The Randolph Hotel in Oxford, England. Photo: Steve Freihon

The Luxurious Randolph Hotel Is the Most Iconic Hotel in Oxford, England, for a Reason

Luxe Travel Epic Stays
by Morgane Croissant Jan 10, 2024

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Oxford, England, is not your average college town, to say the least. Oxford, home to the eponymous and prestigious university, is full of architectural masterpieces, from the rotund Radcliffe Camera to Magdalen College to Christ Church Cathedral, among many others. The entire city center is a maze of centuries-old churches, colleges, towers, houses, shops, and civic buildings that seem to try to outdo each other in their historical beauty. The Randolph Hotel, by Graduate Hotels is no exception.

The facade of The Randolph Hotel, Oxford, England

The facade of the Randolph, Oxford. Photo: Steve Freihon

Built in 1866, the Gothic Revival pile, listed as a significant historic building on the National Heritage List for England, has always been a luxury hotel. Why else go all out with hundreds of Gothic arches, oriel windows, and wrought-iron details if not to attract rich VIPs? While the hotel has changed dramatically in its 150-plus years of existence, its outer and outer beauty, its legendary reputation, and its five-star status remain intact and are all reflected in the price of spending a night there — although it is more accessible today than it was in the past if one is willing to stretch the budget a little and, like this writer, book the cheapest room possible.

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Location, location, location

While the appeal of The Randolph does not primarily lay in its location, it’s hard to ignore the fact that it’s in the heart of the action. It is located on Beaumont Street, across from the deservedly famed Ashmolean Museum and the Martyrs’ Memorial. It’s also just a few minutes’ walk away from the legendary Blackwell’s Bookshop, the Radcliffe Camera, Christ Church Cathedral, and St Michael at the North Gate’s Saxon Tower, ie. the oldest surviving building in the city. Basing yourself at The Randolph means that you’ll walk everywhere without much effort, and won’t need to ride a bus, taxi, or even drive your own car to get to all the places that matter.

Come for the decor, stay for the decor

The lobby of the Randolph Hotel in Oxford, England

The Lobby of The Randolph, Oxford. Photo: Steve Freihon

Without a doubt, The Randolph’s biggest asset is the way it looks, on the outside and on the inside. The exterior, with its symmetrical facade, its pointed arches, and oriel windows, is imposing and grand, and the flying Union Jacks above the main entrance add an air of prestige. The interior, however, is another story entirely. While the outside has remained more or less the same since the hotel’s opening, the inside has undergone many transformations, the latest of which was spurred by the American chain Graduate Hotels purchasing the establishment in 2019. The complete renovation, which took several months in 2020 and 2021, was the start of a new era for The Randolph, one where the hotel dusted off its classic and traditional image to become the poster child of maximalism and trendy interior design — with a retro twist.

The hotel’s common spaces, including the lobby and the four bars and restaurants were revamped by the geniuses at interior design studio SSH who cleverly mixed modernism and traditions, with loads of Oxford-specific touches sprinkled on top. The small lobby immediately sets the tone with gleaming wooden floors, arches to recall the exterior, small framed paintings on the walls, patterned wallpaper and carpet, and a staircase that is nothing short of majestic. The icing on the cake is the display of every Oxford college’s coat of arms suspended from the ceiling all the way down above the reception desk. The university is the entire city’s raison d’être and The Randolph clearly knows how to capitalize on that idea. If you don’t fall in love with the hotel from the moment you take your first step in the lobby, turn around — you won’t like the rest of it.

