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A Weekend in Oxford: 10 Things to Do + Travel Tips

It’s funny, but it seems like it’s the places nearest to us that always remain unseen the longest. Maybe it’s because places within close proximity to home don’t require much advance planning to visit, making it easier to keep putting them off for a future unscheduled weekend. As if those actually exist. At least that was the case for us with Oxford, anyway. I don’t know how many times we mentioned spending a weekend in Oxford before we finally did it. Too many. To tell you the truth, if we were still living in London, Oxford would probably still be holding a spot on our to-see list because the thing that ultimately convinced us to just choose a date and go was finding out we would soon be moving 7,000 miles away! And so, with only a few weeks left in London, we finally spent that long-talked-about weekend in Oxford and came home kicking ourselves for waiting so long.

An hour’s journey west of London by train, Oxford has much of the same charm as the nearby Cotswolds, but far more energy than its sleepier neighbors thanks to the famous university that lies within it. Home to the University of Oxford, the oldest university in England (and, well, all English-speaking countries actually), Oxford’s beautiful, old colleges are certainly not the only thing worth visiting here. Filled with world-class museums, famous bookshops, lively pubs, charming cobbled streets, and loads of literary/film connections (I’m not just talking about Harry Potter!), Oxford has a lot to offer potential visitors. Although many people visit this city via day trip tours, Oxford also makes the perfect weekend getaway from London. So if you’ve got a little more time to spend in this exciting city, our travel guide to Oxford will help you decide what to do!

10 Ways to Spend a Weekend in Oxford

A Weekend In Oxford: 10 Things To Do & Travel Tips

Explore the Colleges

The University of Oxford is made up of 38 different colleges and 6 private halls, and many of these can be visited for free or for a small fee. Obviously, visiting all 38 colleges in a single weekend would be impossible, so your best bet will be to choose a few that interest you and try to work in visits during their opening hours. Some colleges are more popular (and more interesting/attractive/historical) than others, so you’ll want to do a little research before you go. Alternatively, if you’re not sure which colleges you’d like to see, consider joining a walking tour. Footprints Tours have an excellent reputation, but do note that their free tour doesn’t actually enter most colleges.

Weekend opening hours and admission fees for the separate colleges can be found here.

Related Post: 8 Pretty Colleges To Visit In Oxford

A Weekend In Oxford: 10 Things To Do & Travel Tips

Climb to the Top of the University Church Tower

Located on the High Street directly across from the Radcliffe Camera (pictured above), the University Church of St Mary the Virgin sits right at the heart of Oxford. The interior of the church isn’t really anything to write home about, but the church’s 13th century tower is definitely worth visiting. For just £4, you can climb 127 steps to the top of the tower and enjoy the best views in Oxford. Besides the Radcliffe Camera, you’ll also have an excellent view of almost all the colleges that make up the University of Oxford, as well as the countryside surrounding the city. (There is a room on the way up that features a map showing which colleges are which. I recommend taking a photo of it so you know what you’re looking at when you’re at the top!)

Weekend Opening Hours: Saturday (9:30am – 5pm), Sunday (11:30am – 5pm)

A Weekend In Oxford: 10 Things To Do & Travel Tips

A Weekend In Oxford: 10 Things To Do & Travel Tips A Weekend In Oxford: 10 Things To Do & Travel Tips

Visit the Museum of Natural History

If you want to take a peek inside the museum that inspired several of Lewis Carroll’s characters in Alice in Wonderland, you’ll want to head over to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Not only are the contents worth visiting for (think: dinosaur skeletons and fossils, the most complete remains of a dodo bird in the world, and an actual dinosaur egg, among thousands of other things), the cathedral-like museum itself is also quite something to see. Entrance to the museum is free, and unlike other museums, the Museum of Natural History has a ‘Please Touch’ policy, making it a perfect place to bring kids!

