“I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all like an opera.” – WB Yeats
I bet Oxford’s splendor and elegance would seem almost surreal after seeing the stunning skyline of Gothic towers and steeples of the city, earning it the title “City of Spires.”
Being a household name, the experiences at Oxford are endless. Whether you wish to explore one of its magnificent ancient buildings, visit one of its world-class colleges or museums, take a punt tour, dine out, take in a show, or shop till your heart is whole, Oxford offers it all. There is a plethora of best things to do in Oxford.
The city is also an inescapable movie location because of its stunning architecture. Adventures on a broomstick or under a cloak, wizarding world magic! Yes, you guessed it right. The magnificent architectural wonders of Oxford served as the backdrop for several scenes in the Harry Potter movie.
The following list of 12 marvels of this historic wonderland is sure to provide an answer to the question of why Oxford city is a must-see.
1. Radcliffe square
What about submerging yourself in a sea of books in a massive circular library? Become a bibliophile at England’s earliest example of a circular library- The Radcliffe Camera.
It is by far the most recognizable structure in Oxford. This James Gibbs masterpiece may be seen in almost every photograph of the city, with its beautiful dome and half-moon shape peeking out next to Oxford’s stunning spired skyline.
Quick facts about the library:
- The wealthiest doctor in England, Radcliffe left funds in his will upon his passing in 1714 to buy property, erect a library, buy books, and hire a full-time librarian. So, this one-of-a-kind library was constructed.
- The Bodleian Library took over management of the Radcliffe Library in 1860, and the structure was soon renamed the Radcliffe Camera.
- The stunning Bodleian Library and the Radcliffe Camera are connected by an underground tunnel that runs beneath Radcliffe Square.
- Approximately 600,000 volumes are housed in underground chambers beneath Radcliffe Square in the completed structure.
Reading Rooms of the Library
The Camera now serves as the primary reading room of the Bodleian.
There are two reading rooms, which are utilized mainly by students. While the Lower Reading Room is devoted to English Literature and Theology, the Upper Reading Room is home to works on History, Art, Archaeology, and Anthropology.
Plan your visit
The Radcliffe Camera is not accessible to the general public as a reading room of the Bodleian Library. One must take a Guided Tour to view the Radcliffe Camera. Get more insights about this beautiful masterpiece here.
2. The Bodleian Library
“There are few greater temptations on earth than to stay permanently at Oxford in meditation, and to read all the books in the Bodleian.” – Hilaire Belloc
You will agree with Hilaire Belloc’s viewpoint once you visit Britain’s second largest, Bodleian Library.
The collection of British literature at the library spans 400 years, which is unmatched.
It is a functional library component of the University of Oxford. The Bodleian Library, housed in structures dispersed around Oxford, is the second-largest library in Britain behind the British Library.
A Unique Custom
The Bodleian has a custom that sets it apart from other libraries: no books may be borrowed; they may only be read on the premises.
Different Spaces at the Library
The library comprises the 15th-century Duke Humfrey’s Library, the 17th-century Schools Quadrangle, the 18th-century Clarendon Building and Radcliffe Camera, and the 21st-century Weston Library. The scene where Harry searched for information under the invisible cloak in the restricted section of Hogwarts Library was filmed in Duke Humfrey’s Library.
Plan your visit
Unfortunately, access to the reading rooms is restricted to members and unavailable to the general public. The library can be visited during guided and self-guided tours. Get complete information about the time to visit and events and exhibitions in the Bodleian Library here.
3. Museum of Natural History
Established in 1861 as a stunning illustration of Victorian neo-Gothic construction, the Museum of Natural History in Oxford contains the university’s significant zoological and geological specimen collections.
- The Oxfordshire dinosaurs-Megalosaurus Buckland, the only soft tissue fragments of a dodo, and the swifts in the tower are some of its most well-known attractions.
- The skeleton of an ichthyosaur, a 195-million-year-old sea reptile, is on exhibit and perfectly preserved that its final meal’s fish bones and scales can still be seen inside its ribcage.
- A stunning exhibition of five skeletons, including a killer whale, a beluga whale, and a bottlenose dolphin, is suspended from the ceiling.
- Trilobite Wall, Skeleton Parade in the main hall, and skeletons of plesiosaurs are some of the many treasures in the museum.
It takes around 3-4 hours to take a complete tour of the museum.
Plan your visit
The museum is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm. All events, exhibitions, and admission are free. Pre-book your tickets here.
