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Things to do in

Oxford

Historical colleges, a medieval university, and fascinating museums await in this famous seat of learning.

Our most recommended things to do in Oxford

Oxford: River Thames Sightseeing Cruise

1. Oxford: River Thames Sightseeing Cruise

Cruise along the glorious River Thames on a short but scenic boat ride departing from the quaint Folly Bridge and heading toward the charming Iffley Lock. Admire your beautiful surroundings, made up of lush trees and cozy brick cottages, immersing you in the lovely old-town vibe of Oxford. Board your boat to begin your journey, throughout which your skipper will point out all the major sites and answer any questions you may wish to ask. Marvel at the views of Christ Church meadows, college boathouses, and a mix of wildlife and countryside, whilst enjoying your time on board. You will either ride a stunning traditional-style vessel or a more modern cruiser. Either way, rest assured you'll have a spacious boat to sit back and relax on.

Oxford: University and City Walking Tour with Alumni Guide

2. Oxford: University and City Walking Tour with Alumni Guide

Step inside Oxford University and explore the grounds on a guided walking tour. Admire the iconic architecture and learn about university life from your student guide. Visit one of the university’s oldest colleges and the Bodleian Library. Learn about the history of the university colleges, including All Souls College, Trinity College, Oriel College, Hertford College, and Merton College, the Radcliffe Camera, and the University Church of St. Mary. Get an equally in-depth history of the town. Hear about ceremonies at Oxford, famous graduates, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and also how the most powerful Archbishop of Canterbury was burned at the stake in Oxford.

Blenheim Palace Admission Ticket

3. Blenheim Palace Admission Ticket

Discover the home of the 12th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Wonder at this masterpiece of 18th century Baroque architecture, which houses some of the finest antique collections in Europe. Take a tour of the State Rooms and admire the portraits, tapestries and exquisite furniture while learning about the 300-year history of this National Treasure. Visit the Churchill Exhibition and learn all about the life of the great Prime Minister, starting with his birth at Blenheim Palace in 1874. The exhibition features photographs, extracts from his diaries, artefacts and a number of other elements. Explore this World Heritage Site set amongst over 2000 acres of parkland landscaped by one of the UK’s most famous landscape architects, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Take a stroll up to the Grand Cascades or around the lake to admire some of the finest views in England. Discover the array of Formal Gardens, including the Rose Garden, Churchill Memorial Garden, Water Terraces and Secret Garden. A short miniature train ride away from the Palace is the Pleasure Gardens, which boasts a Giant Hedge Maze, Butterfly House, Lavender Garden, and an exhibition about how the Gardens have been used and maintained throughout the Palace’s history.

Oxford: University and City Walking Tour

4. Oxford: University and City Walking Tour

Join a university-educated guide, with years of experience and local knowledge of Oxford City and colleges. See the dreamy spires of one of the oldest universities in the world on a guided walking tour. Go inside some of the city’s most historic colleges, such as New College, founded in 1379 and more recently seen in the Harry Potter films and television productions of Inspector Morse and Lewis. Visit Exeter College, founded in 1314, and another favorite on most tours. Stop by Hertford College, with its romantic façade and Bridge of Sighs, instantly recognizable from Brideshead Revisited. See the University Library and learn about the collegiate system unique to Oxford and Cambridge. Discover famous alumni who studied and taught at the university, including the infamous Dr Spooner, whose portraits hang in New College Dining Hall and whose name is given to the playful linguistic phenomenon of spoonerisms.

