City Sightseeing/Guide Friday

Oxford open top bus tour, March 2005

Touring around your native city may seem like a busman's holiday (ho ho!), but on a clear day, an open top double-decker bus is an invigorating place to be.  Should April showers strike, the driver has a plentiful stash of plastic macs.  One full tour lasts one hour and you are free to hop on and off to your heart's content.  Younger passengers are kept busy with free activity packs, which include felt tip pens and their own 'passport'.  Guests from out of town provide the perfect excuse for taking a tour; the live guide speaks in English but taped commentaries are available in German, French, Spanish and Japanese.  I join the tour at the railway station but you can climb on board at over a dozen sign posted stops around the city centre.  The Sheldonian theatre, Queens College and Christ Church are the most popular major stops.

Our Guide, David, is a mine of local information with specialist knowledge of archaeology and paints a vivid picture of Saxon 'Oxenford' with its four gates and its city wall (see the remains in New College garden/the back garden of The Turf Tavern).  He makes many suggestions for diverting things to do in Oxford, and advises on current exhibitions and museum opening times (many with free admission).  Spending the day as a tourist in the city in which you live is liberating, and I discover some museums for the first time, such as the Museum of History of Science on Broad Street (which houses in its basement the chalk board written on by Einstein when he gave a lecture here).  David introduces our courteous driver, Widge, who is to be congratulated on giving us such a smooth and steady trip, and who reassures us that City sightseeing/Guide Friday buses use 'green' low sulphur fuel.

The tour bears jewels for young and old alike.  Christ Church appears in the Harry Potter film, whilst Inspector Morse fans may recognise the Randolph hotel from the TV series.  Local details that feature in Lewis Carroll's books are mentioned (such as the Treacle Well at Binsey, the stuffed dodo museum piece and the 'Old Sheep Shop', aka 'Alice's Shop' on St Aldates).  Having a live guide, as opposed to a recorded commentary, brings the cityscape alive and makes our afternoon.

Tickets can be purchased from bus drivers, uniformed ticket sellers or from the office staff at Oxford railway station or Carfax tower.  The ticket (as of March 2006: £9 adults, £8 students/OAPs, £4 children) entitles you to 10% off your next city sightseeing tour and discounts from a variety of Oxford eateries and souvenir shops.  If you enjoy the experience, it's worth noting that open top bus tours also operate in London, Bath, Windsor, and of course 'the other place'.  If you have itchy feet you can even redeem your voucher in Istanbul, St Petersburg, or Stateside - where you can meet up in St Louis for touring City Sightseeing style.  David leaves us with a top travel tip; be sure to ask your guide the time of the last tour leaving the station, or you may end up stranded in Stratford!

Lita Doolan