Seeping with history and energized by a student buzz, Oxford is an enchanting excursion within the UK. Be seduced by the charm and grandeur of the renowned university town on a day trip to Oxford.

LAST UPDATE: 21 Nov 2023

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When King Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris in 1167, they made the journey to a sleepy town surrounded by green meadows to complete their education.

Seduced by the growing reputation for academic prowess and the bucolic location close to the villages of the Cotswolds, King Henry III granted the university a royal charter in 1248.

The great and the good have flocked to Oxford ever since. A host of prime ministers, a couple of US presidents, 12 saints, and Kate Beckinsale were all educated here.

While history seeps from cobble-stoned laneways and golden architecture, there’s a huge variety within the city of dreaming spires. From esteemed gothic chapels to exquisitely decorated libraries; atmospheric English pubs and trendy hipster diners – a day out in Oxford is a wonderful mix of old and new.

For Harry Potter fans, there are few better day trips in the world.

Here’s how to construct your Oxford day trip. For the full list, read our guide to the best things to do in Oxford.

ornate building with Corinthian columns behind a black wrought iron fence

ABOUT THIS GUIDE

OXFORD DAY TRIP

We’ve put together the best way to see Oxford in one day, with all the main attractions in the right order so you can see as much as possible. We’ve also included information on how to get there and where to stay if you decide to extend your day trip.

OXFORD DAY TRIP – MORNING

BREAKFAST

Start your day out in Oxford with brunch at The Handle Bar Café. Located above a bike shop, the quirky cycle-inspired decor, and interesting brunch menu is a great introduction to the hipster side of Oxford.

Their coffee is pretty good, but for a more serious brew, head to Society Cafe just down the road.

RADCLIFFE CAMERA

Energised, proceed to one of Oxford’s most photographed landmarks, the Radcliffe Camera. The neo-classical 17th-century gem is part of the Bodleian Library and acts as an exquisite centrepiece to the golden-hued heart of Oxford.

It’s best seen from above, so head up to the rooftop of the Church of St Mary the Virgin for unparalleled sweeping views.

DETAILS | CHURCH OF ST MARY THE VIRGIN

hours – 9:30 am – 5 pm (Mon to Sat); 12 pm – 5 pm (Sun) | tower – last admissions 30 min prior to closing | cost – £5 (£15 family)

Oval ornate stone building with dappled sunlight
RADCLIFFE CAMERA, OXFORD

BODLEIAN LIBRARY

Next, take the 60-minute Bodleian Library tour which includes the Duke Humfrey’s Medieval Library. This is the oldest reading room in the university which was also used as inspiration for the Hogwarts Library in the Harry Potter films.

It’s a thoroughly atmospheric building and a very popular attraction in Oxford, so book well in advance.

DETAILS | BODLEIAN LIBRARY TOUR

times – 10:30 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 2 pm (Mon-Sat); 11:30am, 2pm, 3pm (Sun) | duration – 60 minutes | start point – Divinity School | cost – £12 | bookings – online in advance.

SHELDONIAN THEATRE

You’ll exit the Bodleian tour at the Sheldonian Theatre, the architectural jewel that houses the graduation ceremonies and a worthy addition to your Oxford photography collection.

Just across the road is Hertford Bridge, colloquially known as the Bridge of Sighs due to its resemblance to the real one in Venice. It too deserves a photo.

Alumni Guided Tour — If you decide to skip the Bodleian Library tour then all the sights listed above can be visited on an excellent walking tour led by an ex-student of the university.

LUNCH

Have lunch at No.1 Ship Street which offers great value meals right next to some of the oldest houses in Oxford. Or for something less formal grab a pie, sandwich, or snack from the covered market.

COVERED MARKET

The Covered Market dates back to 1770. Today, it houses a mixed assortment of traders with everything from old-time butchers to tacky souvenirs.

When in Oxford, we always make a pitstop in the market for one excellent reason: to savour the goodness of a salted caramel brownie from Columbia Coffee Roasters. The coffee is pretty good too.

OXFORD DAY TRIP – AFTERNOON

CHRIST CHURCH MEADOW

Walk off that brownie with a stroll through the Christ Church Meadow.

In 1784, the meadow was the scene of one of England’s first balloon flights. Today, the roughly triangular green space edged by the River Thames and the River Cherwell is a lovely place to admire the more tranquil side of Oxford.

CHRIST CHURCH COLLEGE

There are many colleges open to visitors in Oxford but with just one day, we recommend Christ Church College – the grandest of them all.

Founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII, Christ Church has educated 13 prime ministers and a host of other well-known personalities including Lewis Caroll.

The college chapel doubles as the Cathedral of Oxford with all the necessary ornamentation befitting its titles. The dining hall was the seat of parliament during the English Civil War and more recently, the inspiration behind the dining room in Harry Potter. 

Harry Potter Tour // Christ Church is a must for any Harry Potter fan with many scenes being filmed here. Combine visiting Christ Church with a Harry Potter walking tour and no Harry Potter fan will leave disappointed.

DETAILS | CHRIST CHURCH COLLEGE

hours – 9:30 am to 4:30 pm (Mon to Sat); 10:30 am to 4:30 pm (Sun) | cost – £15 | bookingsonline in advance

EXETER COLLEGE, NEW COLLEGE & MAGDALEN

If you have the time (or if the price of entry into Christ Church puts you off) several smaller colleges open their doors in the afternoon (many for free).

We suggest you try Exeter (with a fine chapel and good views over the Radcliffe Camera), New College (with its beautiful cloisters), and Magdalen (with its hydrangea-filled quads).

WALK MORE OF THE COLLEGES

Spend what remains of the afternoon exploring the exteriors of the colleges you didn’t go into. Here’s a quick walking tour to collect some beautiful college façades.

Head down cobbled Merton Lane, past Merton College and Corpus Christi. Re-join the High Street and absorb the imposing Magdalen before heading up Longwall Street past New College and onto Broad Street.

Here stand the traditionally left-wing colleges of Wadham and Balliol on either side of the impressive grounds of Trinity College.

ornate college towers through a gate

OXFORD DAY TRIP – EVENING

TURF TAVERN

Glide into the evening on your day out in Oxford with a pint in an atmospheric old English pub. Our pick would be the Turf Tavern.

Down a wobbly cobbled lane, the Turf is a low-beamed, crowded pub bursting with stories. Famous patrons have included Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher.

But the most notorious client is former Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, who set the Guinness World Record at the Turf for downing a yard of beer in 11 seconds.

EVENSONG

If you’re classier than Bob Hawke you might prefer Evensong in a college. Listen to soaring choir music inside one of the grand college chapels.

Evensong usually starts in the early evening, lasts about 40 minutes and is free to enter. We recommend Christ Church, Magdalen, or New College.

ASHMOLEAN AFTER HOURS 

If your day trip to Oxford coincides with the last Friday of the month, you can take advantage of Ashmolean After Hours. The museum is open until 8 pm where you can take in a talk, listen to free music or relax in their rooftop bar.

WIND DOWN

Take it down a notch after Evensong with an expertly crafted cocktail at Raoul’s Bar & Liquor Store in Jericho – one of Oxford’s trendy student neighbourhoods.

Oxford day trip

MAP – OXFORD DAY TRIP ITINERARY

Oxford is a conveniently compact city with most of the sights on this day trip itinerary within easy walking distance of each other. All the sights listed in this guide are on the below map.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


OTHER THINGS TO DO IN OXFORD

Above we have picked our favourite Oxford attractions and experiences that capture the grandness and history of one of the most famous university towns in the world. Of course, there are plenty of other sides to the city of dreaming spires.

Here are a couple of other ideas for your day trip.

OXFORD WALKING TOUR

To learn more about the city, join a walking tour run by an alumni. Not only do you get a better insight into its history, you get to hear about the fun and games of student life.

HARRY POTTER OXFORD

Much of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was inspired by Oxford and many of the scenes were filmed here. Any dedicated fan should join the Harry Potter walking tour.

It includes entry to the Divinity School film site (where they filmed the classroom, dance, and infirmary scenes) as well as other historic literary buildings. On route the guide tests your knowledge with a Potter-mania quiz.

Note that the tour does not include entrance to Christ Church, so make sure to book that independently.

OXFORD MUSEUMS

Oxford is blessed with world-class museums. The Ashmolean is a stunning museum with a diverse collection including everything from Egyptian mummies to modern art.

Pitt River’s Museum has a weird and wacky collection of archaeological and anthropological treasures.

Modern Art Oxford has a regular rotation of exhibitions and installations, most of which are free.

OXFORD BOTANIC GARDENS 

Established in the 17th century as a small garden growing plants for medical research, the Oxford Botanic Gardens are the oldest in Great Britain.

It’s said to contain over 5,000 plant species and still has well-maintained medicinal beds growing plants to treat illnesses.