Randolph Hotel decor

The decor has been carefully thought out to give guests a typical and traditional Oxford experience. Photo: Steve Freihon, Morgane Croissant, and Dorian Dallongeville

Up the glorious staircase, the 151 guestrooms and suites got a similar treatment, this time thanks to interior design studio Upperworth Studios. While the colors chosen for the rooms are clearly classic and serious to pervade a studious atmosphere (no neon yellow or Barbie pink in sight), there is also heavily patterned wallpaper, carpets, cushions, and curtains all clashing yet working together beautifully. There is also wall art that seems to come straight from grandma’s living room, pleated lampshades, knitted blankets on the beds, etc. all accompanied by subtle nods to Oxford alumni. In my room, there was a portrait of Oscar Wilde above the bed, a framed quote by William Morris, and figurines from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland as bedside lamps. Even the room key was a pretend replica of J.R.R. Tolkien’s student card. Of course, all the modern conveniences are present: air conditioning, heat, hair dryers, TV, mini fridge, espresso machine, kettle, phone, etc. but they are cleverly hidden to keep the nostalgic vibe intact. (Note that every single room and suite are decorated almost exactly the same so you get the exact same ambiance in every room, no matter how much you spend.)

Every on-site bar and restaurant is worth a visit

The Alice restaurant at The Randolph hotel in Oxford England

The Alice restaurant. Photo: Steve Freihon

There are four dining venues within The Randolph, Oxford, the largest of which is The Alice which serves breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner daily. The Alice, is an obvious reference to Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll who was a student at Oxford. The Alice is an elegant, and bright space that is full of allusions to the novel, including stained glass windows and paintings on the walls featuring the characters. The immense chandeliers that light up the space are as mesmerizing as the Cheshire Cat’s smile, and the pink sofas add a childlike touch to the decor. Hotel guests who want to enjoy the excellent breakfast buffet at The Alice should book a day in advance if they want to pay a little less: $25.45 (£20) instead of $33.10 (£26) on the day. If you’re keen to try out British food, book Sunday lunch (a traditional roast) at The Alice.

Drawing Room at The Randolph Hotel, Oxford

The colorful Drawing Room. Photo: Steve Freihon

If you’d like to indulge in a traditional afternoon tea, you may book in advance to either enjoy it at The Alice or in the cozy and colorful Drawing Room where you’ll find an army of plush velvet armchairs and sofas embellished by frilly cushions, heavy patterned curtains, and stripped wallpaper. It’s like stepping in a very posh English rainbow. Add a cuppa and a scone covered in clotted cream and jam and you’ve got the whole package.

The Morse Bar at The Randolph Hotel, Oxford, England

The Morse bar where this writer spent an awful lot of time reading. Photo: Morgane Croissant

My personal favorite space is The Morse Bar, a small bar with a fireplace located to the left of the lobby. It’s a more masculine space, with dark colors and leather armchairs, but it’s one fans of British detective series will not want to miss. Several of the 33 episodes of the highly popular series Inspector Morse were filmed in The Randolph, hence the venue’s name and the many pictures of John Thaw, the man playing the main character, Morse, displayed on the walls. Stop for a nightcap or just a cup of coffee, sit by the hearth, and enjoy the gentleman’s club atmosphere. If you have a good detective novel with you, you’ll appreciate the space even more.

The Snug at The Randolph Hotel in Oxford

The Snug. Photo: Steve Freihon

If you’d rather stay away from the comings and goings of the lobby, head for the snug, a small cocktail lounge with an old-fashioned-pub-meets-library vibe. It’s a very quiet nook where you can order food from The Alice menu and whatever drinks you fancy.

The amenities

Parking at the Randolph Hotel, Oxford

Finding parking, especially affordable parking, is no easy feat in Oxford. If you drive to The Randolph, make use of their valet parking. It’s not cheap — $61.10 (£48) per day (from 2 PM to 12 noon the next day) and $7.65 (£6) per additional hour — but it’s very safe and practical. You won’t have to frantically drive around to find a spot and move the car every two hours. Once it’s parked, you have peace of mind. Just make sure to book parking via email beforehand to save a spot.

Spa offerings at The Randolph Hotel, Oxford

Wellness Center at The Randolph, Oxford

The Wellness Center. Photo: Steve Freihon

Since its most recent renovation, The Randolph’s basement is home to a spa where you can get facial and body treatments, massages, manicures, pedicures, etc. If you just want to relax, there’s a hot tub, saunas, and a steam room. The wellness center is on the small side and very popular so booking in advance is highly recommended. Consult the spa’s menu to review their offerings.

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