Oxford is built on grand history and energised by a thriving student population. Here are all the best things to do in Oxford, including the must-see attractions plus a few local experiences from my student days.  

When I first arrived as a student, the unmistakable charm of Oxford hit me the moment I wandered with uncertainty down cobbled streets and into grand buildings packed with history. Four years later – then another 7 living in the area – Oxford has left its mark.

History, tradition and English grandeur combine in an ancient golden-hued centre kept young by the 25,000 students seeking to establish their future in one of the most famous university towns in the world.

This mix of history and youthful ambition has created a banquet of wonderful things to do in Oxford.

Experience the majesty and grand architecture of some of the most illustrious colleges in the country. Uncover student life within medieval libraries and traditional pubs. Revel in world-class art or get active with country Cotswolds hikes just a stone’s throw from the centre of town.

From the town that gave the world penicillin, lithium-ion batteries, 28 world leaders, 160 Olympic medals, and several Harry Potter locations, Oxford is an overachiever.

Here is our guide to the best things to do in Oxford.

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things to do in oxford

OXFORD ATTRACTIONS MAP

To help you get your bearings in the city of dreaming spires, our maps of Oxford has all the must-visit attractions and local experiences we’ve listed in this guide.

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.  


1 – VISIT CHRIST CHURCH COLLEGE

The oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford consists of thirty-nine colleges spread throughout the city. Many of these colleges are not only the lifeblood of student activity but also magnificent architectural gems.

The grandest and wealthiest of the colleges, Christ Church, was founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII and has educated 13 prime ministers. The college chapel doubles as the Cathedral of Oxford.

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. Visiting is one of the most beguiling Oxford things to do.

There’s a guided route through Christ Church College which you are free to follow at your own pace, and multimedia guides are provided to explain the history of the college. Timed tickets must be booked online in advance.

king's college, things to do oxford

2 – TOUR THE BODLEIAN LIBRARY

As one of the oldest libraries in Europe with over 13 million printed items, the Bodleian Library is an unmissable attraction in Oxford. There are several tours to pick from, but the best is the 1-hour tour including the Duke Humfrey’s Library.

The tour visits the Divinity School (the oldest teaching room in the university), the Convocation House (which acted as the parliament in the 17th century) and the Chancellor’s Court (where guilty students have been punished over the centuries).

But the highlight is the Duke Humfrey’s Library, an atmospheric reading room lined with medieval books chained to wood-panelled walls. As the Hogwarts Library in the Harry Potter Films, the library is an atmospheric and engrossing thing to see in Oxford.

things to do in oxford

3 – SEE THE RADCLIFFE CAMERA

While the grand almost semi-spherical Radcliffe Camera is part of the Bodleian Library, not many tours stop here. So make sure you head to Radcliffe Square to savour this remarkable building.

Radiating from the dome-shaped architectural gem, smoothed cobbled stones separate the Radcliffe Camera from the finest collection of buildings in the city. Old Bodleian is to the north, Old Soul’s College to the east, Brasenose College to the west and Church of the St. Mary Virgin to the south.

Take the 127 steps up the St. Mary Virgin Church tower for an even better view. Dating from 1280, it is a gem in itself, but the view from the top is one of the best things to do in Oxford. Timed slots can be booked here.

4 – VISIT THE OXFORD COVERED MARKET

Serving people for almost 250 years, the stalls of the covered market range from grocers, butchers and fishmongers to boutiques selling art, aromatics and hats. Potter around the warehouse-style market and soak up the buzzing retail-inspired atmosphere.

Just outside the market on Market Street pop into Objects of Use; a homewares store teeming with beautifully designed everyday objects.

Back inside the market, we highly recommend the coffee at Columbia Coffee Roasters, who source, roast and brew their own beans. Their flat white is textured to perfection and the salted caramel brownie is the best accompaniment to plot the remaining things to do in Oxford.

5 – SHOP AT BLACKWELL’S BOOKSHOP

Blackwell’s Bookshop has been providing students with mental stimulation for over 140 years. It began as only 12 square feet, but slowly took over the neighbouring shops to become the massive cavern it is today. In addition to academic books and popular classics, Blackwell’s also has a huge selection of posters, music and specialist rare books.

