There are many incredible things to do in Oxford.
Oxford is impossible to beat for its quintessentially English character. With infamous sandy colored college buildings and architectural features (which you’ll recognize from blockbuster films) sitting alongside intensely modern features, its character is overwhelmingly academic and steeped in history, with a pervading sense of knowledge and power. There’s a reason why Oxford should be on any Europe bucket list.
In short, Oxford can only be described as extraordinary. From riverside wanderings to medieval moments, this is The City of Dreaming Spires. It’s known around the globe for its educational heritage and it’s certainly able to boast an incredible number of famous names amongst its connections.
But Oxford isn’t just history on steroids. It’s also a thriving and bustling modern city. University life is still dominant, but now Oxford is as equally known for being akin to Silicon Valley, with world-leading businesses making the city home.
As a result, Oxford has a charm which is quite unlike anywhere else and certainly has something for everyone. There is an enormous amount for the visitor to do, so much that once you’ve been to Oxford, I’m sure you’ll go again.
So without further ado, let me dive into my top picks of things to do in Oxford.
GOOD TO KNOW: While I recommend spending at least a couple of days there to take in all that it has to offer, you can easily visit Oxford on day trips from London. You may want to check out the best day-tour options here.
The Best Things To Do In Oxford
Take a walking tour to soak it in
Oxford can be overwhelming when you first arrive. You’re aware you’re surrounded by a myriad of things to see and do, but where to start? Getting your bearings and getting an overview is by far the easiest way to digest what this city has to offer, and doing a guided tour certainly is one of the best things to do in Oxford. There’s no better way to do this than by foot with someone in-the-know.
The top-rated Oxford walking tour on TripAdvisor is the Oxford University Walking Tour with University Alumni Guide by Footprint Tours.
This tour takes place twice a day at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm, and focuses heavily on the university. You’ll be shown around by a student who takes you on a wandering tale from Saxon beginnings through to Harry Potter film sets; a 2000 year history bursting with information and interest.
You’ll see the world-famous Christ Church College (which has educated no fewer than 13 Prime Ministers), All Souls College, Trinity College, The Bodleian Library, The Radcliffe Camera and much more besides.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The tour cost £19.99 (€22, or $26.7 USD) for adults. You can book it here.
GOOD TO KNOW: Footprint Tours also offer a 2 hour FREE walking tour. It covers similar sights and stories to the above tour but you decide how much it’s worth. Tips are how this tour is priced, so you can effectively pay-as-you-go.
TIP: Make sure to at least pop into the University Church of St Mary the Virgin for a quick lookaround.
Visit the Bodleian Library
Yes, if you do the above walking tour you will dip into The Bodleian Library, but many of the walking tour sights are worth an independent visit where you can take your time and experience things at a deeper level.
The Bodleian Library is one of the oldest still-working libraries in the world and the heady mix of mesmerizing architecture combined with the fact you are literally walking through history, makes it a must-see. What’s more, if you are a Harry Potter fan, you’ll recognize lots of locations from the films here. It definitely is one of the best places to visit in Oxford.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Entry to the exhibitions is free, but I really recommend taking advantage of one of their low-cost tours. If you’d like to see the Divinity School, the University’s oldest teaching and exam room, and used in the Harry Potter films, then this costs just £2.50 ($3.40 USD or €2.75) and can be booked every 15 minutes between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm.
The Audio Guided tour is excellent if you want to take things at your own pace. It’s available in multiple languages and includes entry to the Divinity School and will also lead you around the Old Schools, Clarendon and Sheldonian Quadrangles, as well as Radcliffe Square. This lasts 45 minutes, and is available 7 days a week.
There are various other in-person tours if you would prefer this. You can book them here.
Explore Oxford Botanic Gardens and Arboretum
Visiting Oxford Botanic Gardens and Arboretum is one of the top things to do in Oxford. This is integrally linked with the University. It was the first botanic garden in the UK and dates back to 1621.
The Gardens are central to Oxford and a wonderful place to wander and enjoy divine scents and beautiful scenes. The Arboretum is about 15 minutes from the city and showcases some of the most splendid conifer collections, and has over 130 acres to explore.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: You do need to book a time slot for entry. Adult day tickets are £5.45 (€6 or $7.30 USD9 and under-16s go free. From April to October the gardens open at 10:00 am and close at 5:00 pm with a last entry time of 3.30pm. During November to March the gardens open at 10:00 am and close at 4:00pm with last admission at 3:00 pm. Do check for Christmas and New Year closing dates.
