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Home | Guidebooks | Oxford

A visitor’s guide to Oxford

Oxford

About Oxford

Forever immortalised as a city of ‘dreaming spires’ in Matthew Arnold’s poem Thyrsis, Oxford is an enchanting city to visit. Follow in the footsteps of history as you explore the atmospheric universities, historic buildings, museums, and the medieval streets that provided memorable inspiration for literary greats such as C. S Lewis, J.R.R Tolkien and Lewis Carroll, to name but a few.

Although best explored on foot, there are several other ways to uncover the delights of the city that is home to the UK’s oldest university. Relax on a flat bottom punt for an unhurried float down the River Cherwell, discover Oxford’s landmarks from the top deck of a hop on-hop off bus, or book a private guide for an insider’s glimpse into the hidden secrets of this beautiful city.

Whilst renowned across the globe for its history and scholarly accolades, Oxford is also a very modern city and within its old buildings and hidden lanes, you’ll find a wealth of diverse dining, shopping, and entertainment venues. Outwardly, Oxford may be cloaked in tradition, but delve a little deeper and you’ll find also find a city that is fully embracing the twenty-first century.

  1. Pitt Rivers Museum
  2. Ashmolean Museum
  3. Punting on the River Cherwell
  4. Bodleian Library and Radcliffe Camera
  5. Christchurch Meadows
  6. Oxford Botanic Garden
  7. Guided walking tour
  8. Oxford Castle and Prison
  9. Blackwells Bookshop
  10. Visit the Eagle and Child pub
  1. Bodleian Library and Radcliffe Camera
  2. Pitt Rivers Museum
  3. Oxford Museum of Natural History
  4. Bicester Village Outlet Shopping
  5. Museum of the History of Science
  6. Ashmolean Museum
  7. Afternoon Tea
  8. Oxford Castle and Prison
  9. Oxford Artisan Distillery
  10. Westgate Shopping Centre

Ashmolean Museum
Oxford

Founded in 1683, the Ashmolean is the University of Oxford’s museum of art and archaeology. Its world-famous collections cover a vast spectrum of artefacts from Egyptian mummies to outstanding, contemporary art. Keep an eye on the website for various exhibitions throughout the year.

Bodleian Library and Radcliffe Camera
Oxford

Enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour of one of the oldest working libraries in the world. As well as visiting the Divinity School, Duke Humfrey’s Library, Convocation House and Chancellors Court, you will also get to see the remarkable Radcliffe Camera. This is one of Oxford’s most distinctive buildings and is usually only accessible to members of the university or Bodleian card holders.

Modern Art Oxford
Oxford

Modern Art Oxford is a leading contemporary art space that showcases exhibitions, artist commissions, and aims to be accessible to the widest possible audience. Entrance to both the galleries and exhibitions is free although you are required to book your entrance time ahead of schedule.

Oxford Museum of Natural History
Oxford

Playing host to a significant programme of events, activities and exhibitions throughout the year, the Oxford Museum of Natural History is award-winning and houses more than seven million historical and modern specimens from the natural world. Collections cover palaeontology, zoology, mineralogy and petrology, art, and architecture. It sits next door to the Pitts Rivers Museum.

Pitt Rivers Museum
Oxford

Founded in 1884, the Pitt Rivers Museum of anthropology and archaeology is much-loved and unlike any other museum. Housed within an atmospheric building, it is a collection of more than 500,000 objects, photographs, and manuscripts from around the world. These collections are of exceptional range and depth, and uniquely are organised not by time, geography, or culture but by type.   

Pitt Rivers Museum

Artweeks Festival
May

This is the UK’s largest artist open-studio and pop-up exhibition event. It showcases a huge range of creativity including painting, photography, textile, sculpture, jewellery, ceramics and glass, through pop-up galleries, gardens, ships and more. You’ll get to meet the inspiring artists in a variety of unique spaces.

Christmas Market at Blenheim Palace
December

Christmas at Blenheim Palace is a magical experience for all ages. Wander through the after-dark illuminated trail where the picture-perfect gardens are adorned with glittering tunnels of light and trees are flooded in colour. Be mesmerised by the flickering flames in the fire garden before warming up with a hot chocolate from the Christmas Market.

