I am sure you have already heard about the city of Oxford in Oxfordshire county, United Kingdom before, maybe because Oxford University (which is one of the best universities in the world) is located there!
But did you know that Oxford has much more to offer than that? Let’s find out which are the 11 top things to do in Oxford!
Oxford is full of history and the place where Lewis Carroll wrote his “Alice in Wonderland”, where J. R. R. Tolkien gave lectures and worked on “The Lord of the Rings”, where Einstein presented his Theory of Relativity for the first time, where Harry Potter was filmed, where Oscar Wilde studied, where the world wide web and penicillin were invented… And the list can go on forever! Oxford is the place where history lays written on literally every square meter. 🙂
Now let’s talk about these 11 amazing things to do in Oxford that will help you create an unforgettable travel itinerary. Are you ready? Let’s go!
- 1. Take an Oxford city walking tour
- 2. Go inside the Bodleian Libraries
- 3. See the Great Hall of Christ Church College
- 4. Climb the University Church Tower
- 5. Have a drink in one of the oldest pubs in the world
- 6. Enjoy the view from Carfax Tower
- 7. Admire rare plants at Oxford Botanic Garden
- 8. Enter one of the amazing Oxford museums
- 9. Try yourself at river punting
- 10. Pay a visit to one of the Oxford colleges
- 11. Try a Hop-on Hop-off bus
- BONUS: For Harry Potter, Narnia and Inspector Morse fans – check out these movie locations!
1. Take an Oxford city walking tour
If you want to discover the city properly, I think taking a guided Oxford tour will be the greatest present you can give to yourself when visiting!
The walking tours I am recommending will take you to the main sights of Oxford such as The Sheldonian Theater, the Radcliffe Camera (“Rad Cam”, as students call it), the Bridge of Sighs and tell you tales of the city that you would otherwise never learn!
While I was in the city, I have taken two tours that ended up being pretty much similar to each other. I invite you to choose either one of the Oxford walking tours below:
- Oxford Official Walking Tour – An advantage of this option is that you get to visit a college and there are usually less people booking it. There are three daily options available, at 10.45 AM, 1 PM and 2 PM. The price is £19 and you can stop by the Oxford tourist information centre (“VisitBritain”) to book your ticket, but I would recommend booking it online in advance.
- Oxford Free Walking Tour – This is a nice, interactive option in English (or Spanish, if you want) if you want to learn more about the history of this place – the good part about it is that you decide how much you want to pay for this experience. The only downside is that it is booked by many more people, especially during the high season. I personally found this free option to be more interesting than the official one. You can check the updated hours and availability for your dates on this link.
If you would prefer a themed option instead, there are different ones offered in the city such as the Oxford Harry Potter tour (1.5 to 2 hours), Inspector Morse and Lewis (2 hours), a visit of Oxford University held by a student (2 hours) or you can book a 3-hour private customized tour.
2. Go inside the Bodleian Libraries
Did you know that Bodleian Library is the second largest library in England with 160 kilometers of books?
Besides its number of books, the library is, without any doubt, one of the most beautiful libraries in the entire world and one of the main Oxford attractions!
If you have a chance to visit it, I think taking an extended 90-minutes visit is a great idea! The Bodleian Library tour will take you to the impressive Radcliffe Camera (the iconic round building) as well. It must be pretty cool!
The price for the 90-minutes tour is £15, it can be booked on their website and it is held on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. There are some shorter ones or self-guided walks available here (I took the shorter, 30 minutes one, but I regretted not opting for the longer one because it was very interesting!) Check the updated prices and book yours here.
Here are some fascinating fun facts for all the Harry Potter fans out there:
1) The Divinity School was used as the set for recording the scenes of the hospital in the movie (when Harry is injured after the Quidditch match and when Ron was poisoned)
2) The scenes in the first movie (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) when Harry goes to the restricted section are filmed in the library and they used a fake candle, as there is no light allowed in the library since its existence.
3. See the Great Hall of Christ Church College
Christ Church College is known as one of the most important and popular colleges in England and it is part of Oxford University. Lewis Carroll, 13 of United Kingdom’s prime ministers and many other extraordinary people studied there, including Albert Einstein!
I think the Great Hall of the college is definitely one of those unmissable things to see in Oxford (especially if you are a Harry Potter fan, but not only), even if it is the most expensive part of the building for tourists to enter – £8.
LIFE HACK ON ENTERING CHRISTCHURCH COLLEGE FOR FREE: Every day at 6.05 PM they have the Choral Evensong at the Cathedral at Christ Church College, where everyone is welcome. You must enter using Tom Gate, then look right, before the entrance to the Cathedral – that is the arch where they recorded the movie. NOTE: You will be able to enter the college without paying any fee, but you won’t see the Great Hall.
PRICE: £15 + £0.50 booking fee if you buy it online. Make sure to book yours in advance, as the tickets are released on a weekly basis each Thursday afternoon at 5PM for the following week.
