It’s hard to get lost in Oxford.

This is a list of things I think a visitor (or even a medium- or long-term resident) should try to see and do in Oxford, UK. Suggestions have been gathered from a variety of sources, but I’ve done and seen everything that appears on this list myself (except where noted). As such, I can personally recommend almost all of these activities!

While everybody wants to see different things when they travel, I’ve generally put sights first that are considered more “important.” If you’re in Oxford for a longer period, try to work your way down through the entire list.

If you want to know what’s on in Oxford, and for the latest updates and reviews of anything I mention below, visit Daily Information.

    Colleges


    There are 38 colleges in all (and a few “halls” for good measure), but only a few conform to the traditional image people have in their minds – grassy quads you’re forbidden to walk on, golden Cotswold stone buildings, and dreaming spires. Unfortunately, these “quintessential” colleges are also the ones that are hardest to get into (or which charge admission).

  1. Christ Church (not “Christ Church College”!):

    St Frideswide’s Chapel, Christ Church
    The biggest college with the biggest quad, producing the most prime ministers, with a chapel that is simultaneously Oxford’s cathedral (more on this later) and even having its own time zone… Christ Church is certainly very impressive, and Tom Tower looms over St Aldates with an appropriate amount of pomp. Scenes from Harry Potter and The Golden Compass were filmed here.

  2. Magdalen College: Its iconic tower keeps watch over the High Street and Magdalen Bridge.

    Magdalen College
    The college itself has an astonishing chapel, a herd of deer with their own Deer Park in which to graze, and carved “grotesques” of all kinds peering down on pedestrians. While in the area, check out Magdalen Bridge and look for people learning to punt on the River Cherwell below.

  3. Exeter College: Central location, friendly porters who will probably let you in, an amazing chapel based on La Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, and gardens overlooking Radcliffe Square.

  4. New College: A chapel that must be seen to be believed, the “mound,” grounds the size of a small town, parts of the medieval city wall, and a general feeling of unfathomable ancientness.


  5. Exeter College Chapel
    St John’s College: Visit the chapel to see its fancy new organ. Or have a pint at the adjacent Lamb & Flag (owned by the college) and help to put a student through university (proceeds go towards funding scholarships).

  6. Worcester College: Very big, and unusually with its own sports ground within its walls (and a lake!). The sunken quad almost has the feeling of being a village green, with the cottages around not hindering this illusion.

  7. University College Competes for the title of “Oxford’s oldest college.” Doesn’t show its age much, but is still very nice. Can be hard to get into, as the door is usually shut.

  8. St Edmund’s Hall (“Teddy Hall”): Not technically a college, but still very nice. Has an asymmetrical quad and a

    St John’s College
    small park with footpaths paved with gravestones.

  9. Any other college: While you’ll very likely be satisfied if you visit a couple of the colleges suggested above, there are many others with hugely varying architectural styles and other little surprises (e.g., river frontage). I can’t think of any that are actually disappointing, so if you come across another college (and the gate is open with no porter on duty), wander right in!


  10. Pubs


    Oxford has no shortage of pubs. Many are nice and historic with low timbered ceilings, fireplaces, etc. Some are overrun with students, others with tourists. The ones suggested below are generally worth visiting.

  11. White Horse (Broad Street): Very small, but goes back a ways. Completely surrounded by Blackwell’s Bookshop.

  12. Eagle and Child:

    The Eagle and Child
    Famous as a gathering place of the Inklings (Tolkein, Lewis).

  13. The Bear: The oldest pub in Oxford? Very small and most surfaces covered with neckties in cases.

  14. Turf Tavern: Very hard to find if you don’t know where to look, but worth the effort. Especially nice in summer when you can sit outside.

  15. Angel & Greyhound: Nothing special, but nevertheless reliable, with fireplaces and comfortable chairs. Has its “own” meadow nearby, which is a good place for a picnic.

  16. The Anchor: Almost the best food I’ve ever had at an Oxford pub. (Best is the Magdalen Arms). Situated in interesting North Oxford.

  17. Isis Farmhouse (along the Isis): Great place to watch rowing during summer evenings. See Summer Eights under Activities, below.

