AS A townscape seen from above, Oxford is indeed a ‘city of dreaming spires’.

The words, used in 1865 , by poet Matthew Arnold, describe a sight unchanged for centuries and certainly unforgettable.

One of the best vantage points from which to appreciate the city is the tower of St Mary’s Church in High Street. It is well worth the climb, up the winding steps to look across the collection of colleges, toward the distant hills.

The view from Carfax Tower, is also impressive. At 74-feet, it is all that remains of the 12th century St. Martin's Church. Its height is significant: by law no building in central Oxford can be built higher. A copy of the original church clock, with mechanical figures called ‘quarterboys’ which hammer out the quarter hour on a pair of late 19th century bells, can be seen from the street below.

Visited by many for its connection to the TV shows Morse and Lewis, Oxford’s cobbled streets and stunning architecture make wandering aimlessly a pleasure.

But, of course, for many this time of year is about Christmas shopping, and in Oxford there’s a new, exciting addition to the city centre. In October a new, multi-million pound shopping centre opened its doors.

Westgate is about as good as it gets for retail therapy. Replacing a 1970s centre that was demolished in 2016, it is swish and stylish, with a lofty central atrium lined with high street stores, including a flagship John Lewis.

Covering 800,000 sq ft, it has space for 100 shops, restaurants and a cinema. A roof terrace overlooking the city is home to a number of restaurants. Despite its size, the centre sits well in its setting, and it is hoped will not impact too greatly upon existing shops in Oxford.

With its mix of quirky independent shops selling everything from secondhand books to antique map, and high street chains, the city has much to offer shoppers.

There's also a charming covered market with numerous stalls and cafes.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn at Peartree, ten minutes' drive from the city centre. The stylish, spacious rooms are perfect for unwinding after a day out.

Downstairs, there is a bright, cheery bar with comfortable lounge seats, where meals and snacks can be eaten. Alternatively, guests can dine, as we did, in the hotel’s smart Junction Restaurant which serves a variety of meals, mainly traditional fare.

I enjoyed cod and chips, while my husband opted for Goan chicken curry with pomegranate raita. Desserts include sticky toffee pudding, banoffee pie and apple crumble tart.

Guests can relax in the 15-meter swimming pool - unusually large for a hotel - and make use of the gym, sauna, Jacuzzi and steam room.

Popping into Oxford could not be easier on the Park & Ride, three minutes walk from the hotel. The bus journey takes around ten minutes. Oxford Parkway railway station is just one minute’s drive away.

There 38 colleges, some of which are open to the public. My husband and I visited Christ Church, not because of its connection with Harry Potter- the 16th century cathedral and college was used as the backdrop for several scenes in the films - but because it has its own art gallery containing a collection of Old Masters.

Our guide pointed out some quirky points of interest, including a modern toilet in stained glass window - supposedly a nod to the company which helped finance the work - and the famous, amazing, Jabberwocky Tree, the inspiration for the poem by Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Caroll.

Lewis Caroll was the pen name used by Charles Dodgson, a lecturer at Christ Church in the 1850s. From his office, he had a good view down into the Deanery Garden, where the dean’s children, including Alice, would play.

A horse chestnut tree with a great horizontal bough, which still stands in the Deanery Garden, is reputedly the one in which the Cheshire Cat sat, just as Alice’s own cat, Dinah, did.

Also open to the public, Magdalene College has its own deer park.

For a walk, the footpath around Christ Church meadow is hard to beat, for a time bordering the River Thames, or Isis, as it is known locally, derived from the ancient name Tamesis. The stroll takes in another river the Cherwell, where students and tourists can be seen taking their chance at punting.

The city's Natural History Museum, housed in a magnificent building, is well worth a visit.

A little further out of town, although easily walkable, South Park off Headington Road, offers a lovely panorama of the city.

*Holiday Inn, Peartree Roundabout, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 8JD; W:; T:0871 942 90686/ 00800 80 80 0800; E: