Things to do in Oxford: Must See Tourist Attractions

If you are planning to visit Oxford, good choice, it’s a popular tourist destination steeped in history and culture. A walk through its cobbled streets reveals an array of architectural marvels, genuine ancient history, and plenty of great shopping, pubs and restaurants.

The city of Oxford also boasts an impressive collection of museums and galleries, including world-renowned institutions. With so much to explore, it’s no wonder that Oxford is considered one of England’s most popular tourist hot-spots for sightseeing.

The city and non-metropolitan district is not very big, the 17.60 square miles (45.59 km2) is smaller than 13 of the London boroughs. Cycling in Oxford is one of the most popular ways to get around, although you might be tempted by the hop-on sightseeing bus which visits all the key tourist attractions for a reasonable £18.

Here are some must-see options to add to your itinerary for things to do in Oxford.

Get locked up at the Oxford Castle and Prison

Address: 44-46 Oxford Castle, Oxford OX1 1AY

Oxford Castle & Prison is a historic and iconic landmark. The castle was originally built in 1071 by Robert D’Oyly, a Norman baron, and has been used as a prison since 1222.

The castle has been part of Oxford’s history ever since, having been used as a royal fortress, a prison, a court, a military garrison and even a university.

Today, the castle is open to the public, offering tours, events and educational programs. Visitors can explore the castle’s dungeons and learn about its history, as well as the prison’s most famous inmates.

Oxford Castle is one of the most popular tourist attractions, and provides an insight into the city’s fascinating past, and being in the city centre means all the great Oxford pubs and restaurants are on the doorstep.

Oxford Castle and Prison: key tourist attractions in Oxford
The Castle and Prison is one of the most popular places to visit in Oxford

Climb the Carfax Tower

Address: Queen St, Oxford OX1 1ET

The most iconic feature of the city’s skyline, the Carfax Tower is a Grade I listed building. Originally part of St Martin’s Church, it stands at a height of 75 feet. The tower is open to the public and visitors can climb the 100 steps to reach the top and take in the views over the city.

Sample the wares at the Oxford Artisan Distillery

Address: Old Depot, South Park, Cheney Ln, Headington, Oxford OX3 7QJ

The Oxford Artisan Distillery is an independent distillery located in Oxfordshire, England. Founded in 2017, the distillery produces a range of handcrafted spirits and liqueurs from locally sourced, natural ingredients.

Their range of spirits includes gin, vodka, whisky, and brandy, as well as liqueurs such as elderflower, damson, and sloe. The Oxford Artisan Distillery also offers distillery tours, as well as masterclasses in the art of distilling. It would be rude to take a tour and not have a tipple.

Waterperry Gardens is high on the list of things to do in Oxford for nature lovers
>Waterperry Gardens is high on the list of things to do in Oxford for nature lovers

Relax at the Waterperry Gardens


Address: Waterperry, Oxford OX33 1LA

For years, Waterperry Gardens has delighted tourists with its 8 acres of inspirational and historical gardens tucked away in the Oxfordshire countryside, only 7 miles from the Oxford town centre. Along with formal and rose gardens, a lily canal, and a riverbank walk, the gardens have a stunning 200-foot herbaceous border. Everything for the garden is available at the high-quality Plant Centre and Garden Shop.

Beautiful pieces of art by British artists are displayed in the Art-in-Action Gallery and Gift Barn along with suggestions for the home, the outdoors, and gifts. The Saxon Church located inside the grounds of Waterperry’s Rural Life Museum is replete with its original 13th century stained glass windows and is full of quirky artefacts.

The a boat trip on the Oxford Canal

The Oxford Canal links Oxford with Coventry via Banbury and Rugby. It is one of the oldest of the UK’s canals, having been built in 1790. It is 77 miles (125 km) long, and is crossed by 87 locks.

It is a popular leisure route, with a high number of narrowboats and other pleasure craft using the canal. The canal is administered by the Canal & River Trust, formerly British Waterways.

