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All The Love: Alternative Ideas for Valentine's Day in Oxford

Daily Info's irreverent romantic Lucy suggests ways to celebrate - without a fluffy teddy in sight.

As someone whose approach to Valentine’s Day used to echo Mr Scrooge’s seasonal sentiments – bah heart-shaped humbug – I feel uniquely placed to write about Valentine’s in Oxford. My issue is not with the idea of taking time to celebrate all things romantic and acknowledge those you love, but the narrow definition of how we are expected to go about it, and who is included/excluded.

So, think of this as an alternative guide to a lovely Oxford Valentine’s Day. If you’d simply like some restaurant recommendations, that’s great – we have a jam-packed guide on where to eat in Oxford – but I’m going to skip that option here. I’ll also leave aside Will and Lyra’s bench, though it is a gorgeous spot.

Instead, here are five non-traditional ways to enjoy Valentine’s in Oxford:

Buy A Plant, Instead Of Flowers

Photo by Huy Phan on Unsplash

Flowers fade, but plants grow – providing an unlifting metaphor for love, whether that be for a partner or as a reminder to nurture yourself. The ground is still a bit too cold and hard for planting out, but you could head to a garden centre and bag yourself a hardy specimen that does well in a sheltered container. Bunker’s Hill Garden Shop’s New In and Looking Good sections are a helpful places to look. Houseplants are a brilliant option – our cheapo Boston fern (Valentine’s Day 2019) is currently looking abundant and lush – and if you’re in the city centre a trip to The Garden of Oxford (in the Covered Market) is a good place to look.

Share Open Chips On A Winter Walk

Photo via Flickr creative commons gazzat

Arguably Britain’s original street food, eating a portion of ‘proper’ chips in the open air on a brisk February day promises to make you huddle together (if you’re with a loved one) or feel free from the weight of Valentine’s expectations if you’re single. It’s the spiritual opposite of a pre-booked three-course meal with roses and bubbly – and reminds you that love is not about best dresses and perfect presentation, but feeling joyful, at ease and free to be yourself. Two of our favourite spots for chips-and-a-wander are the Mediterranean Fish Bar on Abingdon Road, followed by a walk through Hinksey Park and along the river, and Oxford Fish Shop on Iffley Road, followed by a walk in the Kidneys Nature Reserve and Aston’s Eyot (where you might spot a kingfisher!).

Become Tourists

Gin tasting on a tour of the TOAD distillery Oxford

Sometimes seeing the familiar in a new light is just what is needed – and that applies to places as well as people. Thinking like a tourist means tuning into your curiosity and putting all your everyday concerns aside – two excellent qualities for a date or some solo time. Imagine you’re here on city break – where would you explore first? What experiences do you want to have? How about a distillery tour at TOAD (The Oxford Artisan Distillery), an Alice in Waterland walk, a classic sightseeing bus tour, panoramic views of the city from the top of St George’s tower (Oxford Castle & Prison) or the Saxon Tower at St Michael’s at the North Gate? Of course, if you actually are here on a city break, these are all lovely things to do!

Go For A Leisurely Bike Ride

Photo by Everton Vila on Unsplash

Unlike many UK cities, here in Oxford we have tendency to treat our bikes as workhorses that get us from A to B, and forget that there’s this lovely thing called ‘leisure cycling’ – going off on a bike ride for no other reason than the enjoyment of it. There’s a good network of routes to explore – including the short’n’ sweet Sustrans route down to Sandford (where you can pop into riverside pub The King’s Arms for a hot chocolate or a tasty feast) – part of the longer Hanson Way. You don’t even need to own bikes – take a look at Bainton Bikes, who do a wide range of rental options, including tandems (possibly the ultimate relationship test?). If you’d like to try some mountain bike trails with bike rental and a café for afters, try Swinley Bike Hub (OK, it is in Berkshire, but we’re yet to find an equivalent closer to home).

Change The Season

Photo by Alan Caishan on Unsplash

It’s winter, and we’ve experienced two years of a global pandemic. Yes, you do need a holiday. But we can’t help with that. What we can do is recommend ways to capture a bit of summer here in Oxford on a grimy grey February day. The tropical plant houses at Oxford Botanic Garden are the speediest way to tap into summer vibes, as lush foliage and greenhouse conditions banish the blues. If you’re longing for some serious heat and deep relaxation booking some time at a spa with a sauna and steam room is a glorious way to spend Valentine’s – we’ve spotted some lovely winter spa days at Minster Mill, which also has a dual treatment suite, making it perfect for couples. And if you fancy serious silliness combined with the kind of dystopia-meets-disco aesthetic you’d expect to find on a late night wander around Glastonbury Festival, there’s indoor crazy golf at Junkyard Golf Club (hidden away underneath Westgate).


Image credits: plant - Huy Phan on Unsplash; chips - Flickr creative commons, gazzat; TOAD tasting tour; bike ride - Everton Vila on Unsplash; spa - Alan Caishan on Unsplash


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