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.
- 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:
- Oxford University Museum of Natural History
- Museum of the History of Science
- Bate Collection of Musical Instruments
- Museum of Modern Art
- The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology
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 walking 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.
Tips From Tourists:
Many members on our London Facebok Group recommend that Harry Potter fans visit Oxford over Cambridge, as there's much more to see here for fans of the franchise.
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, birthplace of Winston Churchill.
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 that 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.
Tips For Tourists:
Some of our Facebook Group members recommend taking this tour to learn about Oxford, indicating it offers well-resourced details about the history of this area.
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.
Tips From Tourists:
Most members of our London Facebook Group agree that it's pretty easy to do a day trip to Oxford and enjoy a walking tour of the city in just one day.
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 center 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 magnificent library is one of the oldest libraries in all of Europe.
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.
Tips For Tourists:
Many of our Facebook Group members recommend taking the official tours, as they include access to certain areas you might not see otherwise.
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 stand 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.
Be sure to check out our post on other castles in and around London and Oxford.
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 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 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 stained 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.
23. Oxford Botanic Gardens
A visit to Oxford Botanic Garden, which is the oldest botanic garden in the UK, offers a serene and educational experience.
You can expect to explore a diverse collection of plants from around the world, organized into themed borders and glasshouses.
The garden provides a tranquil atmosphere for leisurely walks, picnics, or photography.
Visitors can learn about plant conservation and research efforts, as well as participate in seasonal events and guided tours.
It's an ideal destination for nature enthusiasts and those interested in horticulture and botany.
24. Radcliffe Camera
A visit to the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford is a glimpse into the city's rich history and stunning architecture.
You can expect to see this iconic neoclassical building, part of the Bodleian Library, from the outside, as it's not typically open to the public.
However, you can enjoy its impressive exterior, characterized by its circular design and beautiful stonework, while exploring the surrounding Radcliffe Square.
The Radcliffe Camera is a popular spot for photos and a symbol of Oxford's intellectual heritage.
25. The Divinity School
The Divinity School in Oxford, built between 1427 and 1483, is an exquisite example of Gothic architecture.
Its notable fan-vaulted ceiling, adorned with intricate stone carvings, is a stunning feature.
Historically, it served as a lecture hall for theology students, and it is one of the oldest surviving purpose-built lecture halls in the world.
Visitors can explore its impressive interior, often used for events and exhibitions, and appreciate its historical significance within the prestigious Bodleian Libraries complex.
The Divinity School is a must-visit for those interested in Oxford's academic and architectural heritage.
26. Picnic at Port Meadow
A picnic at Port Meadow in Oxford offers a serene and picturesque outdoor experience.
This ancient, unenclosed common land is located alongside the River Thames, providing a natural oasis just a short walk from the city center.
Expect vast open spaces, ideal for spreading out a blanket and enjoying a meal amidst stunning views of the river and surrounding countryside.
The meadow is also known for its wildlife and historic associations, making it a perfect spot for nature enthusiasts and those looking to relax in a peaceful, rustic setting.
27. Hertford Bridge
Hertford Bridge, commonly known as the "Bridge of Sighs," is a famous bridge and picturesque Oxford landmark.
This elegant covered bridge, inspired by the original in Venice, connects two parts of Hertford College over New College Lane.
Its stunning neo-Gothic architecture and resemblance to the Venetian Bridge of Sighs make it a popular spot for visitors and photographers.
While you can't enter the bridge itself, you can appreciate its beauty and the charming atmosphere of the surrounding area.
Hertford Bridge offers a glimpse into Oxford's rich architectural heritage and is a must-see attraction for those exploring the city.
28. Christ Church Meadow
A visit to Christ Church Meadow in Oxford offers a tranquil and scenic escape.
This expansive meadow, nestled along the River Thames, provides picturesque walking paths, lush greenery, and serene waterways.
Expect to encounter a rich diversity of flora and fauna while taking in views of historic landmarks like the Christ Church College and its magnificent cathedral spire.
The meadow is an ideal spot for picnics, leisurely strolls, and a peaceful retreat from the bustling city, providing a quintessential Oxford experience immersed in natural beauty and history.
29. Sheldonian Theatre
The Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford is an architectural gem designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1669.
It serves as a significant venue for University of Oxford ceremonies and events.
Visitors can expect a stunning example of neoclassical architecture, featuring a circular design, grand columns, and a distinctive cupola.
Inside, the theater showcases elegant decorations and a breathtaking painted ceiling by Robert Streater.
It's a cultural and historical landmark worth exploring for its beauty, history, and continued use in academic and public life in Oxford.
30. Oxford Artisan Distillery
The Oxford Artisan Distillery is a unique and modern distillery located in Oxfordshire.
It specializes in producing artisanal spirits, including gin and vodka, using locally sourced organic grains.
Visitors can expect informative tours and tastings that delve into the craft of distillation and the distillery's commitment to sustainability.
The distillery's stylish and eco-friendly facilities offer a glimpse into the art and science of spirit production, making it a fascinating destination for those interested in the world of craft distilling and sustainable practices.
31. Blackwell's Bookshop
Blackwell’s Bookshop, often referred to as the "Norrington Room," is one of the largest and most famous bookstores in Oxford.
It offers an extensive collection of books across various genres and academic disciplines.
Visitors can expect a unique and immersive book-buying experience within its three floors and numerous nooks and crannies.
Blackwell's is known for its historical significance, hosting literary events, and providing a haven for book enthusiasts and scholars in the heart of Oxford.
It's a must-visit destination for those seeking a diverse range of reading materials and a rich literary atmosphere.
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!
Other Great Restaurants/Food
- Rooftop Restaurant at Ashmolean
- The Magdalen Arms
- The Oxford Kitchen
- The Rusty Bicycle
- The Mason Arms
- The Feathers
- The Grapes
Can you visit Oxford University on any day?
Yes, tours are offered daily for visit to the Oxford University. You can book the tours on any day at your convenience.
Is Oxford a walkable city?
Yes, Oxford is a highly walkable city. Its compact city center makes it easy to explore on foot, with most attractions, colleges, and shops within walking distance of each other.
Many streets are pedestrian-friendly, making it enjoyable for pedestrians to navigate the city.
What is the easiest way to get around Oxford?
The easiest way to get around Oxford is by walking, especially in the city center.
Additionally, cycling is a popular and convenient option, with bike lanes and racks available.
Public buses and taxis also provide reliable transportation for longer distances or if you prefer not to walk or cycle.