The Best Cafés In Beautiful Buildings In Oxford, England

Claudia Lloyd

The café culture in Oxford is bursting with history, a history which is set in stone, quite literally in most cases. The beautiful array of buildings offers a teatime experience unlike any other. These are the meeting places of Oxford University students, book clubs, first dates, and the creative workhouses of writers, poets, and artists. There are just so many wonderful hideaways to be found, but here are some of the classics.

The Vaults Café Interior

1. The Vaults And Garden Café

The Vaults And Garden Café

For anyone who knows, and loves, all that is Oxford, there is nothing better than spending an afternoon with friends testing out the Vaults‘ daily cake selection and watching people pass by the cobbled streets that surround the Bodleian Library. The definition of a ‘hidden gem,’ the café sits buried below St. Mary’s Church, a space originally intended as a congregation house and which dates back to 1320. One can absorb this long-standing and ever-beautiful building from underneath the vaulted ceiling (from which the café’s name derives) or in its delightful garden. The afternoon tea is right on point and even offers gluten-free and vegan options.
University Church, 1 Radcliffe Sq, Oxford, UK +44 1865 279112

Lemon Sponge Cake | Courtesy of Vaults & Garden EventsLemon Sponge Cake | Courtesy of Vaults & Garden Events

2. Freud Café

Bar, Coffee, Cocktails

The Old Parsonage
Courtesy of The Old Parsonage Hotel
This one-of-a-kind café-cum-bar sits in the trendy and laid-back area of Jericho, home to a bustling café culture as well as plenty of fun bars and pubs. Freud is not to be missed. In fact it is unavoidable, as it stands tall and detached from any surrounding architecture, contrasting with the humble post office opposite. Originally designed as a church by H. J. Underwood in 1836, it was saved from demolition in 1988 and re-opened as a coffee and cocktail bar. The gloriously worn ionic columns and undecorated pediment are offset by a bright blue front door and matching dusty blue patio furniture. The interior is equally unique. Dimly lit by exposed light bulbs that hang from the church ceiling, this ethereal space has a wonderful glow, and rays of colours scatter the floor from the stained-glass windows above. Whether sitting outside in the afternoon sunshine or on a church pew within, Freud is the perfect setting for a time-warped cup of tea.

3. The Old Parsonage Hotel

The Old Parsonage Hotel

If you’re looking for tradition then The Old Parsonage is the place to go. Its unbeatably scrumptious and quintessentially British cream tea comes complete with three-tiered cake-stands and silver teapots, as well as a mouth-watering menu of various beautifully cut sandwiches and fluffy scones with cream and jam. The building itself dates to the 17th century and is gloriously Romantic in appearance, with wisteria creeping up its handsome façade and simple, wooden garden furniture out front. This picture-perfect milieu is hidden behind a low stone wall, making it feel secretive when in reality you are plonked right in the centre of town. You may find you walk a little bit taller, with your head in the clouds as you leave this dreamy venue.
1 Banbury Road, Oxford, UK +44 1865 310210

Afternoon Tea| Courtesy of The Old Parsonage HotelAfternoon Tea| Courtesy of The Old Parsonage Hotel
Turl Street Kitchen Interior | Courtesy of Turl Street KitchenTurl Street Kitchen Interior | Courtesy of Turl Street Kitchen

4. Turl Street Kitchen

Turl Street Kitchen

Although relatively new to Oxford, TSK has fast become a favourite. The space itself holds memories, for all who have lived in Oxford long enough, as a string of much-loved restaurants. However the story of this elegant Georgian building started in 1785 and was rediscovered by the QI Club who once occupied it. TSK have kept its history alive and share the story behind the house on their website. There have even been tales of a ghost who loiters in the rooms below, an added flavour to an already captivating café. The buzzing atmosphere and hearty menu is a winner, with all the produce carefully sourced. A steaming hot coffee and sweet pastry are the perfect escape from the busy world outside. As a bonus, all profit gained goes towards the charity based upstairs called the Oxford Hub which encourages students to get involved with social and environmental issues. Any student’s idea of heaven.
16-17 Turl Street, Oxford, OX1 3DH. Tel: 01865 26417

The Ashmolean Dining Room Terrace | Courtesy of The Ashmolean Dining RoomThe Ashmolean Dining Room Terrace | Courtesy of The Ashmolean Dining Room

5. The Ashmolean Dining Room


The Ashmolean Museum is known across the country for its fantastic collection of art and artefacts, but few know of its equally fantastic rooftop restaurant, famed for its afternoon tea. There are lots of different teas to choose from, or prosecco if you choose the ‘Celebration Tea’, perfect for accompanying their selection of cakes, temptingly placed on display in the centre of restaurant. The Ashmolean building itself is magnificent, and was refurbished in 2009, modernising the interior whilst preserving all that is architecturally brilliant in its classical values and appearance. There is, of course, a café downstairs but the real joy sits at the top of the building. This is the perfect spot for a well-deserved break from gallery hopping or to simply enjoy its unrivalled view of the roofs of Oxford, from behind the floor-to-ceiling glass windows or, English weather permitting, from outside on the terrace.
landscape with balloons floating in the air


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