Oxford is a historic city that has something for every type of visitor. From its world-renowned universities to its stunning architecture, rich cultural heritage, and quintessentially British pubs, visitors will be spoilt for choice in the city of dreaming spires.
Steeped in history, Oxford is home to some of the most architecturally impressive buildings in the world, such as Christ Church, the Radcliffe Camera, and the Ashmolean Museum - all of which we'll mention in detail in this blog post.
Strolling the charming cobbled streets and admiring the historic buildings feels like stepping back in time. Visitors can learn about Oxford's past through guided tours, or easily explore the city at their own pace.
We've broken down this post into three categories:
But first things first... Many people will be visiting Oxford on a day trip from London, so let's take a look at the best way to get from London to Oxford.
How to get to Oxford from London
Getting to Oxford from London is simple! From Paddington station in London take the GWR to Oxford station. The journey should take approximately 50 minutes.
Those who prefer to drive, or are planning a road trip through the English countryside can easily hire a car from Discover Cars.
Notable sights in Oxford
Oxford's historic sights offer visitors a fascinating journey through time. From the stunning architecture of Oxford's colleges, to the grandeur of its iconic landmarks such as the Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian Library, there is so something for everyone to see in this historic city.
Oxford's cobbled streets and alleyways are lined with buildings that date back centuries, making for an interesting walk through the town. No matter how many times you wander the streets of Oxford, I'm sure there'll always be something interesting to discover.
1. Admire the architecture of Radcliffe Camera
The Radcliffe Camera is a striking circular building that serves as a reading room for the Bodleian Library (more on this soon). It was designed by architect James Gibbs and completed in 1748. The building is named after the physician John Radcliffe, who left money in his will for the construction of a new library.
Today, the Radcliffe Camera houses some of the Bodleian Library's rarest and most valuable books. Although it is a popular destination for visitors to Oxford, the library is only open to those who have a university card or Bodleian Reader card. Nevertheless, the Radcliffe Camera is an architecturally interesting building and well worth taking a peek at.
The word "camera" in the building's name actually comes from the Greek word "kamera", meaning a building which faces every aspect.
2. Grab a bite to eat at the historic Covered Market
The Covered Market is a historic indoor market that has been a fixture of the city since it was first opened in 1774. It was originally built to provide a covered space for the city's butchers and other food sellers, but over the years the market has evolved to become a hub for independent retailers, selling everything from fresh produce and artisanal cheeses to handmade jewelry and more.
Visitors can enjoy exploring the market's winding alleys and stalls, browsing for everything from flowers and plants to books and gifts, and maybe even pick up a little snack along the way. In addition to traditional food stalls, the market is also home to some cafes where visitors can sit and take a break.
The Covered Market is a great destination for anyone looking to experience the unique character of Oxford's independent retail scene in a historic setting.
3. Climb to the top of Saxon Tower
The Saxon Tower, also known as The Tower of St. Michael's, is the oldest building still in use in Oxford. Built around 1040, the tower is a remnant of the original St. Michael's Church, which once stood on the site.
The St Michael's Church visitors can see today is free to visit, however climbing the 97 steps to the top of Saxon Tower will require payment of a small fee. From the top visitors can enjoy a beautiful view of Oxford, after learning about the tower's history on the way up... Perhaps a nice distraction from climbing the stairs.
4. Take a self-guided audio tour of Christ Church College - A must for Harry Potter fans visiting Oxford
Christ Church College is one of the most prestigious and historic colleges in the University of Oxford. Founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII, it boasts a stunning collection of architecture, gardens, and art. It's also home to the breathtaking Tom Tower and the beautiful Cathedral, both designed by Christopher Wren. Wren is also also responsible for the redesign of St Paul's Cathedral in London (tickets here) in the 1600s, considered to be his greatest masterpiece.
In addition to its rich history and academic excellence, Christ Church has also become an iconic location in popular culture, particularly in the Harry Potter film franchise. The college was used as the inspiration and filming location for several scenes in the series, most notably the Great Hall, which was used as the inspiration for Hogwarts’ Great Hall. Other notable locations include the staircase where Harry first meets Draco Malfoy, and the famous cloisters where several scenes take place in the Harry Potter movies.
While the Harry Potter connection has certainly added to the college’s popularity, Christ Church College has always been a well-known academic institution. Today, the College continues to provide a world-class education to its students and maintains its reputation as one of the most beautiful and prestigious colleges in Oxford, attracting visitors from all over the world.
5. Step into Bodleian Library - One of the oldest libraries in the world
The Bodleian Library is one of the oldest and most prestigious libraries in the world. It was founded in the early 17th century by Sir Thomas Bodley, who hoped to create a library that would be a center of learning for scholars from around the world.
Today, the Bodleian Library is home to millions of books, manuscripts, and other historical artifacts, including one of the four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta. It is also a popular destination for visitors to Oxford, who can take guided tours of the library's impressive collection and learn about its rich history and cultural significance. Tickets can be booked in advance from the official Bodleian Library website.
