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The Insider’s Travel Guide to Visiting Oxford

The Insider’s Travel Guide to Visiting Oxford

Ready to discover Oxford? Here’s what you need to know before you go.

Seeping in history, this dreamy city is bursting with brilliant things to do, fun bars, and highly-rated restaurants. From interesting museums to acclaimed Colleges and beautiful country walks, visiting Oxford is like stepping back in time.

Not sure where to start? Don’t fret. We’ve covered everything from transport and hotels to what you need to pack and how you should spend a day or two in the historic city.

Follow in the footsteps of C.S Lewis and Harry Potter, take to the river for a spot of punting, or spend an afternoon exploring the blooming lovely Botanic Gardens – however you decide to spend a day in the city, you’re sure to be charmed by Oxford’s cobbled streets and magical spires.

Oxford

Of course, no trip to Oxford is complete without nipping into an old fashioned boozer for a pint or two – and the culinary scene just so happens to be popping, too. 

Whether you’re in the mood for a fancy meal or just want to tuck into some simple but incredibly tasty fare, Oxford’s got it all going on.

Don’t miss this Insider’s Oxford guide to help you get the most out of your trip to the city.

Best Time to Visit Oxford 

Magdalen Bridge

Any time of year is the best time to visit Oxford. 

Summer brings warmer weather perfect for punting on the river and exploring the countryside on long walks, whereas winter sees the cobblestone-lined with Christmas markets and twinkling lights (though, you’ll need to wrap up warm!). 

If you want to avoid large crowds, head to Oxford during spring or autumn – the weather is calmer and the main tourist attractions will be less busy.

Handy Travel Resources for Your Oxford Visit

By Air 

When travelling by air, flying into London is the easiest way to get to Oxford, and Heathrow Airport is the closest international airport. From here you’ll be able to get a direct OXF bus straight to Oxford city centre.

Skyscanner is great for comparing and searching for flights, although we recommend purchasing flights directly from the airline’s website. 

Setting up notifications for flights on Google Flights is a great way to get notified of any dramatic price changes. You can track a specific route and date and you’ll get an email if the price drops, so you can snag a cheap deal.

By Train or Bus 

Oxford’s train station is right in the city centre, so getting a train is very easy. From London, it’s a 50-minute journey. 

If you prefer to come by bus, multiple departures from Green Line Coach Station in Victoria and other locations in London run daily. The journey takes less than two hours and delivers you straight to the centre of Oxford.

Download The Trainline app for cheap train tickets and full timetables. If you’re coming from London, an off-peak ticket to Oxford costs around £28.

Extremely cheap bus travel is available with Megabus. If you don’t mind a slightly longer journey, this is a great way to save money.

And, no Oxford travel guide is complete without mentioning The Oxford Tube – it offers frequent coach service connecting London and Oxford.

Where to Stay in Oxford on Your Visit

High-End: The Old Parsonage

old parsonage hotel oxford

Looking for a whole lotta luxury? Book a stay at The Old Parsonage – starting at £276 for a double room. This beautiful 17th-century country house is bursting with character, although the rooms are surprisingly light and bright. 

The on-site Parsonage Grill offers delicious British cuisine, courtesy of Head Chef Allen Mclaughlin. Served in a boho restaurant overlooked by portraits of famous writers and artists.

Mid-Range: Malmaison Oxford 

Malmaison

Situated inside a former Victorian prison, the Malmaison is one of the coolest hotels in Oxford. 

Each cell door hides a luxurious room boasting original features. Velvet headboards, freestanding baths, and jewel-toned accessories make the idea of spending a night in prison rather appealing.

Budget: Remont Oxford Hotel

Remont Hotel

Located in the Summertown area on the outskirts of Oxford, Remont Hotel is a basic but fully equipped option for accommodation when visiting Oxford. 

Rooms are colourful and decently-sized, and the outdoor terrace provides the perfect respite after a day exploring the city.

Airbnbs 

Renting an Airbnb is a homely alternative to staying in a hotel during your Oxford visit, especially for longer stays. Think about what features you want: a hot tub? A balcony?  Stay in real homes, right in the heart of the city.