OXFORD CASTLE 

Oxford Castle is a partly ruined Norman castle just outside the main centre. The Saxon St George’s Tower is one of the oldest buildings in Oxford and has stunning views over the city.

PUNTING 

Try your hand at punting on the River Cherwell. It’s a fine line between competent and inept as you navigate the river in a narrow wooden boat with nothing but a long pole.

Book a chauffeured punt from Magdalen Bridge Boathouse or try your luck with a self-guided adventure.

HIKING NEAR OXFORD

If you want to get out of the city and explore the area, there are a number of country walks that are easy to do from Oxford.

We’ve compiled what we think are the best walks in the Cotswolds with detailed maps to get you started.

oxford day trip 08

HOW TO GET TO OXFORD

Oxford is centrally located in southwest England approximately 60 miles from London, 77 miles from Birmingham, and 70 miles from Bristol.

Getting to Oxford by car — It takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes to drive to Oxford from London on the M40. Parking is extremely limited and many streets are closed to traffic, but there are five Park & Ride services on the outskirts of the city centre.

London to Oxford by Train — The train station is a 10-minute walk into the centre of Oxford with step-free access throughout, plus toilets, baby changing facilities and cafes.

GETTING TO OXFORD | TRAINS


LONDON PADDINGTON TO OXFORD

44 minutes | 4 am – 12:30 am

BIRMINGHAM TO OXFORD

1 hr, 6 min | 5 am – 10 pm

BRISTOL TEMPLE MEADS TO OXFORD

1 hour, 11 minutes | 4 am – 10:45 pm

MANCHESTER TO OXFORD

2 hours, 45 minutes | 4 am – 8:25 pm

DAY TRIP TO OXFORD FROM LONDON

Oxford is the perfect destination for a day trip from London. The train is the easiest way to get there (see above), but there is also a bus and plenty of tours.

London to Oxford Bus — The Oxford Tube bus service leaves from London’s Victoria Station every 20 minutes and collects passengers at Marble Arch, Baker Street, Notting Hill Gate, and Shepherd’s Bush underground stations. The trip takes around 1 hour and 40 minutes. The bus station is a 2-minute walk to the centre of town.

LONDON TO OXFORD TOURS

If you want to let someone else take the strain, take a tour to Oxford. Combine it with a chocolate box village in the Cotswolds, Windsor Castle, or the home of Downton Abbey. For Harry Potter fans combine a day trip to Oxford with the magical Warner Bros. Tour ‘The Making of Harry Potter’.

oxford day trip 09

BEST TIME TO GO TO OXFORD

Oxford is good all year round, however in May, when the gardens are in full bloom and the students in full celebratory mode, there’s an unmistakable bounce to the city.

Students disappear in summer to be replaced by tourists. So, while the vibe changes, the punting is ideal and a picnic on the River Thames or Cherwell is the perfect way to unwind after soaking up the grandeur and history of the city.

With the gaudy Christmas markets of European counterparts not gaining a foothold over Oxford, the town takes on a quiet slumber in winter.

The old streets with their medieval buildings frosted in snow can be quite magical.

WHERE TO STAY IN OXFORD

Oxford is a great day trip, but there is easily enough to do for a 2 or 3 days. If you plan on a weekend break or longer trip, here are our recommendations on where to stay.

5-STAR LUXURY

OLD PARSONAGE

The Old Parsonage has a chic country house feel with a blend of luxury and character in a friendly environment. The walled garden is a lovely place to relax and at around 5 minutes to walk into the centre of Oxford, the location is bang on.


CONTEMPORARY B&B

THE GALAXIE

The Galaxie is a friendly, family-run guesthouse in a leafy suburb just outside the centre of Oxford. There’s a hearty breakfast every day and facilities include parking and free wifi. It’s a 20-minute walk into the centre of Oxford but there are several restaurants in the area.


QUIRKY & AFFORDABLE

THE OSNEY ARMS

At just a 10-minute walk to the centre of Oxford, the Osney Arms is a great, budget-friendly option with bright clean rooms. The grab-and-go breakfast is perfect for getting on your way in the morning and the public transport options are excellent.


ornate building with Corinthian columns behind a black wrought iron fence

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Visit the famous sites of Oxford on a day trip from London. Seeping with history and energized by a student buzz, Oxford is an enchanting excursion from London. Be seduced by the charm and grandeur of the renowned university town on a day trip to Oxford. Visit Oxford | Radcliffe Camera | Bodleian Library | Christ Church College, Oxford | Ashmolean Oxford