Weekend Opening Hours: Saturday & Sunday (10am – 5pm)

A Weekend In Oxford: 10 Things To Do & Travel Tips

And Don’t Miss the Adjoining Pitt Rivers Museum

Connected to the Museum of Natural History via an easy-to-miss doorway on the far wall, the adjoining Pitt Rivers Museum features the University of Oxford’s archaeological and anthropological collections. Before you yawn and give this one a hard pass, you should know this is where the creators of the Harry Potter films got a lot of their ideas, so you just might see some familiar items in here! (Actual shrunken heads, anyone?) Displaying over 30,000 artifacts from all over the world (300,000 more are held off-site and rotated regularly), all three floors of this museum are chock-full of oddities and surprising discoveries. And, like most museums in Oxford, the Pitt Rivers Museum is free to enter.

Weekend Opening Hours: Saturday & Sunday (10am – 4:30pm)

A Weekend In Oxford: 10 Things To Do & Travel Tips A Weekend In Oxford: 10 Things To Do & Travel Tips

Grab a Pint at the Eagle & Child Pub

Located on St Giles Street, this traditional English pub is most well-known for its intriguing history as the preferred meeting spot of The Inklings – a group of literature enthusiasts who used to gather in the pub to discuss and critique their unfinished work. Two of the group’s most infamous members were C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, both of whom used to sit at the table pictured above. Since The Eagle & Child is pretty much the equivalent of Literary Holy Ground, the pub is usually quite crowded with tourists. However, it’s still worth dropping by for a pint (or lunch – the fish and chips are great) even if you can’t get a spot around The Inklings’ table. (There’s an addition on the back of the pub that makes a much better spot for grabbing lunch if you don’t want people taking photos of your table while you eat!)

Weekend Opening Hours: Saturday (11am – 11pm), Sunday (Midday – 10:30pm)

A Weekend In Oxford: 10 Things To Do & Travel Tips

Discover All the Harry Potter Film Locations

Follow in the footsteps of everyone’s favorite wizard on your weekend in Oxford by visiting the various Harry Potter filming locations throughout the city! From Christ Church’s Dining Hall that inspired Hogwarts’ own Great Hall to the Bodleian Library’s stunning Divinity School which doubled as the Hogwarts infirmary in the films, there are many sights to see here that had major roles in the films. The main sights are all located within the colleges, so you can kill two birds with one stone by visiting the colleges and checking out the filming locations at the same time. The article below describes where to find all of these sights if you want to discover them on your own. Otherwise, a Harry Potter walking tour is the way to go!

Related Post: A Muggle’s Guide To Harry Potter Filming Locations In Oxford

A Weekend In Oxford: 10 Things To Do & Travel Tips

Visit the Ashmolean Museum

The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology is the oldest public museum in the world, and when they say there’s a little something for everyone in this museum, they mean it. From modern art to classical sculpture, from Picasso to pottery, from Egyptian mummies to Oliver Cromwell’s death mask – the collections in the Ashmolean are rich and varied. And the museum is enormous, so be prepared to spend at least a half-day in here if you want to see “everything”. (We were there for two hours and only made it through two of the museum’s five floors.) The Ashmolean is free to visit, except for special exhibitions which are ticketed.

Weekend Opening Hours: Saturday & Sunday (10am – 5pm)

A Weekend In Oxford: 10 Things To Do & Travel Tips

Relax in the Gardens

Like London, Oxford offers several lovely green spaces to relax in that feel a world away from the city. Christ Church Meadow (beside the college) and Port Meadow (along the Thames) are two of Oxford’s most popular spots to picnic or go for a walk on a sunny day, but there are many gardens worth exploring as well. The University of Oxford Botanic Garden is Britain’s oldest botanic garden, and for £5 you can wander through the diverse collections of plants contained within it. If you’d rather explore Oxford’s gardens while ticking off some of the other things on this list, then check out some of the beautiful landscaped areas within the colleges instead. Our favorites were the gardens inside New College, but Worcester College and Magdalen College are also famous for their peaceful hidden gardens. (Remember to stay off the quads inside the colleges. It’s forbidden to walk on most of them!)

