A view of Oxford at night.

Things to do in  Oxford

History majors, rejoice

The weight of history is felt in every footstep in atmospheric Oxford, where life revolves around the world-class university that occupies its heart. The City of the Dreaming Spires is a walkable one (and likely visually familiar, given its turn as a Harry Potter filming location), though you can also get another view by punting along its waterways in true student fashion. Visiting the university’s colleges, plus highlights such as the Bodleian Library and Ashmolean Museum, are also among the top things to do in Oxford, though you shouldn’t leave town before enjoying an evening in a snug pub.

Top 15 attractions in Oxford

Bicester Village

A luxury shopping destination located just outside the city of Oxford, between London and Birmingham, Bicester Village tempts shoppers with more than 160 stores—from high-end, designer outlets to mainstream brands. Bicester Village is one of the most popular shopping destinations in England, with more than 7 million visitors each year.More


Perched on the banks of the Windrush River, Burford is a small English town that’s often referred to as the gateway to the Cotswolds. Highlights of the town include a medieval bridge and an abundance of Tudor and Georgian buildings that have remained unchanged over centuries. More


Located just a quick trip from Oxford, Cogges is one of the prettiest corners of the Cotswolds (an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A Scheduled Ancient Monument, Cogges has over 1,000 years of history. Today, the area is a popular tourist attraction, thanks in part to its Grade II listed Cogges Manor Farm.More

Bodleian Library

Located in central Oxford in a complex of historic buildings, the venerable Bodleian Library is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. It’s the main research library for the University of Oxford and also a copyright library, housing every book printed in the UK and Ireland, a collection of more than 12 million printed items.More

Christ Church College

Attended by leading luminaries across the centuries—and in possession of an art museum, soaring cathedral, and stately quad—Christ Church is among Oxford’s largest, grandest, and most prestigious colleges. Famously used as a set for theHarry Potter films, it is now also a pop cultural attraction.More

University of Oxford

The oldest university in the English-speaking world, the University of Oxford is the main draw to the riverside town of Oxford. With a history dating back to the 11th century, the university’s many colleges offer a wealth of gorgeous historical architecture—not to mention settings for movies including theHarry Potter series.More

Radcliffe Camera

Located in the heart of Oxford, the Radcliffe Camera is one of the city’s most recognizable and photographed landmarks, with its unusual shape and impressive dome. Completed in 1749, it was the first rotunda library in England, and today it is one of the main reading rooms of the Bodleian Library complex.More

Blenheim Palace

Built in the early 18th century, this stately home is one of Britain’s grandest historical estates. It was gifted by Queen Anne to the Duke of Marlborough, General John Churchill, for his role in defeating the French at the 1704 Battle of Blenheim, and Britain’s beloved wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill was born here in 1874.More

Sheldonian Theatre

One of Oxford’s most recognizable landmarks, the Sheldonian Theatre is a neoclassical building dating to 1669. Designed by the celebrated architect Sir Christopher Wren, the venue is used for ceremonial events by the University of Oxford (including graduations), as well as lectures, concerts, and other publicly accessible performances.More

Bridge of Sighs

Linking the two halves of Hertford College, the Bridge of Sighs (formally known as Hertford Bridge) arcs above New College Lane in the heart of Oxford. Despite its ancient-seeming exterior and leaded windows, it’s only a little over a century old. While it shares a name with the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, it actually looks much more similar to that city’s Rialto Bridge.More

Balliol College

One of Oxford’s oldest colleges, Balliol College dates back to the 13th century, although the precise date is disputed. The architecture of this rambling college is predominantly from the 19th century, though parts of the Front Quadrangle are as old as the 15th century. It takes its name from its founder, John de Balliol.More

Trinity College

Between its baroque chapel, extensive gardens, and historic buildings, Trinity is one of Oxford’s prettiest small colleges. Founded in 1555 by Sir Thomas Pope, it occupies a prime position in central Oxford, opposite the landmark Bodleian Library.More

Oxford Covered Market

Home to fishmongers and produce vendors, quirky hat specialists and trendy sandwich shops, Oxford Covered Market is both a bustling retail hub and a destination for food lovers. The market has operated continuously since its founding in 1774, and today it hosts more than 50 independent shops.More

All Souls College

Set on High Street in the heart of town, graduates-only All Souls College is Oxford’s most elitist institution. Only the university’s best and brightest are invited to sit the entrance exam, and just two are accepted as fellows each year. Fifteenth-century architecture mingles with Hawksmoor and Wren detailings for pure tranquility.More

Carfax Junction

The junction of High Street, Cornmarket Street, Queen Street, and St. Aldgate’s, Carfax is a major meeting point in the heart of Oxford. The lofty St. Martin’s Tower (Carfax Tower), which offers some of the best views of the “city of dreaming spires,” sits at the intersection.More