4. Climb the University Church Tower
University Church of St. Mary the Virgin is located right in the center of the city and it is the “spiritual heart” of the oldest university in England. The best part about the church? It has a beautiful tower that you can climb in order to get an amazing view over the entire city!
It is said that St Mary University Church Tower offers a 360 view of Oxford!
The university tower is actually the oldest part of the entire building that can still be visited today and it was built in 1280!
NOTE: The university tower can only be reached by climbing a medieval spiral staircase (127 steps) and, unfortunately, there is no other way of access for people with disabilities.
PRICE: University Church is free to visit, climbing the University Church Tower is £5.
5. Have a drink in one of the oldest pubs in the world
I guess it goes without saying that, while you are in Britain, you must have a drink in a pub just like the real Brits! And luckily for tourists, Oxford actually has some of the oldest pubs in the world.
Here are my recommendations:
- Turf Tavern – I have visited this pub and I can say it is a very nice place for a drink, with a good atmosphere;
- The bear – It is known as one of the oldest and best pubs in Oxford, dating from the 13th century;
- How about you relax in J. R. R. Tolkien’s favorite drink spot? The Eagle and Child was nicknamed as “Bird and Baby” by J. R. R. Tolkien (author of “Lord of the Rings”) and C. S. Lewis (“The Chronicles of Narnia”); other writers from the Inkling Society were also coming here back in the time. Definitely the most famous bars in Oxford!
- Queen’s Lane Coffee House – They claim to be the oldest coffee house that has continuously served coffee in Europe ever since 1654.
- Oxford Covered Market – They have ice cream, coffee, pizza, flower shops, but also beauty salons and everything else in-between!
6. Enjoy the view from Carfax Tower
Carfax Tower is literally considered to be the very center of the city and it was part of a well-known Oxford Church named “St. Martin’s”. Nowadays, this historical tower is the only part of the church that still exists.
I recommend you to climb the tower up to the top if you want to see an unforgettable birds-eye-view of the city! Moreover, Carfax Tower also has the most beautiful view of Christ Church College and it is known to be in the top 10 things to do in Oxford!
NOTE: The staircase leading to the top has 99 steps and it is a bit narrow.
PRICE: £3. You can check the up-to-date prices here.
7. Admire rare plants at Oxford Botanic Garden
I am a very big fan of botanical gardens and if you, too, are passionate about plants, trees and nature, I am sure you will love it there! I would say that the botanical garden is one of the places to visit in Oxford that definitely deserves your time!
Oxford Botanic Garden has a rather peculiar history behind. It was founded in 1621 and it was a Jewish burial house before that was transformed into the botanical garden we have today. There are two parts that you can visit: The Garden (almost 6.000 different types of plants) and The Arboretum (some of the most beautiful conifer collections in England).
PRICE: The entrance fee is £5.45 for the full day and you can book it online on their website. If you want to find out more, you can also take a guided walk with a trained volunteer (£10) or with a member of the staff (£15) or a curator/director (£20). More details about the guided tours here.
8. Enter one of the amazing Oxford museums
Oxford is a city full of history and tradition so, naturally, you can find a lot of museums there! And the most notable part of all? Most of them are free to visit! Below you can find some of the unmissable museums in Oxford for all tastes:
- Ashmolean Museum – An amazing five-floor art museum with famous artworks by Michelangelo, Picasso and Rubens. There is no entrance fee, the special exhibitions have individual prices.
- Oxford University Museum of Natural History – If you are a fan of natural history, this is the perfect place to go! There is no entrance fee (for the temporary exhibitions as well)
- They focus on inclusivity at Pitt Rivers Museums and you can see it right away when you step into the museum. Entrance is free.
- Even if I am not a big fan of modern art, you might be, so this is why I am recommending the Modern Art Oxford museum to you! Entrance is free.
- Bodleian Library Exhibitions – The exhibitions are focused on rare books, comics, maps and more! You can check the current and upcoming exhibitions here.
9. Try yourself at river punting
If the weather is nice and you are tired of visiting museums and buildings, then why not try some Oxford punting?
Punting on river Cherwell is a very popular activity for tourists and locals as well. A punt boat is a small boat with a flat bottom, similar to a gondola in a way, but with square edges.
You can either rent a boat and try to manage it yourself on the river or you can opt for a chauffeured boat with a driver that will row for you. If you are interested in this activity, you can also rent the boats on the river from Cherwell Boathouse Oxford or Magdalen Bridge Boathouse.
PRICE: The price for punting in Oxford differs a bit depending on the company you choose, but it is around £20 – £22 per hour. The chauffeured boat is a bit more than £40 per hour, but you must make sure to book it in advance.
Alternatively, maybe you’d like a river excursion? For example, this river cruise is 30-minutes long for £8 and this other one is a 50-minutes long ride that will take you to all the main landmarks of the city for £12.
