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Review: The Randolph Hotel Oxford, booked for £36 in the Graduate Hotels flash sale

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This is our review of The Randolph Hotel in Oxford.

We couldn’t resist checking out the hotel after writing about the Graduate Hotels flash sale last week, where £300+ hotel nights were on sale for £30+VAT. Rob managed to find a Monday night stay that priced at £36 so off I went to see what HfP readers who got this deal can expect.

(If you are an email subscriber, you never saw this offer. We only found out about it on Wednesday morning, when we quickly wrote an extra article, and the sale launched at 5pm. All £30 rooms disappeared within an hour or so. The two UK hotels covered were Graduate Oxford, reviewed here, and Graduate Cambridge, the ex-DoubleTree.)

Randolph Hotel Oxford

Previously part of Macdonald Hotels, The Randolph re-opened as a Graduate Hotel in Autumn 2021 after a nine-month renovation, transforming the staid interiors and bringing a bit of life into the 1866 Victorian Gothic building.

The hotel website is here.

Where is The Randolph Hotel in Oxford?

On the corner between the Ashmolean and Balliol College, as it turns out:

Randolph Oxford location

It is a short, half-mile, 11 minute walk from the train station, whilst the high street and the majority of historic colleges are just a stroll away.

Inside The Randolph Hotel

The public spaces inside the hotel are fabulous. Immediately on your left as you enter is a small, cosy vaulted lobby bar called the Morse Bar (Colin Dexter was a regular, apparently, and several episodes were filmed here in the 80s.)

Randolph Hotel Oxford Morse Bar

The heart of the hotel is the grand staircase, with reception at the foot:

Randolph Hotel Oxford reception

College crests are suspended from the third floor right down the middle of the staircase which made it feel very Harry Pottery. Here is the view from the top:

Randolph Hotel Oxford grand staircase

There is also two lovely light drawing rooms to the right of the staircase with plenty of seating to work or relax from. I ended up spending a couple of hours writing here:

Randolph Hotel Oxford drawing room

and

Randolph Hotel Oxford drawing room (2)

Check in was quick and easy and I was given ‘student ID’ themed keycards:

Randolph Hotel Oxford keycard

My room was on the third floor. You can either walk up the grand staircase or take one of the two lifts, but these are quite slow and one is very small.

Rooms at The Randolph Hotel

I was given a ‘graduate double executive’ room which I believe is the entry-level double room. Some cheaper ‘classic single’ rooms are also available for the solo traveller – oddly these are marked as 27 sq m which would make them easily big enough for a double bed.

As I was staying on a £36 rate I think I was probably given one of the worst rooms in the hotel – you’ll see why in a moment – although it was still very good. If you are staying on a normal rate, I would hope that you will get a better room than this.

Here it is:

Randolph Hotel Oxford room

I’ve pumped up the brightness in the photo but, as you can see, it is fairly dark. This is because there is only a small window facing a wall just one metre away. Here was the view:

Randolph Hotel Oxford view

This meant that, no matter the time of day, it always felt like a winter evening. Apart from sleeping and watching TV I wouldn’t necessarily want to spend much time during the day here, which is why I decamped to the drawing room on the ground floor with my laptop.

Other than that, the room is great, if a little small. The design aesthetic is ‘more is more’ based on the huge variety of chintz!

Immediately to the right of the door is a small desk complete with old-fashioned telephone and Vertuo Nespresso coffee machine:

Randolph Hotel Oxford desk

This is the first time I’ve stayed at a hotel with the newer Vertuo machines. They work by spinning the coffee pod very quickly – it’s meant to be better or something – so both the pods and the machine are larger than your average hotel Nespresso machine.

Bizarrely, I had to hunt for a coffee cup, spoon etc which were all in the wardrobe, rather than near or next to the coffee machine.

Next to the desk is the double bed:

Randolph Hotel Oxford bed

There are big, wooden bedside tables on both sides, as well as room light controls. On the right hand side you have a two gang socket with USB plugs:

Randolph Hotel Oxford bedside

Plus an Alice in Wonderland inspired bedside lamp:

Randolph Hotel Oxford white rabbit light

Opposite the bed is the TV and some storage:

In the corner, by the window, you have another small round table and armchair:

Randolph Hotel Oxford armchair

Whilst, on the other side, is a small wardrobe with safe, ironing board, kettle etc.