Trip ideas

Top activities in Oxford

Cotswolds Private Day Tour

Cotswolds Private Day Tour

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Cotswolds Villages Full-Day Small-Group Tour from Oxford
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Inspector Morse, Lewis and Endeavour Oxford Walking Tour
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Cotswold Summer Explorer Tour

Cotswold Summer Explorer Tour

Afternoon Tea Sightseeing River Cruise in Oxford
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River Cruise with Three Course Riverside Restaurant Dining
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Undiscovered Cotswolds Private Tour

Undiscovered Cotswolds Private Tour

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Oxford Sightseeing Picnic River Cruise
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Oxford Sightseeing River Cruise Along The University Regatta Course
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All about Oxford

When to visit

Summer is the busiest time to visit Oxford, and little wonder: The university’s green lawns and dreaming spires look idyllic on sunny days, and the weather is perfect for punting along the water. However, autumn is a good option for exploring outside of the busy tourist season. Fall is an evocative time to see this most scholarly of cities: The weather should be comfortable enough for wandering among colleges and you can warm up with a pint in a pub.

Getting around

It’s less than an hour by direct train from London to Oxford, and the Oxford Tube (which is, despite its name, a coach service) also links the two cities. Oxford proper is a very walkable city, with pedestrianized stretches, though city bus services do provide a local transit option. Otherwise, private taxi companies offer one more way to get around town.

Traveler tips

Oxford has 39 different colleges, and they all have different visiting policies. For some of the most in-demand colleges like Christ Church—where several Harry Potter scenes were filmed—tickets need to be requested in advance; the popular Magdalen and Balliol offer paid entry, while others are only open to students or by appointment. If there are any in particular you wish to see, it’s worth researching policies in advance; otherwise, join an organized tour for no-hassle exploring.


A local’s pocket guide to Oxford

Author Theodora Sutcliffe amid foliage.
Theodora Sutcliffe

Freelance writer Theodora was lucky enough to study in Oxford, and still goes back occasionally—for both work and pleasure.

The first thing you should do in Oxford is...

pick up a paper pictorial city map. You get more of a sense of how the city fits together than with Google Maps, and you’ll miss less.

A perfect Saturday in Oxford...

starts with a walk across Port Meadow for a riverside lunch at the 17th-century Trout Inn and continues with a museum visit and a play at one of the city’s theaters.

One touristy thing that lives up to the hype is...

Christ Church College really is one of the grandest colleges. You don’t have to be a Harry Potter fan to appreciate the huge quad, ornate architecture, and dramatic stairways.

To discover the "real" Oxford...

On a sunny summer day, take a walk—or, even better, a punt—along the river. It’s the perfect way to see a quieter side of the city.

For the best view of the city...

climb the 13th-century tower of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. The views of the colleges and the Radcliffe Camera dome are spectacular.

One thing people get wrong...

is thinking that Oxford University occupies a single orderly campus. There’s a concentration of beautiful buildings around Broad Street, but both colleges and administrative buildings are scattered across the city.


People Also Ask

What is Oxford famous for?

Oxford is famous for the dreaming spires of Oxford University, which is the the oldest university in the western world with roots dating back almost 1,000 years. Besides the colleges, the city offers the Covered Market, historic pubs, meadows, and rivers. Punts (flat-bottomed boats propelled using long poles) are particularly popular.

How do I spend a day in Oxford?

Rather than one campus, Oxford University is a collection of buildings scattered around the city, mostly in the center. See essentials such as Radcliffe Camera, Bodleian Library, and Bridge of Sighs, and pick a few colleges. In summer, hire a punt; in winter, pick a pub with an open fire.

Is Harry Potter filmed in Oxford?

Yes, some scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed in Oxford, and other sets take inspiration from the historic architecture. Top Harry Potter filming locations include the New College Cloisters, the Bodley Staircase in Christ Church College, and the Divinity School, which was used for the Hogwarts Hospital in some of the films.

How far is Oxford from London?

Oxford is just 60 miles (97 kilometers) from London, or a little over an hour by train. There are also regular bus and coach services. The city aims to minimize car traffic so self-driving is not recommended. Most travelers park in out-of-town lots and ride the bus into the city.

What are the nicest areas of Oxford?

Oxford city center—which is home to the Covered Market, most colleges, Bodleian Library, Radcliffe Camera, and more—is one of its nicest areas. Jericho is a characterful neighborhood with a lively bar scene, while Godstow and Port Meadow are great for getting out in nature.

Is Oxford worth visiting?

Yes, Oxford is worth a visit. Historic architecture and green spaces make it attractive, even if Harry Potter doesn’t draw you. The university means there’s a diverse theater, music, comedy, and cultural scene. The Ashmolean Museum is world-class. The compact center is easy to explore on foot or by bike.

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