The Head of the River Hotel in Oxford, England

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Updated: August 3, 2020

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Review of Head of the River Hotel in Oxford, England.

The Head of The River – Characterful boutique pub B&B in an ancient building on the River Thames.

Tucked down beside the picturesque Folly Bridge, The Head of The River offers twenty intimate rooms at the wonderful pub of the same name; though it far surpasses other similar pubs in terms of the quality of its furnishings and, especially, the warm personalized service the staff gives their guests. Each room is thoughtfully designed to evoke a historical Oxford-related persona, such as a literary theme for Lewis Carrol and a nautical nod for Francis Drake. The location, too, is wonderful: right on the River Thames and next to Christ Church Meadow. On the edge of the city center, the hotel is a short walk up Saint Aldate’s to all the famous sights, as well as some of the best food and drink the city has to offer.

The Head of The River – Location

  • Address: Head of The River, Folly Bridge, St Aldate’s, Oxford.
  • Area: The hotel is on the edge of the city center, an area within which nothing takes longer than 20 minutes to reach on foot. It is just south of Christ Church and adjacent to the college’s glorious meadow. Punts to explore the waterways can be hired next to the hotel.
  • How to Get There: While the hotel is easily accessible by car, there is no parking, so it’s best to park at Redbridge Park and Ride from where the #300 bus drops you almost at the hotel’s door. Buses to and from the train station (1 mile, 18-minute walk/11-minute bus ride) can be caught from the bus stop on Speedwell Street, a 3-minute walk (0.2 mile) from the hotel, as can the X90 “Oxford Tube” to London.
  • Handy to: Christ Church, Oxford Castle.

The Head of The River – The Basics

  • Ages: All ages are welcome. There is a family room with bunk beds for kids, some of the rooms have sofa beds, cribs are available for babies, and there is a kids’ menu. Kids will delight in the riverboat setting and boat hire, as well as Christ Church Meadow, which has an entrance via a cute footbridge behind the hotel.
  • View: Some of the rooms have views of the meadow or the River Thames and Folly Bridge.
  • Private Pools/Jacuzzis: No private pools or jacuzzis.
  • Laundry: The hotel does not offer laundry services.
  • Parking: Driving through the center of Oxford is limited due to space and pedestrian streets. The hotel does not have parking. The most economical parking is at Redbridge Park and Ride, from where the #300 bus drops you almost at the hotel’s door. Alternatively, there is a car park at the Westgate shopping center, an 8-minute walk (0.4 mile) from the hotel.
  • Wi-Fi: Free Wi-Fi in all the rooms.
  • Extras: Concierge-like personalized service, self-guided city tours written by staff, events at the pub, complimentary bottled water and fresh milk for tea and coffee in the rooms, Dyson fans.
  • When to Book: The hotel is busiest in summer and quietest in winter, but as the rooms are all so different from each other, it’s best to book as far in advance as possible to have the greatest selection.
  • How to Book: Booking.com will have the best rates.
  • Phone: +44 1865 721 600
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Website: headoftheriveroxford.co.uk

The Head of The River – Amenities

  • Pool: No pool.
  • Spa: No spa.
  • Fitness Center: No fitness center.
  • For Disabled Guests: As the hotel’s listed buildings date back to the 1820s, it is limited to what it can offer to guests with restricted mobility. However, there are 2 ground floor rooms with just one step up, one of which has a wet room and more space than the other rooms in its category. Staff will happily discuss needs and give more information.
  • Activities: Pub trivia nights, self-guided city tours written by hotel staff, boats to hire from the company next door.

The Head of The River – Food and Drink

  • Restaurant/Bar: The cozy pub serves as the hotel’s restaurant and bar, offering freshly made quality food; the chef specializes in traditional English savory pies, but there’s plenty of choice and menus change seasonally. The pub is open to the public daily from 11 am until at least 10 pm (11:30 pm at weekends), with food served from noon-9 pm. The hotel and pub are owned by Fullers, a London brewery, so you can expect lots of lagers and ales on tap, as well as a surprisingly good selection of liquors. In good weather, the pub’s riverside tables cannot be beaten for a picturesque place for a pint. $$.
  • Breakfast: A hearty breakfast is included in the price of the room, with buffet and a la carte options. Served in the bar 7:30-10 am (8-10 am on weekends).
  • Room Service: The staff is happy to bring food and drink from the pub to rooms for guests during pub opening hours.

