This world-class university city hardly needs an introduction… Quaint essential Britain at its best, old meets new in a delightful blend of tourism, student life, and city life. Think cobbled streets, college cloisters, Gothic architecture and lots of bicycles mixed in with high-end shopping and glam bars. A delight for visitors all year round, there are plenty of things to do in Oxford…
The Summer brings picnics and punting, Winter is a time for mulled wine and marvelling at the stained glass windows that have suddenly come to life. Autumn is the time to watch the leaves change colour before cosying up in a cafe whilst Spring holds new beginnings with blossoming trees, the first daffodils and the smell of ‘Spring’ in the air, the perfect time to get outdoors.
Art and Culture
It goes without saying that Oxford is one of the best places for culture, history and sightseeing. All of the museums and colleges, the famous Radcliffe Camera, the Bridge of Sighs, The Castle, not to mention the Bodleian Library – There’s so much to see in Oxford that a 1 day visit simply won’t be enough time to see it all.
A wonderful way for an art lover to spend time in Oxford is to visit Modern Art Oxford to see what exhibitions they have on, there’s also an on-site cafe ideal for a coffee or snack. The Glass Tank, and the Christ Church Picture Gallery are also well worth a visit. There are also a number of independent art galleries to visit, if you’re investing in a piece of art for your collection head to the Aiden Meller Gallery, they have a rolling schedule of exhibitions, there’s also the Zuleika Gallery, and the Sarah Wiseman Gallery.
Musicians and fans of classical music will want to tour the Holywell Music Room. This is said to be the oldest purpose-built music room not just in England, but in the whole of Europe, as an added bonus, free concerts are held here throughout the year.
Bookworms will enjoy The Albion Beatnik Bookshop which has much more to offer than just books, enjoy a cup of tea in a comfy chair and enjoy poetry readings, literary talks and music evenings.
There’s always something happening in the city whether it’s the Oxfordshire Science Festival, or Oxford Fashion Week. April sees the boat races, on Alice’s Day, celebrated in July, you’ll go ‘mad as a hatter’ to celebrate CS Lewis’s Alice in Wonderland. The Oxford Shakespeare Festival brings 8 weeks of live performances to the city in mid Summer whilst September sees the Oxford Chamber Music Festival. October brings ghouls and gremlins with the Ghost Fest and the Christmas Lights get switched on in November leading up to that special festive time of year.
Walks and Outdoor Activities
A walking tour is always a fantastic way to get acquainted with a new city, whilst a bike ride or punting on the river are two typically British activities that visitors are sure to enjoy. One of the very best things about Oxford is the amount of outdoor space it has, walk moments away from the bustling streets with their historic architecture and enter a rural world of rivers and wildlife.
Magdalen College is a true delight with its expansive grounds and wonderful meadow and riverside views. Explore its courtyards and cloisters, magnificent gardens and the famous deer park which is home to a herd of roe deer.
Addison’s Walk is just under 1 mile long and passes through Magdalen college grounds and along the river Cherwell, circling a small island. Walk back in time as this is where both C.S Lewis and JRR Tolkien used to take a stroll in their college days.
The University of Oxford Botanic Garden offers tranquillity just steps away from the hustle and bustle of the city streets. The oldest botanic garden in Britain, dating back to 1621, it has a classic 17th century walled garden, a ‘lower garden’, and greenhouses where more than 1,200 species are grown. This place is a visual feast when the flowers are in full bloom during the Summer months and is sure to delight any botanist with its scientific collections as well as give general garden lovers some inspiration on what to do with their flower beds back home.
A walk around Christ Church Meadows is another enjoyable walk of approximately 2km that both locals and tourists enjoy. Enclosed within the rivers Thames and Cherwell and boasting Grade 1 landscape of exceptional historical importance, picture postcard views can be snapped. Many of the college boathouses are located on the North bank – Visit in late February or mid-May to see the college Regatta, though people visiting outside of these months will see rowers out most of the year.
Port Meadow is an open pasture that stretches as far as the eye can see and is one of the best places to catch a stunning sunset. Covering approximately 440acres it is the largest common land in Oxford and attracts flocks of migratory birds due to annual flooding, it is also home to native ponies along with cattle. Follow the footpaths in Spring and Summer along the River Thames and feel inspired, it was here that William Turner painted his early landscapes.
Oxford has it all when it comes to retail therapy. In the heart of the city, Cornmarket and Queen Street offer the usual mix of British retailers selling everything from fashion to electronics. If it’s cold and wet there are two indoor shopping centres; The Clarendon Centre and the Westgate Centre – The Westgate has a lovely roof-top terrace restaurant as well as the very popular Le Pain Quotidien ideal for enjoying brunch or lunch before a spending spree! The High Street is home to high-end boutiques and quirky independent shops as well as antique shops, perfect for an afternoon spent browsing.
Art and antique fans won’t want to miss a rummage in the easily-missed antique’s centre on the Highstreet (Number 85) where books, prints, jewellery and other collectables are up for grabs. The Oxfordshire Craft Guild is also located here with some unique handicrafts and gift items for sale.
The historic 18th century covered market is a delight and will make you feel like you’re in another era as locals go about their day. Traditional butchers shops and greengrocers mix with market type stalls and boutique shops. For those who’ve built up a thirst, a stop at Moo’s is a must for delicious smoothies and milkshakes!
Behind the bus station at Gloucester Green, there’s a general open air-market each Wednesday. Thursday welcomes in specialist food stalls alongside arts, crafts, and antiques (with a farmers market held on the 1st and 3rd Thursday of every month) whilst the Saturday market is a bustling affair covering a bit of everything. At Christmas time, head to the grounds of Oxford Castle for the festive market, it’s not to be missed!
Nightlife and Entertainment
There are lots of things to do in Oxford when the sun goes down. Food and drink play a huge part, of course, but there are simply too many must-visit restaurant’s, pubs and bars to even begin to do them justice here – Get onto Tripadvisor to help you choose. If you’re in Oxford to party you might want to see how many of the 38 signature cocktails you can drink, meanwhile if you’re seeking something more refined, the Eagle and Child was once the local watering hole of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien.
In terms of entertainment, theatre goers will be kept entertained every night of the week with The Oxford Playhouse and The New Theatre, alongside the smaller venues such as Pegasus and The Old Fire Station. Visitors can also buy very reasonably priced tickets to productions from the college students. Oxford also the 02 Academy, the place to see a band or artist playing live.
Film buffs should visit The Ultimate Picture Palace, a grade II listed cinema, it’s the only independently run cinema in Oxford whilst board-game players will adore Thirsty Meeples, Oxford’s only board game cafe.
Christ Church Cathedral hosts a variety of exhibitions and events with choral evensong taking place daily at 6pm. If you’re in Oxford at Christmas time it’s highly recommended to catch a choral evensong before heading out for some late-night Christmas shopping and a glass of mulled wine.
Live music can be found all around town; head to The Wheatsheaf for The Spin Jazz Club, or discover indie bands and musicians at The Cellar.
If you seek some late-night culture, the Ashmolean opens from 7.30pm-10.30pm on the last Friday of each month for a themed night of exhibition, food, music, and talks.
Inspired to pack your bags and book a room?! There really is an abundance of things to do in Oxford whether you’re on the tourist trail or wanting to get into city life from a locals point of view. Whatever the weather, enjoy exploring ‘the city of dreaming spires’. Check out our selection of England vacations and book yours today!