Take a selfie at Iffley Lock

Address: Iffley Lock, Church Way, Iffley, Oxford OX4 4EJ

Iffley Lock on the River Thames was built in 1632 and marks the starting point of organised rowing races like the University Boat race and other regattas. In Oxfordshire, the Thames is sometimes known as by Isis, its Roman name.

Take a bike ride to the Martyrs’ Memorial

The memorial on Magdalen St (OX1 3AE) commemorates the Oxford Martyrs who were burned at the stake in 1555. Erected in 1843, it consists of an octagonal base and plinth, with a central column, on the top of which is a bronze figure of the Virgin Mary surrounded by four angels. The base of the column is decorated with figures of the three martyrs, Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley.

Take the Harry Potter tour

For fans of the Harry Potter films, there are some locations to visit that will bring a magical experience. These include Christ Church College, the Divinity School, Duke Humfrey’s Library, and more.

Appreciate the history of the University of Oxford

The University of Oxford is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world. Founded in 1096 (they think), it is the second oldest university in the world after the University of Bologna. It is one of the leading universities in the United Kingdom and is the oldest university in the English-speaking world.

It is composed of over forty colleges and six permanent private halls. The university has a strong research tradition and has produced many prominent alumni, including 27 Nobel Prize winners and many Heads of State. It is also home to the world-famous Oxford University Press and many colleges not mentioned below including Balliol College, Merton College, Wadham College and Trinity College.

Under the banner of Oxford university are a whole list of the popular things to do and see in Oxford:

Radcliffe Camera Bodleian Library Oxford University
The Radcliffe Camera is an iconic Oxford landmark and part of the group of 28 Bodleian libraries that serve the University of Oxford

Bodleian Libraries


Without a trip to Oxford’s renowned and very old Bodleian Libraries, the tour would be incomplete. The Bodleian Library was founded in 1488, and Sir Thomas Bodley inaugurated the current building in 1602. King and Queen, Nobel Prize winners, British Prime Ministers, and writers including Oscar Wilde, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien have all studied in its reading rooms throughout the decades. The collection of 28 libraries includes the Weston Library.

Visit the mediaeval Duke Humfrey’s Library, which has been in continuous use for more than 400 years. In collaboration with the Oxford Guild of Tour Guides, you may now take the City of Oxford Walking Tour to discover the city of dreaming spires.

Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

The world’s first university museum was founded in 1683 and is home to a world-renowned collection of art and antiquities of cultural heritage from around the world. For many tourists looking for what to see in Oxford, this is most popular so book in advance to avoid disappointment.

The museum has extensive collections of works from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, as well as a large collection of Chinese, Japanese and Indian art. The museum also houses a wide range of European and North American paintings, prints and drawings, and an important collection of nineteenth-century photographs.

Plus, as a bonus the rooftop café is one of the top spots in Oxford for an afternoon tea.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

One of the most popular natural history museums in the United Kingdom was founded in 1860. The museum houses a collection of specimens from across the animal kingdom, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.

It also displays a wide range of fossils and minerals. It has a number of interactive exhibits, including the evolution gallery and the interactive wildlife gallery. It also offers a range of educational activities and workshops, as well as special events.

Pitt Rivers Museum

The Pitt Rivers Museum is a museum located in Oxford, England. It was founded in 1884 and is part of the University of Oxford. The museum is known for its anthropological and archaeological collections, which range from local to global in scope. Visitors to the museum can explore the collections and learn more about the history and culture of the people behind the objects. The museum is also home to a range of educational activities and events.

Tom Tower Christ Church Oxford University
Christ Church is one of the most photographed spots in Oxford

Christ Church College

Founded by King Henry VIII in 1546, Christ Church is renowned for its beautiful grounds, impressive architecture, and strong academic tradition. Originally intended to provide a home for priests of the Church of England, it has many famous alumni over the years. It is the only college within the university to retain its original name.