Go to Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Whether you’ve got kids in tow, or simply want to step into the wonders of the natural world, you should visit Oxford University Museum of Natural History. It really is one of the top things to do in Oxford.
There are a huge number of specimens on show in a range of exhibits, but this is a living-breathing museum with interactivity and learning around every corner. There is always a bursting diary of events, often drawing on the research going on behind the scenes.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The museum is open daily from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm. Entry is free but with Covid-restrictions, you need to book a time slot. Donations are welcomed.
Visit Pitt Rivers Museum
For a staggering array of artefacts you need to visit the Pitt Rivers Museum. Famous for its shrunken heads, don’t let them distract you from the vast displays of archaeology and ethnography that are on display. Again, there are lots of events and short-term exhibitions, meaning that a visit here always feels fresh.
Pitt Rivers is a museum which is quite distinct and very much has a character of its own – surely one of the places to visit in Oxford.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Entry to Pitt Rivers is free, but again, booking is essential. It’s open Monday – Sunday 10:00 am until 5:00 pm. Donations are important for supporting the ongoing work of the museum.
TIP: Other great museums to visit are Modern Art Oxford and Ashmolean Museum.
Go to Oxford Castle and Prison
Step back in time in a way which is less ingrained with university life by visiting the impressive Oxford Castle and Prison – it really is one of the most fun things to do in Oxford.
A visit to the castle and prison is shaped around the stories of the people who have lived and worked within these walls. It makes for a fascinating exploration of history.
You can also climb 101 steps (not for the under 5s) to the top of St George’s Tower where you are spoilt with amazing vistas of the entire city. The 18th century prison cells are somewhat eerie and the underground candle-lit crypt is certainly atmospheric. You’ll certainly collect a huge number of photographs here!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Oxford Castle and Prison is open Monday to Thursday from 10:30 am. The last tour at 4.30pm and tours are every 30 minutes; Friday to Sunday 10:00 am – last tour at 5:05 pm and tours are every 25 minutes. Tour prices are £13.45 ($18 USD or €14.80) for adults, £9.25 ($12.35 or €10.20) for children (5-15 years) and under 5s go free. You can book your tour here.
Take a day trip to Blenheim Palace
If you have a vehicle, or are willing to book on a coach trip from the city centre, do make a trip out of Oxford to nearby Blenheim Palace.
The vastness of the estate will leave you awe-struck almost as much as the vastness of the palace itself. Despite being a tourist hotspot, tranquillity can always be found here. The Palace State Rooms will leave you gasping at their opulence – the birthplace of Winston Churchill has rightly earned its place as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the grounds you can wander the formal gardens as well as enjoy acres of parkland designed by Capability Brown. There’s the Marlborough Maze to escape from, and the Pleasure Gardens delight the youngest visitors.
There is so much to explore here, it really takes at least a whole day to do justice. What’s great is that a day ticket is actually valid for 12 months, so there’s no excuse to not come back.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Tickets for the Palace, Park and Gardens cost £28.50 ($38 UDS or €31.30) for adults and £16.50 ($22 UDS or €18.15) for children (5-16 years). The Palace is open from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm. You can also buy tickets just to the Palace and Gardens at £18.50 ($24.70 UDS or €20.35) for adults and £8.60 ($11.50 UDS or €9.45) for children. The opening hours of the grounds are 10:00 am until 6:00 pm. You can book guided tours departing from Oxford here.
Explore Christ Church College
A visit to Oxford isn’t complete without a visit to Christ Church. Right in the heart of the city, it’s amazing how peaceful Christ Church is when you step foot inside. Still a thriving academic community for over 600 students, the juxtaposition with the Picture Gallery housing Old Master paintings and the iconic Oxford Cathedral, is staggering.
Here you can also indulge in a quintessentially Oxford experience: enjoying a picnic on Christ Church Meadow. It’s a perfect spot to watch Oxford life with people rowing on the river and Longhorn cows grazing in the background.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Custodian-led tours are available in various languages, last one hour, and cost £15 ($20 USD or €16.50).
