This post will provide several great ideas for things to do and see in Oxford, England.
We list our favorite 10 activities, as well as sections with nighttime, free, and family-friendly attractions and activities.
Let's dig in!
- Top 10
- Free Things to Do
- Nighttime Activities
- Things to Do with Kids
- Day Trips to Oxford
- Restaurants and Food
The following section will cover the ten most interesting attractions to see and things to do in Oxford.
Some of these activities are family-friendly, great after dark, or free to enjoy. Make sure to check our sections devoted to these subjects for even more ideas.
1. Go to a Museum
There are several great museums to visit in the Oxford area.
While some are focused on more traditional subjects such as natural history, others provide a look at architectural history, antiques, and modern art.
Here are a few of the best locations to visit:
- Museum of Natural History
- Museum of the History of Science
- Bate Collection of Musical Instruments
- Museum of Modern Art
- Ashmolean Museum
Each of these museums is entirely free to visit, but some will request a donation.
How much you pay is up to you, but the average donation is around £5 per person.
2. See the Architecture
The modern-day streets of Oxford run along the original design created hundreds of years ago, which means waking the streets of Oxford is like walking through history.
The architecture today dates from medieval times and has given the city the nickname of ‘Dreaming Spires,’ for the delicate stone carvings that rise up into the air.
Beautiful stone carvings, elegant domes, and charming stained glass all come together to make Oxford one of the most architecturally impressive cities in the world.
3. Discover Harry Potter Filming Locations
Some of the most notable scenes in the Harry Potter franchise were actually shot on location at various sites around Oxford.
If you want to find these filming locations, there are two options to consider: a professionally guided tour or a self-guided tour.
Visitors who are interested in a guided tour can actually take one from London which includes the popular Warner Bros. Studio Tour.
You can learn more about this option on our post covering Oxford day trips from London.
For those who choose to guide themselves, make sure to read our post covering Harry Potter sights in and around London for help finding the most interesting film locations.
4. See Downton Abbey Sites
In addition to all the areas used while filming the Harry Potter movies, Oxford is also home to filming locations from Downton Abbey.
Fans of the series may want to consider taking either a self-guided or professionally organized tour while they’re in the area.
Although you can definitely go on your own exploration to find and see these sites, there are quite a few guided tours that include access to popular destinations such as Highclere Castle and Blenheim Palace.
For more details on both of these options, make sure to read our post about Downton Abbey tours and locations.
You can also take a trip from London which includes several Downton Abbey sites. Check our day trips to Oxford section for more information.
5. Take a Bus Tour
If you want to see all the major sites of Oxford without having to walk everywhere, there is a hop-on-hop-off bus tour available which offers stops at the most popular destinations in town.
This tour is offered by City Sightseeing, and it allows you to jump on and off at your leisure to explore the town at your own pace.
There are 20 different stops including Christ Church, The Queen’s College, Trinity College Gates, and many other notable sites.
Tickets start at £16 per person, making this a pretty affordable activity.
This bus tour is also included with the Oxford Pass. If you want to save some money on this activity, make sure to check our discounts section for more details.
6. Take a Tour of Oxford University
There are several different tours available at Oxford University which often include entrance fees and commentary about the historic school.
We also offer a GPS-led audio tour for just £2.
Most of these tours also include coverage of Oxford itself, providing details about notable landmarks, famous people who attended the college, and even Harry Potter filming locations.
Some Oxford University tours are pay-what-you-wish, while others are as low as £12.95 per person.
For more details about this activity, make sure to read our post covering Oxford University walking tours.
7. Go on a Boat Tour
Tracing the River Thames to its origins in the West Country of England will take you straight through the centre of Oxford.
However, once the Thames comes into the boundaries of Oxford, its’ name changes to the Isis.
A classic way to enjoy the Isis is to travel its length through town, in either a rowboat, a pedal or the absolutely classic favourite: a punt.
Check out this website for more information on hiring a boat.
Founded in 1774, Oxford’s Covered Market boasts dozens of stalls and traders, including traditional market stalls like greengrocers and butchers, down to fresh flowers, bakeries, and gift shops.
But for us, the best stall is that of Ben’s Cookies – opened in 1984 and now trading throughout the country, fresh and warm delicious cookies can still be bought here today.
Whether you’re looking for a snack or you want to shop for gifts, this is a great place to visit while you’re in Oxford.
9. See the Bodleian Libraries
With over 13 million printed items available, this is one of the most impressive and large libraries in the whole world.
Located at Oxford University, the Bodleian Library is both an excellent location for book lovers to see as well as an amazing wealth of knowledge and information.
Even Harry Potter fans will have a reason to stop by, as the Bodleian Library was actually the filming location for Hogwarts Library!
This historic collection of libraries is entirely free to visit, and they even offer some tours and other events throughout the year.