  18. Royal Oak (Woodstock Road): Nice place for a drink, with lots of tables and little rooms.

  19. Magdalen Arms: Probably the best food to be found anywhere in Oxford. Acknowledged by Michelin, and while the atmosphere isn’t fancy, the food is superb. Menu changes twice a day.

  20. Cape of Good Hope: Reliable, pleasant, and the gateway to Cowley Road.

  21. White Hart (Old Headington): The best pub in Headington. A beautiful beer garden out back.

  22. Three Goats’ Heads (St Michael’s Street): Nothing special, but very low prices and there’s almost always a place to sit, despite its very convenient, central location.

  23. Mason’s Arms (Headington Quarry): Like a living room full of people who stare at you when you come in, but always wins prizes for its beer, which is excellent indeed. Nice garden, too, and Headington Quarry is worth a visit for its unusual topography alone.

  24. Mitre: A chain pub on the High Street. Still has some nice character (especially towards the back), and also connects to the Turl Tavern, which is usually empty but nevertheless worth a visit for the atmosphere imparted by its medieval-looking architecture (and supposedly soon to be closed, so go soon).


  25. Museums


    Almost all of the museums below are actually part of the University of Oxford. It’s mind-boggling to wander through the priceless collections at the Ashmolean and remind yourself that all of those artifacts are owned by a university. Ditto for all below except Modern Art Oxford, which is independent.

  26. Ashmolean (Beaumont @ St Giles):

    The Ashmolean
    The flagship collection of objects relating to art and archaeology. Objects worth seeing include the Alfred Jewel, Uccello’s The Hunt, Guy Fawkes’ lantern, the “Messiah” Stradivarius, and Lawrence of Arabia’s robes. Was reopened in 2009 after a £61m renovation.

  27. Pitt Rivers & Natural History Museums (Parks Road): Two museums under the same roof, both conforming to museum stereotypes that are rare nowadays. The former is dark and mysterious, with hundreds of thousands of objects crammed into a maze of wooden cases –

    Pitt Rivers
    shrunken heads, spears, masks, voodoo dolls, and many other objects, all arrayed by purpose, not by culture or time period (as is common everywhere these days). The latter has lots of skeletons (from dodos to dinosaurs), all under an appropriately skeletal-looking Victorian iron roof.

  28. Museum of Oxford (St Aldate’s): A very nice museum that does a great job of covering Oxford’s long history, considering it looks like the council gives it about 5p per year for upkeep. Has many wonderful artifacts and models of the city layout throughout history.

  29. History of Science Museum (Broad Street): See the “Einstein chalkboard” and all kinds of old instruments, optics, and mechanisms. Had a very interesting steampunk exhibition back in 2009, the world’s first.

  30. Bate Collection (St Aldate’s): Hundreds of antique and unusual musical instruments from bygone centuries. They loan historic instruments to students (and maybe others) who can justify their interest. Appointment needed, but definitely worth it.

  31. Modern Art Oxford: All depends on what’s on display, but can be good. The gift shop also has some unusual items for sale.


  32. Other buildings and streets


    I’ll admit that many of the places below are also part of the University – it’s inescapable. Fortunately, Oxford’s city centre is very compact, so you can see many of these in a day.

  33. Christ Church Cathedral (formerly St Frideswide’s Priory):

    Christ Church Cathedral
    Not a typical English cathedral, but then again, most cathedrals aren’t simultaneously an Oxbridge college chapel. With one of the best church choirs in the world, and lots to look at in all sorts of side chapels, Oxford’s cathedral is definitely worth a visit. Time your visit to correspond with one of the daily sung services – you won’t regret it.

  34. Old Bodleian: The library of the University of Oxford. See the Old Schools Quad, the Tower of the Five Orders, and pay for admission to the Divinity School with its intricate vaulted ceiling. The gift shop isn’t bad, either!

  35. St Mary the Virgin: The “University Church,” this High Street landmark is steeped in history. Also climb the tower for fantastic views of central Oxford and Radcliffe Square.

