Choose from 18 Fun Things to Do in Oxford
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Not only Britain’s oldest public museum but also among the oldest in the world, the Ashmolean is more than just a museum – it’s an internationally renowned institution and one of Oxford’s most visited attractions. Founded in 1683, the esteemed museum is one of four of the University of Oxford, with a focus on art, archaeology and natural history.
Benefiting from a thorough renovation in 2009, the Ashmolean Museum now boasts a 21st-century redesign by award-winning architect Rick Mather, including a rooftop restaurant looking out over the university buildings. Highlights of the huge permanent collection include the world’s biggest collection of Raphael drawings, an array of pre-dynastic Egyptian jewelry and artifacts, manuscript copies of the Old and New Testaments, the Western World’s most important collection of modern Chinese Art and a significant assemblage of British and Western Art. If that’s not enough, there’s also a ceremonial costume worn by Lawrence of Arabia, Guy Fawkes’ lantern, the death mask of Oliver Cromwell and Uccello's iconic The Hunt in the Forest.
The Ashmolean Museum is located in the north of Oxford city center, a short walk from the main shopping streets and university buildings. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission is free.
Address: Beaumont St., Oxford OX1 2PH, England
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
From $ 45
With its lone tower and man-made grassy mound, the once mighty Oxford Castle is now a shadow of its former self. But the striking landmark still offers a fascinating insight into the city’s grim and gory history. Originally built by William the Conqueror in 1071, the Norman Castle was later converted into a prison and execution tower, linked to the county court by an underground passageway and remaining in use until as late as 1996 (although the last public execution was held in 1863).
Today, the castle ruins stand at the heart of the Oxford Castle Quarter, an atmospheric hub of cafes, bars and restaurants, and is open to the public through via Oxford Castle Unlocked tours, typically led by a guide in period costume. As well as climbing the 101 steps to the top of the Saxon St. George’s Tower and taking in the views from the mound, visitors can brave a peek into the allegedly haunted crypt and explore the preserved prison wings, while uncovering the secret history of medieval Oxford.
Oxford Castle is located at the west end of Oxford City Center, a five-minute walk from the main train and bus stations. The castle is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and adult admission to the Oxford Castle is £9.95 per adult, with the last tour at 4:20 p.m.
Address: Oxford, England
Hours: Daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
From $ 15
Hertford Bridge, more commonly known as the Bridge of Sighs, is a skyway bridge linking two parts of Hertford College over New College Land in Oxford, England. The Old Quadrangle, which houses the college's administrative offices, is to the south, and the New Quadrangle, which is mostly student accommodation, is to the north. It was completed in 1914 and is often referred to as the Bridge of Sighs because it supposedly looks like the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, Italy. However, many say it more closely resembles Venice's Rialto Bridge. It is one of the area's top tourist sights due to its unique look and design.
There was a famous legend about the bridge from decades ago that said a survey was taken of the health of the students of the University of Oxford. The results of the survey indicated that Hertford College students were the heaviest, resulting in the college closing the bridge in order to force the students to take the stairs and get more exercise. However, this legend is false and the bridge was never closed. In fact, the students would actually be climbing fewer stairs by not taking the bridge.
The Bridge of Sighs crosses New College Lane just east of Catte Street in Oxford, England.
Address: Oxford, United Kingdom, England
From $ 27
One of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford is All Souls College, though the official name is the Warden and the College of the Souls of All Faithful People Deceased in the University of Oxford. It is primarily a graduate research institution with no undergraduate students. The college's library collection is housed in the Codrington Library building, an impressive building that was completed in 1751 and has been in used ever since. Today the library contains about 185,000 items, of which about one third were published before 1800.
A four story gate tower and two story ranges on either side of the entrance on High Street are mostly the same as they were originally built in the 1440s. Battlements were added in the 16th century, and the windows are from the Victorian period. Once you pass through the gate house, you will see a medieval building where the Warden once lived and now provides individual rooms for Fellows. The Chapel still retains some of its medieval elements along with the addition of renovations from the Victorian and even modern eras.
All Souls College is located on High Street to the north and Radcliffe Square to the west in Oxford, England. Visiting hours are 2pm to 4pm Monday through Friday, closed in August and certain holidays. Admission is free.