City Sightseeing Oxford Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour

5. City Sightseeing Oxford Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour

Home to the oldest University in Britain, Oxford is an architectural marvel. You'll get fantastic views of its honey colored buildings as well as tantalizing glimpses of the hushed courtyards of its many Colleges. Visit the International award winning Oxford Castle Heritage area and you'll travel by the Ashmolean, the Sheldonian, the historic Carfax junction - see this and more on the City Sightseeing tour of Oxford. Your Tour Itinerary Stop 1 - Railway Station Stop 2 - Park End Street Stop 3 - Bus Station Stop 4 - New Road Stop 5 - West Gate  Stop 6 - Speedwell Street Stop 7 - Christ Church Stop 8 - Brasenose College Stop 9 - The Queens College Stop 10 - The Plain Stop 11 - St. Cross Road Stop 12 - South Parks Road Stop 13 - Sheldonian Theatre Stop 14 - Trinity College Stop 15 - Parks Road Stop 16 - Banbury Road Stop 17 - Woodstock Road Stop 18 - Browns Restaurant Stop 19 - Magdalen Street East Stop 20 - Randolph Hotel

Cambridge Uni Tour Led By Alumni w/ Optional Kings College

6. Cambridge Uni Tour Led By Alumni w/ Optional Kings College

Discover some of the most famous colleges in Cambridge. Learn more about student life at one of the world's most prestigious universities from a University of Cambridge graduate guide. Visit famous chapels and libraries and listen to fascinating anecdotes. See where Prince Charles, Sir Isaac Newton, and Stephen Hawking studied. Stroll from King's College on King's Parade and pass landmarks such as Trinity Hall College, Trinity College, and Corpus Christi College. Look inside Pembroke College and marvel at the vaulted ceiling of King's College Chapel. Admire The Senate House, Great St Mary’s Church, and The Eagle pub where Watson and Crick announced they had discovered the secret of life.

Oxford: Sightseeing River Cruise

7. Oxford: Sightseeing River Cruise

This river cruise takes you on a fascinating stretch of the Thames River, starting with the University Regatta Course and heading towards the quaint Iffley village. This section of the river – referred to by the locals as the Isis – is one of the liveliest, and paints an accurate picture of the bustling river life. As you make your way down the river, you'll see the ancient Folly Bridge, Christchurch College and Meadows, the university rowing houses, and Iffley Lock. The waterways next to you contain rowers, punt boats, and pleasure cruisers, and are equally interesting to watch. During the cruise, your captain will share some history of the river and gladly answer any questions. Your cruising vessel will be one from a fleet of many Edwardian-style river launches. These boats combine the elegant lines and teak interiors of the early 1900s with the environmentally-friendly, zero-emission electric technology of today.

Oxford: Christ Church Harry Potter Film Locations Tour

8. Oxford: Christ Church Harry Potter Film Locations Tour

Enjoy a 2-hour walking tour introducing the making of Harry Potter in Oxford and a 1-hour entry ticket and audio guided tour inside Christ Church College. See and hear about both Harry Potter and Lewis Carroll’s legendary characters, such as Alice and the Mad Hatter.  Book in advance to beat the queues at Christ Church, Oxford's most popular tourist attraction. Admire views onto Christ Church Meadows on the borders of the rivers Cherwell and Isis. See longhorn cattle graze and the dreamy spires of Merton College and Corpus Christi. See inside the Divinity School, another Harry Potter film site, at the Bodleian Library (access permitting) one of the oldest libraries in Europe. On any dates when Christ Church may be closed, instead visit New College, another great Hogwarts film site. On this tour, you will visit 2 of the 3 film sites (where and when access is permitted). While you may visit Divinity School, you will not visit inside the medieval library as it is not open to private guides.  On Saturday mornings, Christ Church Hall is rarely open but the tour runs anyway as the hall is not the actual film site. The film sites were the cloisters and staircase but the hall is one of three Oxford colleges which Warner Bros asked to film at and thus is an inspiration for the Great Hall.

Oxford: Afternoon Tea Sightseeing River Cruise

9. Oxford: Afternoon Tea Sightseeing River Cruise

Traveling down the University Regatta course, the boat passes Christ Church Meadows, the University College Boat Houses, and other landmarks on your way to Iffley lock. This is often a busy and vibrant section of the river where training rowing crews, punts, and pleasure boats jostle for river space in a wonderful display of Oxford at play. Passing through the lock at Iffley is an experience in itself. The river scenery and fascinating buildings combine to form a picture perfect location. Beyond Iffley you will travel into the tranquil water meadows that surround Oxford and there are abundant opportunities to spot wildlife amongst the green banks and overhanging willows. The boat turns for home at Rose Island, a favourite destination of Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell on their river journeys. Aboard the boat an indulgent afternoon tea is provided by the renowned riverside restaurant, the Folly. The traditional menu typically includes: a selection of finger sandwiches, homemade scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, a selection of cakes, tarts, or petit fours, and tea.