GOOD TO KNOW: Keble College is another must-see.
The River Cherwell winds its way through Oxford and punting is the pastime of the river. The Magdalen Bridge Boathouse rents out punts and you can choose whether to go DIY or have a chauffeur. If you don’t feel confident in a punt then pedalos and rowing boats are also available and will give you a river level view of Oxford.
Best enjoyed in spring and summer, the river comes alive with laughter and picnickers. It’s a real Oxford experience to indulge in fresh strawberries as you gently glide along the Cherwell.
Punting can be immensely romantic too. Order a picnic hamper and have a chauffeur, then sit back and relax in style with your amour. It’s no surprise that Oxford is definitely one of the UK’s most romantic cities.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: You can hire punts, pedalos and rowing boats throughout the year, save for the months of December and January. Punts can carry up to 5 passengers and cost £22 ($29.30 USD or €24.15) per hour Monday to Friday and £24 ($32 USD or €26.35) per hour on the weekends and Bank Holidays. There may be an additional fee if you require a chauffeur.
TIP: Not a fun of punting? Go to the University Parks for a walk!
Admire the Bridge of Sighs
Another iconic Oxford sight is the Bridge of Sighs, more correctly known as Hertford Bridge. Connecting two parts of Hertford College, you can simply walk along New College Lane directly underneath it. You’ll probably do this if you are visiting the Radcliffe Camera, Bodleian Library or Sheldonian Theatre.
Believed to be nicknamed the Bridge of Sighs because worried students would sigh on their way to exams, it looks characteristically like the Bridge of Sighs in Venice.
10 More things to do in Oxford
One post simply cannot do justice to the enormous amount of experiences and things to do in this incredible city. Some other things to do in Oxford include:
- Visit the 250 year old Covered Market and indulge in snacks and gifts from independent sellers.
- Drink a pint in one of the student pubs, such as The Eagle and Child – famous as a meeting place of authors J. R. R. Tolkein and C. S. Lewis.
- Get lost in a good book at Blackwell’s Books, Europe’s largest bookshop at 10,000 square foot.
- Snaffle some ice cream from G&D’s Cafe to give you more energy for pavement pounding.
- Get freaked out on a Bill Spectre’s Ghost Trail. It may be theatrical, but I defy you not to believe.
- Visit Oxford’s Artisan Distillery and get behind the scenes to see how the award-winning vodka, gin and rye whiskey come to fruition (and taste them too!).
- Wander Magdalen College and soak up its studious atmosphere.
- Break away from the overwhelming ancient history of Oxford and be struck by the intensity of Modern Art at IMMA.
- Attend a musical performance with incredible acoustics at the Sheldonian Theatre.
- Take a moment out of things in the peaceful Merton College Chapel.
Oxford – The Culturally Rich City
A trip to Oxford will be intense, revitalizing, and fill your mind with visuals of beautiful architecture and cultural depth. Within easy reach of London, and with its own vibrant character that is steeped in history, there is so much to do.
Further readings about the United Kingdom
Are you planning a trip to the UK? Make sure to read my other posts:
- 24 Stunning London Hidden Gems
- How To Make The Most Of London In A Day
- The Best 5 Days London Itinerary
- An Easy To Follow Itinerary For 4 Days London
- A Perfect Itinerary To See London In 3 Days
- How To See London In 2 Days
- 15 Great Day Trips From London
- How To Get Tower Of London Tickets
- 5 Easy Ways Of Getting London Dungeon Tickets
- 7 Easy Ways Of Getting London Eye Tickets
- Where To Stay In London: The Best Areas And Hotels
- Where To Get The Most Impressive Views Of London
- How To Get From Heathrow To London
- The Best Museums In London
- 10 Cool Things To Do In Covent Garden
- 19 Exciting Things To Do In Edinburgh
- 19 Things To Do In Cornwall
- A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Newcastle
- The Best Villages In The Cotswolds
This post was contributed by Jessie Moore. Jessie is a travel and lifestyle blogger on a mission to empower people to explore the world with confidence. In a constant state of wanderlust, Jessie is passionate about sharing travel tips and adventures stories on her blog, Pocket Wanderings. You can also find her on Instagram and Facebook.