Plum Guide is a brilliant alternative to Airbnb, with carefully curated homes providing a comfortable stay in Oxford. We LOVE this property in Jericho – a stunning Victorian terrace home with a cosy library nook and pretty galley kitchen.

How to Plan Your Visit to Oxford: Before You Go

Packing for Your Oxford Trip

In true British style, the Oxford weather is very unreliable, so you’ll need to pack appropriately – even in the summer, it’s ideal to bring an umbrella and a jacket with you.

It’s also a good idea to bring sensible shoes as many of the paths are cobbled and you’ll likely be racking up those steps.

Oxford Visitors Guide: What to Do During Your Oxford Trip

Top 5 Things to do in Oxford  

Radcliffe Square 

RAdcliffe Camera Oxford

The number one landmark in any guide to Oxford and named after John Radcliffe after he left large amounts of land to Oxford University, Radcliffe Square sits in the centre of the city. 

A combination of cobblestone and grass surrounds the iconic Radcliffe Camera, with the University Church of St Mary the Virgin and a historic library also located in the area.

Punting on the River Cherwell 

You can get the full lowdown on punting in Oxford here, but punting on the Cherwell is a popular activity during the warmer months. 

If you’re new to punting, opting for the Cherwell is a lot easier than the Isis (what locals call the Thames) and allows you to explore the beauty of the countryside from the comfort of your own little boat.

Harry Potter Tour 

We think that Oxford is the UK’s most beautiful city… and it looks like the Harry Potter producers thought so too, as much of the filming took place in Oxford. 

Lucky for you, we’ve compiled a handy guide to Harry Potter locations in Oxford that makes taking yourself around the city a breeze

Have a Pint in one of Oxford’s Historic Pubs 

Harcourt Pub

Oxford is filled to the brim with historic pubs, and you need to pay a visit to at least one during your trip. 

From watering holes graced by the likes of J.R.R Tolkien and C.S Lewis to quirky taverns and haunted spots, there are plenty of places in Oxford to sink a pint or two.

Cocktails in Jericho

Jericho is Oxford’s uber-cool neighbourhood, filled with fun cocktail bars, independent shops, and dinky cafes. If you want to check out the nightlife in Oxford, you’ll want to head here first.

Love Jericho, Freud, and Angels are three of the most popular cocktail spots in the area. Pop into a bar (or even better, make it a crawl) for innovative concoctions at a reasonable price.

More Cool Things to do in Oxford

Oxford Botanical Gardens

Botanic Garden

Move over, Kew – Oxford’s Botanical Gardens are our favourite. Situated next door to Magdalen Bridge on the River Cherwell, spend an afternoon getting lost in the beauty of these gardens.

With over 400 years of history, the Oxford Botanic Gardens are the oldest in the world. The literary trails are our favourite, whilst the gardens are also the best place to have a picnic in Oxford.

The Bridge of Sighs

One of Oxford’s most famous sights, the Bridge of Sighs, is named after its Venetian counterpart. The bridge connects two parts of Hertford College – though we say snap a picture of the quirky landmark and move on.

Oxford Castle & Prison

Oxford Castle

The Oxford Castle & Prison is a bit of a weird one… but we love it. It’s a medieval Norman castle that has been transformed into a historical site, hotel and entertainment complex.

Malmaison has transformed the former cells into stylish rooms, while the bars and eateries that surround the castle are a great place to fill up. However, you should totally take a guided tour to learn about the history of the castle – including the 900-year old crypt.

Explore Literary Oxford

Oxford’s literary connections are endless, and you could spend weeks trying to decipher them all. However, there are a few places that have such strong ties to famous authors.

Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland) was a scholar at Christ Church, and much of Christ Church’s cathedral garden find are featured in the famous books. 

As well as this, the wooden door in the alley that runs down the side of St Mary’s Church is said to have inspired the famous wardrobe that leads to Narnia – have a look for some very famous faces.

Take a Ghost Tour

If, like us, you love all things macabre, taking a creepy ghost tour at night is a great way to see the city. And, better yet, this one is led by author of Haunted Oxford, Rob Walters.

