Vanbrugh House Hotel in Oxford, England

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Updated: August 3, 2020

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Review of Vanbrugh House Hotel in Oxford, England.

Vanbrugh House Hotel – An eclectic boutique B&B opposite the Oxford Union.

Before anything else, this boutique B&B’s biggest draw is its location right in the city center – just a few minutes’ walk from most of the main attractions, including the Ashmolean Museum, Bodleian Libraries, and Christ Church. But there is much more to recommend Vanbrugh House, not least the elegant architecture (the building was designed by its namesake, the 18th-century architect Sir John Vanbrugh who also designed Blenheim Palace), historical flourishes such as original Delft tiles and stone fireplaces, and the twenty-two comfortable rooms, each with its own quirks and named after Oxford-related personalities. The best draws are the two suites featuring private gardens – a rare feature in a city with such limited space.

Vanbrugh House Hotel – Location

  • Address: 20-24 St Michael’s Street, Oxford.
  • Area: The hotel is right in the city center, an area within which everything is under a 20-minute walk. Opposite the Oxford Union – the University’s debating hall – and just off the Cornmarket, it manages to be in the thick of things while being situated on a quiet street.
  • How to Get There: The main bus station, Gloucester Green (frequent buses to London and Heathrow and Gatwick airports, as well as local services), is a 3-minute walk (0.2 mile) from the hotel, while the train station is a 10-minute walk (0.5 mile).
  • Handy to: Ashmolean Museum, Castle, Bodleian Library.

Vanbrugh House Hotel – The Basics

  • Ages: All ages are welcome, though most guests tend to be couples or solo travelers on a city break.
  • Private Pools/Jacuzzis: No private pools or jacuzzis.
  • Laundry: The hotel does not offer laundry services.
  • Parking: The hotel does not have parking and driving through the center of Oxford is limited due to space and pedestrian streets. The most economical parking is at Seacourt Park and Ride, from where the #400 bus drops you at the Westgate Mall, a 6-minute walk (0.3 mile) from the hotel (there is also a car park at Westgate).
  • Wi-Fi: Free Wi-Fi throughout the property.
  • Extras: Complimentary umbrellas for guest use, knowledgeable concierge.
  • When to Book: The hotel is busiest in summer and the beginning and end of university terms.
  • How to Book: Booking.com will have the best rates.
  • Phone: +44 1865 244 622
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Website: vanbrughhousehotel.co.uk

Vanbrugh House Hotel – Amenities

  • Pool: No pool.
  • Spa: No spa.
  • Fitness Center: No fitness center.
  • For Families: The hotel can provide cribs for babies. However, there are no rollaway beds or interconnecting rooms.
  • For Disabled Guests: Guests with disabilities must contact the hotel in advance as the building itself is not fully accessible. One of the Standard Doubles has a wet room, complete with rails and alarm.
  • Activities: The website has good recommendations for things to do in Oxford.

Vanbrugh House Hotel – Food and Drink

  • Restaurant/Bar: No restaurant or bar.
  • Breakfast: A good buffet continental breakfast is included in the price of a room. Served in the breakfast room 7:30-10 am (10:30 am on weekends and holidays).
  • Room Service: No room service.

Vanbrugh House Hotel – Rooms

  • Room Types: Standard Single ● Small Double ● Standard Double ● Superior Twin ● Superior Double/Twin ● Oxford Union Suite ● Nicholas Hawksmoor Suite ● Sir John Vanbrugh Suite ● Vicarage Suite
  • Smoking Rooms: Smoking is only permitted in the patios or private gardens.
  • Best Room: The Vicarage Suite has everything other rooms enjoy (walk-in rain shower, The White Company toiletries, safe, ironing facility, hairdryer, Dyson purifying fan/heater, tea-making facility with Teapigs tea, Nespresso coffee machine, slippers and robes, and media hub for connection to a phone, tablet, or laptop) as well as a four-poster bed, sofa, a larger TV (55″ Smart TV), private garden with seating, and gorgeous bathroom with two roll-top baths, a walk-in shower, and a TV.
  • Family Rooms: No family rooms per se.

Vanbrugh House Hotel – 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: The main bus station, Gloucester Green (frequent buses to London and Heathrow and Gatwick airports, as well as local services), is a 3-minute walk (0.2 mile) from the hotel. 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.

Vanbrugh House Hotel – 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 main office and shop in Broad Street, a 3-minute walk (0.2 mile) from the hotel.
  • River Cruises and PuntingOxford River Cruises and Salters Steamers, across from each other at Folly Bridge (0.6 mile, 12-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 (0.7 mile, 13-minute walk).
  • Cycle Tours by Bainton Bikes – This bike shop in Jericho offers some of the best cycle tours of the city; it’s a great way to get out of the city center and see more of the gorgeous green spaces and waterways. 15-minute walk (0.8 mile).