Address: Oxford, United Kingdom OX1 4AL, England
From $ 16
With its striking neoclassical dome looming over the neighboring Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera (or Radcliffe Room in Latin) is one of Oxford’s most iconic sights and one of the most photographed of all the university buildings. Funded by Royal physician John Radcliffe and designed by architect James Gibbs, the "Rad Cam" was completed in 1749 and was originally used as the university’s principal science library.
Today the Radcliffe Camera is part of the Bodleian Library complex and houses two reading rooms and an underground library, where about 600,000 English and history books are available for browsing. The interior of building is closed to the public except with guided tours, but the dramatic circular façade still draws crowds of daily visitors with its three tiers of Headington and Burford stone elaborately decorated and encircled with Corinthian columns.
The Radcliffe Camera is located in central Oxford, next door to the Bodleian Library, and is open to the public by guided tour only. The reading room is open for university students and tour visitors on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Address: Radcliffe Square, Oxford OX1, England
Hours: Monday-Friday 9am-5pm Saturdays 9am-4:30pm Sundays 11am-5pm
Admission: Open by guided tour only
From $ 16
Wandering through the 100-acre grounds of Magdalen College paints an idyllic picture of Oxford university life—punting along the river, watching a game on the cricket lawns, strolling through the deer park or walking the woodland Addison’s Trail, a favorite route of Oxford alumnus C.S Lewis. The verdant setting is reason enough to visit, but Magdalen’s striking architecture is equally notable, making it a worthy rival to nearby Christ Church College.
Founded in 1448 by future Chancellor of England William Waynflete, Magdalen College—pronounced "Maudlin"—was home to Oxford’s first science department and still ranks among the university’s most prestigious colleges. For visitors, most tours start at the landmark Magdalen Tower, a grand Gothic bell tower most famous for its May Morning celebrations, before moving on to explore highlights like the 15th-century St. John's Quad, the richly decorated gatehouse and the atmospheric Great Quad, adorned with expertly carved hieroglyphs.
Magdalen College is located to the east of Oxford city center, next to the Oxford Botanical Gardens. The college is open to the public daily from midday until 6 p.m. during the summer and from 1 p.m. until dusk in the winter. Adult admission is £5.
Address: Oxford OX1 4AU, England
Hours: Summer: midday-6 p.m. in summer Winter: 1 p.m.-dusk
From $ 32
Balliol College is the oldest continuously operated college in the University of Oxford and was created around 1263. The oldest parts of the college include the north and west sides of the front quadrangle and the medieval hall. The Balliol Library holds a collection of medieval manuscripts that are considered to be the finest and largest private collection to survive in England from the Middle Ages. You can still visit the medieval reading rooms, and the library's collection includes many other early printed books, medieval manuscripts, and rare books.
The Chapel is the third one that has been on this site. It was built in the mid 1800s but contains stained glass windows from the 16th and 17th centuries. At the entrance to the Chapel there are war memorials honoring Balliol members who died in World War I and II. Visitors to the college can also explore the gardens that accent the historical and modern buildings as well as the theater and concert hall.
Balliol College is located on Broad Street in Oxford, England. Visiting hours are 10am to 5pm or until dusk, whichever is earlier. The fee is 2 pounds.
Address: Oxford, United Kingdom OX1 3BJ, England
Admission: 2 pounds
From $ 65
The University of Oxford, located in Oxford, England, is the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the second oldest surviving university in the world. It is not known what the exact date of its foundation is, but there is evidence of the university's existence dating back to at least 1096. In 1209, due to disputes, some academics split from Oxford and formed the University of Cambridge nearby. Oxford is made up of 38 constituent colleges, and the university buildings and facilities are spread throughout the city center. The university operates the world's largest university press and the largest academic library in the United Kingdom.
There is also a 70 acre parks area and the oldest botanical gardens in the United Kingdom. The university operates several museums covering topics such as art, music, science, history, and archaeology. Many well known people have been educated at Oxford including Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, David Cameron, Bill Clinton, Stephen Hawking, Oscar Wilde, Hugh Grant, Michael Palin, and Kate Beckinsale. Parts of Oxford were also used in the filming of the Harry Potter movies.
The University of Oxford is located in the town of Oxford, England, 59 miles from London. It can be reached using route M40 and A40 or by using the Oxford Tube from Notting Hill Gate. Check with specific museums and libraries for opening hours and fees. Certain colleges charge a fee for tours.
