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Things to do in Oxford

Things to do in  Oxford

Welcome to Oxford

The weight of history is felt in every footstep in atmospheric Oxford, where life revolves around the world-class university that occupies its heart. The City of the Dreaming Spires is a walkable one (and likely visually familiar, given its turn as a Harry Potter filming location), though you can also get another view by punting along its waterways in true student fashion. Visiting the university’s colleges, plus highlights such as the Bodleian Library and Ashmolean Museum, are also among the top things to do in Oxford, though you shouldn’t leave town before enjoying an evening in a snug pub.

Top 15 attractions in Oxford

Bodleian Library

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Located in central Oxford in a complex of historic buildings, the venerable Bodleian Library is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. It’s the main research library for the University of Oxford and also a copyright library, housing every book printed in the UK and Ireland, a collection of more than 12 million printed items.More

University of Oxford

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The oldest university in the English-speaking world, the University of Oxford is the main draw to the riverside town of Oxford. With a history dating back to the 11th century, the university’s many colleges offer a wealth of gorgeous historical architecture—not to mention settings for movies including theHarry Potter series.More

Christ Church College

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Attended by leading luminaries across the centuries—and in possession of an art museum, soaring cathedral, and stately quad—Christ Church is among Oxford’s largest, grandest, and most prestigious colleges. Famously used as a set for theHarry Potter films, it is now also a pop cultural attraction.More

Blenheim Palace

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Built in the early 18th century, this stately home is one of Britain’s grandest historical estates. It was gifted by Queen Anne to the Duke of Marlborough, General John Churchill, for his role in defeating the French at the 1704 Battle of Blenheim, and Britain’s beloved wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill was born here in 1874.More

Radcliffe Camera

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Located in the heart of Oxford, the Radcliffe Camera is one of the city’s most recognizable and photographed landmarks, with its unusual shape and impressive dome. Completed in 1749, it was the first rotunda library in England, and today it is one of the main reading rooms of the Bodleian Library complex.More

Sheldonian Theatre

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One of Oxford’s most recognizable landmarks, the Sheldonian Theatre is a neoclassical building dating to 1669. Designed by the celebrated architect Sir Christopher Wren, the venue is used for ceremonial events by the University of Oxford (including graduations), as well as lectures, concerts, and other publicly accessible performances.More

Bridge of Sighs

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Linking the two halves of Hertford College, the Bridge of Sighs (formally known as Hertford Bridge) arcs above New College Lane in the heart of Oxford. Despite its ancient-seeming exterior and leaded windows, it’s only a little over a century old. While it shares a name with the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, it actually looks much more similar to that city’s Rialto Bridge.More

Carfax Junction

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The junction of High Street, Cornmarket Street, Queen Street, and St. Aldgate’s, Carfax is a major meeting point in the heart of Oxford. The lofty St. Martin’s Tower (Carfax Tower), which offers some of the best views of the “city of dreaming spires,” sits at the intersection.More

All Souls College

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Set on High Street in the heart of town, graduates-only All Souls College is Oxford’s most elitist institution. Only the university’s best and brightest are invited to sit the entrance exam, and just two are accepted as fellows each year. Fifteenth-century architecture mingles with Hawksmoor and Wren detailings for pure tranquility.More

Trinity College

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Between its baroque chapel, extensive gardens, and historic buildings, Trinity is one of Oxford’s prettiest small colleges. Founded in 1555 by Sir Thomas Pope, it occupies a prime position in central Oxford, opposite the landmark Bodleian Library.More

Oxford Covered Market

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Home to fishmongers and produce vendors, quirky hat specialists and trendy sandwich shops, Oxford Covered Market is both a bustling retail hub and a destination for food lovers. The market has operated continuously since its founding in 1774, and today it hosts more than 50 independent shops.More

Oxford Castle & Prison

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Explore nearly 1,000 years of history at Oxford Castle & Prison, located near central Oxford. Originally built in 1071 by Normans who came across with William the Conqueror, the castle was later turned into a prison. Now a museum and tourist site, it also offers stunning panoramic views over Oxford from one of the city’s oldest buildings.More

Balliol College

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One of Oxford’s oldest colleges, Balliol College dates back to the 13th century, although the precise date is disputed. The architecture of this rambling college is predominantly from the 19th century, though parts of the Front Quadrangle are as old as the 15th century. It takes its name from its founder, John de Balliol.More

Magdalen College

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Magdalen College—pronounced “Maudlin”—is one of the most storied and scenic colleges at Oxford University. Founded in 1458, it’s known for its lofty Magdalen Tower, its choral associations, and the celebrated figures who once walked its halls, including C.S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde, and Sir John Betjeman.More

Ashmolean Museum

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Established in 1683, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford is the oldest public museum in the UK and one of the oldest in the world. It’s home to one of the most important collections of art and archaeology in the world, spanning civilizations both Eastern and Western and from the Neolithic era to the present day.More

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All about Oxford

When to visit

Summer is the busiest time to visit Oxford, and little wonder: The university’s green lawns and dreaming spires look idyllic on sunny days, and the weather is perfect for punting along the water. However, autumn is a good option for exploring outside of the busy tourist season. Fall is an evocative time to see this most scholarly of cities: The weather should be comfortable enough for wandering among colleges and you can warm up with a pint in a pub.

Getting around

It’s less than an hour by direct train from London to Oxford, and the Oxford Tube (which is, despite its name, a coach service) also links the two cities. Oxford proper is a very walkable city, with pedestrianized stretches, though city bus services do provide a local transit option. Otherwise, private taxi companies offer one more way to get around town.

Traveler tips

Oxford has 39 different colleges, and they all have different visiting policies. For some of the most in-demand colleges like Christ Church—where several Harry Potter scenes were filmed—tickets need to be requested in advance; the popular Magdalen and Balliol offer paid entry, while others are only open to students or by appointment. If there are any in particular you wish to see, it’s worth researching policies in advance; otherwise, join an organized tour for no-hassle exploring.

A local’s pocket guide to Oxford

Theodora Sutcliffe

Freelance writer Theodora was lucky enough to study in Oxford, and still goes back occasionally—for both work and pleasure.

The first thing you should do in Oxford is...

pick up a paper pictorial city map. You get more of a sense of how the city fits together than with Google Maps, and you’ll miss less.

A perfect Saturday in Oxford...

starts with a walk across Port Meadow for a riverside lunch at the 17th-century Trout Inn and continues with a museum visit and a play at one of the city’s theaters.

One touristy thing that lives up to the hype is...

Christ Church College really is one of the grandest colleges. You don’t have to be a Harry Potter fan to appreciate the huge quad, ornate architecture, and dramatic stairways.

To discover the "real" Oxford...

On a sunny summer day, take a walk—or, even better, a punt—along the river. It’s the perfect way to see a quieter side of the city.

For the best view of the city...

climb the 13th-century tower of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. The views of the colleges and the Radcliffe Camera dome are spectacular.

One thing people get wrong...

is thinking that Oxford University occupies a single orderly campus. There’s a concentration of beautiful buildings around Broad Street, but both colleges and administrative buildings are scattered across the city.

Oxford information

Number of Attractions

18

Number of Tours

167

Number of Reviews

9 765

Currency

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