by Sharon Henry
An Oxford day trip to the ‘ City of Dreaming Spires ‘ (name attributed to its spire-topped buildings) is the perfect getaway from London with plenty of things to do and see in a short space of time, many of them free!
We took a self guided walking tour on our day trip to Oxford and crammed in quite a bit of the Oxford attractions. The city is small enough to explore by foot with places of interest just a stone’s throw from the next.
Click here for a downloadable Oxford Tourist map.
What To See In Oxford
- The Carfax Tower
- The Covered Market
- University Church of St Mary
- Radcliffe Camera
- Tour The Historic Streets
- English Maze at Rose Lane
- The Bodleian Library
- Punt Rides
- Bridge of Sighs – Hertford Bridge
- Christ Church College
- Museum of Oxford
Visit Oxford A City of Bicycles
The university city of Oxford attracts 16,000 tourists a day and has contributed a great deal to the world. There’s the Oxford English Dictionary, Alice in Wonderland, Stephen Hawking, the annual University Boat Race, plus popularisation of the most elegant of men’s footwear, the laced Oxford shoe.
I’ve nicknamed Oxford, ‘The City of Bikes’ simply because bicycles are everywhere. Not so much in traffic, but parked and attached anywhere that a bike lock will wrap around!
How To Get To Oxford from London
There are a number of public transport options for getting to Oxford from London. The London to Oxford train from Paddington arrives at Oxford station and the 60 mile journey takes approximately an hour. The Oxford Tube is a bus that runs every 10 mins, 24 hours a day. As budget travellers our preference is the London to Oxford bus and we use National Express and Megabus. The coach to Oxford takes just over an hour travel time.
To alleviate traffic congestion in the city, Oxford Bus operates a Park And Ride scheme, click here to find more details. Travelling from Oxford to London is just as easy.
Places To Visit In Oxford
There are a number of Oxford walking tours available and including Hop On Hop Off City Sightseeing tours. If you are so inclined to hire an Oxford bicycle for the day, here’s handy information of what’s on offer, and an official Oxford city guide.
Raining Cats And Dogs
Our day out in Oxford was a ‘sunshine and showers’ day, typical of English weather. We began our Oxford tour with a climb up the 14th century Carfax Tower in the city centre. Led from a 99 step staircase this Oxford must see gives a spectacular bird’s eye view overlooking rooftops and down on matchstick people below.
It’s the perfect spot for photographing Oxford sights and getting a sense of the ‘dreaming spires.’ The Carfax Tower entry fee is a budget friendly £5.00 each.
A Jam Packed Oxford Day Trip
Dark clouds had been threatening all morning and finally the heavens opened, forcing other visitors up on the tower to dash for cover. We braved the weather (well we had climbed 99 steps to get there) and after a few minutes the rain stopped and we have free reign to move around without obstructing someone else’s view.
Featured in brochures of Oxford tourist attractions, besides the universities, is the Covered Market. Shop here for souvenirs and browse through flower stands, clothing boutiques and delicious-smelling pie shops, it’s all indoors under one roof. Apparently St Helena coffee is sometimes available at the Cardews of Oxford shop but we didn’t get to check.
Oxford Student Population
The island girl in me was drawn to the fresh tuna on display at a fishmongers priced at £24.95 per kg. My word, what an expensive batch of fishcakes they’d make. Back home on St Helena the equivalent costs £4.20 – and we think that’s expensive.
The city’s historic streets and architecture is similar to the City of York. The Oxford high street has a mixture of shops, cafes and universities catering to what seems to be a bustling community. The ratio of young student-types (among the tourists) gracing the streets is noticeably high. In fact, full time students enrolled in the city’s 38 universities, collectively make up 24% of the Oxford population.
Free Things To Do In Oxford
Off course the main Oxford places to visit are the universities. Unfortunately, exams were in progress the day we visited and most universities were closed to visitors. We managed to peek through a few courtyards and marvel at the awesomeness of the learning environment.
If this doesn’t inspire your inner ‘Hermione,’ you’re in trouble! In fact, the real Hermione, Emma Watson is an alumni of Oxford University.
We like places with free admission and passed through the doors of the University Church of St Mary. There’s been a church on this site for 1,000 years. It’s beautiful inside and seated on a pew is the best way to appreciate the huge, stained glass windows.
The Radcliffe Camera’s Namesake
On the walls and floor are a number of memorial tablets including one for 17th century physician John Radcliffe, famous in his time who has a hospital, observatory and the Radcliffe Camera named after him.
There is also a tomb holding the 686-year old remains of Adam de Brome, founder of Oriel College. He died in 1332.
Things To See In Oxford
There’s a maze on Rose Lane that forms part of the Oxford Botanical Gardens. It’s not big enough to get lost but I think it’s a delightful find as fun things to do in Oxford.
The streets of Oxford itself is like a maze and each cobbled lane and alley offer gothic gargoyles, more historic buildings and of course Oxford bikes, lots of them.
Harry Potter Tour Oxford Movie Locations
We seek out the Oxford Bridge of Sighs, so called and famous for its unintentional resemblance to the original in Venice. This one’s actual name is the Hertford Bridge, and it’s an overhead walkway linking two parts of Hertford College. Funny that this is quite a tourist attraction.
Harry Potter film locations in Oxford are also popular and the Bodleian Library complex and Christ Church Oxford College have become huge tourist attractions . (Admission is charged to these sites). Fans can spend a day chasing the young wizard’s shadow around Oxford to places that provided visual backdrops for JK Rowling’s magical world of Hogwarts.
We thought we’d saved the best ‘til last on our tour – the dining hall of Christ Church Oxford. However, a Potter fan since the first book in ’97 I’m disappointed to find the ‘Great Hall’ is closed. I’d been looking forward to daydreaming a candlelit dinner with Harry and friends. Oh well.
Instead we round off our day trip with a quick tour of the Museum of Oxford at the Oxford Town Hall.
Famous People of Oxford
It’s small with free admission, showcasing Oxford town’s history and gives a quirky look at former residents. Like James Spader, England’s first hot air balloonist and Alice Lindell who grew up at Christ Church and inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
As a bonus, there’s a gallery at the back of the museum that exhibits contemporary art, covering musicians to landscapes, and water colours to photography.
It was a lovely conclusion to our Oxford day trip. With so much history and architecture this beautiful city is well worth a visit, we only scratched the surface with our short excursion.