Address: Oxford, England
Admission: Some colleges charge for tours
From $ 19
Built by master architect Sir Christopher Wren, whose later works included the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Sheldonian Theatre stands out among Oxford’s many landmarks with its grand semi-circular design reminiscent of a classical Roman theater. The Grade I-listed building has been one of Oxford’s principal venues since it opened its doors in 1668, and it even hosted the first performance of Handel’s third oratorio Athalia. Today, the theater is primarily used as the ceremonial hall of the University of Oxford.
If you’re not lucky enough to attend a lecture, concert or graduation ceremony in the Sheldonian’s 950-seat auditorium, you can still admire the opulent interiors and magnificent hand-painted ceiling when the theater is not in use. Also open to visitors is the rooftop cupola, renowned for its impressive panoramic views of the city.
The Sheldonian Theatre is located on Broad Street in Oxford city center, between Trinity College and the Bodleian Library. As well as hosting a varied schedule of concerts and recitals, the theater is open to visitors Monday through Saturday between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Adult admission is £3.50 or free to evening ticket holders.
Address: Broad St., Oxford OX1 3AZ, England
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. & 2-4:30 p.m.
From $ 20
The largest and arguably most renowned of Oxford’s many colleges, the hallowed halls and exquisite cathedral of Christ Church College have a long and illustrious history. Founded by Cardinal Thomas Woolsey in 1524, the grandiose complex includes architectural highlights like Sir Christopher Wren’s Great Tom bell tower and the Great Hall, where King Charles I held court during the English Civil War. Despite being just one of 38 colleges, for many visitors to Oxford, Christ Church is synonymous with Oxford University. Today, the legendary buildings see almost as many tourists as they do students.
Christ Church’s esteemed alumni include philosopher John Locke, Albert Einstein, architects John Ruskin and Sir Christopher Wren and former Prime Minister William Gladstone. But its academic resume isn’t the only string to its bow. The prestigious college has also made its mark in popular culture, starring as the now-iconic Great Hall of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies and housing the world’s largest collection of work by alumnus Lewis Carroll. Incidentally, Carroll's classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was written for Alice Liddell, daughter of the then-Dean of Christ Church.
Christ Church College is located just south of Oxford city center, and the college grounds, main hall and cathedral are all open to the public, with first admission at 10:30 a.m. and last admission at 4:15 p.m. (The hall and cathedral are typically closed over lunchtime). Adult admission costs £7 during the winter months and £9 in the summer months. Discounted entry is offered if the hall or cathedral is closed at the time of visiting.
Address: St Aldate's, Oxford OX1 1DP, England
Hours: Opens daily at 10:30 a.m.; last entry at 4:15 p.m.
Admission: £7 in winter; £9 insummer
From $ 16
A tranquil pocket of greenery stretching across the banks of the River Cherwella, the University of Oxford Botanic Garden is the UK’s oldest botanical garden, dating back to 1621. Located on a five-acre plot on the Magdalen College grounds, the diminutive garden makes up for its small size with an impressive variety of plant and flower species—more than 6,000 different ones from around the globe.
Renowned as one of the world’s most biodiverse areas, the garden hosts everything from giant rhubarb to the common stinging nettle, with highlights including the old English Yew tree, which was planted in 1645, a gigantic waterlily that could hold a child’s weight and an array of carnivorous plants. The walled garden also has a pond, a physic garden growing medicinal plants and herbs and a series of greenhouses filled with exotic plant species. If you’re craving more space, the Botanic Garden also operates the 150-acre Harcourt Arboretum just south of the city, where you’ll find wildflower meadows and bluebell woods blooming throughout the spring and summer months.
The University of Oxford Botanic Garden is located southeast of Oxford city center, close to the Magdalen College, and is open daily from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. in winter and 6 p.m. in summer. Adult admission is £4.50.
Address: Rose Ln., Oxford OX1 4DU, England
Hours: Winter 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Summer 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
From $ 52
The Museum of the History of Science functions as both a public museum and a department of the University of Oxford. The museum occupies the world's oldest surviving purpose-built museum building, the Old Ashmolean. There are family-friendly programs and events, gallery tours, talks and lectures, and sessions designed for school groups. The museum has around 18,000 objects in its collection, although only about one fifth of these items are on display at any one time. Digital archives are kept on all items in the museum's collection.
