10 Things to Do in Oxford in a Day

What is Oxford Most Famous For?

Ben Reeves | Compulsive Traveller
5 Sep, 2018

Oxford is among England’s most famous cities, with its ancient university, beautiful buildings and iconic “Dreaming Spires”. It’s renowned for the friendly and lively atmosphere which pervades every nook and alley of the pedestrianised city centre. The parks and surrounding countryside have inspired many great writers, not least of which is Lewis Carroll – creator of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Exploring the historical wonderland of Oxford is extremely easy as it's quite a compact, cycle-friendly place. Even in a relatively small space, there's a lot to see and do, from punting along the winding waterways to shopping in centuries-old markets. It’s a place of immense history and culture, all waiting to be discovered.


Start Your Day in Gloucester Green Town Square

Check out the weekly markets

Conveniently close to the long-distance bus station, Gloucester Green Town Square is a good introduction to Oxford’s famously pedestrian-friendly city centre. The tree-lined paved area is surrounded by an interesting selection of attractions, including a few of cafés, pubs and restaurants, an old fire station turned cultural centre, and a cinema. Come on a Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday for the Gloucester Green market.

Location: Gloucester Green, Oxford OX1 2DF, UK

  • Shoppers

photo by Adam Hopkinson (CC BY-SA 2.0) cropped, calibrated, blurred


Go Shopping in The Covered Market Oxford

Take a bite of an Oxford sausage

The Covered Market has been right at the heart of Oxford’s shopping scene since 1774, and is located between High Street, Market Street and Cornmarket Street – each also renowned for their shops. Nowadays, the grand old structure houses over 40 stalls. It’s a great place to find gifts, souvenirs, fashion and food. Look out for local butchers selling Oxford sausages, with their distinctive spicy kick. The market’s narrow halls get particularly packed on Saturday afternoons, so go early or pick another day for a more enjoyable experience.

Location: Market Street, Oxford OX1 3DZ, UK

Open: Monday – Saturday from 8am to 5pm, Sunday from 10am to 4pm

  • Shoppers
  • History
  • Photo
  • Food

photo by Charlie (CC BY 2.0) cropped, calibrated, blurred


Must-See: Ashmolean Museum

See Guy Fawkes’ lantern and Michelangelo’s sketches

The Ashmolean Museum is among the oldest museums in the world, having first opened its doors in about 1682. It started when antiques collector Elias Ashmole gave his collection to the University of Oxford and it snowballed into multiple galleries and departments. Like London’s British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum covers quite an eclectic range of subjects, including antiquities from across ancient Europe, Africa and the Near East, as well as classical artworks from around the globe and an impressive coin collection. And like the British Museum, entry is free.

Location: Beaumont Street, Oxford OX1 2PH, UK

Open: Tuesday – Sunday from 10am to 5pm (Closed on Mondays)

Phone: +44 (0)1865 278000

  • History
  • Budget

photo by Remi Mathis (CC BY-SA 3.0) cropped, calibrated, blurred


Have a Picnic on Port Meadow

Escape to the country, within a short walk of the city centre

Port Meadow is a 30-hectare piece of wild English countryside barely outside Oxford city centre. Expect to see wild horses, a wide array of birds and plenty of locals enjoying a picnic there on a sunny day. If you haven’t already stocked up on picnic snacks at The Covered Market, you can pick your own fruits at Medley Manor Farm, during the summer months. Alternatively, take your pick of the cosy country pubs which surround the park.

Location: Walton Well Road, Oxford OX2 6ED, UK

  • Couples
  • Families

Explore the University of Oxford

Check out the iconic historical buildings

One of the world’s oldest universities, the University of Oxford dominates about a quarter of the city. It’s made up of 38 colleges, attended by over 22,000 students. Many of the grand old buildings are attractions in their own right and give Oxford its nickname of ‘the City of Dreaming Spires’. Standouts among the many include the Sheldonian Theatre and the Radcliffe Camera. Don’t forget to take a walk around the university’s botanic gardens and, if you’re a Harry Potter fan, be sure to visit the Bodleian Library, which starred in 3 of the movies.

