As one of England’s most famous university cities, Oxford is a fascinating place to explore, whether you’re interested in architecture, culture or music. It’s home to an impressive collection of museums (including one of Britain’s oldest) and beautiful colleges that are still as alive today as when they were built centuries ago. So gather up a group of friends for a weekend in Oxford to discover why it’s one of the United Kingdom’s most visited cities.
In this guide, see how you can spend a memorable 48 hours in the “City of Dreaming Spires”, without missing its most iconic buildings, gardens or museums. While finalising your itinerary, check out this useful source for holiday rental inspiration in Oxford and beyond. In addition to cosy apartments offering a taste of student life, you’ll find spacious homes within walking distance of the city’s most famous sites.
After arriving in Oxford and settling into your accommodation, set out for an evening stroll to get acquainted with the city. See its historic university buildings beautifully illuminated at night before taking in a choral evensong at one of the college chapels. Afterward, head to one of Oxford’s traditional pubs for a quintessentially British meal.
Explore the University of Oxford
After a hearty breakfast, set out on foot to explore some of the University of Oxford’s most iconic buildings, such as the 400-year-old Bodleian Library. Located in the historic heart of the university, it houses around 11 million works, including rare books and ancient manuscripts.
Nearby is the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, which offers panoramic views across Oxford from the top of its 13th-century tower. It lies adjacent to the Radcliffe Camera, an 18th-century library building designed by James Gibbs that has become an icon of the University of Oxford.
If you don’t fancy walking, the hop on, hop off bus tour stops at 20 stops near all the major tourist locations. You can get one or two day tickets.
In the afternoon, take your pick from one of Oxford’s many impressive museums, including Britain’s first public museum, the Ashmolean. Set across five floors, it boasts an outstanding collection of artworks and archaeological findings dating back to the Ancient Egyptians.
At the History of Science Museum, you can learn about innovative designs and devices from all corners of the globe and their impact on human history. If you’re intrigued by the dodo, make a beeline for the Museum of Natural History, which houses the world’s only soft tissue remains of this extinct bird within a striking Neo-Gothic building. There’s something for everyone at the Pitt Rivers Museum, including Japanese Noh masks, Siberian reindeer knickers and a totem pole from Haida Gwaii.
Begin your Sunday with a leisurely breakfast before enjoying a punt up the Cherwell River. Boats can be rented from the Cherwell Boathouse, with the option to punt as far as the Victoria Arms or continue past the pub to explore the picturesque rural countryside surrounding Oxford. If you’re not feeling energetic, you can opt for a cruise along the River Thames instead, departing from the Folly Bridge.
Make your way back to the city centre via the University Parks, a sprawling riverfront green space where students come to exercise and relax. You can grab lunch from one of the global eateries at Westgate Oxford, a modern shopping mall that’s clustered with British and international retailers, or treat yourself to afternoon tea.
Oxford Castle & Prison
In the afternoon, take a step back in time to explore 1,000 years of history at Oxford’s historic castle, with the help of costumed guides. After much of the castle was destroyed during the English Civil War, its surviving buildings were used to house prisoners, including the 18th-century murderer, Mary Blandy. Climb to the top of Saxon St George’s Tower for 360-degree views across Oxford before descending into the castle’s ancient crypt.
Green thumbs shouldn’t miss a visit to the University of Oxford Botanic Garden (one of England’s oldest) where you can learn about medicinal plants and floral species that have changed the world. If time allows, stop in at the nearby Oxford Artisan Distillery where ancient heritage grains are transformed into craft spirits within beautiful copper stills.
Best time to visit Oxford
Oxford can be visited throughout the year, with each season having its charm, although the busiest period tends to be from April to August. In the summertime (June, July and August), you can enjoy Oxford’s green spaces to their fullest and take advantage of the concerts, festivals and events taking place across the city. Autumn brings milder temperatures and the parks are beautiful with the changing leaves.
In the wintertime, you may be lucky enough to see the university covered in snow, although this only happens on average a few days each year. Spring is one of the wettest times in Oxford, although you can get good deals on accommodation due to the reduced demand.