A Weekend In Oxford: 10 Things To Do & Travel Tips

Take a Walk Along the Canal

Is it just me or is any city with canals instantly prettier just because it has narrows of water running through it? Connecting with the Thames in two different places, the path along the Oxford Canal in Oxford is a beautiful place to take a walk. (There’s a good 5-mile route here.) Or if you’re game, you can give punting a go! Until we visited Oxford, the only punting I had heard of had to do with football (the American kind), but punting here is something entirely different. It’s sort of like rowing, but in a boat semi-akin to a gondola using a long stick to push off the river bed. At Magdalen Bridge Boathouse, you can try it yourself or have a chauffeur do all the dirty work while you relax in the boat Venice-style.

A Weekend In Oxford: 10 Things To Do & Travel Tips

Stroll Down Oxford’s Pretty Streets

Picturesque cobblestone streets lined with honey-colored architecture. College towers and church spires that stretch high above the city. Colorful and quirky cafes and pubs. Blooming magnolias in the spring, autumn colors that coordinate with the architecture in the fall. Oxford is essentially a photographer’s dream. Starting from Radcliffe Square, explore down any street or alley and you’re guaranteed to discover endless opportunities for interesting photos. Elegant architecture, history, and a bustling city life – it’s all here just waiting to be seen and photographed, so be sure to factor in some wandering time on your weekend in Oxford!

Check out more pretty photos of Oxford here!

Oxford Travel Tips

A Weekend In Oxford: 10 Things To Do & Travel Tips

How to Get to Oxford

The easiest way to reach Oxford is to take the train or a bus from London. You can also drive there if you have your own vehicle, but unless you plan to explore outside the city, it might be easier just to take the train or bus to spare yourself from having to deal with parking!

Trains to Oxford Station leave from Paddington Station in London every 5-10 minutes. The journey takes around an hour. If you purchase tickets in advance, prices are usually much cheaper than on the day. Otherwise, if you travel at off-peak times you’ll also save a little cash. Buses to Oxford leave from London Victoria Coach Station almost as frequently as the train. The journey by bus takes around an hour and a half, but can be subject to traffic. The Oxford Tube and National Express are two operators to check out if you choose to travel by bus.

Trains and buses leave around the clock, so it’s easy to hop on either after work on Friday to arrive in Oxford by evening. However, if you’re on a tight budget, consider taking one of the early trains or buses leaving on Saturday morning to save one night’s room rate – accommodations in Oxford aren’t exactly cheap!

Where to Stay in Oxford

Oxford offers all sorts of fun options for accommodations. You could stay in a narrowboat along the canal, in a prison turned luxury hotel, or if you’re visiting in the summer, you could even stay inside one of Oxford’s colleges!

Accommodations in the city center can be pretty pricey, so if you’re trying to save a little cash, try staying a bit further out. We booked an Airbnb in the neighborhood of Jericho, about a 20-minute walk from Radcliffe Square, and loved having a quiet area to return to every night. Jericho, as well as other neighborhoods surrounding Oxford, have their own set of shops and restaurants, so you won’t have to walk into Oxford for every meal!

Find your perfect hotel or guest house in Oxford here!

Are Day Trips Worth It?

While a full weekend in Oxford would certainly make for a better experience all-around, if a day trip is your only option, take it! The history, the beauty of the city, and the youthful vibe that pulses throughout the old city is worth seeing and experiencing even if you only have a small amount of time. The one thing I don’t recommend is taking one of the day tours from London that lumps Oxford in with other destinations as well. I’ve seen tours like this offer up to three stops in one day and I just don’t see how you could enjoy anywhere properly like that. Definitely stick with the single destination day tours!

A Note on Closings

While school is in session, and even during the summer when most students have packed up and gone home until the next term, closures within Oxford’s colleges are common. I recommend checking each college’s website that you plan to visit about a week before your trip to check for any unexpected closures. Sometimes only certain areas of the college are closed off, other times you might not be able to get in at all on a specific day. However, if you know ahead of time when something will be closed, you’ll still have time to rearrange your schedule to see it the next day. You can find a link to each college’s official website here.

Do you have any other travel tips for Oxford? Things visitors shouldn’t miss? Leave them in the comments below!

