Oxford is probably best known for its university and many architecturally stunning buildings. In more recent times, thanks to the Harry Potter books, it has become a bit of a mecca for avid readers to see some of the locations chosen for the films. Most notably, Christ Church College has been used several times for various scenes in The Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. But it’s not just the Harry Potter filmmakers that have been drawn to this beautiful city; filming can be quite a common occurrence around the city streets and it’s easy to see why. Being so accessible from London by coach, car or train, you can pack in a visit for a long weekend or stay a bit longer and visit some of the sights close by in Oxfordshire itself, such as Blenheim Palace.
Oxford is a fairly small city in terms of actual geographical area. At a fraction the size of London, the easiest way is to tour on foot. Quite a fun way to take in the city is by doing a treasure hunt. A bit like finding Pokemon in the city, this team activity or family-friendly activity can be pre-booked or downloaded onto your phone. There’s also the added excitement, that you could win something!
If you want to take in the city at a more leisurely pace, there are plenty of walking tours in Oxford. Footprints tours offer a free 2-hour walking tour of Oxford. Cycling tours are also available in Oxford and with so many attractions and colleges to see, you might want to give your feet a bit of a rest.
If you would prefer to conserve your energy and relax, then the Oxford City Sightseeing Hop-on-Hop-Off bus could be for you. With 26 stops around the city, you can choose where to get off to spend a bit more time. Alternatively stay on to see what the city has to offer before heading to your chosen attraction. Finally, if bobbing about on the river is more your style, then there are a variety of boat options, including traditionally crafted punts. On a summer afternoon what better way to see some of the city than from the river itself.
Things to do for free
Being such a popular tourist destination has its drawbacks. Most of the places to visit in Oxford charge an entrance fee and it can add up if you want to take in all the sights. However, there are a few places of interest in Oxford that are free. Christ Church Meadow is nestled between the river Cherwell and the river Thames and is open to the public all year round. A perfect place for picnics, there is a circular path you can follow, which will allow plenty of time for the queues to the cathedral to subside. Strolling along the river, there is plenty of wildlife to see.
If the weather is a not quite on your side, then why not wander around the Covered Market. Situated in the middle of the city, the Covered Market is open all week and on weekends and, as its name suggests, is a covered market with around 40 traders selling a whole host of produce. A great place for picking up gifts, the market also has an interesting history having been officially opened back in November 1774. If you are more of a foodie type, then there are an array of food outlets including a fishmonger, butchers, and bakers.
Continuing under cover, but a short walk away from the market, is the Modern Art Oxford gallery. This modern art space is a great place to sit and plan your day. Their aim is to make contemporary art engaging and accessible, and they have achieved this. With its own café and shop, it really is a great place to take some time out. If you are looking for a relaxing afternoon in the city, then the market, gallery and meadows are all definitely worth a visit.
Sights to see for under 5 GBP (7 USD)
Oxford has so many places of interest it’s difficult deciding which ones to see. Some are simply photo opportunities, beautiful buildings that fill this historical city, and some should definitely be viewed from inside. As most of the main attractions have a cost, it’s always worth considering what buildings you would like to pay to enter and which can be viewed on more of a budget.
The Bodleian Library houses some 11 million printed items, second only to the British Library in London. Within the Library is The Divinity School, a room previously used as a lecture hall for the University of Oxford. It can be visited by paying a small fee of 1 GBP or 1.30 USD. With its 455 carved bosses on the ceiling, it’s hard to believe it was previously used as a munitions store during the English Civil War. If you want to see the rest of the library, you need to book a tour. Tours also stop in Radcliffe Camera, a beautiful architectural domed building and current reading room for the library.
Oxford has its own little bit of Venice right in the town. The Hertford Bridge, also known as the Bridge of Sighs is part of Hertford College, located near Radcliffe Square. Although it is not possible to cross the bridge as a tourist, it’s a perfect photo opportunity when you exit the Bodleian Library, which is opposite the bridge.