The Head of The River – Rooms

  • Room Types: Cosy ● Comfort ● Indulgence
  • Smoking Rooms: Except for a small smoking area in the pub’s garden, the hotel and pub are 100% smoke-free.
  • Best Room: In addition to the amenities found in every room (Nespresso machine and kettle with tea-making supplies, TV, A/C or Dyson fan, hairdryer, desk), the Indulgence rooms are larger than the others and have river views. There are also sofa beds, robes and slippers, and, depending on the layout, a bathtub as well.

The Head of The River – Local Transport

  • Walking: Everything in the city center, as well as the city’s most famous museums, is within a 20-minute walk of the hotel.
  • Tram/Bus: There are 2 bus stops just steps from the hotel – Police Station (125m, 1-minute walk) and Speedwell Street (0.2 mile, 3-minute walk) – where you can catch buses serving most areas in the city, including the main bus station, Gloucester Green, the train station, the park-and-rides, and even the X90 bus to London. However, due to city-center congestion, it’s worth knowing that buses can often take longer than walking, especially for short distances.
  • Taxis, Uber, Lyft: Uber is banned in Oxford. London-style black cabs can be hailed from the street, or can be found at taxi ranks dotted around town. There are also many local cab companies that will allow you to pre-book. 001 Taxis (+44 1865 240 000) is one of the most popular, has its own app, and operates 24/7.

The Head of The River – What’s Nearby?

Recommended Nearby Tours

  • Uncomfortable Oxford – Aiming to combat the glossy version of Oxford that many tour companies espouse, these guys want to get behind the inequality, colonialism, and other unpleasant aspects of the city’s history. Essential stuff if you want to really understand modern Britain. Various starting points.
  • Oxford Official Walking Tours – The Oxfordshire tourist board puts on excellent walking tours covering not only the city and university, but also Harry Potter, Inspector Morse, and Philip Pullman tours. The meeting point is at the Visitor Information Centre in Broad Street, a 12-minute walk (0.6 mile) from the hotel.
  • River Cruises and PuntingOxford River Cruises and Salters Steamers, across from each other at Folly Bridge (100m, 1-minute walk), offer various delightful experiences from punts and city tours to sundowner cruises in the summer months. Another popular place to hire punts, pedalos, and more is at Magdalen Bridge Boathouse (1 mile, 17-minute walk).

Best Nearby Restaurants

    Many of Oxford’s pubs serve excellent food, too.

  • The Folly – This elegant riverside restaurant, open for brunch, lunch, and dinner every day in high season (check website for winter opening hours), claims to be the spot where Lewis Carroll first created Alice in Wonderland. It offers river cruises, and boats are available to hire right outside, too. $-$$$. 1-minute walk (100m).
  • Shezan – On the first floor of a building which dates back to 1679. This genuine Indian Balti restaurant is lauded by many as the best of its kind in town. $-$$. 8-minute walk (0.4 mile).
  • The Ivy Oxford Brasserie – Brand new outpost of the famous London restaurant and long-time celebrity favorite. As well as modern takes on classic European dishes, there’s a full veggie/vegan menu and a good-value set menu. $$-$$$. 9-minute walk (0.5 mile).
  • No. 1 Ship Street – Excellent bar-restaurant that describes itself as a “modern British brasserie”. Good value lunch menu. $-$$. 11-minute walk (0.5 mile).
  • Quod – Sophisticated modern European brasserie right on High Street with a dramatic and beautiful bar and an excellent value set lunch. $-$$$. 11-minute walk (0.6 mile).
  • The Handle Bar – A good selection of freshly-made, healthy, and inventive meals served all day in a warehouse attic covered in old bicycles. $-$$. 12-minute walk (0.6 mile).