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A Weekend In Oxford: 10 Things To Do & Travel Tips

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  • Julie
    May 3, 2018 at 3:38 PM

    I absolutely loved this post! I’m ashamed/sad to admit I haven’t been to England since 2005! I know, what have I been thinking!!?? But on a return trip there, I would so love to see more of small(er) town England, a town exactly like Oxford (most of my time in England was in London). It reminds me of Charleston, SC in the sense that it looks like it could be a movie set and yet it’s not, it’s just that beautifully preserved.

    Your photo of the university church tower might just be my favorite!

    • Sarah Shumate
      May 3, 2018 at 8:18 PM

      Well, it is a big world and there’s a lot to see, so no need to be ashamed! But I do think it’s a great idea to spend some time on your next trip to England exploring some of the country’s other towns and cities. There are SO many good ones. I’m happy to help you pick when the time comes. :)

  • Molly Woods
    April 29, 2018 at 4:08 PM

    Oxford is such a wonderful destination and finding all the Harry Potter locations is a real challenge and amazing thing to do! Thank you for sharing your post.

  • Char
    April 14, 2018 at 5:58 PM

    I’ve lived in London my whole life and still yet to venture to Oxford. I’m definitely going to make a day trip this summer, it looks SO beautiful and your images are stunning!

  • Amy MOrgan
    April 14, 2018 at 2:44 PM

    Absolutely love Oxford! Although I do need to spend more time there. Pretty much just go there to eat haha x

  • Rachel Silverwood
    April 14, 2018 at 1:35 PM

    Like you I live super near to Oxford but have never been! Reading this has definitely inspired me to visit – it just looks so pretty! And who knew there was so much of the wizarding world to find there!!

  • Laura
    April 14, 2018 at 9:34 AM

    Wow! Putting Oxford on my list now! Beautiful photos, and I love hearing about museums that have a ‘please touch’ policy and of course the Harry Potter locations!

    • Sarah Shumate
      April 15, 2018 at 6:37 PM

      Right? Only museum I’ve ever visited that has encouraged touching the objects. I loved that!

  • Kareemah
    April 14, 2018 at 8:41 AM

    Your photography skills are on point! Makes me wanna go to Oxford right now.

  • Emily
    April 14, 2018 at 6:10 AM

    Stunning photos, Sarah! I visited Oxford many years ago with my family. I’d love to go back and use this as a guide. Thank you for sharing!

  • Kiara Gallop
    April 14, 2018 at 3:52 AM

    Oxford is still on my list of potential weekend getaways. I grew up in Cambridge as a child and apparently I’ve been to Oxford, but being under 10 years old at the time I don’t remember!

    However now that I live in Shrewsbury, visiting anywhere over in the east of England is a nightmare as I have to go via London (the perils of not driving and being reliant on public transport!)

    Staying in an old prison looks incredible but £180 for one night! Ouch!

    Great guide though, have saved for when I do finally make it over :-)

    • Sarah Shumate
      April 15, 2018 at 6:37 PM

      I don’t count the US states I’ve been to before I was old enough to remember them either. :)

      The old prison was out of our price range as well, but man, what a fun experience that would be if you could swing it!

      I hope you can make it over to Oxford at some point, but totally understand the hesitancy about taking public transport to get there. It’s funny how it’s often quicker to catch a flight over to Europe than it is to travel within the UK!

  • MG
    April 14, 2018 at 3:35 AM

    Sarah, I LOVED reading this! I went to Oxford on my first overseas trip with my boyfriend (now husband) and we loved it. I’ve always wanted to visit again, because I felt like we didn’t do it justice. Also – I loveee your photos (I seriously look forward to reading your posts every week!)

    • Sarah Shumate
      April 15, 2018 at 6:33 PM

      I feel exactly the same about yours, MG! I hope you get the opportunity to return to Oxford, not only to see the city more thoroughly, but because it’s so much fun to return to places you visited in your early days of traveling. :) It’s funny how our perspectives change over time!

  • anna
    April 14, 2018 at 2:08 AM

    What a comprehensive post about Oxford-so many great little tips!! We’re in the UK at the moment so definitely saving this if we ever do go. Your photos are stunning :)

  • Jackie S.
    April 14, 2018 at 1:51 AM

    What a lovely city to visit! I’ll take any reason to visit the Harry Potter sets :) Thanks for sharing the tips.