Best Nearby Restaurants

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

  • The Handle Bar – A good selection of freshly-made, healthy, and inventive meals served all day in a warehouse attic covered in old bicycles. $-$$. 1-minute walk (25m).
  • No. 1 Ship Street – Excellent bar-restaurant that describes itself as a “modern British brasserie”. Good value lunch menu. $-$$. 2-minute walk (150m).
  • Bbuona Pizza Bar – Excellent Roman pizzeria offering a choice of flours for your base and several toppings. As you’d expect from a good Italian restaurant, this place is open from 8 am daily and also does great coffee and spritz. $-$$. 3-minute walk (0.1 mile).
  • Glut – Opulent burgers and loaded fries with great options for meat-eaters, vegans, and veggies alike. $. 3-minute walk (0.2 mile).
  • The White Rabbit – Looks like a traditional pub from the outside, but is rebranded as a “pizza and beer” joint inside, offering a wide range of handmade pizzas (including excellent gluten-free options) and craft brews. $. 3-minute walk (0.2 mile).
  • Chiang Mai Kitchen – High-quality Thai food in an amazingly characterful building dating back to 1637. $-$$. 4-minute walk (0.2 mile).
  • 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. $-$$. 4-minute walk (0.2 mile).
  • The Ivy Oxford Brasserie – Brand new outpost of the famous London restaurant and long-time celebrity favorite. As well as modern takes on classic European dishes, there’s a full veggie/vegan menu and a good-value set menu. $$-$$$. 5-minute walk (0.3 mile).
  • Quod – Sophisticated modern European brasserie on High Street with a dramatic and beautiful bar and an excellent value set lunch. $-$$$. 7-minute walk (0.4 mile).
  • Edamamé – A tiny, casual, family-run Japanese restaurant that offers a different menu each day. Arrive early for the popular Sushi Thursdays as there are no reservations. Open Wednesday-Sunday. $-$$. 8-minute walk (0.4 mile).
  • The Folly – This elegant riverside restaurant, open for brunch, lunch, and dinner every day in high season (check website for winter opening hours), claims to be the spot where Lewis Carroll first created Alice in Wonderland. It offers river cruises, and boats are available to hire right outside, too. $-$$$. 12-minute walk (0.6 mile).

Best Nearby Cafes

  • 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 5-minute walk (0.3 mile).
  • Vaults & Garden – A popular spot in the pretty courtyard of the University Church, right by the Radcliffe Camera, that does hearty organic, seasonal, and veggie breakfasts, lunches, and cream teas. 6-minute walk (0.3 mile).
  • Jericho Coffee Traders – Hip flagship café of a local roastery, always full of serious coffee heads. 6-minute walk (0.3 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. 4-minute walk (0.2 mile).
  • Sandy’s Piano & Wine Bar – Classy, old-fashioned piano bar with modern stylings. Reservations recommended on weekends. 6-minute walk (0.3 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. 4-minute walk (0.2 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. 6-minute walk (0.3 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. 6-minute walk (0.3 mile).

Nearby Shopping & Cool Shops

  • 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. 2-minute walk (0.1 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. 2-minute walk (0.1 mile).
  • Fudge Kitchen – Watch fudge being made in great slabs and try British flavors like clotted cream or rum and raisin. 2-minute walk (0.1 mile).
  • Sanders of Oxford – Cavernous print and map shop featuring new and old stock in a 16th-century building. 6-minute walk (0.3 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. 6-minute walk (0.3 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. 6-minute walk (0.3 mile).
  • Alice’s Shop – Curious, tiny boutique dedicated to Oxford’s most famous literary character, Alice in Wonderland. 7-minute walk (0.4 mile).

Nearby Attractions

  • 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. 4-minute walk (0.2 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. 4-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. 4-minute walk (0.2 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. 5-minute walk (0.3 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. 6-minute walk (0.3 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. 6-minute walk (0.3 mile).
  • 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. 7-minute walk (0.4 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. 7-minute walk (0.4 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. 11-minute walk (0.5 mile).
  • 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. 13-minute walk (0.7 mile) to University Parks.
  • 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), 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. It’s a 4-minute walk (0.2 mile) to the corner of St Aldate’s and High Street, and a further 9-minute walk (0.5 mile) east to Magdalen.
  • 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 (0.3 mile, 5-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 mile, 20-minute walk).

Nearby Markets or Grocery Stores

Vanbrugh House Hotel – The Hotel

The hotel is located opposite the Oxford Union.

The hotel is opposite the Oxford Union, the University’s debating society. In this photo, it’s the red building on the right. Also, just about visible at the end of the road is the Cornmarket, a popular pedestrianized shopping street.

