If you want to run in the footsteps of Sir Roger Bannister, who famously ran the world’s first sub-four-minute mile, Oxford University is the place to go. Sixty years ago, on May 6, 1954, the then-25–year-old medical student broke through the tape at 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds on the campus’s Iffley Road track, since renamed the Sir Roger Bannister athletics track.
These days, you can lace up your own shoes and find your stride on the same track. Shaun Fleming, facilities and events manager for Oxford University Sport, recommends calling ahead (011-44-1865-240476) to inquire about available times. You’ll also need to purchase a track day pass.
For a longer, more scenic run, you might follow the Oxford Half Marathon course, which passes by the Bannister track. It winds through campus and the verdant Christchurch Meadow, over the stone Folly Bridge, and along the River Thames until eventually ending at Kassam Stadium, home to the Oxford United Football Club.
If you’d like to view “the city of dreaming spires” from another vantage, you have some options. You can take it in from up high by climbing the 99 steps of Carfax Tower, or the 124 steps of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. You can also pedal through Oxford. Bainton Bikes offers guided cycle tours, but you can choose to rent some wheels and explore on your own.
To refuel after all your sightseeing, book a table at the acclaimed Gee’s Restaurant & Bar, which serves up Mediterranean-inflected British cuisine in an airy space. Enjoy the terrace seating outside when the weather cooperates—and if you dine Monday through Friday, between noon and 6 p.m., you can take advantage of Gee’s prix-fixe menu, where two courses are £13, and three are £16.50.
Oxford’s Covered Market is another good place to nosh, with everything from sandwich bars to produce stalls. And you’d be remiss if you didn’t stroll through a museum or two: for art, swing by the Ashmolean Museum or Art and Archaeology; for history, hit the Pitt Rivers Museum.
You might also pop into Blackwell’s bookshop, which boasts three miles of bookshelves in a single room. You can search the endless racks for Sir Roger’s autobiography, The First Four Minutes, or you can download it on your Kindle and read a few chapters in the popular Zappi’s Bike Café. If you’d rather pore over the pages with a pint instead of an espresso, head to the Eagle and Child. During the 1930s, this public house became a frequent stop for C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and many of their literary cohorts, and it’s just as inviting today.