Randolph Hotel Oxford wardrobe

The bathroom is in a small nook behind the TV. It is, admittedly, small – just big enough for one person, with a shower but no bath:

Randolph Hotel Oxford bathroom (2)

and

Randolph Hotel Oxford bathroom

Toiletries are by Malin+Goetz, which I like, in wall-mounted dispensers:

Randolph Hotel Oxford toiletries

So, all in all, a small room but the designers have managed to cram a lot in. Too much, perhaps? I would have removed the round table and armchair in the corner and shifted the desk into that space, opening up the room slightly.

I also found it quite warm, and whilst there are air conditioning controls, I’m not sure this was switched on properly because it was set to 16 degrees, which it definitely wasn’t. I run quite warm at night and ended up opening my sash window as far as it went and still could have done with a lighter duvet.

Breakfast at The Randolph Hotel Oxford

Breakfast is served in the main hotel restaurant, called The Alice (I’ll give you three guesses why ….)

Randolph Hotel Oxford the alice

It is a really nice space, with huge windows on two sides flooding the space with light:

Randolph Hotel Oxford alice bar

and

Randolph Hotel Oxford the alice (2)

It took a moment to get seated – the staff kept us waiting longer than I think was really necessary, although I understand they’re busy.

You have several options for breakfast. You can either go for a continental buffet, a cooked & continental buffet or order from a small number of a la carte options (including eggs benedict etc).

I went for the buffet, which was laid out very nicely across two rooms. Here is the continental section:

Randolph Hotel Oxford continental buffet

With pastries, cold cuts of ham, cheese, yoghurt and fruit:

Randolph Hotel Oxford continental breakfast

The cooked buffet was in the next door room, and featured scrambled and fried eggs, sausages, streaky bacon, fried tomatoes, mushrooms, waffles and pancakes.

Randolph Hotel Oxford hot buffet

There were no baked beans but I did get some after I asked. Here is what I had:

Randolph Hotel Oxford full English

It was a good breakfast although I thought the set up was a bit confusing. For example, my first choice would have been to have eggs royale and a croissant, but the only way to do that was to pay for the whole continental buffet – even though I only wanted one item.

Conclusion

There’s a lot of history in Oxford, and The Randolph is a big part of it, so it’s no surprise that American-owned Graduate Hotels has hammed it up. It does occasionally feel like you’re walking into Hogwarts – or at least, a theme park version of Hogwarts – a sort of pastiche Oxford that only exists in American tourist’s imagination.

Not that I’m complaining. I think it’s quite fun, and it reminded me a lot of Hyatt’s Great Scotland Yard hotel (review here), which also goes all-in on with its Sherlock Holmes theme.

The challenge is to convert a heritage building, with all the foibles of a 156-year old building including weirdly shaped rooms, sloping corridors and the rest, and turn it into a five star hotel. Clearly, that’s not always possible: whilst I was perfectly happy with the room I had given that we paid £36, you would probably be miffed with the lack of natural light if you paid £200+.

Overall, the hotel is impressive – Graduate Hotels has done an excellent job with the design, which feels extremely modern but without forgetting the hotel’s history.

You can find out more, and book, on the hotel website here. If you missed out on the flash sale you can still get 30% off by using the promo code ‘MORESUMMER’.


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Comments (60)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • vol says:

    I really like the explosion of colour and thank you for reviewing- I’m really looking forward to my stay later in June 😊

    Word to the wise: because of the website issues, I was double charged so you might want to check your statements

    They were super quick to rectify however once I gave them a call.

    Staying in Cambridge in July too.

    Delightful deal!

    👍

  • jshRR says:

    Ah the Randolph……stopped there , in a former life, on a few occasions in the good old days when it was was once a Grand Forte Hotel !

