Wanting to explore the beautiful, historic and interesting attractions of Oxford? Then this guide to the best things to do in Oxford is just what you need.
During my day trip to Oxford, I learnt so much about this city. From its architectural buildings and world-class museums to its libraries and famous bookshops, I loved exploring its charming cobbled streets. There is a limitless amount of things to do in Oxford.
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The city of dreaming spires holds a rich history and culture. It’s the home of the University of Oxford, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, and it’s also the location where many scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed.
With only a day, you might think that this isn’t enough time to see the city of Oxford. To be honest, one day isn’t enough if you want to take in all that Oxford has to offer.
But if one day is all you have, I suggest making a list of the sights or things that make you excited about Oxford and see those first.
This will make your day trip to Oxford from London much more enjoyable, and you won’t waste your time going to sights that you have no interest in. So, if you’re wondering what to do in Oxford, then read on.
Tips for Visiting Oxford
A few of my top tips for things to do on a day trip from London to Oxford would be to get the earliest train from London, so you have a full day to explore Oxford.
Plan exactly the sites that you would like to see, as well as the days that they are open. Do look at opening and closing time to avoid disappointments.
How to Get from London to Oxford
You can get to Oxford from London by bus or train, with trains are often faster than buses. Remember to book in advance to get the best prices.
London to Oxford by Bus
Several bus operators go from London to Oxford. The main bus operator is the National Express, which runs buses from London Victoria Coach station. Travel times to Oxford is around 2 hours, and return tickets start at £18.
London to Oxford by Train
I’m not the biggest fan of coaches, so I took the train from London Paddington to Oxford using Great Western Railway (GWR). Trains depart every 30 minutes from London Paddington, and you can get return tickets for under £15 if you book in advance.
I collected my ticket from the ticket machine at the station, but if you download the GWR app, you can have the ticket delivered to your phone or tablet.
With the GWR ticket, you can return from Oxford via any of the London terminals such as Marylebone, Paddington, Waterloo and St. Pancras.
Top tip: Give yourself at least 15 minutes to collect your tickets from the machine as there’s always a queue at these machines and you don’t want to waste time standing in a queue and miss your train.
Now that you have arrived in Oxford, here are some of the things you can do in Oxford.
Things to do in Oxford England
Oxford Walking Tour
After deciding that I was going to visit Oxford for a day trip, I knew one of the top things to do would be a walking tour, so I quickly booked one on the Wandering Oxford walking tour.
During the two-hour walking tour of Oxford, I learnt so many things about the town, such as the University, the 38 different colleges and six private halls and where its notorious rivalry with Cambridge comes from.
Entrance to many of the colleges is free or cost a small fee. Always check the opening times of each college before your visit.
We visited the following locations on the Wandering Oxford walking tour.
- The Bodleian Library
- The Sheldonian Theatre
- The Radcliffe Camera
- The Medieval Divinity School
- St Mary’s Church
- Pubs where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis drank
- Bill Clinton’s and David Cameron’s colleges
The walking tour covered the main attractions and what to see in Oxford. I found that the walking tour was a quick way to get a handle on the layout of Oxford, learn about its history and colleges.
After the tour, I chose the buildings and sights I personally found interesting and compiled this list of cool things to do and see in Oxford.
Hope you’re ready for a jam-packed day because, in Oxford, things to do are plentiful. From impressive architecture and rich history to beautiful gardens and quaint markets, you won’t find yourself bored in this college town.
Views from University Church of St. Mary’s
The sight of Oxford from the University Church of St. Mary’s is both spectacular and terrifying. Seeing the splendour of Radcliffe Square and the Camera will stop you in your tracks. You’ll also get a bird’s-eye view of All Souls, Brasenose, Queen’s and New colleges.
Reaching this breathtaking view is no easy task; you’re likely to second-guess your life choices several times as you climb up the very narrow staircases of St. Mary’s.
However, at £5, on a sunny day, I had an incredible view of Oxford even if the terrace was tiny – only fitting on a person at a time – and the climb up and down felt like a death-defying act.