4. Pitt Rivers Museum
When you visit the Pitt Rivers, you enter a world of man-made marvels where artifacts from the past and from all over the world illustrate human civilization’s diversity. It is an anthropology and world archaeology museum.
- It holds more than 500,000 archaeological and anthropological artifacts, images, and texts from every continent and every stage of human history inside a beautiful edifice.
- The collections include items of historical, social, and ceremonial value and outstanding examples of invention, technology, and design worldwide.
- An excellent place to take a tour or give the kids a hands-on experience. Various fascinating exhibitions and dinosaur skeletons may be found.
- The museum contains a lot of things on show, and the exhibits are frequently updated.
Plan your visit
On Mondays, the museum is open from 1200 Hrs to 1700 Hrs; on all other days and holidays, the times are 1000 Hrs to 1700 Hrs. Check out the schedule of events and exhibitions in the museum here.
5. The Ashmolean Museum
One of the world’s oldest museums and the oldest in the UK is the Ashmolean, the art and archaeology museum of the University of Oxford.
Its extraordinary collections, which include everything from Egyptian mummies and classical sculpture to modern art and the Pre-Raphaelites, are drawn worldwide.
- The Hunt in the Forest, created by the Italian painter Paolo Uccello in 1470, is one of the most well-known paintings in the museum. This masterpiece displays not only the early use of perspective but also a subject matter that is rare for a time when religious paintings were the norm.
- The Piazza del Popolo by Giovanni Paolo Panini, the Anglo-Saxon Alfred Jewel, and A View of Dolo on the Brenta Canal by Giovanni Antonio Canaletto are just a few of the magnificent works on display in the museum’s 39 galleries, which demonstrate how civilizations evolved as components of a globalized culture.
- The most significant collection of pre-dynastic Egyptian sculptures and ceramics outside of Cairo, the only crucial Minoan collection in Britain, exceptional Anglo-Saxon treasures, and the finest collection of contemporary Chinese paintings in the Western world are just a few of its treasures.
Plan your visit
Admission is Free. But Online-purchased e-tickets are a must to ensure access. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am-5 pm but closed on Mondays.
Find more information about upcoming Ashmolean exhibits, demonstrations, and events here.
6. The Sheldonian Theatre
The Sheldonian Theatre, Sir Christopher Wren’s second significant construction, was built in 1664. The magnificent ceiling fresco of this antique building is of particular importance.
It serves as the Ceremonial Hall for various occasions, including congregation and graduations.
- Over the years, many well-known figures have graduated from the theatre. Among them are 120 Olympic medalists, 50 Nobel Prize recipients, at least 30 world presidents, and 27 British Prime Ministers.
- In addition to being used for concerts, seminars, and occasionally dramatic performances, visitors can ascend to the roof for stunning views of the city’s core.
Plan your visit
The theatre is open from Monday to Friday. The opening and closing times may vary. Check the opening time and admission prices here.
7. Museum of the History of Science
A premier collection of scientific equipment from the Middle Ages to the 19th century may be seen in the History of Science Museum in Broad Street, Oxford, England. To distinguish it from the more recent Ashmolean Museum building, finished in 1894, the museum structure is frequently called the Old Ashmolean Building. The museum was constructed in 1683, making it the world’s oldest continuously operating museum.
- The museum has one of the most remarkable sundials and astrolabe collections in the world, which includes sundials and astrolabes that belonged to Nostradamus, Cardinal Wolsey, and Queen Elizabeth I.
- Einstein’s Blackboard, which he utilized in his lectures at the University of Oxford on May 16, 1931, is among the most famous items in the collection. Some of the first experimental pictures, the Einstein chalkboard, the Marconi collection, and collections detailing the history of antibiotic medications are also noteworthy.
Plan your visit
The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday- 10-5 pm. Pre-book the free tickets here to ensure guaranteed entry.
8. The Covered Market
The old Oxford Covered Market, hidden from the principal streets, is a lesser-known gem. Located in the heart of Oxford, England, the Covered Market is a historic market featuring year-round vendors and stores.
- The Market has long been a draw for travelers since it offers a distinctive exhibition of the most significant regional arts, cuisine, and beverages.
- It offers a feast of sights and sounds and the beautiful fragrances of fresh fruit, coffee, and pastries. The variety is astounding and includes fresh produce, bread and cakes, meats, cheeses, exquisite cuisine, flowers, leather items, shoes, watches and jewelry, apparel, presents, caps, and so much more.
