Oxfordshire stretches west from the Chiltern Hills to the Cotswolds with many a well-to-do market town in between. Henley-on-Thames, Banbury and Chipping Norton… it’s all rather nice round here. When you add in the River Thames, the Oxford Canal and the dreamy spires of Oxford itself you start to see why camping in Oxfordshire might not be such a bad idea. There are some great camping and glamping sites within the county – with many of them on the waterways. It’s also slap bang in the middle of the country making it within easy reach of much of the UK.
Oxfordshire’s beautiful countryside and waterways make it a great place for an outdoorsy holiday. While many might opt for a pretty Cotswolds cottage or a fancy country hotel, we think camping is the best way to enjoy everything that this county has to offer. Stay on one of the campsites in Oxfordshire that we’ve picked out and you might find yourself in the midst of a working farm or on the banks of the river. There’s simply no way to get closer to natural beauty than to pitch a tent in the middle of it. And if you’re camping out of the summer season or simply don’t fancy going too far back to basics, the ever-expanding range of glamping sites in Oxfordshire can offer you the best of both worlds. The River Thames and the adjacent Thames Path National Trail make the county a great place for a holiday that combines camping and walking, canoeing or kayaking. And the rolling hills of the Chilterns and the Cotswolds make it an attractive area for cycling too. If you’re more sightseer than cyclist, there are plenty of pretty towns and villages to mosey around – in addition to Oxford itself. The county is also home to historic sites including the ancient Uffington White Horse, the magnificent Blenheim Palace and the impressive Ashmolean Museum, if you’re looking for more things to do while you’re camping in Oxfordshire.
You don’t have to pitch a tent to enjoy the Oxfordshire camping experience. Go for glamping instead if you prefer at least a few mod cons. How many of those mod cons you can live without may dictate which type of glamping you go for. Starting at the most basic end, you could choose a bell tent or other pre-pitched tent – which simply means you can camp without having to put up (and, more crucially) take down a tent. Bell tents are a great summer glamping option and many bell tents are provided furnished with made-up beds – but every site varies so make sure you know what’s provided before you head off on your bell tent glamping trip. Yurts and tipis tend to be a step up from the bell tent camping experience – more quirky and with a bit (in the case of yurts) and a lot (when it comes to tipis) more head room! Safari tents and lodges are usually even better equipped – often with a log-burning stove, more furniture, an electricity supply and sometimes with an en suite. And then there are the more solid glamping options which can help to extend the glamping season in to a year-round way to holiday: shepherd’s huts, treehouses and glamping pods to name but a few.
There’s something special about camping by the water and, for a landlocked county, Oxfordshire manages to do waterside camping impressively well. First there’s the Thames and its tributaries, the largest of which is the River Cherwell. The River Thames rises in the Cotswolds and flows across the country through Oxford and London to the sea. A national trail, the Thames Path, follows its route for 184 miles with a substantial section in Oxfordshire. While the river flows west to east, the much narrower, man-made Oxford canal runs north to south across the county. Linking Oxford with Bedworth in the Midlands, via Banbury and Rugby, it stretches 78 miles and is a quiet waterway with plenty of wildlife and traditional narrowboats. The banks of both the River Thames and the Oxford Canal are home to some great waterside campsites. If you’re making your way along the Thames, either on the water or on foot beside it, a campsite within view of the river is the Holy Grail; somewhere you can stop at without detouring from your journey. Thankfully, there are plenty of those. There are tents-only places which are great for hikers, biker and canoeists as well as riverside pitches on campsites that welcome campervans and motorhomes. There are a precious few glamping sites by the river too. River or canalside camping is not only good for those who are en route along the waterway. A pitch or a place by the water offers an ever-changing view, a wildlife hotspot and the soothing sound of water flowing by too.
Oxfordshire is one of five counties that claim a part of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s the largest of the 46 AONBs in Britain and is known as much for its rolling hills as it is for the honey-hued stone buildings in its villages. Camping in The Cotswolds gives you the opportunity to explore its 790 square miles which includes 3,000 miles of footpaths and bridleways. It’s little surprise that this pretty but accessible part of the country is home to some of England’s grandest stately homes including the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, Blenheim Palace, and the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall’s pad at Highgrove. In fact, there are plenty of attractions within the Cotswolds – not necessarily all within Oxfordshire but all within reach if you are camping in this part of the county. There’s the national arboretum at Westonbirt and family fun at both the Cotswolds Water Park and the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens.
The Cotswolds may be Oxfordshire’s best-known area of outstanding natural beauty, but two others fall, at least partly, within the county too. A thin sliver of the North Wessex AONB falls within Oxfordshire and meets the Chilterns AONB in the county’s south-east corner. What the Chilterns lacks in size and drama it makes up for in accessibility. It is easy to reach from London and Oxford providing a great place for a quick camping breaks as well as longer ones. In fact with a journey time of less than an hour, a journey to the Chilterns might be quicker than the daily commute for some Londoners. The designated area of outstanding natural beauty includes 324 square miles and is characterised by rolling green hills. It’s a lovely place to walk and, like the Cotswolds, has plenty of pretty villages and market towns to explore. It’s also known for good quality food and drink and is the perfect place to camp if your ideal day out is a long walk and a hearty pub meal cooked with local seasonal ingredients.
If you’re camping in Oxfordshire, and don’t live in the area, there’s a good chance that you’ll be wanting to take the opportunity to visit Oxford itself and it’s much-lauded dreamy spires. The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world and includes the oldest public museum too: The Ashmolean Museum of art and archaeology. There’s also the Bodleian Library, the largest university library… the list goes on. You can’t really get away from the university in Oxford with its many historic colleges but, if you’ve had enough of touring record-breaking establishments, being awed by historic buildings and aretefacts, you could always go for a relaxing river cruise or punt on the River Cherwell, a tributary of the Thames.
Henley-on-Thames, on the edge of the Chilterns, is known as the home of the Henley Royal Regatta, which takes place over five days every summer. The town heaves during this quintessentially English event of blazers, boats and boaters. If you visit out of season, you can still get a flavour for the event by standing on the town’s 18th-century stone bridge over the town, eating out at one of its elegant restaurants or pubs and visiting the River and Rowing Museum. Banbury is another popular town to visit within the county. A charming market town on the banks of the Cherwell, it may sound familiar thanks to the nursery rhyme: ‘Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross’ and, if you visit you won’t miss the bronze statue that commemorates this claim to fame. Abingdon and Bicester are similarly attractive market towns while the medieval village of Burford on the edge of the Cotswolds has an oldy-worldy charm all of its own. For more information on things to do in Oxford and Oxfordshire on your camping trip in the county, take a look at the Experience Oxfordshire website.
From the varied landscapes of the Oxfordshire countryside to a cultural day out in Oxford, there's plenty appealing about a camping holiday in Oxfordshire and this Hipcamp collection of exceptional campsites is sure to inspire your next adventure. Whether you're pitching a tent or parking up a campervan, these incredible Oxfordshire campsites will be right up your street.