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Being only a one hour train ride or a 1.5 hour car journey from London, Oxford, UK is the perfect day trip if you’re looking to escape from the big city, explore some history and have plenty to see and do, especially if you’re on a budget.
Oxford is known as the home to one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world, but did you know it was also the home of famous writers such as J. R. R. Tolkien and Oscar Wilde? Or that there is a unique museum dedicated to totem poles, shrunken heads and shrines? Or that there’s incredible rooftop bars to enjoy and gaze across the city spires?
Having lived in Oxford for over two years, I hope this Oxford travel guide will give you some ideas for seeing and exploring Oxford for a day trip, whether you’re a first time visitor or a returning Oxford fan!
How to get to Oxford, UK?
Oxford is very well-linked with the south of England, with approximately 120 trains running a day between London and Oxford from London Paddington station and the journey taking approximately an hour. This makes a day trip to Oxford from London a perfect weekend trip.
There are also several direct trains daily from Birmingham New Street to Oxford which also take around 1 hour. Birmingham New Street is very well-linked with other stations in the Midlands and North of England, making Oxford easily reachable.
The Oxford train station is a short, 5-10 minute walk from the city centre.
Oxford is a very small city with heavy traffic, getting into and out of the city in a car is hectic at the best of times and parking in the city is very expensive.
If you are driving to Oxford, I recommend using one of the six available Park and Ride car parks located around Oxford city.
Thornhill Park and Ride - located east of Oxford off the A40 and M40. Park here if you’re coming from London or the east. Take bus 400 to the city centre.
Redbridge Park and Ride - located south of Oxford. Park here if you’re coming from the south on the A34, from Newbury or Reading. Take bus 300 to the city centre.
Seacourt Park and Ride - located north-west of Oxford off the A420, park here if you’re coming from the west, Bristol, Bath, Swindon or the Cotswolds.Take bus 400 to the city centre.
Pear Tree Park and Ride - located north of Oxford if you’re coming from the A34 or M40 heading south. Take bus 300 to the city centre.
Bicester Park and Ride is further afield but also has the S5 bus link to Oxford city centre. Oxford Parkway Station also has a park and ride with bus 500 linking it to the city.
Please check the Oxford County Council website for the most up to date prices for parking and bus tickets.
If you have plenty of time, you could consider taking the Oxford Tube. This bus service links Oxford and London with regular buses every 12 minutes, 24/7. The bus has 9 stops throughout Oxford and the eastern suburbs, terminating in the centre of the city at Gloucester Green Bus Station.
You can catch the bus in London from Hillingdon, Shepherd's Bush, Notting Hill Gate, Marble Arch and Victoria.
Check their website here for timetables.
A return ticket will cost just £15 which you can use to return anytime within 3 months. If you’re 16-26 (inclusive) then you are eligible for the Young Persons ticket which costs just £13 return. Make sure to ask your driver for the correct ticket.
What’s the best time of year to visit Oxford?
In my opinion, there is no wrong time of year to visit Oxford, but there are certain times of year to visit if you want to do certain activities.
To go punting on the river - visit late spring and summer. Punting is one of the most famous and popular attractions in Oxford. It is available later into autumn but with the unpredictable British weather, you’re best to go punting during the better weather months.If you are going in the peak of summer, this is the busiest season in Oxford and I would recommend buying tickets in advance.
To visit the Bodleian Library or Radcliffe Camera - these historic university buildings are open most of the year, but they do close over bank holidays and usually from late December to early January over the Christmas period, and the long weekend over Easter to coincide with university term dates. Check their website for opening times.
To see Oxford without huge crowds - avoid visiting late June to mid-September. The summer months are peak season for Oxford and if you’re wanting to explore a lot of the city centre, be prepared for huge crowds as tourists visit the UK for better weather, relatives arrive into the city for university graduation ceremonies (there are two universities in Oxford so double the crowds), the summer schools open so there are a lot of international visitors and students. The streets in the city centre are old and narrow and being full of tourists and visitors over summer it can take some of the magic away! If you don’t enjoy crowds but want the good weather, the best day to visit Oxford is Monday - Thursday, rather than on the weekend.