  • Ruth | Tanama Tales
    April 13, 2018 at 11:12 PM

    This place has the coolest museums ever! Even my husband would love these (and he dislikes museums a lot).

  • April
    April 13, 2018 at 11:00 PM

    I’ve only made it to Cambridge so far (which was incredible), but Oxford looks amazing! I could probably spend all day at those museums. Great tips!

    • Sarah Shumate
      April 15, 2018 at 6:31 PM

      We never made it to Cambridge while we were living in the UK and I so regret that! It would have been fun to be able to compare the two cities.

  • Megan Indoe
    April 13, 2018 at 10:54 PM

    You had me at Harry Potter locations! This is such a beautiful and informative post! I will be bookmarking this and now I want to go! Oxford wasn’t on my radar but now it sure is!

  • Andrea Mayfield
    April 13, 2018 at 8:51 PM

    Oxford looks so gorgeous! The architecture is truly amazing, your photos are so beautiful!

  • Pia
    April 13, 2018 at 8:49 PM

    Never been to Oxford yet, but your travel tips and recommendations make me want to go there next time when I´ll be in England. Next time when I´m in London for a business trip I consider to combine it with a weekend in Oxford.

  • Samantha O'Brochta
    April 13, 2018 at 8:34 PM

    I adore Oxford and your photos of it are so beautiful ?

  • Nathalie McNabb
    April 13, 2018 at 7:36 PM

    Great round up of things to do! We had to sprint through this great city because of our Dry Sandford’s housesitting responsibilities. Love the Eagle and Pub story and the Ashmolean museum must be so interesting with so much history in its vicinity.

    • Sarah Shumate
      April 15, 2018 at 6:29 PM

      Maybe you can return sometime when you’ve got a bit more time to spare. It’s a perfect sort of city to leisurely wander through!

  • Shannon
    April 13, 2018 at 7:15 PM

    I have such a soft spot for Oxford! I studied abroad there for a summer in high school. You definitely hit all of the majors! Love all your pictures too!

    • Sarah Shumate
      April 15, 2018 at 6:28 PM

      What an amazing experience! I’m hoping my daughter gets the opportunity to study abroad for a semester in college. It’s been her dream to go to school in the UK ever since we spent a few years living in London.

  • Carly
    April 13, 2018 at 6:57 PM

    Oxford is so marvelously preserved I feel like I’d have to walk around with a parasol (and maybe a suitable male escort…) all day!

  • Amy B
    April 4, 2018 at 4:09 PM

    Oh man, this looks like a dream :) We’re going to be in Southampton next September, but only for a measly 12 hours. We’ve been looking into places to explore that are within 1-2 hours of the port and I hadn’t even considered Oxford! Perfect post timing, Sarah ;)

    • Sarah Shumate
      April 5, 2018 at 1:19 AM

      How exciting! I take it you’re going to be stopping in Southampton on a cruise? Oxford would be an excellent option, but so would Bath. I’d take a look at both and see which one you’d be most happy spending only 7-8 hours in. Either one you’ll leave wanting to stay longer, but a few hours is better than nothing! :)

      • Amy B
        April 11, 2018 at 9:53 AM

        Yep! I remember you saying you weren’t too fond of the idea of ocean cruises, so I’ll spare you the details lol But yes, Southampton will be our first stop after departing Copenhagen. I’ve only looked briefly at what’s nearby, but I can already tell it’s going to be a very difficult decision! I will gladly accept ANY suggestions you might have and if you see an increase in traffic on some of your Europe posts, it’s probably me digging around to find the best spots to photograph ;)

  • Jenn
    April 2, 2018 at 7:31 PM

    I’m all about seeing Harry Potter locations!

    • Sarah Shumate
      April 4, 2018 at 2:24 AM

      Me, too! We once rented a car and traveled to a town in England I’d never heard of simply because I wanted to see some of the film locations there in person. Crazy, maybe, but totally worth it. Ha!