10. Visit Oxford Castle
Dating back 1,000 years and doubling as both a home and a prison, Oxford Castle now has a new hotel!
The original castle was damaged severely in the English Civil War but still operated as a prison until 1996 before being transformed into a historic place to stay.
The ruins of the original tower, such as the base of St George’s Tower, still stands and the crypt is preserved and may be visited.
Tickets start at £12.50, but you can save money on this activity by using the 2 for 1 deal and the Oxford Pass.
The following section will provide many fun and interesting activities you can enjoy for free in Oxford.
Don’t forget to check our other sections for ideas such as a self-guided Harry Potter tour, a trip to the Bodleian Libraries, and architecture sightseeing.
11. Attend Choral Evensong
There are some historic and beautiful churches in Oxford, and each of them offers a free Choral Evensong performance throughout the week.
One of the most popular options is at Christ Church Cathedral, which provides this service every night.
New College Chapel is another favorite location for this activity, and they have performances every night except Wednesday.
Alternatively, you may also want to consider going to Magdalen College Chapel, which offers Choral Evening Prayer every day except Sunday.
Each location is free to visit and you can expect Evensong to begin at 18:00 (6 pm).
12. Visit a Free Museum
As we explained in our top 10 section, there are actually several museums that you can visit for free in Oxford.
Here are a few more examples you might want to consider:
- The Museum of Oxford
- The Oxfordshire Museum
- Pitt Rivers Museum
- Oxford University Press Museum
These locations cover a variety of subjects including the history of journalism in Oxford, magical artifacts, masks and more.
While admission is free, it’s worth noting that these museums usually accept donations.
13. See the Headington Shark House
Ever wondered what it would look like if a shark fell from the sky and crashed through the roof of a house?
If that question seems strange, you’ll probably be even more confused by the fact that this house actually exists – and it’s close to Oxford!
Located just outside the city centre in Headington, this odd landmark is actually a sculpture created by artist John Buckley.
Needless to say, this is certainly a funny sight to see, and it won’t cost you anything to enjoy!
In this section, we will cover some of the best things to do after dark while you’re in Oxford.
Take a look at our other sections for even more great activities to enjoy at night such as attending Choral Evensong, or enjoying the architecture.
14. Stay the Night at a Castle
As we mentioned in the top 10 section, Oxford Castle has actually been converted into a hotel that you can stay in overnight.
This is a great place to stay if you’re interested in the history of this structure.
Some visitors may also want to consider staying the night because this location is supposedly haunted.
Even if you don’t believe in such things, it’s worth noting that each hotel room was once a prison cell!
Whether you’re interested in history or the supernatural, this is also a fantastic option if you want to stay in the city for more than one day.
15. Go on a Ghost Tour
In addition to the apparent hauntings at the Oxford Castle, there are also a lot of other locations in the area where visitors have reported strange sights and sounds.
Whether you want to explore at your own pace and take a self-guided ghost tour or have a guide show you some of the more creepy areas of Oxford, there are multiple options to consider.
Tickets for guided tours start at about £10 per person, and you can expect them to last for about 1 ½ - 2 hours on average.
Alternatively, you can also use this list of haunted locations in Oxford to make your own way around the city.
16. Enjoy a Night at the Theatre
There are a variety of different theatres in Oxford, including locations that host musicals/plays and of course some movie venues.
One of the most popular options is the open-air theatre used by the Oxford Shakespeare Company. As you might have guessed, they perform some of the greatest works of William Shakespeare.
Alternatively, you may also want to consider New Theatre Oxford, which hosts several popular musicals such as Hair, Amélie, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, Grease, and more.
If you’re more interested in a movie, head to the Oxford ODEON to see some of the best blockbusters of the year.
This section will provide details about some of the best family-friendly attractions and activities in Oxford.
Take a look at our other sections for additional ideas like Harry Potter tours, seeing the Headington Shark House, visiting the Covered Market, attending Choral Evensong, and more.
17. Visit Christ Church
In addition to hosting Choral Evensong each night, there are other reasons to bring the kids here while you’re visiting Oxford.
Not only was the church used as inspiration for the setting of some Harry Potter films, but it was also very inspirational to the classic tale of Alice in Wonderland.
Christ Church College is actually the school where author Lewis Carroll once studied, and he met his muse (named Alice) while attending.
Visitors should take the chance to look around for some of the subtle nods to this story, including a stain glass window with a portrait of Alice in the Great Hall.
You’ll also find the inspiration for Wonderland in the Christ Church Cathedral Garden!
18. Stop By Alice’s Shop
If you’re going to be visiting Christ Church Cathedral to see all of the Alice in Wonderland influences, you might want to hop on over (like a rabbit who’s late for a very important date!) to Alice’s Shop.