To photograph the city - this is entirely subjective but to me, Oxford is most beautiful in the autumn. The lower sunlight, changing coloured leaves and sandy-coloured limestone make the city so picturesque and late-September to October is a lot quieter as most of the crowds and tourists have left.
Is Oxford Expensive?
Yes and no. Oxford has repeatedly been crowned the least affordable place to live in the UK and, yes, cost of living, housing and rent are high, but visiting for a day trip will not break the bank.
The cost of a train ticket to Oxford off-peak (weekends and after 9am on weekdays) is as little as £6 in advance. If you’re driving to Oxford, the Park and Ride tickets cost £2 for 1-11 hours or £4 for 11-24 hours (correct at the time of publication).
Oxford is a very walkable city and once you’re in the city, you shouldn’t need to take any further transport.
Food and drinks might be slightly more expensive than the rest of the UK (except from London), but there are plenty of budget, fast food and food stalls which have cheap food options if that’s what you’re looking for.
You might also be interested in Five Ideas for a Weekend Away in the UK.
What to see and do in 24 hours in Oxford, UK
This Oxford day trip itinerary should give you plenty of things to do to keep you busy for a one day visit to Oxford, but also gives you options depending on your interests, the weather or how active you want to be.
Explore the historic Univeristy of Oxford buildings
St Mary’s Church
Bridge of Sighs
The Radcliffe Camera is one of the most iconic landmarks of Oxford. A huge, circular, limestone building in the Old Bodleian Quad, the main university square, which houses a university library. Unfortunately you do need to hold a readers card to enter the library, the only other way to see inside the Radcliffe Camera is on a guided tour.
But the building is stunning to see and photograph even from the outside.
St Mary’s Church, Oxford
It is free admission to enter St Mary’s Church, Oxford, which is located in the same square as the Radcliffe Camera. For £5 per person, you can climb the church tower for incredible views over the Radcliffe Camera and surrounding university buildings.
The Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library actually encompasses a group of libraries, including the Radcliffe Camera, Divinity School, Old Bodleian Library, Duke Humfrey’s Library, Weston Library and more! If you want to see these locations, there are various tours available in timeslots throughout the day, but they are popular and they do sell out, so book in advance, especially if you’re visiting on a weekend.
You can also buy your tickets from the ticket booth in the entrance to the Bodleian Quad Shop which is almost opposite the Bridge of Sighs.
I recommend the 30-minute guided tour which covers the Divinity School and the Duke Humfrey’s Library - the ancient reading room established in the 15th Century. Check out the Bodleian Libraries website for all their tour options.
You can also visit the Divinity School on it’s own for just £2 which might be a great option for Harry Potter fans, as the Divinity School was used as the filming location for the hospital wing scenes in Harry Potter.
The Bridge of Sighs
The famous Bridge of Sighs is actually called Hertford Bridge because it joins two parts of Hertford College together over New College Lane. It was nicknamed the Bridge of Sighs because of its similarity to the Bridge of Sighs in Venice.
You can’t walk across the Bridge of Sighs unless you’re a member of the college or a visitor of a member. But be sure to take photos from both sides of the Bridge, the crowds are often less if you walk further down New College Lane.
Visit some of the Colleges
Not all colleges are open to visitors but there are many that are and you can visit them for a small fee.
My favourite colleges to visit are:
Christ Church College
They have very specific opening times which change at the whim of the college itself so check the college websites for accurate opening times.
New College, Oxford
New College is most famous for the Cloisters which are also used in the Harry Potter movies. Be sure to also visit the dining hall which is accessed via the steps on the far left of the courtyard area. There are also beautiful gardens through the opposite side of the college.
Entry is £5 during the winter months (Oct-March) and £7 in the summer months. Opening hours are shorter during the winter months though so do check their website before you visit.
Christ Church College
Probably one of the most famous colleges and also the most visited. There is a lot to see in Christchurch, the beautiful college, the Christ Church Cathedral and the Tom Tower built by Sir Christopher Wren.
The entry fee is also the most expensive college to visit, with tickets costing £10 in the winter months and £15 in the summer.
TIP: Entry queues during the peak summer months can get long but if you buy you ticket in advance online then you can skip the queues.