Christ Church Cathedral

The college is also home to the world-famous Christ Church Cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of Oxford, with grants Oxford city status.

Christ Church Meadow

Christ Church Meadow is a public open space adjacent to Christ Church College, by River Thames and the River Cherwell which offers riverside walks.

Magdalen College

Magdalen College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford, founded in 1458. The college is known for its beautiful architecture, including its grand gothic chapel, and for its expansive grounds, which are home to various species of wildlife. It has an impressive library, a large dining hall, and a variety of student-run societies.

magdalen bridge
Magdalen bridge over the River Cherwell

Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs (main image) is a covered bridge in Oxford, England, connecting two parts of Hertford College over the narrowest part of the River Cherwell. It was designed by Thomas Gilbertson and built in 1914. The bridge is a popular tourist attraction due to its picturesque appearance, and is one of the most photographed sights in Oxford.

University of Oxford Botanic Garden

Founded in 1621 by the University of Oxford and is now the oldest botanic garden in the United Kingdom. Located in the centre of the city, it contains over 8,000 different plant species, including some of the rarest and most threatened plants in the world.

The garden is open to the public and is a popular tourist attraction, with a wide variety of plants, exotic species, and a café. It also has an educational programme for school children, as well as a herbarium and library.

University Church of St Mary the Virgin

The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford is a parish church in the centre of the city of Oxford, England. It is the spiritual home of the University of Oxford and the centre of worship for Oxford’s academic community. The church is the second-largest church in Oxford and is Grade I listed. It stands opposite the main entrance to the University’s main buildings and the famous Sheldonian Theatre.

The church was founded in the 12th century, but the current building dates back to 1682. It was designed by Christopher Wren in a neoclassical style, and is one of the earliest examples of the use of this style in the country. The interior is notable for its elaborate plasterwork and the large and ornate organ.

There are several memorials to notable members of the university, including J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and W.H. Auden. The church also contains a large collection of monuments and stained glass windows, which display the history of the university and its people.

The church is open to visitors, and holds regular services and events. It is also used for concerts, lectures, and other university events.

Ponies grazing and playing on Port Meadow
Ponies grazing on Port Meadow

Things to see in Oxford recommended by our local based staff

This is not an exhaustive list of what to do in Oxford of course, so comment below with your favourites. Here’s what us locals have recommended so far:

Enjoy a peaceful walk or picnic at Port Meadow

Head to this open grassland, perfect for escaping the city’s hustle and bustle. Top it off with a pint in the Perch. Heaven on a summers day.

Peruse the Oxford Covered Market

A bustling market housed in a beautiful Victorian building that has been operating for over two centuries, filled with a variety of stalls selling food, clothing, and unique gifts.

Have a pint at The Eagle and Child Pub

Sadly this is currently closed now, but you can find others on our Oxford Pub guide. If it ever reopens, visit this historic pub where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to meet. If not, head to the Turf Tavern or the Bear Inn, or take our famous pub crawl from Jericho to the city centre.

Catch a show or performance at the Oxford Playhouse

This renowned theatre is well worth a visit, you might not see past luminaries like Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, and Judi Dench tread the boards, but it showcases the best high-quality drama, comedy, musicals, and dance performances the arts scene in Oxford has to offer.

Go boating on the Thames

There are plenty of day trips or you can hire a kayak or go punting. It’s a pleasurable way to sightsee and to appreciate the water and scenary.

When is the best time to visit Oxford?

Personally I think the best time to visit Oxford is during the spring (April to June) and autumn (September to October) with pleasant weather for exploring the city on foot and visiting the various attractions.

While a crisp winters day is also ideal, you are relying on avoid the many cold wet rainy days which hinder walking around or bike riding.

Avoiding school holidays is always recommended, and summer can be overcrowded with tourists which ruins photos and makes any spontaneous decisions a lot more difficult.