Cornbury Music Festival
July

This most English of music festivals is charming, fun and a honeypot of good music, good food and entertainment. This is where the Cotswold elite, rockers, urbanites, farmers, and country loving folk all share an open air party in the most beautiful of settings.

Oxford Literary Festival
March – April

The Oxford Literary Festival is a feast for the literary senses with a wide range of authors and speakers from across the globe. Events take place around the city, many of which sell out well in advance.

St Giles Fair
September

Origins of the fair date back to 1625 when it was a parish festival organised in celebration of the patron saint, St Giles. As the name suggests, the fun fair is held in St Giles St and is a colourful, fun-filled attraction held over two days in September.

Cornbury Music Festival

City Sightseeing Hop On-Hop Off Bus
Oxford

Give little tired legs a rest and explore the charms of Oxford from the top deck of a bright red, open top double decker bus. Tickets are valid for 24 or 48 hours, there is commentary aimed at younger passengers, and you can hop on and off twenty stops around the city.

Millets Farm Falconry
22-minute drive from Oxford

Millets Farm Falconry is a wonderful place for young and old to learn more about magnificent birds of prey. With more than 70 birds of prey, there are several daily events including young bird, keeper talks and flying demonstrations. 

Oxford Castle and Prison
12-minute drive from Oxford

Explore 1,000 years of history at Oxford Castle and Prison. Join a knowledgeable guide for a walk through time. Climb St. Georges Tower for wonderful panoramic views of Oxford, and descend underground into the murk of the candle-lit crypt and learn what life was like for prisoners in the jail, which sits at the heart of the castle.

Shotover Country Park
12-minute drive from Oxford

Set on the edge of Oxford, the Shotover Country Park covers 289 acres and is a wonderful blend of hidden valleys, diverse habitats; it’s also a haven for wildlife. There are footpaths to explore and fabulous views from the top of Shotover Hill.

Story Museum
Oxford

Explore the world of storytelling through immersive exhibitions, events, works shops and gallery spaces. The activities are interactive, multi-sensory and designed for families to enjoy the experience together.

The Story Museum

Arbequina
Oxford
Perfect for: dinner

Arbequina offers your favourite tapas sharing dishes from Spain and beyond. Dine at the long steel counter and watch the chefs at work or in the first floor dining room, which suits larger parties. It’s much-loved by the locals and has a fun and sociable atmosphere.

Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons
25-minute drive from Oxford
Perfect for: dinner

Tucked away in the pretty Oxfordshire countryside, this two Michelin-starred restaurant is where French flair sits shoulder to shoulder with English heritage.  Legendary chef-patron Raymond Blanc’s vision has created a very special place that is regarded as one of the finest restaurants in Great Britain.

Oli’s Thai
Oxford
Perfect for: dinner

Oli’s Thai is renowned for its exceptional Thai dishes. This tiny restaurant has just five tables, is deceptively simple and just outside the city centre. However, it’s so popular it can often be booked up weeks in advance. It’s always worth seeing if there is any walk-in bar space free though.

Pierre Victoire Bistro
Oxford
Perfect for: lunch, dinner

This cosy French restaurant was opened back in 1996 as a place for people to enjoy traditional French food, skilfully prepared in a relaxed, warm environment. The menus follow the seasons but there’s also a list of signature dishes as determined by their loyal customers. The wine list is excellent and well-priced.

Quod
Oxford
Perfect for: breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner

Quod is a bit of an Oxford tradition and is a smart, bistro-style restaurant set in a former bank. With a full menu that covers every dining option from breakfast through to dinner and everything in between, this is a buzzing, lively spot for a meal.

The Bear Inn
Oxford
Perfect for: lunch

The Bear is worthy of a visit simply for its standing in Oxford history alone. Serving Oxford scholars since 1242, this tiny pub (seats just two dozen inside) offers a warm welcome and a great selection of real ales.

The Covered Market
Oxford
Perfect for: lunch, snacks

The Covered Market harks from the 18th century and is the place to go for everything from cookies and pies to fabulous cheese, fresh fish and the tiniest of wine cellars.

Oxford Covered Market

The Nut Tree Inn
25-minute drive from Oxford
Perfect for: dinner

This delightful 15th century inn is a vision of whitewashed walls and tumbling thatch where you can stop for a proper pint and a relaxing drink at the end of the day. It’s also home to superb modern British cuisine and has been the proud holder of a Michelin-star for the last nine years.