EXTRA TIP: If you want to see the cathedral for free and are in Oxford in the evening then go to the evening service at the Christchurch Cathedral and you can enter Christ Church for free.
See Oxford from above
For a city without many tall buildings, there are actually several great view points to see the city from and these are my favourites.
St. Mary’s Church
I’ve already mentioned this spot and it is one of my favourite places to see the centre of the university from above. Entry to the church is free but entry to the St Mary’s tower is £5. If you’re able to go up the tower in the winter when the sun rises and sets later then you might be lucky enough to catch clear skies and an incredible sunrise or sunset. Unfortunately the tower usually closes at 5pm with last entry at 4.30pm so during the summer months this isn’t possible.
The Carfax Tower
The Carfax Tower is probably your cheapest option for seeing the city from above, with tickets costing £2.70 for adults and £1.70 for children.
Similarly to other attractions in Oxford, the opening times vary between winter and summer months so check times before you visit.
April - September (high season) - 10am - 5pm
November - February (low season) - 10am - 3pm
The Varsity Club
The Varsity Club in Oxford is one of my favourite spots in the city and one that isn’t as well known to tourists. Located on the High Street above the market, this four storey restaurant and bar has a spectacular rooftop with views across the city, university spires and the county beyond. You do need to go into the first Covered Market entrance and then in front of you you’ll see the doorway into the bar.
It’s not the cheapest place for drinks or food but you’re paying for the views. If you’re wanting to see the sunset then arrive early for a seat as it does get crowded, even during the colder months since the bar has heaters on the rooftop.
TIP: If you go when the bar is quieter, in the middle of the day on a weekday, you can usually go straight up to the rooftop and just see the views without having to buy anything since the bar on the roof isn’t open then.
Explore the markets and shops
The Oxford Covered Market
This indoor market place in Oxford is a historic 1770s building, famous for its local businesses and tasty food stalls. Even now it is a bazaar full of artisan food stalls like cheeses, wines and meat, specialist craft stalls, boutique clothing stores and incredible cafes with cuisine from all over the world.
The best stores in the Covered Market:
Oxford Cheese Shop: try their truffle brie for the ultimate decadent cheese
Souvlaki Brothers: the best Greek food in Oxford
Taylor’s: an Oxford institution, head here if you’re looking for sandwiches, salads, toasties or baguettes full of fresh ingredients
The Cake Shop - unique cakes made in the windows so you can watch the work being done
iScream: great for ice cream
Gloucester Green Market
My favourite market in Oxford, Gloucester Green Market is behind the bus station and accessible via George Street. The market is only there from Wednesday - Saturday but this is your place to go for vintage and second-hand clothing stores and also incredible food from all over the world.
Want to try Nepalese street food or Malaysian cuisine? Craving some Japanese Takoyaki or Gyoza? This is the place to go, with incredible fresh street food options for a great price and really cheap.
Cultural Afternoon in Oxford City
Depending how much time you have in Oxford and how long you spend seeing the sights, there are plenty more things to see and do in Oxford to fill a day, afternoon or even a weekend. These are just some ideas for you to choose from to do in Oxford in one day.
If the weather is right then punting is a great way to finish off your afternoon with a leisurely float along the river in one of the famous Oxford punts. There are several locations in the city to hire a punt from:
Magdalen Bridge is the easiest to reach, located at the end of the High Street.
Folly Bridge by the Head of the River pub
Cherwell Boathouse is outside of the city and only reachable by car, taxi or bus but is a great options to see more countryside and if you want to avoid the high demand for boats in the summer at the other locations.
If the weather isn’t right for you to spend the afternoon floating down the river on a punt, these are some other activities you can choose from to do in an afternoon in Oxford.
The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford is the University of Oxford’s art and archaeology museum and it is completely free to visit (except some individual guest collections).
The museum is beautiful to spend an afternoon or even an entire rainy day wandering around. There are exhibitions of Antiquities and coins including buried treasure found in the area, and also exhibitions of Eastern and Western Art. There is also one of the largest Roman and Greek cast statue exhibitions in the UK, with over 900 statues.
There is also a rooftop cafe and bar which is a great spot for a snack or a coffee. A lot of people don’t know this place exists but you can go to the cafe without visiting the museum too.