Located on St. Aldates, this store is actually the spot where Alice Liddell – the inspiration for the story – once purchased sweets.
Nowadays, shoppers can expect to find an interesting selection of gifts, souvenirs, and memorabilia related to the tale written by Lewis Carroll.
19. Go to the Story Museum
Can’t get enough of the classic fairy tale worlds and stories that were inspired by Oxford? Then head to the Story Museum for plenty of fun things to see and do.
Although their exhibition space is currently closed for redevelopment, this museum is also home to several fun workshops, talks, performances, author events, and even courses.
While some of the activities are free, others may require admission. The museum itself is entirely free to enter, and it’s a great place to take the kids for a fun experience while you’re in the area.
Check their calendar to find out what’s on during your visit to Oxford.
20. Take the Kids to the Oxford Museum of Natural History
There are a lot of interesting things to see and experience at this Natural History Museum.
In addition to fossils of dinosaurs, you’ll also find exhibits covering a variety of life forms from various periods throughout the history of our planet.
This museum also has exhibitions focusing on rocks and minerals, the story of evolution (did we mention Charles Darwin went to Oxford University?), insects, and even architecture.
Admission is entirely free and they are open every day from 10:00 am - 17:00 (5 pm).
21. Check Out the Pitt Rivers Museum
If your kids are more interested in the history of theatre or magic, consider stopping by the Pitt Rivers Museum.
In addition to hosting a lot of exhibits and artifacts about a variety of different cultures and culturally significant subjects from around the world.
This museum houses over 600,000 objects, including some of the first masks used in theatre and even some early examples of tools used for magic.
As with most other museums in Oxford, admission won’t cost a thing.
The Pitt Rivers Museum is open from 12:00 pm - 16:30 (4:30 pm) on Mondays and from 10:00 am - 16:30 (4:30 pm) every other day.
22. Take a Bike Tour
In addition to all the other outings available in this city, there are also Oxford bike tours you can take with the whole family.
One of the most popular companies offering this service is Bainton Bikes, and they cover a variety of interesting topics on the ride.
During the tour, you can expect to ride under the Bridge of Sighs, see the home of J.R.R. Tolkien, travel along the river Thames and see all of the famous and beloved architecture in the area.
The following section will detail some of the best ways to save money on various activities and attractions in Oxford.
We will include services such as tourist passes, discount programs, and more.
Tourist Attraction Discount Passes
If you’re planning to see and do a lot of things in Oxford, you may want to consider getting a tourist pass while you’re here.
The Oxford Pass is currently the only service in the area, and they provide access to 10 different activities and attractions.
Rather than paying a different price for admission to each activity, you’ll pay one flat price for two days of fun.
The following attractions are included:
- Hop-on-Hop-off Bus Tour
- Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum
- Oxford Castle & Prison
- Special Exhibits at Ashmolean Museum
- Oxford Official Walking Tours
- The Oxford Artisan Distillery
- Carfax Tower
- And more!
This pass is less than £35 per day, which means you’ll only need to visit a few locations each day to save money on tickets for each attraction.
If you’re coming here from London, it’s also worth noting that some London tourist passes include day trips to Oxford.
Visitors who plan to see more than just Oxfordshire may want to consider using one of these services to save a few pounds on travel and other activities.
Please read our post about London tourist attraction discount passes for more details.
2 For 1 Program
As we have mentioned throughout the post, a variety of the most interesting activities in Oxford are actually included in this program.
This discount option allows you to get 2 tickets for the price of 1 when you use the National Rail service for travel to the attraction/activity.
If you’re planning on taking a self-guided day trip to Oxford, this could be an excellent opportunity to save some money.
For more details, make sure to read our post about 2 for 1 deals.
Even if you don’t feel like using one of the other options in this section, you may still want to check discount services like Groupon for other opportunities to save on fun activities in Oxford.
On top of the deals they offer upfront, they also usually offer additional coupon codes that you can use to save an extra 20% or more.
Make sure to check around the site for banners to see if there are any extra discounts being offered at the time of your purchase.
The following section will provide a simple list of excellent restaurants and places to grab a bite in Oxford.
Don’t forget that you can also stop by the Covered Market to get a snack!
Eagle and Child Pub
Although it may not sound like a particularly notable location to some, others will jump at the opportunity to grab a pint at this historic location.
Believe it or not, this is where authors C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien once spent time together!
To this day, the pub continues to serve a simple menu with great drinks and food.
The Grand Cafe
This historic location is often considered one of the best places to enjoy high tea while in Oxford.
Housed in the building that was the site of England’s first coffee house, the cafe that exists today specializes in traditional tea, coffee, scones, and gourmet sandwiches.
If you plan to stop in here, make sure to book your table at least 24 hours ahead of time – it’s quite popular!