Oxford is known around the world as the home of the prestigious University of Oxford, originally established in the 12th century and operating as the oldest university in the world today. The gorgeous city, which is located less than an hour from London, is commonly referred to as the "City of Dreaming Spires" for its gorgeous historic architecture, much of which dates back to the late Saxon period. Visitors can explore the beautiful campuses of Oxford's constituent colleges or visit internationally-renowned museums, libraries, and botanical gardens, including the Bodleian Library and its iconic Radcliffe Camera building. More than nine million visitors also explore the city's beautiful City Centre each year, which is home to historic bookshops, eclectic restaurants, vibrant marketplaces, and hip nightlife spots.
1.The University of Oxford Botanic Garden
The University of Oxford Botanic Garden is Great Britain's oldest botanical garden facility, originally founded in 1621 as a medicinal research garden by Henry Danvers. Today, the garden remains one of the world's oldest scientific gardens and is home to more than 6,000 plant species grown on its 4.5-acre campus, making it one of the most diverse compact collections of plants in the world. Its grounds famously served as the inspiration for iconic settings in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings novels. A walled garden area is home to 17th-century stonework and the oldest tree in the Garden, while a number of conservatory glasshouses cultivate plantings of native and exotic flora and fauna from around the world. Outside the walled garden area, the Garden's lower garden landscape abuts the River Cherwell and showcases dry grassland plantings able to withstand drought conditions.
Rose Ln, Oxford OX1 4AZ, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-28-66-90
2.The Oxford University Museum of Natural History
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The Oxford University Museum of Natural History, commonly referred to as the Oxford University Museum, showcases impressive collections of natural history specimens belonging to the University of Oxford, which were originally founded between 1855 and 1860. The museum's lovely neo-Gothic-style building was constructed by Irish architects Benjamin Woodward and Thomas Neweham Deane and is known for its iconic glass room and large square court space. Throughout its history, the museum has hosted important historical events such as the 1860 Oxford evolution debate and the world's first public demonstration of wireless telegraphy in 1894. Today, visitors can explore the museum for free and peruse earth science, paleontology, zoology, and entomology collections, including noted displays of dinosaurs and dodo birds.
Parks Rd, Oxford OX1 3PW, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-27-29-50
3.The Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library is the University of Oxford's primary research library, acclaimed as one of Europe's largest and oldest libraries. The library, which is commonly referred to as The Bod, holds collections of more than 12 million items, making it the second-largest library facility in Britain. Though its current incarnation dates back to 1602, early versions of the library date as far back as the 14th century. Today, it spans five buildings, including the iconic Radcliffe Camera building, and has been used as a filming site for major feature films such as the Harry Potter series. Though volumes may not be removed from the library's reference collections, visitors can peruse the library's holdings after taking a standardized formal oath declaration.
Broad St, Oxford OX1 3BG, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-27-71-62
4.The Pitt Rivers Museum
© The Pitt Rivers Museum
The Pitt Rivers Museum is the University of Oxford's primary anthropological and archaeological museum, accessible via the adjacent Oxford University Museum of Natural History. The museum was originally founded in 1884 by private donor Augustus Pitt Rivers and showcases a collection of more than 500,000 artifacts from around the world today, which are arranged typologically rather than geographically or chronologically. This unique exhibit approach is intended to showcase the evolution of human culture and emphasize historical and regional variations of common items such as tools, clothing, and machinery. Notable artifacts include the museum's Haida totem pole, which formerly stood outside the indigenous Star House on British Columbia's Graham Island.
Parks Rd, Oxford OX1 3PW, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-27-09-27
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Keble College is one of the University of Oxford's primary constituent colleges, originally established in 1870 as a monument to prominent Oxford Movement figure John Keble. Though the college's studies originally focused on theology, today it offers a wide variety of subjects, including scientific and arts degrees. Distinctive neo-Gothic red brick buildings are showcased throughout the college's campus, designed by architect William Butterfield and known for their tradition-breaking layouts. Visitors can explore the college's campus and view historic buildings such as the beautiful Keble Library and the college's original Chapel and Hall buildings. Modern buildings include the Sloane-Robinson Building, the O'Reilly Theatre, and the H.B. Allen Centre.