On the way up, there’s a room that features a map of all the colleges in Oxford. This is a great help for when you’re trying to identify them from the terrace.
The Church’s interior is also gorgeous and peaceful. I found it was an excellent place to stop and take a quick pause during my busy day of sightseeing.
While inside, I would advise you to admire the stained glass window – watching as the light shines through it is absolutely magical.
Tower’s opening times: Sunday – Wednesday from 12 pm – 5 pm and Thursday – Saturday 9.30 am – 5 pm.
Address: The High Street, Oxford OX1 4BJ
Visit the Bodleian Library in Oxford
Affectionately referred to as “Bodley” or “the Bod” by Oxford University students, the Bodleian is a spectacular place to see in Oxford.
Having opened in 1602, it’s one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and it’s been a library of legal deposit for 400 years.
In 1610 an agreement with the Stationers’ Company of London under which a copy of every book published in England and registered at Stationers’ Hall would be deposited in the new library.
This means that it has a copy of almost every book ever published in the UK and Ireland.
But, the library we see above ground is only a fraction of the overall collections of books, housing the majority of books in the vast networks underground.
As you walk past the main entrance, you’ll see large wooden doors, which are adorned by the crests of all the Oxford colleges.
Harry Potter fans will be delighted to know that parts of the Bodley feature in The Philosopher’s Stone film.
Unfortunately, books can’t be checked out from the library, but you can get a guided tour for £6. This certainly is one of the top things to do in Oxford.
Address: Broad St, Oxford OX1 3BG
Opening times: Monday to Friday 9:00 am – 7:00 pm, Saturday: 10 am – 4 pm. Sunday: closed
Visit the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford
One of the most iconic buildings in Oxford, this dome-shaped camera can be seen from every corner of the city – even from the corner of the Bridge of Sigh. As you enter the small cobbled square, this glorious, circular building made from tan stone dominates your view.
It was built between 1737 and 1749, at the request of Dr John Radcliffe in his final will. Designed by James Gibbs, the building features English Palladian architecture.
It is still a working library, admitting only students and scholars from the University of Oxford.
The camera is beautiful from every angle and was actually the inspiration for Sauron’s temple in Morgoth (from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings). The camera is possibly the best thing to see in Oxford.
Address: Radcliffe Sq, Oxford OX1 3BG
Opening times: Monday to Friday: 9:00 am – 10:00 pm, Saturday: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, Sunday: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm.
St Mary’s Passage
Leaving the Radcliffe square, from the front of the camera, you’ll enter onto St Mary’s Passage. This alley is said to have inspired much of CS Lewis’s magical world of Narnia.
As you stroll along, you’ll easily see why – along the way, there’s a door guarded by two figures on either side, which has an uncanny resemblance to the door in Narnia.
If you stand facing the door and then look to your left, you’ll see the lamppost from the movie. Perhaps this was the inspiration for the lamppost where Lucy and Mr Tumnus first met.
Either way, St Mary’s passage is one of the must-see attractions in Oxford.
Free Things to do in Oxford
Well, whoever said sightseeing had to be expensive? There are plenty of free attractions in Oxford waiting to be explored.
Visit the Bridge of Sigh
On your day trip to Oxford, be sure to check out this attraction. Just a minute’s walk from Radcliffe’s square and camera; this bridge joins two buildings of Hertford College.
The bridge is famous for its similarity to the Bridge of Sighs in Venice; though not modelled on it, this one is a little more ornate.
Right underneath, you’ll find a tiny alleyway – which we were led down by our tour guide. Strolling along, we passed the Turf Tavern, a place I would have never found if I was on my own.
This bridge is one of the main things to do in Oxford and is popular among tourists, with many taking photos and walking underneath it.
So it can get very busy at times. I would go when there are fewer people around to photobomb you.
Address: 15 Johns College, Cambridge CB2 1TP
Coffee at The Grand Café
The grand café is one of the oldest coffee houses in Britain (it even has a plank, stating this) according to Samuel Pepy’s Diary of 1650. This is one of the more fun things to do in Oxford.
