A charming city in central southern England, founded in the 12th century, Oxford is known for its prestigious university, the Carfax Tower, and the Church of St Mary the Virgin. Unlike its rival city, Cambridge, with its sprawling parks, Oxford has majestic spires and picturesque cobblestone streets that are unparalleled in the world. But apart from all those attractions, the city has a very interesting history, a thriving art scene, and vibrant dining options that all you need to do is explore. In case you need more ideas on what attractions to see and activities to indulge in, read our list of the best things to do in Oxford, England.
1. Discover different species of plants at the Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum
Established in the early 17th century, Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum is the oldest garden in the United Kingdom. It is also one of the world’s oldest scientific gardens. It features over 6,000 species of plants, which you’ll find in its many gardens and glasshouses and the Herbarium room, where you can learn more details about them. Apart from the plants, the garden also offers workshops and tours, which will delight nature lovers. Additionally, it has a lot to offer for the whole family, such as kids’ activities, picnicking, and a pop-up cafe once in a while.
Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum
Address: Rose Ln, Oxford OX1 4AZ, United Kingdom
Website: Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum
Opening hours: 9am - 4pm (daily)
Price: 7.09 USD (5.45 GBP)
2. See drawings of Raphael at the Ashmolean Museum
The oldest museum in Great Britain and the oldest university museum in the world, Ashmolean Museum, was founded in 1683. It has tons of exhibits and artworks, which any art fanatic will surely love. A few of the highlights of the museum include the drawings of Raphael and the collections of Anglo-Saxon artifacts. Also, you’ll find here the largest exhibit of Chinese artworks in the west and new galleries with displays focusing on Egypt and Nubia. There’s more to this museum than mentioned above, so make sure you visit the museum before leaving the city.
Address: Beaumont St, Oxford OX1 2PH, United Kingdom
Website: Ashmolean Museum
Opening hours: 10am - 5pm (daily)
3. Cross the Bridge of Sighs at night
Hertford Bridge, or more popularly known as the “Bridge of Sigh,” for its resemblance to the famous Bridge of Sigh in Venice, is a must-visit attraction in the city center of Oxford. It is a covered Skyway that links the old and new quadrangles of Hertford College and also the most photograph part of the school, with the Sheldonian Theater as its stunning backdrop. Another great thing about the attraction is you can come anytime and as many times as you want for you to see it in a different look. For a more romantic vibe, you can try to cross it in the evening, when it is attractively lit up.
Bridge of Sighs
Address: Catte St, Oxford OX1 3BW, United Kingdom
4. Be in awe of the beauty of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin
One of the most important buildings in Oxford, which dates back to the 11th century, University Church of St Mary the Virgin is a majestic religious attraction that will keep your mouth open because of its beauty. It features a unique baroque style porch, created by Nicholas Stone, and spire that is said to be the most beautiful in England. The parish of the St. Mary the Virgin is mostly composed of university and college buildings. Apart from its dreamy appearance, you should also drop by the church to hear the mass, listen to the lovely choir, and pray.
University Church of St Mary the Virgin
Address: The, High St, Oxford OX1 4BJ, United Kingdom
5. Go shopping at the Covered Market Oxford
A hidden gem in central Oxford, Covered Market Oxford is a large historical market, opened in 1774. It features permanent shops and stalls selling a variety of wares, ranging from local produce to crafts and arts, and specialty items. If you’re hunting for souvenirs, or are hungry and want to dine in some quirky cafe or bar, then you must visit this place. One of the must-visit shops here, especially if you’re famished and on a budget, is the Alpha Bar. They sell gourmet sandwiches and salads and other seasonal dishes at an affordable price. Another shop you must not ignore is the Hat Box, which specializes in hat-making, wherein they can also do personal designs just for you. Other vendors include Oxford Cheese Company, Moo-Moo’s, Ben Cookies, and a lot more.
The Covered Market Oxford
Address: Market St, Oxford OX1 3DZ, United Kingdom
Website: The Covered Market Oxford
Opening hours: Mon - Fri: 8am - 5:30pm; Sat: 8am - 6pm; Sun: 10am - 5pm
6. View the Oxford Dodo at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History
The Oxford University Museum of Natural History was constructed between 1855-1860 to be the venue where the university’s growing number of natural history specimens will be displayed. One of the famous exhibits here is the Oxford Dodo, which is the only surviving dodo remains in the world. Also, the museum has been a witness to many historical events and scientific accomplishments like the first public demonstration of telegraphy. Apart from the collection of specimens, the building itself, with its cathedral-like structure that features a stained glass ceiling, is an attraction worth visiting.
Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Address: Parks Rd, Oxford OX1 3PW, United Kingdom
Opening hours: 10am - 5pm (daily)
7. Visit the Tom Tower
An iconic structure in Oxford, Tom Tower, is located at the main entrance of Christ Church. It is a bell tower that is named after the Great Tom, which is the name of its bell. The square tower features an octagonal lantern and a faceted ogee dome, designed by Christopher Wren, and built between 1681-82. Make sure to visit the building and see with your own eyes its Gothic revival style and the inspiration for the design of the Clock Tower at the University of Auckland.
Address: A420, Oxford OX1 1DP, United Kingdom
Website: Tom Tower
Opening hours: Mon - Sat: 10am - 5pm; Sun: 2pm - 5pm
Price: 19.52 USD (15 GBP)
8. See the controversial Headington Shark
A very interesting and quite peculiar sculpture in Oxford, the Headington Shark is a 26 ft (7.92 m) fiberglass sculpture of a shark planted face-first on a roof of a house. Bill Heine, the house owner, together with John Buckley, the sculptor, erected the sculpture in the night with a crane. The said statue is said to be some kind of protest against the use of nuclear bombs and to honor what happened to Nagasaki and Chernobyl. But according to some neighbors, it is just an antenna in disguise because the local government won’t allow Heine to put his antenna on the roof. Nonetheless, it became so popular that it has been a must-visit attraction in Oxford since then. Also, the house is up for rent in Airbnb.
The Headington Shark
Address: 2 New High St, Oxford OX3 7AQ, United Kingdom
Website: The Headington Shark
Opening hours: 24 hours (daily)
9. Climb the Carfax Tower
Are you afraid of heights? If no, you’ll surely be delighted with what you’ll see atop the Carfax Tower. It is the only remaining structure of St. Martin Church, which was the official church of Oxford until 1122. The church was demolished to ease the traffic in the area. The tower has a height of 74 ft (22.55 m), and no structure can be built in central Oxford taller than it. Another great thing about this tower is you can climb its 99 steps and from the top, see the spectacular view of the city.
Address: Queen St, Oxford OX1 1ET, United KingdomDummy address
Opening hours: 10am - 4:30pm (daily)
Price: 3.90 USD (3 GBP)
A ruined Norman medieval castle in central Oxford, Oxford Castle, is one of the most visited attractions in the city. It was built in 1071 and from then on served as different things, such as a county jail, a religious site, and home of the royals at one time, until it closed in 1992. You’ll learn more about the castle as you explore its other areas, including the Saxon St. George’s Tower, Victorian Prison D-Wing, and Debtors’ Tower, among others. After all the walking and exploring, you’ll surely need to sit and replenish lost energy, so make sure to drop by the Castleyard Cafe and order one of the crowd’s favorites made from locally sourced ingredients.
Oxford Castle and Prison: Guided Tour
Duration: 1 hour
Oxford is a known university city, where the first things that come to mind are students in libraries stressing about their upcoming exams. But, the city is more than the university. To know more about it, you should check out our list of the best things to do in Oxford, England, and have an amazing holiday ahead.
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