For a loftier perspective on Oxford, then head to the Carfax Tower. The tower, all that remains of St Martin’s Church, is a grade II listed building that rises 74 feet (23 m) above the main shopping area. Ninety-nine steps take you to the top, where you can take in the views of the city.
Oxford Castle, built in 1071, was predominantly used to detain prisoners from Oxfordshire and Berkshire. Its judicial links to the past also include the fact that it was used for executions, the last having been held less than 200 years ago in 1863. Admission to the castle is by guided tour only at a cost of 10.75 GBP (14 USD); however, you can walk up the mound outside for a nominal fee of 1 GBP (1.30 USD).
The University of Oxford Botanic Garden was founded 400 years ago in order to educate and conserve plant species from around the world. Costing only 5 GBP (6.50 USD) per adult, the gardens are a quiet retreat from the city’s crowds. It’s worth noting that there is no café, although picnics are allowed.
The best of the rest
Christ Church Cathedral is the most popular tourist destination in Oxford, and weekends can become exceptionally busy, especially Sundays when reduced opening hours are in place due to services taking place. Admission price for an adult is 9 GBP (12 USD) covers the Cathedral, Chapter House, and Hall. Christ Church has a history dating back to Henry VIII’s times, although the site has had religious significance since the eighth century. Scholarly links go back to such famous English stories as that of Alice in Wonderland whose author lectured maths at the college. Many of the locations in the story are based on parts of the college itself.
Oxford Castle Unlocked is a guided tour of Oxford’s Castle that tells the story of the castle’s history and is brought to life by costumed characters. Guided tours will take you from the depths of the 900-year-old crypt to the Saxon Tower with its panoramic views of the city. Its large stone wall, built in 1790, and moat made it an impenetrable castle and there’s still much to see here.
At the castle, you can also arrange ghost tours of the city. What with all the executions and turbulent history, it’s easy to imagine that spirits might wander here. So if it’s evening entertainment you are looking for, then perhaps this might also be just the ticket.
Oxford, like many cities, is brimming with great places to eat. In the Oxford Castle Quarter, some of the most popular restaurant chains jostle for space surrounded by beautiful, ancient buildings and architecture. The Malmaison Hotel and Brasserie is situated in the reformed prison and castle area where it is joined by a whole host of other restaurant chains including Prezzo, The Slug and Lettuce, Pizza Express, and The Swan and Castle Weatherspoon pub.
If you are looking for something a little different though, Oxford has its fair share of artisan, laid-back, and quirky eateries. The Jam Factory is a restaurant, bar, and arts centre situated near the train and bus station on the perimeter of the main centre. It is a light and airy café-cum-gallery where artists’ works adorns the walls. There is also a distinct gallery space tucked at the back. The food is free-range, fresh to order and is served daily including breakfast, lunch and dinner. The staff are very friendly and knowledgeable, the space inspiring and unique. What better way to get your creative juices flowing than to be sipping coffee while surrounded with a multitude of different paintings and sculptures. You never know, with all that creativity you might feel truly motivated to join the variety of art classes they also offer, it’s definitely somewhere to while away the hours.
The Oxford Malmaison Hotel
Address: Oxford Castle, 3 New Road, Oxford, England
Hints and tips
• Some of the tours, such as the hop-on-hop-off bus offer discounts on other tours if booked together. The bus ticket also offers discounts on other attractions and restaurants.
• During the summer, many places that run tours become sold-out, so booking in advance is advised.
• If driving to Oxford, it can get busy around the city centre. There are 5 park and ride sites around Oxford with good facilities and access, although the Oxpens Carpark also offers quite cheap parking for the whole day and is only a short walk from the main central area.
• Although Oxford is relatively small, there is a lot to see and it can be a bit overwhelming. Do a little research and perhaps have some idea of the sort of things you would like to see, and your own personal budget. If in doubt, head to local cafes and chat to people who live there; they are a great source of unbiased information.
Whatever you decide to do in Oxford, you can be sure you’ll learn lot about the city’s history, see some beautiful architecture, eat some great food and will want to stay longer.
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