Best Nearby Cafes

  • Cafe Loco – Good value standard cafe, opposite Christ Church, offering breakfasts, bagels, paninis, jacket potatoes, and daily special hot meals. 3-minute walk (0.2 mile).
  • G&D’s – An Oxford institution that is George & Danver in the city center, George & Delila on Cowley Road, and George & Davis in Jericho. Freshly made ice cream, waffles, bagels, and great hot chocolate. George & Danver’s is a 6-minute walk (0.3 mile).
  • Jericho Coffee Traders – Hip flagship café of a local roastery, always full of serious coffee heads. 10-minute walk (0.5 mile).

Best Nearby Bars

  • The Varsity Club – This swanky bar’s spectacular roof terrace makes it worth the climb up 4 flights of stairs. Luckily, there are good cocktails and small bites, as well as a full menu available in the summer months. 8-minute walk (0.4 mile).
  • The Chequers – 16th-century traditional pub down an alleyway off the High Street. Owned by Nicholson’s brewery, it serves standard pub fare, specializing in seafood. 8-minute walk (0.4 mile).
  • The Bear – The oldest pub in Oxford, dating back to 1242, is renowned for its cramped rooms whose walls are plastered in an eye-boggling collection of neckties from Oxford clubs. 8-minute walk (0.4 mile).
  • Sandy’s Piano & Wine Bar – Classy, old-fashioned piano bar with modern stylings. Reservations recommended on weekends. 9-minute walk (0.5 mile).
  • The King’s Arms – Pub by the Bodleian with great food selection: traditional British pies, classics like fish and chips, and modern favorites like burgers. 14-minute walk (0.7 mile).

Nearby Shopping & Cool Shops

  • Alice’s Shop – Curious, tiny boutique dedicated to Oxford’s most famous literary character, Alice in Wonderland. 3-minute walk (0.2 mile).
  • Cornmarket Street – Central pedestrianized shopping street that is of particular interest for its small arcades and markets running off it, like the Golden Cross arcade, Covered Market, Clarendon Shopping Centre, and Westgate mall. Make sure to check out Oxford’s oldest building, the Saxon-age tower of St Michael at the North Gate, built between 1000–1050; you can ascend it for good city views. 8-minute walk (0.4 mile).
  • Westgate – This new mall has injected life into this often-overlooked section of the City Center, drawing big crowds to its sleek passageways filled with cult and international brands, as well as to its rooftop bars. 8-minute walk (0.4 mile).
  • University of Oxford Shop – Right on High Street, in between some of the most famous colleges, feel like an alumnus and stock up on branded university gear. 10-minute walk (0.5 mile).
  • Sanders of Oxford – Cavernous print and map shop featuring new and old stock in a 16th-century building. 11-minute walk (0.5 mile).
  • Boswells of Oxford – A family-run Oxford department store with a long history – it is rumored that Captain Cook used Francis Boswell’s handmade suitcases in the 18th century. 11-minute walk (0.6 mile).
  • Fudge Kitchen – Watch fudge being made in great slabs and try British flavors like clotted cream or rum and raisin. 12-minute walk (0.6 mile).