The interior of the café oozes afternoon vibes (for those that have never had afternoon tea – it’s very old-world opulence), and the coffee there is excellent.
It’s a beautiful place to take a quick break from sightseeing. Located on Oxford’s High Street, it’s easy to sport with its very distinct blue colour covering the front of the building.
Opening times: Monday to Thursday 9:00am – 6:30pm Friday – Sunday: 9:00am – 7:00pm
Address: 84 High St, Oxford OX1 4BG
Best Things to do in Oxford
Now it’s time for the cream of the crop attractions in Oxford. Be prepared to learn about Oxford’s historic museums, impressive palaces and lush gardens below.
Visit Oxford Castle & Prison
With over 1,000 years of history, this Norman medieval castle was once a prison during the 18th century.
Much of the building, except for St. George’s tower, has been destroyed and rebuilt over the years. Today, it’s a hotel and popular visitors attraction.
Visiting Oxford Castle is one of those unique things to do in Oxfordshire. There are guided tours of the castle and prison that recounts both its past and present history. Alternatively, you could stop off at this destination during an Oxford Hop-on Hop-off sightseeing tour.
Address: 44-46 Oxford Castle, Oxford OX1 1AY
Visit Oxford’s Museum of Natural History & Pitt Rivers Museum
Visiting the Museum of Natural History in Oxfordshire is one of the top 10 things to do in Oxford. It is a bit further away from most of the sights in the city centre, so be prepared to walk a good 10 -15 minutes to get there.
Despite the extra effort, I would still recommend you visit. The museum is beautiful and has a superb collection of zoological and geological specimens, including fossils, stuffed animals, skeletons.
Oxford Natural History Museum is perhaps most famous for its dodo bird specimen, which comes all the way from the extinct bird’s home, the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.
The museum is said to have inspired several of Lewis Carroll’s characters in Alice in Wonderland.
My favourite section was the collection of dinosaur skeletons on show, along with the museum’s cathedral-like interior.
While this museum is considerably smaller than the one in London, it definitely should be included in the list of top Oxford tourist attractions.
The Gothic-style building was completed in 1861 by the Irish architects Thomas Newenham Deane and Benjamin Woodward. Newenham Deane’s son added the adjoining Pitt Rivers Museum to his father’s work decades later.
The Pitt Rivers Museum is accessed only through the Museum of Natural History and is noted for its original Victorian cases packed with anthropological curiosities from all over the world.
Entry to both museums is free with an optional donation, but you must pre-book a timed ticket online.
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday: 10:00 am – 4:30 pm Monday 12:00 pm to 16:30 pm
Address: Pitt Rivers Museum, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PP
Visit the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford
Founded in 1633, the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology is one of the oldest public museums in the world.
Its impressive Neo-Classical facade, part of the building designed by Charles Cockerell and dating from 1841-45.
The collection held in the Ashmolean Museum is diverse and exciting. From modern art to classical sculpture, Picasso to Egyptian mummies, there’s something for everyone.
It would take all day to see every floor, so I would pick the collections that you’re most interested in and see those on your day trip to Oxford. There’s no entrance fee, but you’ll need to pre-book a timed exhibition ticket.
Address: Cornmarket St, Oxford OX1 3EY
Weekend Opening: Saturday & Sunday (10 am – 5 pm)
Other Things to See in Oxford
While there are many attractions for you to see already, there are some other places to see that should not be missed. If you’re planning on spending the weekend in Oxford, check out these top spots.
- Christ Church
- Blenheim Palace
- Oxford’s covered market
- Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum
Footnote: Best Things to do in Oxford
I had a wonderful day trip to Oxford. While it’s only an hour away from London, it seems like another country. This is why it’s one of the top day trip destinations from London.
Over and above its other-world feel, the university town of Oxford is also filled with fun things to do and attractions to see.
Whether you want to admire historic buildings, visit museums or stroll through a stunning garden or market, you’ll find it here. Not to mention all the other attractions like Christ Church, the Bodley library and Blenheim Palace.
With so many reasons to visit Oxford, England, what’s holding you back? Book that train ticket and get sightseeing!
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