Oxford Botanic Gardens
The Oxford Botanic Gardens run alongside the River Cherwell to the east of Oxford City centre and is easily accessed directly from the High Street.
Tickets for entry to the Botanical Gardens cost £5.45 but the opening times change four times a year with the seasons, so check their website before visiting. Children under 16 visit for free.
The Gardens are a beautiful place to visit any time of year as there are glasshouses and a herbarium room if the weather is cold. The Walled Garden and Lower Garden are open all year around but visit in Spring and summer to see the various species in full bloom. Autumn is also beautiful with the plants and leaves changing colour.
I would suggest you need 2+ hours to see all the gardens, but you could easily spend longer if you have the time.
Pitt Rivers Museum
Remember when I mentioned shrunken heads at the start? This is where you’ll find these. The Pitt Rivers Museum is one of the most unique museums I’ve ever visited and it’s definitely not a museum you get bored in!
The museum houses anthropological collections but is unique in its way of arranging the objects in order of ‘democracy of things’ rather than chronologically or geographically. There are over half a million objects from all over the world with personal, historical and ritualistic significance.
If you’re into the weird, strange and mysterious, this is the museum for you. And the best part? The Pitt Rivers Museum is completely free to visit.
Where to eat in Oxford
There are endless food options in Oxford, some of which I’ve already mentioned. Here are more ideas grouped by budget.
Budget food options:
Gloucester Green Market street food stalls (Wed-Sat only)
Covered Market food stalls
Taylor’s - these sandwich and deli shops are an Oxford institution dotted all over the city. You can find one on the High Street, one in the covered market and ones further out such as Botley and Summertown. I love their baguettes and salads.
Mid-range food options:
The White Rabbit: extremely popular so you may have to queue, but they have the best pizzas in Oxford city.
George Street Social: a popular hangout for brunch and lunch with board games and cool decor.
Byron: every Burger lovers favourite. Awesome burgers but a bit pricier because you need to pay for sides, like chips, separately.
Banana Tree: a quick and easy menu if you’re looking for an Asian fusion type meal
Turl Street Kitchen: tucked into the university streets, this is a great spot for food or coffee.
The Rickety Press (Jericho) or The Rusty Bicycle (Cowley) - both of these are outside the city centre but are my favourite reasonably priced hangout for food and beer. Owned by the same company, their pizzas are brilliant and so are their DoDo beers.
High-end dining options:
Malmaison: situated in the Oxford Castle complex, this hotel and brasserie is the perfect spot if you’re looking for a dining experience in a beautiful setting.
Quod: located very conveniently on the High Street with an all day menu
The Grand Cafe: also on the High Street. Perfect for an Afternoon Tea Experience
The Ivy Oxford Brasserie: I’ve not actually been but have heard good things.
The best pubs in Oxford
The Bear Inn: traditional Oxford pub tucked away down one of the Oxford lanes off the High Street. It has a quirky selection of ties all over the wall.
The Turf Tavern: a popular spot for locals and tourists, especially fans of Inspector Morse! This pub is tucked down an alleyway off New College Lane and is a must for visitors to Oxford.
Kings Arms: just across the road from the Turf Tavern, this is a favourite for university students.
The Eagle and Child: another must-see for visitors to Oxford. This is the pub known as the favoured pub for C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien.
The Rickety Press (Jericho) or The Rusty Bicycle (Cowley): these are both slightly out of the city centre but definitely more known by local residents. The DoDo beers are great and very budget friendly (especially during happy hour) and their pizzas are incredible. They’re also great dog-friendly pubs in Oxford.
The Old Bookbinders Ale House: another location for Inspector Morse fans.
Tap Social Movement: If you’re looking for an Oxford brewery then this is the spot for you. Located west of the city down Botley Road, this brewery located on an industrial estate has incredible beers on rotation, regular events such as open mic and quizzes, and often a food truck outside.
I hope this Oxford day trip itinerary has been useful and given you plenty of options for things to see and do, to suit your interests or the time of year you’re visiting. There is so much to see in the city, making it perfect for a day trip, but if you plan to stay in Oxford for longer than 24 hours, you can incorporate many more of these activities into a weekend trip.
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