Full-Day Downton Abbey, Oxford and Bampton Tour from London

10. Full-Day Downton Abbey, Oxford and Bampton Tour from London

Explore Oxford, the City of Dreaming Spires, home to one of the world’s oldest universities. Admire the architectural highlights of the many colleges. Next on this 10-hour tour is a visit to Bampton, the setting for the exterior village scenes in Downton Abbey. See the church, the house of Matthew Crawley's mother, homes transformed into the post office and various pubs. Head to Highclere Castle, the country seat of the Earls of Carnarvon. The tour of the Castle’s public rooms includes the magnificent main hall, the library, sitting rooms and other rooms featured in Downton Abbey. Take home a copy of Lady Carnarvon's book as a souvenir of your visit.

Frequently asked questions about Oxford

What top attractions are a must-see in Oxford?

What are the best day trips and excursions from Oxford?

The best day trips and excursions from Oxford are:

Bath

Insider tips: Planning a trip to Oxford

Paul & Mark are full time travel bloggers who discover hidden gems and local specialities on their blog Anywhere We Roam. They spent 7 years living in the area, compiling their favourite things to do in Oxford.

What should I do on my first trip to Oxford?

One of the most iconic sites in Oxford is the Radcliffe Camera; the iconic dome-topped round building in the centre of the city. The best way to see it, and the charming cobbled-stoned square it resides in, is from the top of St Mary Virgin Church tower. The other unmissable attraction in Oxford is the Bodleian Library. The reading room with medieval books and wood panelling is so atmospheric it was used as the Hogwarts Library in the Harry Potter Films.

What are some hidden gems to see in Oxford?

One of the most unique experiences in Oxford is having a pint at the Turf Tavern; a creaky old pub dating back to 1381. With low wooden beams, an open fire and traditional ales, it's a classic English pub with past regulars including ex-Prime Ministers and famous students. The Pitt River’s Museum is another cool place to visit. It has a huge collection of strange objects from all over the world including an intriguing early human tattoo exhibition.

How much time should I spend in Oxford?

With a compact centre, it's easy to see many of the main sights on a day trip to Oxford including the Radcliffe Camera, Bodleian Library, and several of the colleges. On a second day you could take a guided tour of one of the colleges, punt on the river and visit some of Oxford's world-class museums.

What food is Oxford known for?

Although steeped in history, Oxford's student population has helped forge a modern & independent café scene. Head to St. Michael's Street for an excellent choice of tasty brunches; Turl Street for great independent coffee; and the neaby covered market for artisanal baked goods amongst a mish mash of enticing stalls.

What is the best way to get around Oxford?

As a compact city, Oxford is easily explored on foot. Most of the main attractions are contained within the old town centre and strolling the small laneways and cobbled streets is one of the best ways to see this charming university town. A punting tour along the river is and excellent way to see Oxford's parks and leafty surrounds.

What are the best months to visit Oxford?

May to June is the best time to visit Oxford when the gardens are in full bloom and the students are starting to celebrate the end of the academic year. May is the busiest month for festivals, including Oxford May Music – a celebration of music, science and arts in the city – making it a great time to visit before the busy summer period.

What are the best neighborhoods to visit in Oxford?

The main attractions are located in the centre of Oxford, but for a taste of the real student life, head to Jericho. Lined with colourful terrace houses, Jericho is home to trendy cafes, international food and independent retail shops. Don't miss Raoul's bar for expertly created cocktails in a lush but relaxed setting.

What are the best neighborhoods for food?