    Bodleian Divinity School


  36. Radcliffe Camera: You won’t be able to get inside without some connection to the University, but the outside is nice enough. The “focal point” of Oxford, if you’ll pardon the pun.

  37. Sheldonian Theatre and the “Emperors”: One of Christopher Wren’s contributions to the Oxford urban landscape. Make sure you check out the expressions on the faces of the “Emperors.”

  38. Covered Market: Lots of neat little shops in an unusual interior space.

  39. High Street: Did I once read somewhere that

    Oxford’s High Street
    Oxford’s High Street is considered one of the most beautiful streets in the world? True or not, it is very pretty. Several colleges call it home.

  40. Broad Street: So called for its above-average width, Broad Street is a good place to get your souvenir shopping done, and to see just how popular the bicycle is in Oxford.

  41. Blackwell’s (Broad Street): A very nice bookshop with shelf space devoted to any imaginable subject. The Norrington Room, an enormous subterranean cavern full of books, is so big that theatre productions are staged in it; it is a tourist attraction in its own right.

  42. New College Lane:

    New College Lane
    Connecting the Bodleian with the High Street, this is one of the few places in Oxford that really feels untouched by the modern age. Cycling down it, under a couple of bridges, also reminds me very much of boating in Venetian canals.

  43. Cornmarket: Every medium-sized English town has one of “these” streets – pedestrian-only, full of chain shops and buskers and places to buy Cornish pasties.

  44. Bridge of Sighs: Actually the Hertford College Bridge, it bears no resemblance to its namesake in Venice. Still, it’s very famous and very pretty.

  45. Keble College chapel: The college itself is a fascinating example of Victorian brickwork, but the enormous chapel takes the cake for its size alone. Check out the mosaics on the walls, but don’t forget to see Holman Hunt’s

    Keble College Chapel
    The Light of the World in the side chapel.

  46. St Michael at the Northgate: Climb the attached Saxon Tower, the oldest building in Oxford, for views of Cornmarket.

  47. Town Hall: Not as old as you might imagine (end of the 19th century), but still pretty neat. The ornate Main Hall is the highlight, though try standing across the street to appreciate its facade (you may have to dodge queuing bus passengers).

  48. Merton Street: One of the few remaining cobbled streets in Oxford. Impossible to get hit by a car – you’ll hear them coming a long ways off!

  49. Merton College chapel: Another one of the big Oxford college chapels. If you do manage to visit the college, also see if you can walk along the old city wall overlooking Christ Church Meadow.

  50. Turl Street: A nice little

    Turl Street
    street connecting Broad Street with the High. If you like whisky, visit the Whisky Shop for a nice treat and wide selection.

  51. Holywell Music Room: Handel performed here.

  52. St Barnabas (Jericho) [not yet visited]

  53. Oxford Castle: Built 1071. [not yet visited]

  54. Oxford Union: Famous for the debates and debaters it has hosted over the years. Not part of the University, though many undergraduates are tricked into joining. You can normally wander in.


  55. Open places


    Oxford is full of nice places to have a picnic. Here are some suggestions.

  56. Christ Church Meadow:

    Radcliffe Square and the “Rad Cam”
    See Christ Church’s own special breed of cattle (with big horns) and walk along various branches of the Cherwell and Thames.

  57. University Parks: A carefully manicured open space maintained by University. Also visit Parson’s Pleasure, an adjoining area where you can watch amateur punters try to attempt the rollers (used to get a punt from one river elevation to another).

  58. Radcliffe Square:

    Botanic Garden
    Probably a bit tricky to find a place to picnic, but this is undeniably one of Oxford’s most beautiful places. Have a snack at the Vaults and Garden Cafe at St Mary the Virgin.

  59. Botanic Garden: You’ll have to pay for admission, but the greenhouses are worth it. Experience a world’s worth of diverse flora in a matter of hours, from rainforest to desert.

  60. South Parks: Walk down St Clement’s towards Headington and climb the hill to get a sweeping view of Oxford and its

    Port Meadow
    famous spires.

  61. Port Meadow: To the north of the centre, Port Meadow is a piece of common land that’s been used for grazing animals for over a millennium. It may be flooded from time to time. Also visit the ruins of Godstow Priory, at the northern end near Godstow Lock.