Turf Tavern
Oxford
Perfect for: lunch, dinner

The Turf Tavern is an Oxford institution, hidden away from the everyday view – take St Helen’s Passage under the Bridge of Sighs, follow the narrow twists and turns, until suddenly the pub comes into sight. It may not quite be Oxford’s oldest pub, but it comes close and is filled with character, oddly shaped rooms, and tiny staircases. It is definitely atmospheric!

Two One Five
Oxford
Perfect for: lunch, dinner

Two One Five is a neighbourhood restaurant that is the successor to the Michelin-starred Oxford Kitchen. The menu is a blend of British and European flavours using seasonal produce and classical and modern techniques.

Vaults & Garden
Oxford
Perfect for: breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea

Located in the centre of Oxford surrounded by eons of history, dine under the vaulted ceilings of the café, or in the gardens and enjoy wonderful views of the Radcliffe Camera. Enjoy a menu of dishes created from organic, local, and sustainably sourced produce.

Victoria Arms
12-minute drive from Oxford
Perfect for: lunch, dinner

Just a short drive from the centre of Oxford, the Victoria (or Vicky) Arms sits on the banks of the River Cherwell and is a beautiful riverside pub full of history. The building dates back to the 17th century and once played host to Oliver Cromwell. Meals are hearty, seasonal elevated pub classics, and in the summer months you can expect plenty of street food inspiration.

Wilding
Oxford
Perfect for: lunch, dinner

This restaurant-cum-wine-bar-cum-wineshop is in the vibrant neighbourhood of Jericho and offers all day dining with small plates, sharing boards, pizzas, and dishes from the grill. Choose to dine in the light-filled conservatory, in one of the cosy booths, or on the garden terrace, which has been landscaped with wildflowers.

Worton Kitchen Garden
20-minute drive from Oxford
Perfect for: lunch

Just five miles from the centre of Oxford is the Worton Kitchen Garden, a seven-acre market garden that provides the local community with an excellent array of seasonal vegetables, herbs, fruit, flowers, and eggs. The restaurant offers a fresh, nutritious menu for vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians and meat eaters alike.

Christ Church Meadow
Oxford

Christ Church Meadow is that rare gem – a green open space in the heart of a city. Bordered by the River Thames, which is known as the Isis whilst it flows through Oxford, this tranquil space is open year round. You can walk, picnic, and just watch the world pass by.

Oxford Bike Tours
Oxford

See this beautiful city as the locals and students do, on two wheels. Take a guided tour and discover the hidden gems of Oxford with someone who knows the city like the back of their hand. Suitable for all ages and abilities, you can explore the ancient city streets or head out along the river into the countryside.  

Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum
Oxford

Founded in July 1621, this is the oldest botanic garden in the UK and was the birthplace of botanical sciences at the university. The gardens today are an oasis in the heart of Oxford and house more than 5,000 different plant species. It’s one of the most diverse gardens in the world.

Punting on the River Cherwell
Oxford

Enjoy the most traditional of Oxford experiences. Depart from the Cherwell Boathouse under your own steam and float gently down the tranquil River Cherwell, through beautiful countryside for a very special experience. Alternatively, if you would prefer to let someone else steer your boat, then leave from the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse and sit back and relax with a chauffeured punt.

Woodstock and Blenheim Palace
25-minute drive from Oxford

Just eight-miles from Oxford lies the historic market town of Woodstock. Enjoy a leisurely wander around the town and choose from a wide range of cafes and historical coaching inns for refreshment before exploring the myriad delights of Blenheim Palace. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and is just a short walk from the marketplace. Explore the magnificent palace, which dates back to the 1700s, and the spectacular parklands.

Bicester Village
25-minute drive from Oxford

Shop till you drop at Bicester Village, a designer outlet shopping experience with more than 160 luxury designer boutiques. Explore British and international brands from around the globe and refresh with a choice of dining options. Access is easy with plenty of parking and a quick, direct train service from Oxford.

Blackwells Bookshop
Oxford

Browse the many shelves of Blackwell’s on Broad Street where you’ll find every book you can think of and more. This tardis-like shop goes on forever, and don’t miss the Norrington Room, which was once listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the single largest room in the world selling books.