Plan your visit
It may be reached via the High Street, Market Street, or the Golden Cross on Cornmarket Street. The public is typically welcome between 8 am, and 5.30 pm, Monday through Saturday, and Sunday at 10 am and 4 pm.
9. Botanic Gardens and Arboretum
What better way to satisfy your biophilic self than to surround oneself with natural plants?
The Oxford Botanic Garden holds a world-class status in terms of its history and academic setting. It is the oldest botanic garden in the UK.
Its goal is to spread awareness of plants’ scientific marvels and significance.
It has specimens from more than 90% of the higher plant families and is one of the world’s most diversified but condensed collections of plants.
- Seven showcase glasshouses, the Walled Garden and the Lower Garden, are part of the Botanic Gardens.
- An assortment of specially selected, custom-made goods with botanical inspiration may be found at Botanic Garden Boutique.
- The Harcourt Arboretum, since 1963, has been a component of the Oxford Botanic Garden. With 130 acres of historically picturesque terrain, it has Oxfordshire’s best collection of trees, including some of the rarest species.
- Walking along the River Cherwell while observing spectators will make your visit worthwhile.
Plan your visit
The garden is open every day from 10 am to 6 pm. When you arrive, you can purchase a ticket at the door. An online reservation is recommended at popular times, particularly on weekends and holidays, to ensure entrance. Get your tickets booked here to enjoy a fantastic experience amidst natural beauty.
10. Oxford Castle and Prison
Most travelers to Oxford are drawn by its opulence in history, academia, and religion. However, the ruins of a little-known Norman castle can be seen in Oxford.
Perhaps because the nearby institutions overshadow it, the castle doesn’t receive nearly as much attention as it should. But it’s worth going to.
The Oxford Castle, constructed between 1071 and 1073, was a motte-and-bailey structure made of wood. Most of the castle’s structures had been rebuilt in stone by the 13th century.
Following the Civil War, Oxford Castle mainly operated as the local jail. After closing in 1996, the prison was renovated to become a hotel and tourist destination.
Oxford Castle & Prison, a popular tourist destination, comprises the modern-day remnants of Saxon St. George’s Tower, Motte-and-Bailey Mound, the Prison D-Wing, and Debtor’s Tower. After being renovated, the Oxford Prison buildings are now a restaurant and heritage complex with open courtyards for markets, theatrical performances, and guided tours of the ancient buildings.
The Experiences at the Prison
- Oxford Castle, like many other prison locations, is said to be haunted, and the castle frequently offers ghost hunts and haunted twilight tours as a part of the Spectre Ghost Tour.
- Adding the Jailbreak – Escape Room to your itinerary for light-hearted fun is perfect! Murder Mystery evenings will help you don your detective spirit, where one can explore the prison while speaking to the convicts to determine who committed the murder!
Plan your visit
Daily hours for the Castle & Prison attraction are 10 a.m. to 4:20 p.m. (the last tour). Check out the information on booking the tickets here.
11. Carfax Tower
In Oxford, England, Carfax is the intersection of St. Aldate’s (south), Cornmarket Street (north), Queen Street (west), and High Street (east). It is regarded as the city’s geographic center.
St. Martin’s, a historic Oxford church founded in the 13th century and destroyed in 1896 to make way for traffic, left Carfax Tower standing.
- Visitors can ascend the tower 99 stairs of the 74-foot tower for a breathtaking perspective of the Oxford skyline.
- With the commercial streets in the foreground and the historic spires and domes of the city in the backdrop, you can see the city from the top.
- The gorgeous Christ Church College is just down the hill and is best seen from this tower.
Plan your visit
The opening hours of the tower vary. Visit the site here to check the timings and book the tickets.
12. University Church of St Mary, the Virgin
University Church of St Mary the Virgin is the spiritual center of the oldest university in Britain, located in the middle of Oxford. According to some church historians, one of the most magnificent spires in England may be seen at St. Mary’s. St Mary’s has witnessed the foundation of the University of Oxford.
It has served as a site of Christian worship for more than seven hundred years.
- The baroque porch of the church is also one of its striking features.
- Also, climbing its beautifully decorated tower should be one of the highlights of your visit. This viewpoint dates back to roughly 1280 and provides spectacular views of the city and the surrounding countryside. The 13th-century tower offers superb views over the ancient university city’s center, notably Radcliffe Square, the Radcliffe Camera, Brasenose College, Oxford, and All Souls College.