  62. Activities


    In addition to sightseeing from mainly public places, there are lots of fun and unique activities available to visitors and residents of Oxford.

  63. Punting: Preferably at the Cherwell Boathouse, but also at Magdalen Bridge, you must try punting while in Oxford. The experience will be helped, not hindered, by a pitcher of Pimm’s and lemonade. If you do leave from the Cherwell Boathouse,

    Punting on the Cherwell
    punt upstream to the Victoria Arms and have a picnic and/or pint on the lawn before floating back down. See Daily Info’s punting guide for some tips.

  64. Observe the bicycles everywhere: It’s hard to imagine a place more suited, and more friendly, to bicycles. Virtually every major street has a sizable bike lane, and drivers are surprisingly friendly to bicyclists. If you’re feeling up to it, rent a bicycle and explore the Isis towpath south to Iffley lock and village, or alternatively head north and explore North Oxford and Summertown.

  65. Do everything on foot: Conversely, you’ll find Oxford a very difficult place to get around in using a car. In fact, you’re not even allowed to drive down the High Street during weekdays. So either plan to Park & Ride or arrive by train, then spend the rest of your time exploring this human-sized city on foot as its original (i.e., medieval) planners intended.

  66. See the High Street on a Sunday morning: Saturday afternoons are horrendous in Oxford’s city centre, but Sunday mornings are serene. You’ll be able to stop and appreciate as much architecture as you like without constantly risking a collision with car, bike, or fellow pedestrian.

  67. Walk along Isis towpath to Iffley Lock: As alluded to above, there aren’t many things more pleasant than a walk down the towpath to Iffley Village. You’ll be able to feed the birds, watch the rowers, and feel like you’re in the countryside, far from the bustling city.

  68. Explore Oxford Canal: Alternatively, start at Hythe Bridge and walk north

    Oxford Canal
    along the Canal. Check out the houseboats and their owners’ vegetable gardens along the towpath. Keep going and you’ll end up near Jericho or, further along, the top of Port Meadow.

  69. Markets at Gloucester Green: There’s a weekly general market on Wednesdays, a fortnightly local market on first and third Thursdays, and the occasional travelling French market that brings delicious donuts and other French treats to town.

  70. May Morning: Get up early on May 1 and hear the Magdalen College Chapel Choir sing from the top of Magdalen Tower. The High Street will be jam-packed full of revellers of both town and gown varieties, the latter probably still drunk from

    The High Street on May Morning
    college balls the night before. Morris dancing and other festivities follow in all of Oxford’s public squares.

  71. Enjoy the long summer days: Instead of getting up early, why not stay up late? Make the most of daylight that lasts until 10pm – find a nice beer garden or public space (see suggestions above).

  72. See a film at one of Oxford’s independent cinemas: the Ultimate Picture Palace (just off Cowley Road) or the Phoenix Picturehouse (Jericho) [not yet visited].

  73. Watch a bumps race:

    Summer Eights
    Depending on when you’re in town, you can spectate at Summer Eights (May) or Torpids (March) along the Isis. Colleges compete at rowing by “bumping” each other out of the competition.

  74. Go charity shopping at one of the many Oxfams in town. Or head up the Headington Hill, where you’ll find half a dozen high-quality charity shops within steps of each other in central Headington.

  75. Take a tour of the MINI plant (Cowley Works) and see pieces of bare metal transformed into working automobiles by an army of robots and humans, at a rate of approximately one per minute.

  76. Walk Cuckoo Lane from Headington to Oxford

    Encaenia
    (or vice versa): See directions here.

  77. Watch the Encaenia procession: The Chancellor of the University of Oxford and other senior academics, all dressed in their fanciest robes, parade around Radcliffe Square, along Catte Street, and into the Bodleian.

  78. The Goldfish Bowl (Magdalen Road): As good as any aquarium, this shop has hundreds of fish tanks with every imaginable variety of fish for sale.


  79. A bit further afield


    Just beyond the city center, you’ll find quaint villages, suburbs with their own identities, and more.

