The Top Bars and Pubs in Historic Oxford, England

The Trout Inn is a prime Oxford drinking spot on the banks of the River Thames
The Trout Inn is a prime Oxford drinking spot on the banks of the River Thames | © Nature Photographers Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
Anahit Behrooz

Nestled among the “dreaming spires” of a world-famous university, the best pubs in Oxford come in extraordinary old-world settings. Many represent the epitome of traditional English pub culture. This list of Oxford pubs and bars includes quirky free-houses that date back centuries, along with the city’s best contemporary drinking spots.

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Angels Cocktail Bar

Simply stepping into Angels Cocktail Bar is a heady experience. The fully stocked bar wraps around one half of the room, against a wall decorated with intricate vintage wallpaper. A steep staircase leads downstairs to a second bar and drinking area, just as atmospheric and intimate as the first, with dim lighting and tables close together. The bar serves a range of drinks and cocktails to set the tone for your evening, from an elegant Vesper martini or sidecar to a decadent Black Star Liner, made up of espresso, Mozart dark chocolate liqueur and Patrón XO Cafe tequila. The latter comes courtesy of the Angels Lab section of the menu, filled with strange and wonderful concoctions imagined by the bartenders.

The Bear Inn

The Bear Inn has the proud distinction of being Oxford’s oldest surviving pub, whose history can be traced back as early as 1242. The site has undergone many physical reincarnations, and the pub, as it currently stands, was rebuilt in the early 17th century as the residence of the coaching inn’s ostler. As well as being recognised for its impressive historical record, the Bear Inn is also known for its somewhat unexpected yet impressive collection of old ties, representing sports teams, colleges and university clubs, as well as the large number of global visitors who have dropped by, eager to contribute to the collection. The tie snippets are now framed and line the walls and ceilings, beneath which visitors can linger over a pint of real ale on tap or tuck into a delicious Sunday roast.

The Duke of Cambridge

Classy, elegant and old-fashioned, the Duke of Cambridge epitomises the classic cocktail bar and is the perfect destination for post-dinner drinks, or for simply unwinding on a Friday evening in a beautiful setting. Inside, guests are greeted by dramatic, glittering chandeliers, polished wooden floors and curved sofas set into the wall, perfect for relaxing and socialising. The drinks menu is extensive, ranging from classic favourites such as the Cosmopolitan and Sex on the Beach to quirky twists on the Martini, including the Crème Brûlée, vanilla vodka and butterscotch schnapps shaken with cream. The Duke of Cambridge offers a generous happy hour seven days a week.

The Old Bookbinders

Located in Oxford’s trendy Jericho area, the Old Bookbinders is an excellent example of the traditional Oxonion pub: cosy, quirky and welcoming. The atmosphere is eccentric and full of character, with an old toy train set suspended from the ceiling and with the walls and ceiling covered with music posters and memorabilia. The pub continues this theme in its events, holding regular open mic nights for locals, students and visitors to come and perform. Although the Old Bookbinders eschews the term “gastropub,” preferring to keep its image and menu down-to-earth and simple, its French-influenced pub fare is undeniably delicious. Steaks, seafood and an outstanding variety of crêpes fill the menu and can be accompanied by one of their many wines, an ale or a crisp cider.

The Rusty Bicycle

The Rusty Bicycle has established itself as a quirky neighbourhood staple and is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations in Oxford for a pint and a meal. The interior is intimate and cosy, with charming vintage posters and postcards of bicycles hung up on the walls and chalkboards with the day’s menu or amusing quotes fixed behind the bar. The pub fare, meanwhile, speaks for itself: juicy burgers, hand-cut chips and sourdough pizzas abound, and the pub offers midweek specials and deals on food.

The Trout Inn

The Trout Inn is a well-known and well-loved historic pub located in Oxford’s Port Meadow, a large area of common land filled with flora and fauna just a few minutes from the centre of the city by foot. Nestled on the banks of the River Thames, which runs through the meadow, the pub still retains many of its traditional features, including a listed wooden footbridge. Outside, tables and chairs in the garden area offer excellent views of the river, the surrounding countryside and the pub’s beautiful stone building, while the interior boasts comfy sofas, roaring log fires and period features in a quaint dining area.

The Turf Tavern

Located down a narrow winding alleyway, the Turf Tavern is initially tricky to find but well worth the effort. The pub has a long list of famous patrons, from fictional ones, such as Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse and Brideshead Revisited’s Charles Ryder, to real ones, including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Bill Clinton, all of whom have enjoyed the Tavern’s maze of interconnected rooms, wide range of guest ales and large beer gardens. The pub has a year-round, lively atmosphere, with locals, tourists and students alike crowding around tables to socialise and sample the traditional English pub fare. The Turf Tavern is also a popular post-exam celebration spot, so come June, keep an eye out for ecstatic students covered in confetti and cradling their first pint in weeks.

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