Book lovers spend hours getting lost in the aisles of Blackwell’s. But there is also a regular calendar of book signings, children’s workshops, discussions and book launches.

There are two Blackwell’s in Oxford. The original on Broad Street and a newer store in Westgate Shopping Centre which also stocks stationery, cards, games and toys.

6 – ADMIRE THE BRIDGE OF SIGHS

Just like the Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge, the Oxford version has nothing to do with the famous bridge in Venice. This one at least started life with an original name, Hertford Bridge. It was completed in 1914 to connect two sections of Hertford College over New College Lane.

Legend has it that a health survey of Oxford students found Hertford College to be encumbered with the heaviest weight. So the college closed off the bridge that links the quads to force them to take get more exercise. It’s not true, but it’s a good soundbite for walking tours looking for something to say as they guide tourists past this ornate footbridge.

One of the great things to do in Oxford is to visit the Bridge of Sighs early in the morning when the street will be less busy.

ornate 18th century bridge in Oxford

7 – TOUR THE ASHMOLEAN MUSEUM

The Ashmolean was Britain’s first public museum. It reopened in 2009 after a massive refurbishment and the modernised space includes a huge collection of fine art pieces and archaeological artefacts.

Some of the collection’s most-treasured art pieces include drawings by Michelangelo, Raphael and da Vinci, and paintings by famous names such as Rubens and Picasso. Spanning a period of over 4,000 years, the museum has world-famous historical artefacts including Egyptian mummies, Greek and Minoan pottery, and a sprawling collection of ancient statues.

In addition to the permanent collection, there are temporary exhibitions, courses and talks, all open to the public.

The Ashmolean is one of the best things to do in Oxford for free, however, timed tickets can be booked online to guarantee entry during busy times. Allow at least 90 minutes.  

8 – STROLL MERTON STREET & CHRIST CHURCH MEADOW

Oxford is an enchanting city with hidden nooks bursting with a remarkable history. One of the best is Merton Street, an atmospheric cobbled lane packed with lovely colleges.

Start at the intricately decorated Examination Schools, where each year, anxious students pile in to sit their finals. Next, amble past the colleges lined up behind the cobbles. First up is Merton College, followed by Corpus Christi and, finally Oriel College.

After popping into the colleges, continue on to Merton Fields and Christ Church Meadow, and walk in the footsteps of Lewis Carroll at two lovely green spaces in Oxford. The views of the old and new buildings from the gardens are stunning.

things to do in oxford

9 – PUNT ON THE RIVER

If you’re wondering what to do in Oxford when the sun is shining, punting is a great choice. The tricky art of using a long pole (quant pole) to propel a small wooden boat (punt) along the River Cherwell is an exercise in balance and coordination.

The river is set in meadow, parks and woodland, so punting is a great way to enjoy the green surroundings of the city.

Bring a picnic, some beers or bubbles and try your hand at punting. Keep in mind, punting is one of the most adventurous things to do in Oxford; it’s harder than it looks.

The other option is to hire someone to do the punting for you. The most central location to hire a boat is at the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse next to Magdalen College. Punts take up to 5 people and cost £25 an hour. Chauffeured punts are £35 for 30 minutes. For all the details, visit Oxford Punting.

things to do in oxford punting

10 – EXPLORE PITT RIVER’S MUSEUM

The Pitt River’s Museum contains a massive collection of strange objects from all over the world. With a focus on cultural anthropological treasures, find anything from Japanese Noh Masks to Hawaiian feather cloaks; it’s a wonderful thing to see in Oxford.

Some of the highlights of the exhibition include ancient treasures from Papua New Guinea, caricature masks from Mexico and very important artefacts from the early days of photography.

There’s a regular rotation of temporary exhibitions as well as immersive productions, talks and sessions where you can handle some of the objects.

The Pitt River’s collection included human remains until 2020 when a decision was taken to remove them all, including the famous shrunken heads from South America, out of respect for the indigenous peoples whose ancestors were on display.

Entrance is free and pre-booking is not required.

