Located in South Central England, Oxford is is home to some of the World’s most iconic universities. Not only that, the city itself is overflowing with history and magical little corners everywhere you look. Whether you’re headed on a day trip from London or maybe Bristol, or making your way through the UK on a road trip with a day to spare Oxford is a must see destination.
Whether you’re a a lover of education, obsessed with beautiful architecture, enjoy pretty cobbled streets or are on a mission to find Harry Potter location across the UK. A day spent in Oxford will never be wasted with the incredible amount of things to do. To help you make the most of your time in the City of Dreaming Spires I’ve put together a list of the Top 10 Things to do in Oxford.
Maybe like me you’ve read the book A Discovery of Witches (or seen the series) and have been day dreaming about the Bodlleian. Or maybe you’ve never heard of it. Whatever camp you sit in, this library is one not to be missed. With over 12 million items this is the second largest library in Britain and one of the oldest libraries in Europe. Known to Oxford scholars as “The Bod” the library operates as a reference library where in most f the documents cannot be removed from the site. Open daily and throughout the whole year, The Bod is open to the public for tours so you can experience the magic and history that exists. Some of the oldest books in the world exist here and even if you have no idea on any history behind this library it is absolutely beautiful inside. Unfortunately no photos are allowed in the library itself, but the outside is pretty photogenic and you can take photos in the waiting room before the tour.
Time: Tours operate Monday - Friday 8:30 am - 5 pm / Saturday 9 am - 5 pm / Sunday 11am - 5 pm
The Covered Market
Opened in November of 1774 The Oxford Covered Market was designed by John Gwynn who also was the architect behind Magdalen Bridge. Today it is home to numerous food stalls, market shops, butchers, greengrocers and specialty gift shops. The perfect place to stroll around and pick up some treats, or a great place to grab lunch. A handy tip, head over around lunch time and hit up Taylors or The Oxford Sandwich company for a fresh made take away lunch that won’t break the bak! This ionic market is a huge part of Oxford history and is just as active today as it was when it first opened hundreds of years ago.
Visit a College Campus
The University of Oxford has nearly 40 different college campuses associated with it which gives you an endless supply of places to see. While not all of the campuses are open to the public there are quite a few. There will be a sign at most entrances to the colleges stating that the grounds are open/closed or if tours are required. Oxford University does not host tours, however if you book onto an Oxford Walking tour (of which there are dozens) and will sometimes include a trip to the university and other colleges campuses. Even from a closed gate you’ll still be able to sneak a little peek at some of the most incredible looking grounds. Lavish gardens, gorgeous manicured lawns, fountains, sculptures and not to mention the beautiful architecture. The colleges in Oxford are some of the most beautiful in England and possibly the world. I would definitely recommend checking out some of these colleges on your Oxford visit: All Souls, Christ Church, Exeter, Trinity, Corpus Christi, Magdalen and The Queens just to name a few.
Pitt Rivers Museum & Oxford Museum of Natural History
Near to the beautiful University Parks lies the Pitt Rivers Museum. Founded by Augustus Pitt Rivers who donated his private collection (22 000 items to the University of Oxford. Since then the University has acquired over 500 000 donated by travellers, scholars and even missionaries. The museum displays anthropological and archeological collections and is actually connected to the Oxford Museum of Natural history which means you can tick two things off your list in one go.
Bridge of Sighs
Also known as Hertford Bridge, it is a skyway that joins two parts of Hertford College. If you’ve been to Venice or seen photos there is an iconic Bridge of Sighs there as well, and the two look pretty similar. Although there are similarities between the two, the one in Oxford was never intended to be a match to the Venetian bridge. The bridge crosses New College Lane near Weston Library, and is best photographed early in the morning or well after most of the tourists have fled as it can be hard to get a shot of it free of people. The bridge was completed in 1914 and is Grade II listed. While only students and faculty of Hertford have access to the bridge, the best views of it are from the street anyway.
Christ Church College
One of the smallest cathedrals associated with the Church of England, but one of the most beautiful. Christ Church College grounds are lush with perfectly manicured greens, but it’s really the interior you want to see. Open daily, dependant on term time of course, you’ll be able to enter the grounds and instantly think “have I been here before?”. The reason for most who get that familiar feeling will be because you’ve seen The Harry Potter films. While Oxford as a whole was used in the films, Christ Church is well known for being the location for the Great Hall at Hogwarts and the staircase where Harry first arrives to Hogwarts. Both are incredible and full of so much magic it’s worth a visit even if you aren’t a potter head.
For more details and information on closures during term time visit their website here.
University Church of St-Mary
When Oxford first came to be, the University Church of St-Mary the Virgin (or SVM) was constructed as the central point of the city. Everything else including the colleges were situated around it moving outward. Truly, it’s not hard to see what when you finally lay eyes on it, with one of the nighest spires in the city and a beautiful baroque design it’s hard to miss it. Wile the church itself is free to visit and lovely, the best part about it is that visitors can climb the tower for what are surely the best views of Oxford. For a small fee you can climb the 127 stone steps to the top of the tower and marvel at the city from high above. The balcony at the top is very small so it’s best to get up there first thing in the morning or right before close to not feel rushed by other visitors. This is the perfect place to get amazing photos of Radcliffe Camera and to see miles across the city.
Time: Monday - Friday 9:30 am -5 pm / Sunday 12 pm-5 pm
(View from the top of the tower over Oxford)
Visit The Varsity Club
No, this has nothing to do with being a member of a sports team, not anymore at least. While this is not really a tourist attraction, it does boast one of the best views in the city and the perfect place for a drink after exploring all the things to do in Oxford. Laid out over 3 levels + a rooftop terrace, the Varsity Rooms serve up fantastic food, great cocktails and host special events throughout the week. For panoramic views of Oxford head on up to the roof all year round and take in the sights. Sunset is absolutely brilliant up here and pairs nicely with a gin & tonic too.
Surrounded by the historic University, Radcliffe Square is named after John Radcliffe who was a student who became a doctor to the King. The focal point in the square also draws the same name, Radcliffe Camera which is a library and one of the most stunning from the outside. Only students and faculty can enter but don’t be disappointed as it is such a pretty building you won’t mind. The square is widely recognized as the most beautiful in Oxford without a modern building in sight, charming cobbled streets and beautiful architecture that surrounds. Stroll around the square, enjoy a coffee at the outdoor cafe patio of the University Church of St-Mary, or find a little bit of Narnia. That’s right, C.S Lewis was one a student at Oxford and drew lots of inspiration from the city for the Chronicles of Narnia. Beside the church you’ll find a beautiful steel lamp post which inspired the one in the book.film in which Lucy Pevensie first meets Mr.Tumnus. And a quick look to the other side will have you looking at the ornate door which is said to lead to Narnia. Magic is everywhere in Oxford and the square is home to a lot of it.Walk the Canals
The Canal is one of the best places in Oxford for a walk. Stretching over 126km and linking Oxford with Bedworth (near to Coventry). Completed in 1790 and used as the main source of traders entering into the city. The Oxford Canal walk is one of the best things to do when visiting Oxford. There are several routes to take from near to the cit centre and out towards the train station. Whether you want to walk all day, for an hour or just for a quick stroll to stretch your legs there are lots of paths to find.
To find more information on the paths click here.