Oxford is one of the world’s most famous university towns. Oxford University is the oldest university in Britain, dating back to the 13th century. Although Oxford is known for its famous university, it offers much more.
Oxford does a great job in combining the rich history and culture of the city with the more modern day attractions.
Oxford has plenty of green spaces and parks to relax in, alongside museums and galleries. The centre is compact enough that getting around on foot is not a problem.
1. Harry Potter in Oxford
Harry Potter fans will love Oxford. The filming of Hogwarts School took place in a number of locations, 2 of which are in Oxford; The Great Hall of Christ Church College and Bodleian Library. Bodleian Library at Oxford University was also where Oscar Wilde, C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien once studied.
2. University Church of St. Mary the Virgin
The Church of St Mary the Virgin is the University’s own church, providing fantastic panoramic views of the city. Out of the towers you can climb in Oxford, it probably provides the best views, so if you can only climb one, pick this one.
The tower dates back to 1280 with 127 steps leading you up to the top, past the Clore Old Library and the historic bell ringing chamber.
Entry to the church is free but there is a charge to go up the tower. The stone stairs are quite narrow and get very steep but there is an iron rail to hold on to.
3. Christ Church College
One of the biggest and most famous colleges of the University of Oxford. Christ Church College is breathtakingly beautiful.
There is the world famous choir, two famous landmarks (Tom Tower and the Cathedral spire) and the peaceful Christ Church Meadow, with cattle happily grazing!
Aside from being an internationally acclaimed university, that has seen many well-known names, it is also now the place where parts of Harry Potter was filmed. It was also the inspiration for Lewis Carroll to write all about Alice in Wonderland.
A great way to gain an insight into the fascinating history of Christ Church College, including scenes from the Harry Potter films and the places Lewis Carroll was inspired by, is by a guided tour. Tours last about an hour and are led by knowledgeable and experienced Christ Church custodians.
The Cathedral welcomes visitors with free guided tours available on weekdays, lasting 20 minutes. Learn about the history, architecture and life of the cathedral.
If you have time, attend a service and listen to the choir sing. Check the website for service times.
You can spend the night at Christ Church College and eat breakfast in The Great Hall! Take a look at University Rooms for availability and prices.
4. Bodleian Library
One of the oldest and greatest public libraries in the world with millions of items resting on miles of shelves. The library dates back to 1602, when it was first opened to scholars.
Bodleian Library is a must see, a working library which forms part of the University of Oxford. If your itinerary allows, I would recommend going on a Sunday as the reading areas are accessible then.
The history of the library is incredible. The 1 hour long tours are worthwhile to fully understand the history.
The reading rooms have witnessed generations of famous students including Oscar Wilde, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, 26 prime ministers, 5 kings and 40 Nobel Prize winners.
It is well worth taking a guided tour to learn more about the history and heart of the library. Explore the Divinity School, see where Parliament was held in the Civil War and look inside the Chancellor’s Court room. You will also visit Duke Humfrey’s medieval library which has been home to many famous scholars in the past.
There are self guided tours as well as group tours. Further details can be found here.
The Weston Wing is home to some fantastic exhibitions. Past displays have included some incredible items including the dust jacket from ‘The Hobbit,’ the handwritten ‘Wind in the Willows,’ Shakespeare’s ‘The First Folio,’ pages from the draft of ‘Frankenstein’ and other remarkable maps, manuscripts and books.
5. Pitts Rivers Museum
With items from throughout human history from all over the world, the Pitt Rivers Museum has one of the best collection of anthropology and archaeology.
Admission is free. The museum is open every day apart from Mondays (open on Bank Holiday Mondays.)
6. Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology
The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology is the oldest in the UK and one of the oldest in the world, dating back to 1683. The museum is home to the University’s large collections of antiques and arts.
The museum has a major collection on anthropological displays and makes for a very interesting visit. There is an excellent variety of art and culture from around the world from ancient times right up to the present day.
7. University Museum of Natural History
Another free to enter museum – the University of Natural History holds 4.5 million specimens and is the one of the largest collections of its type.
8. Magdalen College
One of the most prominent and beautiful of the colleges in Oxford. Set in 40 hectares of river walks and large green lawns. All in the centre of the city. If you can, make this a priority to see in Oxford, you won’t regret it.