Oxford Covered Market
Oxford

This most English of music festivals is charming, fun and a honeypot of good music, good food and entertainment. This is where the Cotswold elite, rockers, urbanites, farmers, and country loving folk all share an open air party in the most beautiful of settings.

The Old Flight House
25-minute drive from Oxford

If you like antiques, interior design and vintage goods, then a trip to the Old Flight House is a must. Inside you’ll find more than 70 owners showcasing their unique products including furniture, cushions, throws and soft furnishings. Plus, there’s a lovely café when you’re in need of refreshment.

Westgate Shopping Centre
Oxford

The Westgate Shopping Centre is in the centre of the city and home to more than 100 stores featuring international brands and the best of the British high street. On the top floor is a fabulous roof terrace with a mix of restaurants and bars, alfresco dining, and wonderful views.  

Westgate Shopping Centre

Bridge of Sighs
Oxford

This is the UK’s largest artist open-studio and pop-up exhibition event. It showcases a huge range of creativity including painting, photography, textile, sculpture, jewellery, ceramics and glass, through pop-up galleries, gardens, ships and more. You’ll get to meet the inspiring artists in a variety of unique spaces.

Christ Church College
Oxford

Christmas at Blenheim Palace is a magical experience for all ages. Wander through the after-dark illuminated trail where the picture-perfect gardens are adorned with glittering tunnels of light and trees are flooded in colour. Be mesmerised by the flickering flames in the fire garden before warming up with a hot chocolate from the Christmas Market.

New College
Oxford

This most English of music festivals is charming, fun and a honeypot of good music, good food and entertainment. This is where the Cotswold elite, rockers, urbanites, farmers, and country loving folk all share an open air party in the most beautiful of settings.

Oxford Castle and Prison
Oxford

The Oxford Literary Festival is a feast for the literary senses with a wide range of authors and speakers from across the globe. Events take place around the city, many of which sell out well in advance.

University Church of St. Mary the Virgin
Oxford

Origins of the fair date back to 1625 when it was a parish festival organised in celebration of the patron saint, St Giles. As the name suggests, the fun fair is held in St Giles St and is a colourful, fun-filled attraction held over two days in September.

University Church of St Mary the Virgin

 

Oxford is a fabulous city to explore on foot, and it’s actually the best way to see it properly. There are many walks around the city and along the river, you can set out on foot at your own pace or join one of the many guided walking tours.

For more information about walking and cycling, take a look at our Walking and Cycling Guides online.

Oxford Floatation Centre
Oxford

Experience weightlessness as you float away at the Oxford Floatation Centre. Floating in body temperature water will ease you into a relaxed and peaceful state of mind. It’s also proven to improve sleep, alleviate stress and help with anxiety and fear. Combine this with time in the Infrared Sauna for the ultimate experience.

Thy Spa
Oxford

Thy Spa focuses on traditional Thai treatments including Thai massage. There are also a range of beauty treatments and packages including full and half days.

Wellness Centre at the Randolph
Oxford

The new wellness centre at the Randolph features five treatment rooms and a wet area that includes a steam room, ice room, sauna and a jacuzzi.

Thy Spa

Blenheim Palace Formal Gardens
25-minute drive from Oxford

The magnificent formal gardens at Blenheim Palace have been created over the centuries by garden designers such as Henry Wise and Achille Duchêne. The gardens surrounding the palace include majestic Water Terraces, the Dukes Private Italian Garden, and the Secret Garden, a tranquil space. You can also explore the Churchill Memorial Garden and the beauty of the delicate Rose Garden.

Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum
Oxford

Founded in July 1621, this is the oldest botanic garden in the UK and was the birthplace of botanical sciences at the university. The gardens today are an oasis  in the heart of Oxford and house more than 5,000 different plant species. It’s one of the most diverse gardens in the world.

Turrill Sculpture Garden
Oxford

This little-known hidden gem is tucked away behind the public library in Summertown and is a large, sunny space that is home to a series of changing sculpture exhibitions. Wander the exhibits or just sit and soak up the peace.

Waterperry Gardens
20-minute drive from Oxford

These eight acres of beautifully landscaped gardens were made famous by Beatrix Havergal, who established a School of Horticulture for Ladies here between 1932 and 1971. Areas to explore include the Formal Garden, Mary Rose Garden, Waterlily Canal, and the Long Colour Garden.

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