The building was designed for a stonemason's family.

The hotel’s building, built in the traditional Oxford honey-colored stone, was originally designed for a stonemason’s family.

The entrance is subtle and elegant.

The entrance is through an elegant yet understated doorway.

The reception is tastefully decorated.

The reception room gives a taste of the decor throughout: paneled walls, statement mirrors, bold fabrics, and original features like the built-in wooden alcove shelving with original Delft tiling below in this picture.

The breakfast room is very playful.

The breakfast room reveals the hotel’s playful edge; a world away from corporate hotels.

The little patio is popular among guests.

The little patio provides a tiny bit of outdoor space for all guests (better on sunny days).

The old corridors are cute and bright.

Corridors are cute, higgledy-piggledy (as you’d expect from the age of the house), and carpeted (good sound insulation).

All rooms have Nespresso machines.

Even the smallest rooms have desks and little luxuries like Nespresso machines. This is the hotel’s accessible room, a Standard Double.

The accessible room comes with a fully accessible bathroom.

The accessible wet room is fully equipped for those less able to stand.

The Superior Doubles are spacious.

The Superior Doubles benefit from more space and comfy seating.

Bathrooms are modern and colorful.

Brightly colored tiles, statement mirrors, and light-up magnifying mirrors add pizzazz to what would otherwise be a simple bathroom.

Superior Twins come with chaise longues and desks.

This Superior Twin has a chaise longue and armchairs, as well as comfy single beds, a desk, and all the other amenities most rooms enjoy.

The Oxford Union Suite has a separate living room.

The Oxford Union Suite overlooks the University’s famous debating society and benefits from a separate living room.

The Vicarage Suite is very beautiful.

The Vicarage Suite is situated in the oldest part of the hotel, a 17th-century church building. It’s beautifully decorated with a blend of traditional and modern bespoke furniture.

The suite feature 2 bathtubs.

The suite’s enormous bathroom has not one but two slipper tubs for soaking while watching TV.

The suite has its own private garden.

French doors lead out to the suite’s private garden, a haven in the summertime.

The Handle Bar has very interesting decor.

Turn right as you come out of the hotel and you’ll almost immediately hit one of the coolest restaurants in the city, The Handle Bar. Downstairs for coffee, upstairs for food.

Glut serves superb burgers.

Heading west towards the train station, you’ll past Glut which does incredible burgers. Almost opposite the restaurant is Gloucester Green Bus Station.

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 hotel is a short walk from the train station.

Near the Canal is the train station. If you arrive here, the hotel is a short walk away; there’s no point getting a bus.

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

As you walk southeast back towards the center, 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, and rooftop bars. Its parking lot is one of the closest to the hotel; it takes a few minutes to walk to the entrance on Bonn Square.

Alice’s Shop sells Alice-themed souvenirs.

Walking back up St Aldate’s towards the city center from the Folly Bridge, 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.

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 Museum of Oxford is located in the old town hall.

Between Christ Church and the start of the Cornmarket is the Museum of Oxford, a great municipal museum in the old Town Hall.

Sainsbury’s is a handy supermarket nearby.

Opposite the museum is this Sainsbury’s, one of the closest mini-supermarkets to the hotel (although with the Covered Market, Westgate, and all the shops on the Cornmarket on your doorstep, you’re spoiled for choice).

Souvlaki Bros serve authentic Greek food.

Speaking of the Covered Market, the closest entrance to the hotel is off the Cornmarket on Market Street, but there are also ways in on High Street. As well as cute boutiques, great gelato, and excellent coffee, one of the highlights is a stuffed flatbread from the Souvlaki Bros. The Varsity Bar, with its fantastic city views, also has its entrance in the Covered Market.

Chiang Mai serves authentic Thai food.

Just opposite one of the entrances to the Covered Market on the 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 on 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 the High Street and Christ Church Meadow is Merton College, one of the oldest colleges around. The streets around it are charming.

Sanders has a fascinating collection of maps.

Back on “The High”, as the High Street is known by locals, don’t miss Sanders, whose fascinating collection of maps from around the globe are almost as cool as the creaky building they’re in. There are often exhibitions of prints or maps, too.

Jericho Coffee Traders serves locally roasted coffee.

Stop for a coffee or get one to go from 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.

Museum of the History of Science and Sheldonian Theatre can be found on Broad Street.

Also at this end of Broad Street, right by the pub, are the Weston Library, Sheldonian Theatre (left), and the Museum of the History of Science (right).

Blackwell bookstore is one of Oxford's oldest businesses.

Blackwell is 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 contain 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, housing many international treasures, and there’s 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.

Bbuona serves great pizzas.

Back in the city center, don’t miss a pizza at Bbuona, on the corner of Gloucester Green, where there’s often market stalls.

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