Plan your visit
While there is no admission fee to the church, there is a small fee to climb the tower. Except for Christmas Day and Boxing Day, when it only opens for announced services, the church is available to tourists every day from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (July and August, 9:00 am to 6:00 pm). On Sundays, the church opens after the morning services. Learn more about the church here.
13. Blenheim Palace
The birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and the residence of the 12th Duke of Marlborough, Blenheim Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a rich and varied past.
- Blenheim Palace, a marvel of Baroque architecture, offers guests an unforgettable experience with its beautifully planted Parkland and magnificent Formal Gardens.
- Discover the 90 acres of acclaimed Formal Gardens and over 2000 acres of “Capability” Brown Parkland.
- Take a miniature train ride to The Pleasure Gardens, a designated family area with a giant hedge maze, a butterfly house, and an adventure playground.
- The absolute splendor of Britain’s Greatest Palace is revealed via a year-round program of tours, exhibitions, experiences, and events.
Plan your visit
The Park is open from 9:30 am to 5 pm, the Formal Gardens from 10 am to 5 pm, and the Palace from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm. The tickets need to be booked in advance here to get guaranteed access.
In a nutshell
Oxford is one of the most beautiful cities in the UK. It is well known for the welcoming and energetic ambiance that permeates every nook and cranny of the city’s busy downtown core. Steeped in tradition and history, the city is defined by its combination of ancient and modern buildings and its history and culture. Oxford’s top-notch historical colleges, libraries, museums, and art galleries are renowned for being excellent sources of information, innovations, and discoveries. Just dive into the ocean of experiences, bucket-list the best things to do in Oxford, and create memories.
Leave your views in the comment section about your experiences if you ever visit this lovely historic city.
FAQs | Oxford Tourist Attractions
Is it worth visiting Oxford?
Oxford is worth a visit. The city is home to the world’s most prestigious institutions, and its architecture and history are interesting. Additionally, there are several restaurants and businesses to visit, and the natives are kind.
Is Oxford close to London?
Oxford is about 80 miles from London.
What is Oxford, England known for?
Oxford is known for its prestigious university, founded in the 12th century.
What to wear in Oxford, England?
Oxford is renowned for its conservatism; thus, it is prudent to dress modestly. Wear clothing that is both comfortable and appropriate for the weather.
Where to park in Oxford, UK?
There are several parking alternatives available in Oxford. The first step is to find a parking place on the street. This might be challenging, as parking places are typically restricted and require a permit. Use one of the city’s many parking garages as an alternative. These garages are often pricey, but their proximity to the city center makes them convenient. Additionally, metered parking is accessible in certain places.
Can you walk around Oxford University? Yes, it is possible to walk around Oxford University.
The campus is accessible to the general public without walls or gates. Nevertheless, many places are closed to students and faculty exclusively.
Can you visit Oxford University for free?
Yes, Oxford University is free to visit. The institution provides various free walking tours covering the campus’s major attractions. More information is available on the university’s website.
What can you do for free in Oxford a day?
There are several free activities in Oxford. You can visit the Ashmolean Museum, Bodleian Library, or a college. You may also stroll across the city or ride a punt.
What can you do in Oxford for 2 hours?
There are many things to do for two hours in Oxford! You might visit Christ Church College, the Ashmolean Museum, or the Bodleian Library. Alternatively, you might tour the city center and see the architecture and stores.
Is Oxford expensive to visit?
Oxford is affordable to visit. Oxford has several free activities, and the city is small enough that most attractions can be reached on foot. There are also a lot of restaurants and pubs in Oxford where you may enjoy reasonably priced food and drink.
Where was Harry Potter filmed in Oxford?
The Harry Potter films were shot at various locations in Oxford, including Christ Church College and the Bodleian Library.
Can you walk around Oxford?
Yes, Oxford can be explored on foot. The city is compact and simple, with several places to visit and activities to enjoy. Visit one of the most prominent institutions in the world, the University of Oxford, and have a cup of coffee or a pint of beer at one of the many attractive pubs and cafés.
Is Oxford walkable?
Oxford is indeed walkable. The city center is tiny, and most attractions are within walking distance of one another. There are also a handful of pedestrian-only streets, which make walking even more convenient.
Is Oxford cheaper than London?
Oxford is typically more affordable than London. However, certain sections of London are more affordable. In Oxford, rents and housing costs are normally less costly, although food and entertainment might be more.