10. Pay a visit to one of the Oxford colleges
If you choose to visit, you will hear some fun insights about the colleges’ traditions, about the rowing competitions and other student experiences, if they participate in tortoise races (yes, that’s a thing!), how much they pay for their education there and many other things that you might find interesting.
Each of the Oxford colleges has its rules about visiting, so you would have to check for each of them individually using their websites or this list here.
Here are just some of the colleges that you can visit:
11. Try a Hop-on Hop-off bus
A Hop-on Hop-off bus is a good choice if you want to have an overview of Oxford or if you want to see many places in the same day – this way you can get off wherever you like and then board the bus again when you are finished.
I took the Hop-on Hop-off myself and I don’t regret it at all, especially because with the ticket you are also offered a 30-minutes free walking tour of the city centre (re-boarding the bus is required).
NOTE: Do not let the color of the bus confuse you – both the red one and the green one have the same route. The entire loop takes about 50 minutes. You can check the exact schedule for the buses here.
PRICE: £16 for 24h and £18 for 48 h. £25 for the combo of the official walking tour (2h) and the Hop-On bus together (which you can buy directly in the Tourist Information Office)
BONUS: For Harry Potter, Narnia and Inspector Morse fans – check out these movie locations!
If you are a fan of any of these films, visiting some of the movie locations around might be one of the most fun things to do in Oxford. Below I will share with you my list of interesting movie locations:
- If you are an Inspector Morris fan – The White Horse Pub, Sheldonian Theatre, Bodleian Library;
- If you are a Narnia fan – Although many scenes from The Chronicles of Narnia were filmed in New Zealand, the door that actually inspired the wardrobe entrance in the movie is in Oxford! The wooden door with lion head engraving door is located opposite to Oxford University Church’s entrance. Some other locations are the cloisters at Magdalen College.
- If you are a Harry Potter fan – Except for the Divinity School at the Bodleian Library (Hogwarts Sanatorium), Duke Humfrey’s Library was used as Hogwarts Library and the Christ Church dining hall was the inspiration for the big dining hall in the movies.
Where to stay in Oxford
During your travel time in Oxford, you can stay in one of the famous colleges and eat together with the students at the big table just like the Harry Potter movies! The best part about this option is that oftentimes it is even cheaper!
I chose the option of staying in the colleges for myself, too, and I stayed in Rewley House. I can definitely recommend it, as my room was nice, clean and spacious and I paid about £90/night for my dates. The most convenient part of all was that the accommodation is located very close to the center, so everything was within walking distance!
Please note that this is not a proper hotel, but a campus-type of accommodation for students where tourists can stay as well. The accommodation inside the college has a good quality and you will also get a front desk where you can check in, check out and ask questions and even room service, so I personally felt no difference between this type of accommodation and a normal hotel!
In case Rewley House college is booked for your dates or you would prefer something else instead of staying in colleges, here are some other good places to stay in Oxford for you, sorted out by price category for your convenience:
LUXURY (£130 and up) – The Old Bank is one of the most gorgeous 5-star Oxford city hotels! Actually, the property is located only 500m away from Oxford University and it can be your home away from home! Old Parsonage Hotel is one of the best hotels in Oxford city centre and a great boutique accommodation for a great time in Oxford! I’m sure you’ll like it!
MIDDLE-PRICED (from £90 to £130) – Sabine Barn B&B is a super nice 4-stars bed and breakfast in Oxford that offers an amazing experience! The only downside is that it is located a bit far away from the center (8km from Oxford University)! Wisteria Lodge is another B&B in Oxford city centre with a very nice taste in décor and super friendly staff! You will have free Wi-Fi, a beautiful room and a good breakfast every morning of your stay!
BUDGET (up to £90) – Arden Lodge is a very nice and accessible bed and breakfast in Oxford for all people that travel on a budget; it offers very good quality for its price and you’ll surely have a good time there! Abodes B&B is another one on my list of great, cheap hotels in Oxford that offers some very affordable packages as well.
Oxford, also known as “the city of dreaming spires” and colleges is a gorgeous town in England that offers so many things to visit and experience! Other than the world-famous Oxford University, the city by itself has a unique charm and it is full of history and great stories from one end to the other.
While wandering on its streets you will encounter a lot of charming shops, pubs full of history that are 800 years old, awesome bookshops that look small from the outside but are a real gem once you are inside and more! So get ready to have an unforgettable time!
During my visit, I actually met an elderly couple who spent a week in Oxford and I can say I was a bit jealous! There are countless activities to do there and it is definitely worth it to visit it as more than a day trip – at least 2 days are needed if you want to truly experience it!
As usual, if you have any questions, please tell me in the comments below, I am always happy to answer!
P.S. If you want to see more of the country here are some places to visit in South West England.
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