  80. Jericho: Popular area,

    Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies
    but I haven’t spent a lot of time there.

  81. Cowley Road: Might as well be its own town, as it has little in common with the city centre. Lots of independent shops, restaurants, and cafés.

  82. Iffley Village: A serene village that feels miles away from Oxford despite being part of it. Visit the Norman church of St Mary’s and admire the thatched-roofs cottages.

  83. Boathouse Island:

    The Trout, Wolvercote
    Home to most colleges’ boathouses along the Isis. A hive of activity during Summer Eights and Torpids.

  84. Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies: Still under construction at the time of writing, but will eventually be like a “college,” but with an Eastern twist. No expense was spared during its construction, which is why I predict it will last centuries like similar University buildings in Oxford.

  85. Wolvercote: Another nice village on the outskirts of Oxford. Visit the Trout pub for a very pleasant pint and/or meal on the banks of the Thames (complete with

    The Headington Shark
    roaming peacocks).

  86. North Oxford: Big, old houses mostly occupied by academics and Oxford’s upper-middle class. Also check out North Parade, a small collection of cute shops and restaurants on a very narrow street.

  87. Old Marston: Yet another village that is now part of greater Oxford. Home to some thatched roofs and decent pubs.

  88. Headington Shark: You may have seen a picture of this somewhere on the internet, but who’d have though it was in Oxford? Get your picture taken with this landmark!

  89. Old Headington: Yet another village since absorbed by Oxford. Bury Knowle

    St Andrew’s in Old Headington
    Park and the library (in an old manor house) are very nice.

  90. Headington Quarry: A bit further east, this area has a fascinating topography, with some houses on small hills and others in small valleys. It’s criss-crossed with footpaths, and it’s easy to get lost in.

  91. C.S. Lewis’ grave: At the edge of Headington Quarry is Holy Trinity Church. C.S. Lewis is buried in the graveyard, which is always peaceful.

  92. Wytham Woods: You

    Wytham Woods
    will need to apply for a pass to visit. The University of Oxford manages this piece of quiet woodland, with a tree density unusual for Oxfordshire. Great for walking and feeling close to nature. The nearby town of Wytham is also very picturesque.

  93. Dorchester-on-Thames: Home to Dorchester Abbey and a few nice buildings.

  94. Boar’s Hill: Nice, if a bit distant, views of Oxford and its spires.

  95. Shotover Hill:

    Blenheim Palace
    The steepest hill in Oxford? Worth the climb for views over much of southern Oxfordshire.

  96. Blenheim Palace: Churchill’s birthplace, and now home to the Duke of Marlborough. There is a secret entrance (at 51.84948N 1.35947W) to the grounds of the Palace for those who don’t want to pay admission just to walk around the lake. You will still have to pay to get into the Palace itself. Blenheim is in Woodstock, a very nice market town.

  97. The Cotswolds: A series of villages famous for their quaintness. Easily accessible from Oxford by bus and less so by train, the Cotswolds are perfect if you’re seeking “quintessential” England. Ori and I have walked the Cotswold Way and enjoyed the experience immensely.


  98. Eating


    These are just a few of the many decent places to eat in Oxford. They’re my favourites.

  99. The Mission (Oriel Square or St Michael’s Street; also in Reading): Absolutely the best burritos to be found anywhere in Oxford and, most likely, the entire UK.

  100. Pret A Manger (Cornmarket): Occupies the 14th-century New Inn, an excellent medieval building near the Saxon Tower.

  101. Pizza Express (Golden Cross, Cornmarket): Also dating from roughly the 14th century, they discovered 16th-century wall paintings in some of the houses now occupied by this pizza chain. The food isn’t bad, too.

  102. Tea at the Grand Café (High Street): Very nice sandwiches and scones to be had here.

  103. Queen’s Lane Coffee House (High Street): If the Grand Café seems a bit expensive to you, cross the street for a snack at Queen’s Lane, which competes with the Grand Café for the title of oldest coffee house in England.

  104. G & D’s: An Oxford chain of three or so coffee shops, the “D” standing for something different at each location.

  105. Door 74 (Cowley Road): Very good, slightly fancy food for a reasonable price.

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