This tour starts on Turl Street – once home to the city’s ditch and a hotspot for terrible murders. Throughout the evening you’ll pass through some of the city’s most haunted places.

The Covered Market

Oxford Covered Market

The Covered Market has long been one of the most important areas in Oxford, a hub for the most exciting local businesses and one of our favourite places to visit in the city.

The building dates all the way back to the 1770s when it was designed by architect John Gwynn, responsible for a few other important landmarks in Oxford.

Swing by for a coffee at Cardews, or to pick up a souvenir or two at the Oxford Soap Company. Oh, and visiting the covered market and not picking up a box of freshly-baked Ben’s Cookies is a total crime.

Shop for Books

Oxford is a literary city, so it only makes sense that it boasts some of the best bookshops in the UK. 

For the ultimate bookish experience, take yourself off on a little bookshop crawl – start with Blackwells near the Radcliffe Camera before heading to the giant Waterstones and Book Stop nearby. 

Daunt is another excellent place to browse for books, though it’s located a little bit further outside of the city centre, in Summertown.

Take a Beautiful Walk

Abingdon
River Thames approaching Abingdon Bridge going downstream by Peter Facey

Oxford is incredibly green, boasting a number of tranquil walks in the surrounding area – and we highly recommend you carve out some time in your trip to explore.

The City Wall Walk is a great option if you want to cover the main historical sites in Oxford, though we love the leafy Jubilee Route that takes you through Oxford’s picturesque countryside. 

Indulge in a Spa Treatment

Oxford is filled with beautiful spa hotels, so you’re not short of places to get a relaxing treatment or two. After all, we can’t think of a better way to end a day of exploring the city’s sights than with a deep tissue massage.

Old Swan is our top choice, though it’s located just outside of the city – for somewhere more central, the experience offered at VOCO Oxford Thames is equally indulgent.

Suggested Oxford Trip Itineraries 

One Day Oxford Trip  

Bodleian Library

If you’re only in Oxford for one day, get to the city early and start your trip at one of these delicious brunch spots. Once you’ve filled your boots and indulged in a mimosa (or five), you’re ready to take on the day.

Don’t try to pack too much into one day – visiting Radcliffe Square, The Ashmolean Museum, and The Bodleian Library are musts. To get the most out of your day, consider taking yourself on a self-guided walking tour.

Read More: How to See the Best of Oxford in a Day

Two Days in Oxford 

Christ Church

Two days in Oxford allows you plenty of time to visit one of the Colleges – we love Magdalen and Christ Church. You’ll also have time to go punting one afternoon, which, if the weather plays ball, is one of our favourite things to do in Oxford. 

Or, if you prefer, head to the Botanic Gardens and spend a day exploring exotic blooms before heading to Jericho for cocktails in the evening.

Visiting Oxford’s Secret Spots

Keble College Oxford

Get off the beaten path and discover these Oxford spots.

Port Meadow is one of Oxford’s prettiest parks, located next to the Jericho area. Head here to explore over 300 acres of open space, admire grazing cows and ponies, and even dabble in fishing. Bring a picnic and spend an afternoon in Port Meadow.

In stark contrast to the sandstone Colleges dotted across the city, Keble College is a Victorian Gothic redbrick just waiting to be explored. The chapel is breathtaking, complete with the famous Holman Hunt picture The Light of the World. 

Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford 2

Oxford Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers sit side by side. These two museums, and particularly Pitt Rivers Museum, are hidden gems in Oxford. Often outshined by The Ashmolean, the treasures inside these buildings go undiscovered. Expect natural wonders and global exhibitions.

Looking for somewhere to booze? Duke’s is a casual bar in Jericho, offering a wide selection of fun cocktails, surrounded by greenery and modern decor.

How to See the Best of Oxford for Free 

Ashmolean Museum Oxford

The Ashmolean, Oxford University’s museum for art and archeology, is one of the best things to do when visiting Oxford. First founded in 1683, the museum is home to a diverse collection free to discover.

