Days out at Oxford Botanic Gardens

Oxford Botanic Gardens: visit to the Secret Garden of Oxford

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When people say Oxford, what do you think of?  Cyclists, buses, dreaming spires, the university?  While there are plenty of parks in Oxford, not many people have been to (or even know about) the Botanic Gardens.  I lived in Oxford for 3 years, and have lived in the county for most of my life, yet still knew little about them until we visited last weekend.

visit to Oxford botanic gardens

Going to Oxford is always exciting for N as it’s the only time we go on the bus.  N loves strolling ahead and looking around.

Magdalen bridge
river cherwell

After stopping to look at the punts on the river,

punts on the river cherwell

and various other seemingly interesting things to a toddler,  we reached the Botanic Gardens after a quick short walk.  The courtyard doesn’t really indicate what you might find as you walk through the archway into the gardens.  It really is like a secret hideaway place.

water fountains and pond

The Botanic Gardens are one of the collections and museums of Oxford University, and are one of the most diverse but compact gardens in the world covering only 2 hectares; they house 5000 different plants. So you can easily spend a short time walking round (depending on how into gardening and specific plant you’re into).  I love the stillness and serenity of it, and even if like me, you’re not into plants particularly, it’s lovely to be able to sit and take some time out from the busy streets outside.

medicinal chemical flowers

The main Walled Gardens host the scientific collections, and are set out in collections like geographic, medicinal etc.  We spotted some beautiful flowers in the borders, although not all the plots had that much growth at this time of year.

border flower

We spotted some interesting artwork?!

fir cone art

We didn’t look at the glasshouses, but they’re open to the public and house the exotic plants, while in the Lower Gardens there are fruit and vegetable plots.  The produce grown is donated to charities which is a nice touch.  Not much was happening there, so N wasn’t that fussed.  He was more interested in the various water fountains and ponds.

goldfish pond

The one in the rock garden was complete with goldfish chasing a solitary mallard.

We didn’t take a discovery backpack with us, but you can borrow these from the ticket office/shop.  The cater for different age ranges, 3-6 and 7+.  N prefers to do his own thing, but we did use a laminated number activity sheet more suitable for younger children (e.g. find 9 benches, 5 arches, 3 apple trees etc).  There weren’t any events running while we were there, but they do run events ranging from lectures and tours, to family fun events and exhibitions so it’s worth checking the website or phoning before you go to see if there’s anything of interest.  For every day visits, there are also free audio tours, so for the day entry price of £4.50) it’s good value if you stay a while.  If you time it well, you can go on the same ticket to Harcourt Arboretum not far from Oxford.

ornamental stonework

N was quite happy roaming round, although his interest was limited after a while.  He was very taken with watching the staff unchaining the punts – the Botanic Gardens are bordered by the river Cherwell, and the Christchurch Meadows behind. If you go with young children, you definitely need to keep an eye on them if heading to the river side as there’s no railings.

Although it was a beautiful and sunny, because we went early in the day, we didn’t really feel like it was busy; there’s plenty of space and different pathways and crannies to explore, so you don’t feel rushed.  There were more people coming in as we left, so it’s somewhere to go early before moving on to visit other places in the city. 

Heading back to the bus stop, we decided to stop for a drinks break.  I love the Grand Café on Queens Street, although it’s really a bit of a treat place given the prices. The décor is gorgeous, the staff are friendly, there’s no students hanging out hunched over laptops and there’s no foreign students on tour.  It feels very old fashioned (according to Samuel Pepys diary, the site of the first coffee house in the country), without being stuffy.

drinks at the Grand Cafe

I had a delicious elderflower and mint presse and N was very impressed with his (large) real orange juice!  I couldn’t resist the cake on offer, and a croissant went down well with N.  For once he didn’t try and steal some cake.  Yes the bill was large, but I’m glad I took N in somewhere – probably the first place that he’s eaten in that’s not full of children.  He behaved really nicely.  Sitting well, not slurping his drink or dropping food everywhere.  It’s good to know he’ll behave out in public, even when his behaviour at the dinner table at home can occasionally be a bit whiny and ‘no’ to everything.

waiting for the bus

A bit of a wait for a bus to take us back to the park and ride, but never fear, Oxford always has cool things to sit on at bus stops to keep children entertained.

It was a great morning out; I love showing places I like to N.

Like this post, try these other tips for nearby days out.

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  1. Beautiful shots – you had such a nice day for it too, didn’t you? Just goes to show you don’t always need swings and slides to enjoy being outside! I know what you mean about bus trips too. Always a highlight. #letkidsbekids

    1. Thanks for the kind comments. It was a wonderful day which always helps.

      Yes, the bus (or train) is always such a special treat if you’re used to driving everywhere. Cheap entertainment.

  2. Looks like a lovely place to visit. We’ve not taken the children to Oxford, maybe we should.
    Thanks for linking #LetKidsBeKids

    1. Definitely worth taking them. Lots of places to see and do, museums, restaurants, Christchurch meadows/the river etc. I love it, so love to take N.

    1. They are lovely, and so different to the more carefree meadows around the city. Oxford’s definitely one of my favourite places in the UK

  3. It looks fantastic and your photos are beautiful. I went on a school trip with my daughter to Oxford last week. We walked between two museums and it was such a beautiful city.

    1. Small world! I love the city. Yes, there’s loads of foreign students in the summer getting in the way in the high street, but it’s a great city to live in – not too big, not too small, and plenty of culture and green spaces. I’m not really a city person, but I loved living there and there’s still so much I’ve not seen

  4. What a beautiful and serene looking place to visit. It’s good to hear that they have activity packs to keep the children entertained too. All in all it sounds like a lovely day out that you both enjoyed together. Thanks for linking up and sharing with Country Kids.

    1. We didn’t get to the Edinburgh botanics when we visited. I’ll definitely be looking out for more in other places we visit

  5. I remember seeing those boats at my sunday photo and loved it there. Nice to see the rest of the photos. Really great place that I am wishing I can go there to see pretty things personally! Thanks for sharing your trip =) #PoCoLo

    1. I’m just loving taking photos at the moment. They are so much better in sunny weather than in winter – there’s a real difference on my blog photos! Definitely worth taking the trip to Oxford some time if possible. there’s so much too see there

  6. I love the Botanic Garden, and Harcourt Arboretum. I actually prefer it in the winter when I can pop in and get warm in the glasshouses! #pocolo

    1. Thanks for your comment. It was lovely to be out – I love Oxford anyway, but it’s not really that great for N, so having these gardens is a great place for him to potter at his own speed.

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