Nearby Attractions

  • Bate Collection of Musical Instruments – A little-known gem stuffed with over 1,000 rare and beautiful instruments by some of the world’s best-known makers. 3-minute walk (0.1 mile).
  • Christ Church College – Of all the colleges, the crown jewel for tourists is Christ Church. It is the most open to the public and features an art gallery, a cathedral, a meadow, and the bit most people are here for (even if they don’t admit it), the Great Hall, otherwise known as Hogwarts’ dining room. If you’re into Renaissance painting, the Picture Gallery boasts works by Tintoretto and Michelangelo, among others. 5-minute walk (0.2 mile).
  • Museum of Oxford – Run by the local government, this is a great showcase of people’s history of the city and proves there’s much more to the town than just the University. 7-minute walk (0.3 mile).
  • High Street – The hotel is on the graceful curving High Street, packed with University colleges, including Brasenose, St Edmund Hall, All-Souls, Queen’s, and the confusingly named University College. The top pick for most will be the beautiful 15th-century Magdalen College (pronounced Maud-lin – 0.8 mile, 17-minute walk), whose gorgeous grounds, which include a deer park, should be taken advantage of in good weather. Opposite the college is the University’s lush Botanic Garden & Arboretum; it’s the oldest in the UK and features over 6,000 different plants across 130 acres. Don’t miss the cluster of fairytale cobbled streets just south of the High Street, with names like Magpie Lane and Logic Lane. They lead to Merton College, one of the original three colleges that made up the University (along with Balliol and University colleges) in the 13th century. Features to look out for include its quaint Mob Quad, the chapel, and the gargoyles adorning some of the buildings (0.4 mile, 8-minute walk).
  • University Parks & the River Cherwell – University Parks, northeast of the City Center, is one of the city’s most pleasant green spaces. The University turned it into a landscaped park in the 19th century with the aim of creating a space for “town” as well as “gown” – locals and students alike. There are lots of different areas to explore, but one of the loveliest is the riverside walkway alongside the River Cherwell (pronounced “Charwell”), one of the largest tributaries to the River Thames. The river goes south through Magdalen College’s gorgeous grounds and Christ Church meadow. 10-minute walk (0.5 mile) across the meadow to the river.
  • University Church of St Mary the Virgin – The University’s main church, just opposite the hotel and next to the Radcliffe Camera, offers the highest view over Oxford from its spire. It has a great cafe, too. 11-minute walk (0.5 mile).
  • Oxford Castle Quarter – The main attraction of the so-called Castle Quarter is, unsurprisingly, the castle, as well as the next-door prison, which is now a plush hotel. The Oxford Castle & Prison museum/experience spans several significant historic sites: the Saxon-era St. George’s Tower, a 900-year-old crypt, an 18th-century prison, an 11th-century Motte-and-Bailey castle, and lots of folklore and gruesome local history along the way. 11-minute walk (0.5 mile).
  • History of Science Museum – Next door to the Sheldonian is this remarkable museum which features many beautiful antiquities as well as more modern curios like a blackboard used by Einstein when he gave a lecture at the University, and the original penicillin culture specimen. 13-minute walk (0.6 mile).
  • Ashmolean Museum – If you only visit one museum in Oxford, it should be the Ashmolean, just north of the City Center. It carries the weight of being Britain’s first public museum with ease, thanks to its awesome collection of world treasures from Ancient Egypt, China, Japan, and the Middle East, as well as awe-inspiring art from Goya, Manet, Michelangelo, Raphael, Turner, and many more. Don’t miss its classy rooftop restaurant. 13-minute walk (0.6 mile).
  • Bodleian Libraries – The Bodleian Libraries, comprised of the Old Bodleian Library and the modern Weston Library, are the second largest in Britain after the British Library. The Old Bodleian Library is made up of many smaller parts: most famously, the striking circular Radcliffe Camera, but also the intriguingly named Divinity School and the 15th-century Duke Humfrey’s Library, both of which featured in the Harry Potter films. You have to take a tour to see inside. Meanwhile, at the Weston Library on Broad Street, there’s an exhibition dedicated to the Bodleian’s most famous books and some of the scholars who have studied at the library. 14-minute walk (0.7 mile).
  • Sheldonian Theatre – The University’s graduation ceremonies are held in this striking building wedged between the Old Bodleian Library and the Weston on Broad Street. The main attractions of touring the 17th-century building include Christopher Wren’s ingenious engineering, the enormous ceiling mural, and the panoramic city views from the Cupola. 15-minute walk (0.7 mile).
  • Pitt Rivers Museum & Museum of Natural History – Two of the city’s best museums, great for kids and adults alike, are wrapped up in one cool building in the University’s Science Area. The Pitt Rivers Museum is undoubtedly one of the best museums, not only in the UK but also in the world. Established by a Victorian collector, it is a fascinating romp through human psychology via displays that group together objects from different time periods and cultures by use, such as drug paraphernalia, farming tools, warrior clothes, or body modification equipment. Next door, the Museum of Natural History boasts a ‘skeleton parade’ of mammals throughout the ages, as well as the world’s best surviving dodo remains, dinosaur bones found in Oxfordshire, fossils, stuffed animals, gemstones, and more. There’s also a café overlooking the awesome atrium. 19-minute walk (1 mile).
  • Port Meadow – Wander among free-range horses, cows, and sheep on this 440-acre plain along the River Thames. A big draw is that you can start or end a walk at The Trout or The Perch: historic inns with heavenly riverside terraces. To get there, you can either walk to the start of the Oxford Canal on Hythe Bridge Street (0.7 mile, 15-minute walk) and walk north along the towpath, or wend your way northwest from the Ashmolean through Jericho until you hit it on Walton Well Road (1.5 miles, 29-minute walk).