It can be difficult deciding which of the many Oxford Colleges to visit. Luckily for you, many of them – including Wadham College – are free to explore. You’ll get to take an insightful peek inside one of the most historical institutions in the UK.

The University Parks can be found just across the road from Keble College. It’s the perfect spot to unwind as you watch the university sport clubs play cricket, rugby, or even a game of quidditch.

With the River Cherwell running parallel, Christ Church Meadows is located just five minutes from the centre of Oxford. Take a stroll, admire the longhorn cattle, or chill out on the grass with a picnic and a good book.

Where to Eat in Oxford During Your Visit  

Vaults
Vaults

Vaults Cafe is tucked away inside St Mary’s Church on Radcliffe Square and serves up deliciously healthy lunches. Head there in the afternoon for a pot of tea and a pastry – you can’t go wrong.

Oli’s Thai is a family-owned restaurant and shop serving up flavourful Thai dishes with plenty of vegetarian options. The Gang Garee curry with celeriac and butternut squash seriously impresses.

Fancy brunch set on a pretty terrace and with historic views of the heart of Oxford? We’re completely sold with Quod. Wash down with one of their famous cocktails and thank us later.

Brasserie Blanc is a delightful French restaurant, courtesy of the award-winning Chef Raymond Blanc. The seasonal dishes are created using local ingredients to add a British touch, and the wine menu pairs perfectly.

Read More: Where to Eat in Oxford

Where to Drink in Oxford  

The Bear Inn

Oxford is filled with plenty of brilliant places to grab a drink, from the vibrant bars in Jericho to the historic boozers dotted around the city. These are the spots you shouldn’t miss.

Duke of Cambridge serves delicious cocktails in a beautiful setting. Head here for the legendary Happy Hour from 4pm to 9pm Sunday to Thursday and 4pm to 7.30pm Friday and Saturday. 

Dating back to 1242, The Bear Inn is one of the oldest pubs in Oxford. Expect traditional beers and a vast collection of ties from local colleges, clubs, and schools.

Hidden down a couple of alleys, Turf Tavern boasts a pretty pub garden and gorgeous views. It’s run by Greene King, so there are plenty of beers, wines, and spirits to enjoy.

Freud is a popular joint for cocktails in Jericho, the bar is located in St Paul’s Church. This is the sister site for the popular London bar and cafe, so expect high quality cocktails in a beautiful setting.

Day Trips from Oxford 

London Eye

London is an obvious choice for a day trip from Oxford. There is far too much to do in London than is possible to explore in just one day, but choosing a couple of main attractions to tick off your list is a good start. Taking a tour like this Tower of London one is a brilliant way of skipping lines and making the most out of the day.

Filled with sleepy hamlets and rolling hills, The Cotswolds is an Area of Outstanding Beauty just outside of Oxford. Experience breathtaking sights in The Cotswolds and Stratford-upon-avon with this guided tour.

Bursting with over 300 years of history, Blenheim Palace is a gorgeous World Heritage site with expansive grounds. This tour takes you through the Cotswolds to Blenheim Palace, followed by a traditional pub lunch.

One of the most popular spots just outside Oxford is Bicester Shopping Village, a designer discount heaven. If you want to do some serious shopping, make sure to book yourself a VIP day with 10% off most stores, a £50 gift voucher, and £15 to spend on refreshments.

Oxford Visitors Guide: Basic Tips and Tricks for Making the Most of Your Stay 

  • It might be tempting to hop on one of those bright, red buses – but resist. Oxford is entirely walkable and best explored on foot. This is one of the most underrated Oxford tips.
  • Most of the museums in Oxford are free to enter so make the most of them. Particular highlights include The Ashmolean and the Natural History Museum. 
  • Hotels in Oxford are reasonably priced so try to stay as centrally as you can afford. This will ensure you spend little on transportation as you’ll be minutes away from all the main attractions.

Tipping In Oxford 

Oxford doesn’t have a big tipping culture – tips are around 10-15% (though more is always appreciated) and you’re perfectly entitled not to tip if the service has been bad. A service charge of 12.5% is often added to the bill in many bars and restaurants. 

Oxford Visitors Map