11 – A PINT IN AN OXFORD PUB

A proper Oxford education involves many long hours debating righteous thoughts inside cosy pubs. Have a pint inside an Oxford institution and follow in the footsteps of great world leaders.

Turf Tavern – This is a personal favourite from my student days in Oxford. Located at the end of a narrow winding lane next to one of the few remaining sections of the old city walls it dates back to 1381.

Bear Inn – The Bear Inn dates back to 1242, making it one of the oldest pubs in Oxford. There are over 4,500 neckties pinned to the walls. Each comes from a different club, team or school from anywhere across the world, creating a very sporty old-world feel.

King’s Arms – The King’s Arms is a student favourite with long wooden benches on wood floors. The ales are good, and the service is quick. The two high-backed chairs by the windows overlooking Holywell Street have been used by many great minds devising the next big discovery.

12 – PICNIC OR SWIM AT PORT MEADOW

Port Meadow is an ancient grazing land that allegedly has not been ploughed for 4,000 years. It’s a grazing area for horses and cattle, and a haven for wildflowers and birdlife attracted to the river that runs along its boundary.

On a summer’s day, it’s a fantastic spot to picnic just 25 minutes’ walk from the centre of Oxford. Bring your gear and jump in the river for a wild swim. Take a long quiet paddle out from the banks, or join the kids leaping in from the bridge where the river meets the Castle Mill Stream.

At the end of the day, head to the Trout Inn, beautifully set by the drifting waters of the river, or to The Perch, the 17th-century pub tucked into the village of Binsey.

To help put our favourite must-see places in Oxford together in one day, ready our day trip to Oxford guide.

13 – SEE OXFORD CASTLE & PRISON

Oxford Castle is a partly ruined mediaeval castle just outside the centre of Oxford. The Norman building was destroyed in the English Civil War but bizarrely the St George’s Tower that remains is believed to be a watchtower from much earlier Saxon times.

The remnants of the rest of the castle became a prison in 1785 which was redeveloped as a visitor attraction in 1996. Today, Oxford Castle & Prison displays over 1,000 years of history.

It’s a bit crammed in on all sides by shopping centres and council buildings, slightly distracting from the imposing figure the building would have once been. But the guides do a great job of bringing it to life.

Admission is via a guided tour only, (currently £15.25 for adults) and be aware, there are lots of steps up and down the towers.

oxford castle things to do in oxford

14 – EVENSONG MAGDALEN COLLEGE

There’s no better way to experience the grandeur of an Oxford college than by being absorbed in the ceremony of Evensong. Even for the non-religious, it’s a wonderful thing to do in Oxford.

One of the best colleges for Evensong is Magdalen. Taking up a commanding position on the banks of the Cherwell, this grand old college has picture-perfect quads, lush gardens and a grand dining hall.

The highlight, however, is the chapel which you can visit for free during Evensong and be uplifted by heavenly choirs and exquisite architecture. Evensong takes place most evening (but not all) at 6pm and last for about 40 minutes. More details – magd.ox.ac.uk.

15 – VISIT THE OLD FIRE STATION

The Old Fire Station is a charity-run community hub that showcases contemporary art, drama and music while providing crisis support for the homeless.

It’s a unique public space where visitors can see comedy, theatre, improv sessions, dance, spoken word performances, and art exhibitions. Homeless people come to the Old Fire Station to learn new skills in a supportive environment where they are treated with respect.

The onsite café, Damascus Rose Kitchen, supports refugee women from Arabic-speaking backgrounds and serves up excellent Middle Eastern Food.

It’s definitely worth seeing what’s on while you’re in Oxford. Visit oldfirestation.org.uk for more.

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MORE THINGS TO DO IN OXFORD

If you have the time, here are a few more Oxford attractions to visit.

Botanic GardensOxford’s Botanic Garden contains over 5,000 plant species making it one of the most diverse plant collections in the world. Founded in 1621 it was the UK’s first botanic garden. Being located centrally in the city, it’s very accessible. Enter through the impressive Danby Gateway and make sure you don’t miss the walled garden.

