At Oxford University, a Literary Festival That Won't Break the Bank

by  Laura Motta | Jun 15, 2017
Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford University
Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford University / iStock

We can't all have the opportunity to study at Oxford University, but if you love literature, history, and travel, we may have the next best thing for you. Each spring, the Oxford Literary Festival lets anyone enjoy his university town’s atmosphere, wander -- and even stay -- on its beautiful campuses, and rub elbows with some of the world’s greatest writers and thinkers.

For money-saving information on getting to Oxford from the center of London or from London’s airports, check out our full story here. In the meantime, here’s more on this top-notch festival that you won’t have to pay top-dollar to attend.

The Basics

The festival takes place over nine days each year in the spring, usually in late March and early April. Events are held in spaces throughout Oxford University, including in the beautiful Sheldonian Theatre, which dates back to 1669 and serves as the festival’s marquee venue.


Events encompass a wide range of lectures, Q&As, walking tours, special presentations for kids, and even dinners, and tickets can be purchased in advance on the festival’s web site. Expect to see some of the world’s great authors in attendance. This year’s festival featured Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel, New York Trilogy author Paul Auster, and cookbook writer Nigella Lawson. Ticket prices can vary, but most lectures cost 15 to 25 pounds ($20-$33) each, with higher prices for dinners and special events, and lower pricing for family events. Note that events with well-known authors tend to sell out, and purchasing tickets in person will cost an extra 1.50 pounds ($2) per ticket, so booking in advance is strongly recommended.

Where to Stay

For the ultimate Oxford Literary Festival experience, hunker down in a dorm room at Worcester College, on campus at Oxford University. This ultra-affordable option puts you right in the center of the action; the Oxford Literary Festival’s home base is at here. Stay in rooms with typical dorm-style furniture including extra-long beds (remember those?) and simple wooden desks. On one wall, our room even had a cork board complete with a collection colorful thumbtacks left behind by the last student resident. Rooms have their own bathrooms, and bare-bones amenities like towels and soap are provided, as well as wifi. Each morning, you’ll also be welcomed into the college’s dining hall for a traditional English breakfast, which is included in the rate. Make friends with other festival goers, or simply gawk up at the stained-glass windows, or the portraits of prominent Worcester College professors and alumni. Between lectures, take some time to wander Worcester College’s grounds. The magnolia trees often blossom during the festival, and you’ll see swans and ducks paddling in the lake. To book, visit the festival web site in the months and weeks before the festival. You’ll see links to book a stay at Worcester College, and a calendar to choose your dates. For more options on staying in Oxford, check out our article on visiting Oxford on a budget. (Rates run 75-95 pounds or $97-$123 per person, per night.)

Saving at the Festival

Beyond booking your tickets early and staying on campus, an easy way to save at the Oxford Literary Festival is to look for free events. This year, the festival offered a series of free 15-minute talks called Very Short Intros, based on the book series of the same name that focused on everything from Public Health to Geopolitics. BBC World Service also hosted a series of free events at this year’s festival that were broadcast live. Also, note that events for kids tend to be priced more affordably than others, so if you’ve got children in tow, you can see presentations that start at 7 pounds (about $9).

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