Dozens of exhibits are on display at the museum. Themes include a wide range of topics such as photography, time, measurements, atmospheres, highlights on specific scientists, astronomy, and much more. The museum also holds an unrivaled collection of early scientific instruments. Aside from the permanent exhibitions, the museum has special exhibits that highlight other areas of their collection which change throughout the year. Audio guides and other multimedia enhance your visit to the museum. There is a small museum gift shop where souvenirs can be purchased.
The Museum of the History of Science is located on Broad Street in Oxford, England. Opening hours are noon to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday. Admission is free.
Address: Broad St, Oxford, United Kingdom OX1 3AZ, England
Hours: Tues-Sun 12pm-5pm
From $ 80
The meeting point of Oxford’s main throughways, Carfax Junction is the central point of the city and is within walking distance of all the top attractions. The city’s principal streets converge here – the pedestrianized shopping avenues of Cornmarket Street to the north and Queen Street to the west; the High Street to the east, which leads to Radcliffe Square and Magdalen College; and St Aldate's Street, which runs south to the Christ Church College.
Carfax Junction is also renowned for its 23-meter-tall clock tower, the Carfax Tower, which rings its bells each quarter hour and provides a memorable navigational landmark for both locals and visitors. Once part of the 12th-century St Martin's Church that stood on the site, the Carfax Tower now stands alone, and climbing the 99 steps to the rooftop ramparts is rewarded with a panoramic view of Oxford’s “Dreaming Spires.”
Caxfax Junction lies at the meeting point of Cornmarket Street, High Street, St Aldate's Street and Queen Street in Oxford city center. The Carfax Tower is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in summer or until 3 p.m. in winter, and adult admission is £2.50.
Address: Oxford OX1 1ET, England
Hours: Tower: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. in summer; until 3 p.m. in winter
Admission: Tower: Adults £2.50
From $ 80
Flowing right through the heart of central London, the Thames River offers a dramatic backdrop to the city's famous skyline with landmarks lining its shores. Walk along the riverfront from Westminster to Tower Bridge and you'll pass London icons such as the London Eye, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, St Paul's Cathedral, Southbank, Shakespeare's Globe, and the London Bridge.
A boat ride along the Thames River is a quintessential London experience, with popular choices including city cruises, afternoon tea or dinner options, RIB (rigid-inflatable boat) excursions, London duck tours, and hop-on hop-off boat tours. Many Thames River tours even run all the way to Greenwich, passing Canary Wharf, Waterloo, and Cutty Sark.
Things to Know Before You Go
- It can get chilly, especially at night, so bring warm clothing if traveling on an open-air boat.
- Most boat cruises are wheelchair accessible, but it’s best to check in advance.
- Other boat tours operating on the river include the Thames Clippers and River Roamers ferries, London showboats, and the Tate-to-Tate boat, linking the Tate Modern with the Tate Britain.
How to Get to the Thames River
It's impossible to miss the River Thames on any sightseeing tour in London—it runs right through the center of the city, with cruises typically leaving from Embankment, Westminster Pier, or Greenwich Pier. The river meanders for 215 miles (346 km) from the Cotswolds in the west, through Oxford and London, all the way to the coast at Southend-On-Sea.
When to Get There
Thames River cruises run regularly all year round, but for the most atmospheric views, opt for a sunset sightseeing cruise or a night cruise. And for an unforgettable holiday experience, book a Christmas cruise to admire the waterfront illuminations, or take in a spectacular view of fireworks and festivities on a New Year cruise.
Where to Find the Best Views of the River Thames
Look out along the Thames as you walk over the Millennium Bridge, admire the waterway and city skyline from the hilltops of Greenwich Park, or relax in a riverfront pub in neighborhoods such as Kew, Putney, or Richmond. For an aerial view, head to the top of The Shard, London's tallest building; ride the London Eye; or soar overhead on a helicopter tour.
Address: London, England
From $ 16
One of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford, Trinity College was originally founded as a training house for Catholic priests in the 16th century. It was a center of educational reform in the 19th century and over the years has produced three British prime ministers. The college was an all-male institution until 1979 and today has a very small student body, with just around 400 students. The grounds are surrounded by an iron palisade and consist of four major quadrangles, a large lawn and extensive gardens. On top of the West Tower, look for four female statues representing astronomy, geometry, medicine and theology. Trinity’s chapel was the first college chapel to be designed in the Baroque style and the school is home to one of the largest chapel choirs in the university.