Most of the great restaurants in Oxford are in the centre, making it easy to wander around and pick something from the wide selection on offer. On a nice day, it's great to take the leisurely stroll from the centre town along the River Thames where you can eat at several of the boathouses overlooking the water.

What are the best neighborhoods for shopping?

One of the best places to shop in Oxford is the covered market. Operating for around 200 years, the market has everything from groceries to crafts; homewares to clothing. The streets immediately surrounding the market are also great for checking out the local shopping. Don't miss Blackwell's Bookshop - something of an institution in Oxford.

What neighborhood should I stay in when I visit Oxford?

It's great to take advantage of the compact nature of Oxford and stay somewhere in the centre of town. This way you can easily walk to the attractions during the day as well as the restaurants and bars in the evening. For a completely different option, the beautiful Cotswolds Villages are nearby providing an excellent base for a weekend stay in the country.

What is the best family-friendly thing to do in Oxford?

One of the best family-friendly activities in Oxford is a tour of the Harry Potter film sets where you can relive the magic and learn more about the colleges at the same time. Another family favourite, ideal for spending an afternoon, is Thirsty Meeples, a board game café with over 2,700 different games to choose from.

What is the best thing to do in Oxford for solo travelers?

Oxford is a great place for solo travellers with lots of attractions that are perfect to experience by yourself. Wander around the impressive Ashmolean Museum, unwind in the beautiful Port Meadow grassy park or spend a quiet day popping in and out of the striking colleges.

What is the best thing to do in Oxford for couples?

There's no better way to show off your skills to your other half than to try punting on the River Cherwell. There's a reason the students practise for hours before mastering the skill. If it all looks too much, you can always book a guided punting tour. End the day at the Ashmolean Rooftop Restaurant, the perfect spot in Oxford for a romantic dinner.

What are the best annual events in Oxford?

One of the best annual festivals in Oxford is the Summer Eights, a four-day rowing competition between the colleges. The event takes place on a narrow stretch of the River Thames and the banks are filled with spectators enjoying the race. The other big event on the Oxford calendar is the Foodies Festival held on the August bank holiday weekend. It's one of the biggest food events in the UK.

What are the best things to do around Oxford?

Oxford is on the edge of the Cotswolds, one of Britain's Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Taking an afternoon walk in the Cotswolds is one of the best ways to enjoy the outdoors around Oxford. The most picturesque is the easy circular route around the village of Minster Lovell which visits a beautiful 15th century ruin set beside a lovely river. Minster Lovell is around 30 minutes’ drive from Oxford.

What's a local recommendation for neighborhood New College?

New College is much less visited than some of the more famous colleges in Oxford, but the cloisters are something of a hidden gem and well worth exploring. They are beautifully designed with exquisite attention to detail. Visit the spot where Draco Malfoy was turned into a ferret in the Harry Potter movie, The Goblet of Fire.

What are some tips for visiting the top attractions in neighborhood New College?

Each of the colleges have different opening times based on the academic year, often for a couple of hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the afternoon. It’s a good idea to check the opening times in advance so you can plan which colleges you can visit on your trip.

What are some fun facts/history behind neighborhood New College?

Oxford's contributions to the world include the development of penicillin and lithium-ion batteries, the discovery of antibodies and the process for predicting weather. It has educated 28 British prime minsters, 2 US presidents, and several celebrities including Hugh Grant, Emma Watson and Kate Beckinsale.

Other Sightseeing Options in Oxford

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What people are saying about Oxford

Overall rating

4.6 / 5

based on 8,462 reviews

Peter was a delightful guide and host for our tour and went above and beyond to ensure that we had a wonderful experience. Not only did Peter lead a wonderful tour, but he offered to meet with us the next day and show us parts of the university not on the tour.

A lovely trip on the thames, enjoying Afternoon Tea. Our guide/skipper was full of knowledge over the area

Fantastic tour! Well day spent at full potential! Time allocated for each activity was correct!

Very informative guide Lovely different food Left on time mall staff warm and welcoming

The guide was excellent - knowledgeable , friendly. We saw beautiful spaces.