greene King pub (they’ve really been upping their game recently!) on the River Cam, complete with fairy lights outside. It’s perfect for a date night in Cambridge! As a craft beer loving couple, we also like the look of The Cambridge Brew House, and will definitely be spending some time there on our next trip to Cambridge.
Where to Stay for a Romantic Weekend in Oxford or Cambridge
We love the idea of a romantic day out in Cambridge or Oxford, but we love the idea of a romantic weekend away even more! Upgrade your visit to Oxford or Cambridge by staying the night in a stunning hotel. Even better, plan an Oxford AND Cambridge weekend for yourself. Visit one, spend the night, and head to the other the next day. It’s only about a two hour drive between the two if you have a car; alternatively, National Express offers a bus between Oxford and Cambridge (approx. 4 hours).
Romantic Hotels in Oxford
Romantic Hotels in Cambridge
- Hotel du Vin
- Varsity Hotel & Spa
- Hotel Felix (this hotel also appears on our list of dog friendly hotels in the UK)
Getting to Oxford and Cambridge
Both Oxford and Cambridge are easily accessible by train or coach from London, making them perfect day or weekend trip destinations.
- To Oxford: Direct train from Paddington (1 hour, 7 minutes)
- To Cambridge: Direct train from Liverpool Street (1 hour, 4 minutes)
We love using Trainline to find availability & book train tickets for our day trips from London. Alternatively, Megabus offers a direct coach route to Oxford, and National Express goes direct to Cambridge.
Which will you visit on your next romantic weekend away: Oxford or Cambridge?
Pin this post for later!
This post was updated in October 2018.