Nearby Markets or Grocery Stores

The Head of the River – The Hotel

The hotel has a beautiful riverside setting.

The hotel as seen from Folly Bridge. It is in a glorious riverside setting between the picturesque bridge and Christ Church Meadow, accessible by a bridge at the far side of the hotel.

The hotel entrance is on St Aldates.

The entrance from St Aldates; the hotel is a popular city pub, too, with excellent food and drink options.

The building is over 200 years old.

The handsome building dates back to the 1820s.

The outdoor beer garden is excellent.

The beer garden couldn’t be a nicer place to enjoy a beer on a sunny day.

The reception is located inside the pub.

The reception is in the pub. The staff is extremely friendly and welcoming.

The pub is huge with different areas.

The pub has several different areas and levels; you can just about see the huge fireplace which makes the space cozy in winter.

The pub has a warm decor and vibe.

Looking back towards the reception and bar, the pub has a warm mixture of seating and decor, blending modern with traditional.

Rooms are themed after famous people.

Every room is different and lightly themed after famous figures who were associated with the city. Walter Raleigh’s has a nautical theme.

Comfy rooms are bigger.

The ‘Comfy’ rooms have a little more space than the Cozy rooms.

This room faces the parking and beer garden.

Although this room faces the road and beer garden, the amount of light the enormous (double glazed) windows let in more than makes up for it.

Some bathrooms have bathtubs.

Some rooms have just showers, others have showers over tubs.

The family room has bunk beds.

The family room has cute bunk beds.

Indulgence rooms are big and colorful.

The Indulgence rooms are significantly bigger than the other rooms.

They have sofa beds and desks.

They even have sofa beds and desks.

Indulgence rooms have river views.

All 3 Indulgence rooms have river views.

Folly restaurant has a great outdoor deck.

On the other side of Folly Bridge from the hotel is the Folly restaurant. It has a great outdoor deck for the summer and operates river cruises, too.

The Police Station bus stop nearby has several connections.

A short walk up St Aldate’s towards the city center is the nearest transport to the hotel. As you can see from this bus stop, there are many lines that serve the hotel, including the #300 to the Park and Ride. The stop is called the Police Station.

The Tesco supermarket nearby is very handy.

This small Tesco supermarket is the closest place to grab supplies on the go. It’s just north of the bus stop.

Alice’s Shop sells Alice-themed souvenirs.

Just past Tesco, you’ll come to Alice’s Shop, a must for any fans of Lewis Carrol’s classic that he concocted while he was a lecturer at Christ Church, opposite the shop.

Cafe Loco has a good food and drinks menu

Also a quick walk from the hotel is Cafe Loco, housed in a 500-year-old building. It has a great selection to eat and drink during the day and is open early (from 7:30 am on weekdays).

Christ Church College's Great Hall features in the Harry Potter movies.

Right opposite is Christ Church college itself. There’s loads to explore, including an art gallery and the meadow, so plan your visit carefully.

The 12th-century Carfax Tower is a great attraction.