Location: Oxford OX1 2JD, UK

Phone: +44 (0)1865 270000

  • History
  • Photo

Take a Punt

It’s especially romantic at sunset

There is perhaps no more iconic sight in Oxford than a punt. It’s a flat-bottomed boat which is basically the English version of the Italian gondola, but propelled with a long pole instead of an oar. You can find them available for rent by the Magdalen Bridge, at the eastern end of High Street. You can either hire a punter to do the hard work for you, or get a quick crash course and try it yourself. Head out onto the River Cherwell and you get some unique views of many of the university buildings and grounds, as well as several of the city’s beautiful meadows and parks.

Location: Magdalen Bridge, Oxford OX1 4AU, UK

Open: Daily from 9.30am to 9pm

  • Couples

photo by Brian Jeffery Beggerly (CC BY 2.0) cropped, calibrated, blurred


Afternoon Tea at The Randolph

An elegant snack in the finest of settings

Afternoon Tea is an English tradition dating back centuries and, if there’s anywhere in England that loves tradition, it’s Oxford. There are several great places to enjoy a 4pm brew with sandwiches, scones and cakes. Perhaps the most iconic is the Macdonald Randolph Hotel. The towering gothic building contains a sumptuous drawing room – the perfect setting for such a refined dining experience. For a cheaper alternative, locals love Brown’s in the Covered Market.

Location: Beaumont Street, Oxford OX1 2LN

Open: Daily from 7am to 10pm

Phone: +44 (0)1865 256400

  • Food

photo by Reading Tom (CC BY 2.0) cropped, calibrated, blurred


Must-See: Oxford Castle

From the Saxon tower to the 900-year-old crypt

Oxford Castle has had a very lively history and parts of it are still in use today, though others were ruined by the English Civil War. St George’s Tower stands firm as one of the oldest structure in the city and still provides excellent views across the city centre. The crypt is a similar age and has a ghostly beauty to it. Several parts of the castle were formerly a prison, but have been redeveloped as a hotel. The whole area is something of a hodgepodge of English history and a guided tour of some of the remarkable events of the last 1,000 years is highly recommended.

Location: New Road, Oxford, UK

Open: Daily from 10am to 5.30pm

  • History

Drink in an Inspiring Pub

See if you can beat the record for downing a yard of ale

Oxford has quite a mixed pub scene, with landlords and owners often clearly distinguishing between “town and gown” (catering either to locals or students, but rarely both). However, there are some standout venues, chief among them being rather disturbingly named Eagle and Child. It was said to be a favourite boozer of literary giants CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. If you’re looking for a wilder time, The Turf Tavern is said to be where former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke downed a yard of ale in a record-breaking 11 seconds, and where former US President Bill Clinton smoked marijuana, but “did not inhale”.

Location: The Eagle and Child, 49 St. Giles’, Oxford OX1 3LU, UK

Open: Daily from 11am to 11pm

Phone: +44 (0)1865 302925

  • History
  • Nightlife

Take in a Show at the New Theatre

Enjoy big-name performances in an Oxford institution

As you might expect of a town with centuries of culture behind it, Oxford has quite a busy theatre scene. Some venues specialise in contemporary drama and even student shows, for those seeking something a little different. However, the New Theatre is the main attraction. Formerly the Oxford Apollo, it has a packed schedule of major productions throughout the year, including drama, comedy, ballet, opera and concerts. Tickets start at around £15, but it’s money well spent for a splendid evening.

Location: George Street, Oxford OX1 2AG, UK

Open: Box Office open Monday – Saturday from 10am to 5pm, Sundays from about 2 hours before show time

Phone: +44 (0)844 871 3020

  • Nightlife

photo by Paul Gillett (CC BY-SA 2.0) cropped, calibrated, blurred

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