Magdalen College is a busy college but visitors are welcome at regular times of the day. The main areas of the college that are usually open are the Hall, Chapel and Old Kitchen Bar. You can also enjoy the surrounding grounds, parkland and gardens, with walks along the River Cherwell and views of the Deer Park. This is a great spot to have a picnic on a pleasant day, with river boats and punts going by.
9. University of Oxford Botanic Garden
The oldest Botanic garden in Britain. The University of Oxford Botanic Garden is handily located in the city centre it is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the uniquely diverse collection of plants.
With 5,000 different plant species growing, both outside in 2 main gardens and within a selection of 7 different glasshouses. Families are welcome with activity trails and activities on offer for children.
10. Radcliffe Camera
A classic Oxford landmark and one of the city’s most photographed buildings. Radcliffe Camera was built between 1737 and 1749, designed to house a library. There is no public access to the building, it now contains two reading rooms, mainly used by undergraduates.
11. The Covered Market
Head to the Covered Market in Oxford for a variety of shops (clothes, jewellery, electronics etc.), cafes, butchers and fruit and vegetable stalls. The market is open 7 days a week from 8am until 5.30pm Monday to Saturday and 10am until 4pm on Sundays.
12. A Punt down The River
The quintessential Oxford experience. A visit to Oxford wouldn’t be complete without a punt down one of the famous rivers. Choose from Cherwell River or the Thames.
For Cherwell, visit Cherwell Boathouse to hire a punt either by the hour, or for a whole day.
For a punt on the River Thames head to Salter’s Steamers where you can hire a punt hourly, or for 4 hours, or for a full day (8 hours.) If you want to chill out a bit, you can hire a ‘chauffeur’ for your punt by the hour.
13. Oxford Tours
A great way to get a feel for a place and a lot of knowledgeable information, is to take a tour. Here are a selection that may interest you;
Oxford City Sightseeing Tours – They run all year round (apart from 25th/26th December and 1st Jan), and are available as either 24 hour or 48 hour tickets. They are perfect if you are catching the train up to Oxford from London as it will enable you to get on at the first stop, just outside the train station. Other stops include Bodleian Library, Christ Church College, Carfax Tower, Alice’s Shop and many more Oxford highlights.
Oxford Official Guided Walking Tours – All tours leave from the Oxford Visitor Information Centre. There are a wide range of tour choices, both public and private. Choices include Literary Tour, Medieval Tour, Oxford Films Site Tour, Stained Glass Tour, Science at Oxford Tour, Tudor Oxford Tour and many more. The most popular tour is the University and City Tour (sometimes including Divinity School) which is an introductory tour to the city, revealing the rich history of Oxford City and the University.
Eating and Drinking in Oxford
The Old Bookbinders Ale House – A short walk from the city centre is this family run pub serving quality food in a traditional pub atmosphere. Closed on Mondays.
The White Rabbit – A lovely and welcoming pub in central Oxford serving very reasonably priced and delicious pizzas.
Vaults & Garden Cafe – Set in a unique building, the Vaults & Garden serves tasty, fresh and seasonal breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea.
For more information about Oxford and Oxfordshire you can check out the Visitor Information Centre.
In the Area
The birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and home to the 12th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. Blenheim Palace is a World Heritage Site set in over 2,000 acres of formal gardens and parkland.
There is a lot to see and do at Blenheim Palace so you might want to allow enough time to see it all. It really deserves a day trip all by itself. If you only have a limited time then have a look at the suggested itineraries on the website.
Blenheim Palace is 10 miles north of Oxford on the A34. If you are without a car it is possible by bus. The S3 bus service to Woodstock runs every 30 minutes from Oxford train station to the gates of Blenheim Palace. You can even buy your tickets for the palace on the bus to receive a discount to the palace. The journey takes about 40 minutes by bus.
19 miles away is the pretty small Cotswold Village of Bampton. A must see for any Downton Abbey fans. Take a walk around the village and see Mrs. Crawley’s house, the church, the entrance to the hospital and where the memorial was built in the fifth season. Tours of the village are available.
Getting To Oxford From London
Train – Direct trains leave from London Paddington arriving in Oxford in under 1 hour.
Car – Oxford is just under 60 miles from London via the M40 and A40. Journey time should be about 1 hour 20 minutes. The best option is to use one of the Park and Ride car parks to get into the city centre.