The main entrance to Trinity College is on Broad Street in Oxford, located between Balliol College and Blackwell’s bookshop and opposite Turl Street. Additional entrances can be found on St Giles’ and Parks Road. Oxford can be reached from London by either bus or train. From the Oxford train station, turn left past the Said Business School and walk straight along Hythe Bridge Street and George Street onto Broad Street and Trinity will be on the left. The bus station is at Gloucester Green, just off George Street, a five minute walk from Trinity.
Address: Broad Street, Oxford, England
From $ 19
Cogges was once a small village in the Cotswalds area of England but is now considered part of the town of Witney along the River Windrush. It consists of a group of stone cottages and farm buildings surrounding Cogges Manor Farm in a peaceful setting that makes you forget how close you are to a bustling town. Today the 15 acre farm is a museum where visitors can explore the house and grounds. There is a walled garden, a picnic orchard, a moated island, and walking trails along the river. Activities that entertain children include feeding the farm animals, exploring the adventure playground, and dressing up in vintage clothing.
Cogges is also one of the filming locations on the popular television show Downton Abbey. The Cogges Manor Farm becomes the Yew Tree Farm and home of Mr Drewe, the tenant farmer, on the show. The farm buildings and their interiors were also used as the setting for where Marigold, Lady Edith's illegitimate daughter, was brought up. While visiting Cogges, you can view photographs that show how the buildings were transformed during filming, plus other Downton Abbey memorabilia.
Cogges is located 12 miles from Oxford. Take the S1 or S2 bus from Oxford to Church Lane. Opening hours at Cogges Manor Farm are 10:30am to 5pm Tuesday through Sunday and on bank holidays. Adult admission is 5.45 pounds.
Address: Cogges, South East England, United Kingdom, England
From $ 188
The main research library of the University of Oxford and one of the oldest of its kind in Europe, the Bodleian Library is also one of the UK’s five "copyright libraries," famously housing a copy of every book printed in Great Britain—a collection that spans more than 11 million works. Founded by Sir Thomas Bodley in 1602, the Bodleian Library, or "the Bod" as it’s known to students, is actually a complex of libraries and reading rooms located in the heart of Oxford, including the domed Radcliffe Camera, the vaulted Divinity Room, the Duke Humphrey's Library and the Old and New Bodleian Libraries.
With its towering shelves of prized books and manuscripts, exploring the Bodleian libraries is a rare treat for book lovers, with everything from early manuscripts, biblical texts and ancient maps to rare literary editions, Oriental manuscripts and a large collection of original J.R.R Tolkien works. But don’t expect to get your hands on one of the books—much of the historic library is off-bounds for non-scholars, except by guided tour, and no one is allowed to remove the books from the library—even King Charles I was famously refused permission to borrow a book in 1645.
The Bodleian Library is located in central Oxford between the Radcliffe Camera and the Sheldonian Theatre. It is open on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.; and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (note that some buildings may be closed on Sundays). The Bodleian’s historic quadrangles, exhibition room and shop are all free to visit, while the adjoining Divinity School charges a £1 admission. Access to the library’s reading rooms is by guided tour only.
Address: Broad St., Oxford OX1 3BG, England
Hours: Monday-Friday 9am-5pm Saturday 9am-4:30pm Sunday 11am-5pm
From $ 16
Whether you’re meeting friends for coffee or bartering over artisan produce, wandering around Oxford’s bustling central market serves as a lively introduction to the city. Drawing a steady stream of both locals and tourists, the Oxford Covered Market has been at the center of local life since it opened its doors in 1774, and today remains in its original building, designed by architect John Gwynn.
Dozens of permanent stalls are found here, including butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers all selling fresh, local produce, as well as a number of clothing, jewelry and gift options. Once you’ve stocked up on picnic essentials and souvenirs, and sampled local specialties like Oxford sausage and steak and kidney pies, take a break at one of the cafes or bakeries, where you’ll find freshly brewed tea or coffee, alongside an array of freshly made sandwiches, home-baked cakes and pastries.
The Oxford Covered Market is located in Oxford city center. It is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Address: The Market, Oxford OX1 3DZ, England
Hours: Monday-Saturday 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
From $ 20