6. Climb to the top of St Mary's University Church and take in the views of Oxford
St Mary's University Church is a historic church with a rich history dating back to the 13th century. It is one of the largest parish churches in Oxford, and it served as the city's first university church. It is inside this church that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer delivered his final sermon before being burnt at the stake on March 21, 1556.
The church is known for its beautiful stained glass windows, and stunning architecture, including its ornate Gothic-style spire, which towers over the surrounding buildings. For a small fee, visitors can climb the stairs to the top of the spire for an iconic view over Oxford.
7. Admire the small but interesting Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs is an icon of Oxford, and one that visitors to Oxford would have come across many times while researching their trip. It is a pedestrian bridge that connects two parts of Hertford College over New College Lane, designed by architect Sir Thomas Jackson in the early 20th century. It is considered to be quite modern by Oxford standards, having been completed in 1914.
Fun fact: Rival university town Cambridge also has their own Bridge of Sighs. Which bridge do you prefer?
Check out some of Oxford's most popular tours below.
Click for availability and price.
Enjoy a pint of cask ale while soaking in the atmosphere of a traditional British pub in Oxford
Oxford is filled traditional English pubs, and visitors should have no problem finding one while wandering through the city. In fact, some of the pubs have been standing in the same place serving up pints for hundreds of years. The interior of many remains unchanged, however thankfully today the pubs in Oxford all have the modern conveniences we've come to expect.
Why not stop for a pint, or some traditional British pub fare while visiting?
8. Have an ale at The Bear Inn - an Oxford institution since the 13th century
The Bear Inn, located in the heart of Oxford, is one of the city's oldest and most historic pubs. Dating back to the 13th century, it is renowned for its traditional English décor, cozy atmosphere, and extensive selection of beers, ales, and spirits. The pub's walls are adorned with memorabilia and historical artifacts, including ties from visiting sports teams and a collection of ties left by former Oxford University students. Some of the ties hanging at The Bear Inn previously belonged to famous leaders and celebrities, some of which include former British PM David Cameron, comedian Rowan Atkinson, and former US President Bill Clinton.
Visitors to The Bear Inn can enjoy a drink along with some classic pub British pub fare while enjoying the atmosphere. It is a popular spot for locals and visitors alike, and a must-visit on the itinerary of many visitors to Oxford.
9. Enjoy a pint at the historic Turf Tavern, but watch your head!
The Turf Tavern is a historic pub that likely needs little introduction.
The pub is a popular place with tourists as well as locals, thanks to its atmosphere and history dating back to 1381.
May famous people have visited the Turf Tavern throughout the years, including former US President Bill Clinton, who apparently smoked marijuana but "didn't inhale," and former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, who set a Guinness World Record at the pub for drinking a yard of beer in 11 seconds in 1963.
Other notable celebrities include Stephen Hawking, Elizabeth Taylor, David Bowie, Oscar Wilde, as well as many of the cast members from the Harry Potter movies, including Emma Watson.
The pub has both indoor and outdoor seating, but be careful of the low ceilings when ordering at the bar!
Interested in hearing and seeing more?
Why not take part in a tour of Oxford?
Visit one of the world-class museums in Oxford
Oxford is home to some of the most well-known and prestigious museums in the world, attracting visitors from around the world. Some of the must-visit museums in Oxford include the Ashmolean Museum, and the Pitt-Rivers Museum of Natural History, to name just a couple.
As museums can eat up hours of precious vacation time, I highly recommend staying in Oxford for two days if you wish to experience everything the city has to offer. Museums are also a great rainy day activity, so even if you aren't a huge museum buff, I strongly recommend putting at least on museum on your list. After all, we all know how fickle the British weather can be - especially if you're visiting in winter!
10. Ashmolean Museum
Today the permanent collections span thousands of years of human history and culture, from ancient Egypt and classical Greece to contemporary art. Of course, the museum also holds temporary exhibitions throughout the year, in addition to a variety of events ranging from lectures to fun family activities.
Entry to the Ashmolean Museum is free, however booking is recommended to guarantee entry. Otherwise, visitors can take part in a paid guided tour.
11. Pitt-Rivers Museum of Natural History
The Pitt-Rivers Museum of Natural History is one of the most fascinating museums in Oxford, and a must-visit for people interested in archeological and ethnographic objects. The museum was founded in 1884 by General Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers (or simply, Augustus Pitt-Rivers) when he donated more than 26,000 objects to Oxford University.
Today the Pitt-Rivers Museum houses over 500,000 anthropological and archeological artefacts as well as, photographs and manuscripts from all over the world, covering the span of hundreds of years of human history. The museum takes the upmost care in conserving items in their collection with the hope to preserve the historic items for many years to come.
Entry to the museum is free however donations are very welcome.