  • georgeH says:

    “Apart from sleeping and watching TV I wouldn’t necessarily want to spend much time during the day here”

    Dunno about anyone else but that’s the case for any hotel. Not saying it doesn’t need to be a good room etc but I’m only there to sleep and shower

  • Greenpen says:

    Was the breakfast part of the deal or did you pay extra for it?

    • elguiri says:

      It was extra, but no idea how much as there was no information about it anywhere

    • Rhys says:

      To be honest, I have no idea. Rob’s card was on the booking but I didn’t have to sign anything on check out

    • Nectar collector says:

      The sample menu on the Alice website says £16 for Continental and £20 for Hot. Cook to order items priced individually

  • Rich says:

    I’m in the Cambridge one as we speak. Not on the £30 rate, sadly, but 20k points seemed a very good deal vs £264. Especially when upgraded to a Superior room. So much so, that I booked a second night, and the front desk confirmed I would stay in the upgraded room.

    Really nice, interesting decor and, excellent staff. I can’t comment on the food, but breakfast was offered at £12 in advance (£24 walk-up).. Most importantly, there are plenty of supplies on the courtesy tray, and a gorgeous porcelain kettle.

    • Matt says:

      What points did you use?

      • Rich says:

        20k Marriott.

        They also offer higher room categories for a modest £5 or £15 supplement to the 20k, but I booked the cheapest room.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          I think you’re talking about the Cambridge arms that’s an autograph hotel not the old Hilton which has changed to a graduate hotel.

          • Rich says:

            Ha, you’re right. Ignore everything I said.

            Curiously, it does have some Alice in Wonderland motifs though!

          • TGLoyalty says:

            Though i agree it’s a very nice hotel is a great spot.

    • David says:

      I’m getting vibes of more money than sense if a family of 3x paying £72 for breakfast.

  • elguiri says:

    We did this on Tuesday with the same deal. Similar experience to Rob.
    Morse bar was nice for relaxing in the evening (very much a reading room rather than shots bar).
    Our room was on second floor and was also too hot during the night. I think the room temp was finally okay at about 4am. We had people talking very loudly in the room next to us until gone 3am, so had to shut the bathroom door to muffle the sound.
    In the wardrobe with the kettle are tea and coffee bags – the coffee is from a local coffee roaster which is a nice touch.
    We asked about breakfast at check-in and they told us to ask at the Alice restaurant. As there was a queue at that point we didn’t bother. There is also no information online about cost of the breakfast nor in the room. Went to the covered market instead.
    For us living locally we enjoyed the experience at the Randolph, and would probably go back to the Morse bar with any visitors. However, we would not pay anything more than this rate for an overly-warm room. I dread to think what it’s like in summer…
    One thing to note, they actively encourage you to take the keycards and their do not disturb signs home with you, posting photos on social media with them.

    It looks like HfP readers have taken up all the rooms on this sale so far (Ryan Sunday, Rob Monday, us Tuesday). We could have organised an alternative HfP get-together spanning the whole week…

  • Doug says:

    Oh dear,
    I always associate toiletries that are fixed in place, with cheap hotels. Then, I suppose, £36 per night is cheap.

    • Nick says:

      I don’t, I associate them with a company that doesn’t want to waste horrific amounts of single use plastic. Depends on your worldview I suppose but I judge the quality of the contents instead – it’s perfectly possible to have big bottles of higher end stuff.

      I do however feel very sorry for the poor employees who have to decant the bottom quarter of bottles into each other, that’s unpleasant tedious work.

    • dst87 says:

      I _much_ prefer high quality, fixed in place amenities. I’ve discovered a new favourite at InterContinental in Byredo – their Gypsy Water and Bal d’Afrique shower gels, body lotions etc. are lovely, and are in large bottles.

      I really dislike all of the plastic waste that happens with the single-use bottles.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      The worlds changing my friend.

      Though if it’s empty I’ll call the hotel cheap af.

    • Evan says:

      Out of date – and this brand is very good.

  • pigeon says:

    That decor is quite something! Not sure I’m a fan, but it is a phenomenal improvement over the pre-refurbished, Macdonald hotels version.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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