Oxfordshire has to be one of the best counties to live.
Oxford itself is a bustling mix of town and gown, tourists, students, professionals and native Oxfordians.
There are lovely market towns with lots of independent shops, and quirky places to visit or eat.
And then there’s the gorgeous chocolate box looking villages.
Outside of the built up areas you get wonderful countryside. It’s the best of both worlds – rural with comfortably sized towns and city – yes, Oxford’s a city despite having a weird cathedral in Christ Church which was upgraded from chapel to cathedral and is one of the smallest cathedrals in England.
The county’s brilliant for outdoor places for children to explore. Here’s some of the best if you’re in the area and have children you want to set loose outside.
1. Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace in Woodstock is spectacular. There’s so much to see and do – from historic and art exhibitions in the palace itself to the beautiful Capability Brown landscaped grounds. And not forgetting the Pleasure Gardens which include a maze, a model replica of Woodstock, an adventure playground, another playground for younger children, a sandpit toddler area, and giant games.
The formal gardens are an interesting talking point for young children (mine stated that the statues weren’t wearing sandals and that they’d get sore feet’!). There’s a huge grass area out of the back of the palace where they hold the jousting and special events. If you’re local, it’s definitely worth upgrading your day ticket to an annual pass because you’ll want to go back time and again. Oh, and there’s a train.
2. The Oxford Botanic Gardens
Slightly more formal and no letting children run riot in them, the Botanic Gardens are something quite different to other places in Oxford. Alongside the river, if you’re a gardening expert you’ll be in your element, but even if you just want to find a quiet place to relax and take time out from the traffic in the city, it’s the perfect place to find a bench and sit and listen to the quiet.
We really enjoyed looking at all the different gardens, and were quite happy ambling, but if your children prefer more structure or need a distraction while you take your time, there are the obligatory children’s trails to do.
3. Oxford University Parks
Staying in Oxford, if it’s a nice day you have to get out to The University Parks. Really you can take your pick how far you walk – start at The Parks near the Natural History Museum and walk to the river. If you’re more in the centre of the city, then try Christchurch meadows instead.
Both are great for picnics, and watching the rowing and other boats, it’s worth walking quite some way to avoid the student tourists in the summer months. You really feel like you’re away from the city, and while there’s nothing really there apart from river, grass and paths, there’s plenty of space for young children to enjoy.
4. Harcourt Arboretum
Another university owned space, an annual pass will get you into both the Botanic Gardens and Harcourt Arboretum. 130 acres which includes trees (obviously), flower walks and wildflower meadows. Return each season and pick up the explorer backpacks to help children take more interest in what they’re seeing.
5. Grimsbury Reservoir and Spiceball Park
At the top end of the county in Banbury, there’s another park that’s worth a visit. Along with canalside walks and parts of the park next to the river, Spiceball Park has plenty of space to explore, paths perfect for children learning to ride bikes or scooting, and ending in a trip to the playground.
There’s a small nature reserve pond where you can look out for the wildlife mentioned on the board nearby, and lots of tracks to head off in different directions. It’s not too big so great for smaller children because you can do the whole park in not too much time.
Nearby, there’s also the reservoir. While inside the fence is restricted to the sailing club and fisherman, it’s a nice walk around the reservoir. If you time it right, you can see the sailing club going out on the water, and they’ll quite happily introduce children to the boats and tell you all about them if the children (or you) are interested.
6. Hill End
Hill End is an outdoor centre just outside Oxford. Its aim is to get everyone close to nature – all ages are catered for. For children, they run school group learning, or weekday Forest Tots outdoor play sessions for preschoolers. Learning and play, outdoors. That’s got to be perfect for children.
7. Local parks
I couldn’t ignore local parks. Most villages and towns have a playground, park or field for children to play in, it’s just a case of finding them. There’s too many to mention, so my advice is wherever you are, ask on social media or check out local websites to find the parks near you.
If there are any other outdoor spaces in the county that you’d recommend, then do let us know in the comments below.