Thirsty Meeples – Embrace the quirkier side of Oxford at Thirsty Meeples Board Games Café. Pay a small cover charge, then play as many board games as you like from their collection of 2,700 titles. The cafe has a large selection of drinks and food you can hold in one hand so as to not distract from the important business of winning.

Sheldonian – The Sheldonian holds graduation ceremonies and other important university functions, but at night it often turns into a theatre. A curved auditorium of wooden-panelled seating overlooks a stage hosting top-class drama or classical music in this superb Oxford institution.

VISITING THE OXFORD COLLEGES – OPENING TIMES & COSTS

If you have time, the other Oxford Colleges worth visiting are New College, for the moody cloisters which featured in Harry Potter; Trinity College, for some of the grandest gardens in Oxford; and Corpus Christi for the timeless cobbled square.

All the Oxford Colleges have different opening times throughout the year, depending on term-time activities. Some are free to enter, while others have a fee and only allow access to certain areas.

The hours, opening times and access information for every college are summarised on the ox.ac.uk website.

things to do in oxford colleges

WHERE TO STAY IN OXFORD

As a popular hub for tourists to the UK, accommodation in Oxford can be expensive, but it has a wide range of great hotels. Check out our suggestions below.

Another option is to stay in the Cotswolds, which is only 30 minutes outside the city centre. All our recommendations are covered in our guide to the best places to stay in the Cotswolds.

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

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK IN OXFORD

As a thriving university town, there is no shortage of great places to grab a bite in Oxford. Here are some of our favourite places to eat, drink and be merry in Oxford. For some of the best nightlight options, check out this guide to the best cocktail bars in Oxford.

Handle Bar Cafe – Located above a bike shop, the quirky cycle-inspired decor and interesting brunch menu at The Handle Bar Cafe is a great introduction to the hipster side of Oxford. Finish the morning ritual at Society Cafe, our favourite coffee in Oxford thanks to their expertly crafted brews and sleek modern space.

Society Café – Just down the road from Handle Bar, Society Cafe is our pick for the best coffee in Oxford. They craft their milk-based creations to perfection, but the V60 drip coffee gets the most out of their grind. The cakes are great too.

Ashmolean Rooftop – Situated above the museum, the Ashmolean Rooftop Restaurant is a great setting for a special dinner. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors open to a terrace for excellent views over Oxford.

Raoul’s Bar – In the trendy student neighbourhood of Jerico, Roul’s Bar, is the oldest cocktail bar in Oxford and a great destination for expertly crafted drinks in a dimly lit lounge bar.

things to do in oxford cafes

WHAT TO BOOK AHEAD FOR YOUR OXFORD VISIT

Oxford can get very busy, especially over the peak summer period, so it’s a good idea to book a few things in advance to save waiting in queues.

A tour with a student guide is a great way to get the inside scoop on one of the colleges, while the Harry Potter walk takes you past all the locations made famous by the films.

We’d recommend booking the Bodleian Library tour and Christ Church College as early as possible as they can both get very busy.

things to do in oxford

HOW TO GET TO OXFORD

Centrally located in England, Oxford can be an easy day trip or weekend break from many places in the UK.

BY TRAIN

Oxford train station is a ten minutes walk from the centre of town. Trains leave from London Paddington every 30 minutes and take around 1 hour.

Regular direct trains also run from Birmingham (1h 10m), Bournemouth (1h 50m) & Manchester (2h 45m). There are so many other historic cities around Oxford it can also be included on a 1-week UK rail trip.

BY BUS

While the train is quicker, the bus is cheaper and the route to London is particularly well served. 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 and ends at the Oxford bus station right in the centre of town.

BY CAR

Only 60 to 70 miles from London, Birmingham & Bristol it takes less than 1 hour 30 minutes to drive from each. Parking in town is expensive and the one-way system can get jammed.

Either park at one of the Park & Ride services on the outskirts of town or head to the newly finished Westgate Shopping Centre car park.

things to do in oxford

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The best things to do in Oxford including the best colleges to visit, the best pubs in Oxford, world-class museums and more. | Bodleian Library | Radcliffe Camera | Bridge of Sighs | Natural History Museum Oxford | Pitt Rivers Oxford | Punting Oxford | Port Meadow Oxford | Day trips from Oxford