Almost next to Christ Church is the Museum of Oxford and just beyond that is the junction lorded over by the 12th-century Carfax Tower. Going right will take you down the High Street, while going straight leads to the pedestrianized Cornmarket with stores selling just about anything you’d need.

Souvlaki Bros serve authentic Greek food.

There are several ways into the Covered Market, including off Cornmarket and High Street, but do make sure to go. As well as cute boutiques, great gelato, and excellent coffee, one of the highlights is a gyro from the Souvlaki Bros.

Chiang Mai serves authentic Thai food.

Just opposite one of the entrances to the Covered Market on High Street is an alleyway leading to Chiang Mai, an authentic Thai restaurant housed in a 17th-century building with an enormous stone fireplace and beams.

The Bear is Oxford's oldest pub.

Also in one of the alleys off the High Street, you’ll find the city’s oldest pub, The Bear, which dates back to the 13th-century and has a curious collection of neckties covering just about every inch of wall inside.

Merton College is one of Oxford's oldest colleges.

Wedged between High Street and Christ Church Meadow is Merton College, one of the oldest colleges around. The streets around it are charming and the route from the hotel is scenic – via the Meadow, Merton Field, and the ominous-sounding Deadman’s Walk.

Jericho Coffee Traders serves locally roasted coffee.

Back on “The High”, as High Street is known by locals, stop for a coffee or get one to go at Jericho Coffee Traders which prides itself on its locally roasted beans. It’s right opposite the University Church.

Radcliffe Camera of the Bodleian Libraries is a must-visit.

Behind the University Church is the Radcliffe Camera, one of the city’s most iconic buildings. Part of the University’s Bodleian Libraries, it is still in use today. Some of the Libraries’ buildings can be toured; enter the courtyard behind the Camera to find out more.

King’s Arms is a charming traditional pub.

Just north of the Old Bodleian, at the top of Broad Street, is the King’s Arms, a charming traditional pub full of tourists and students alike.

Blackwell bookstore is one of Oxford's oldest businesses.

Also at this end of Broad Street are the Weston Library, the Museum of the History of Science, and Blackwell, one of the coolest bookstores in the world. It’s like a Tardis; the downstairs Norrington Room is one of the largest rooms in any bookstore in the world.

The Visitor Information Centre has a wealth of local info.

Walk west along “The Broad” to find the municipal Visitor Information Centre. Not only does it have a wealth of information, but you can also book loads of stuff here, from bus tickets to tours. It’s also where the Official Walking Tours begin.

The Ashmolean has a great collection of international exhibits.

If you turn right at St. Mary Magdalen church, you’ll soon notice signs for the Ashmolean Museum. It’s one of the UK’s most important museums, showcasing many international treasures, and there are an awesome gift store and top-floor restaurant as well.

The Pitt Rivers Museum is an unmissable attraction.

Under no circumstances should you miss the Pitt Rivers Museum. It’s one of the coolest in the whole world: you’re guaranteed to learn things you didn’t know about different cultures and tribes and how humans use objects and adorn themselves around the globe.

The Handle Bar has very interesting decor.

Back in the City Center, don’t miss a meal or a coffee at least at The Handle Bar, even if you’re not a keen cyclist. The upstairs barn-like room is fun with all the bikes hanging from the ceiling.

The Trout and The Perch are excellent pubs north of Port Meadow.

The west of the city center has a few important landmarks, including the start of the Oxford Canal which leads north to the stunning Port Meadow and its fantastic riverside pubs like the Trout and the Perch.

The train station is close enough to walk.

Near the Canal is the train station. If you arrive here, you can either walk or take a bus to the hotel.

The Castle Quarter and its mound are a must-visit.

If you walk from the train station, be sure to go through what’s now known as the Castle Quarter with its distinctive mound. You can go up for good views for a small fee, or it’s included with a tour of the Castle and Prison. The whole area is loaded with fascinating history.

The Westgate mall has several exciting facilities.

The relatively new Westgate mall has opened up a whole new entertainment district in Oxford, including ultramodern shopping, dining facilities, as well as rooftop bars. Its parking lot is one of the closest to the hotel.

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