Oxford OX1 3PG, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-27-27-27
6.The Radcliffe Camera
The Radcliffe Camera is the most famed building within the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library campus, originally constructed between 1737 and 1749 by James Gibbs. The stunning Neoclassical-style building, which was developed to house the collections of the Radcliffe Science Library, is the earliest example of a circular library building in Britain and showcases a two-story gallery divided into bays by ornate Corinthian columns. It has been featured in major films and television series such as Young Sherlock Holmes, The Red Violin, and The Golden Compass and served as an inspiration for locations in J.R.R. Tolkein's famed Lord of the Rings novel series. Visitors can explore the library after taking the Bodleian's standardized oath of entrance.
Radcliffe Sq, Oxford OX1 3BG, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-27-71-62
7.The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin
The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, commonly known as St. Mary's or SMV, is an historic church located on the campus of the University of Oxford, known as the central building area that the university was originally developed around. The church's history dates all the way back to the Anglo-Saxon era in 1086 and was the first site where what is now the University of Oxford congregated as early as 1252. Beautiful design features include an eccentric baroque porch designed by architect Nicholas Stone, a gorgeous 13th-century tower, and one of England's most beautiful church spires. Visitors can ascend the church's tower as part of self-guided tours for a nominal fee and enjoy stunning panoramic views of the university's campus and surrounding areas. Regular Sunday services are still held throughout the year, many of which are led by notable visiting pastors.
High St, Oxford OX1 4BJ, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-27-91-11
8.The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology
The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology was the world's first university museum at its founding in 1677, intended to house Elias Ashmole's donated cabinet of curiosities. The museum, which was opened in its first incarnation in 1683, has been housed within its present building since 1845, which was extensively renovated and redeveloped in 2009. Visitors can explore unique collections of fine art and archaeological specimens, including one of the world's greatest collections of English silver, majolica pottery, and pre-Raphaelite paintings. Other collections highlight items from Ancient Egypt and the Sudan, as well as prominent collections of Minoan and Greek pottery. Major pieces on display include works of art by legendary figures ranging from Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso.
Beaumont St, Oxford OX1 2PH, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-27-80-00
9.Oxford University Parks
Oxford University Parks are a combined green oasis on the University of Oxford's campus, originally laid out for recreational activities in 1864. The beautiful park, which once belonged to the university's Merton College, serves as a significant green space for the city, open 364 days a year to university students, local residents, and area visitors alike. Beautiful walking trails traverse the length of the River Cherwell along the park's northeastern edge, while a small island known as Mesopotamia sits between the river's lower and upper levels. More than 1,600 trees of 250 species line the park, including endangered and vulnerable tree species. Attractions include landscaped gardens, an historic cricket ground, day-use picnic areas, and spaces for pickup games of lacrosse, football, tennis, and rugby.
S Parks Rd, Oxford OX1 3RF, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-28-20-40
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10.Modern Art Oxford
© Modern Art Oxford
Modern Art Oxford is one of Oxford's most acclaimed art gallery spaces, originally established in 1965 as an outpost of New York City's famed Museum of Modern Art. Since 2002, the gallery has been operated as an independent art gallery, showcasing internationally-renowned exhibitions of modern and contemporary artworks by renowned artists from around the world. It is housed within a beautiful gallery space that was originally constructed for Hanley's City Brewery by architect Harry Drinkwater. Notable exhibitions throughout the gallery's tenure have included shows by artists such as Tracy Emin, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Stella Vine, Jannis Kounellis, and Thomas Houseago. A public learning and engagement program at the gallery presents annual special events and workshops, which are free to attend.
30 Pembroke St, Oxford OX1 1BP, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-72-27-33
Port Meadow is a gorgeous open common space located along the banks of the River Thames, just northwest of Oxford's city center. The beautiful meadow was historically used as grazing land for cattle and horses and is reported to have not been ploughed for at least four millennia. Today, it is known as Oxford's oldest monument, stretching between Jericho and Wolvercote, and is most noted as the site where Lewis Carroll famously began to improvise the story that would become Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Well-preserved archaeological remains are showcased throughout the meadow, including artifacts from Bronze and Iron Age settlements. Beautiful patches of wildflowers line walking areas, including buttercups, yarrow, and white clovers. Across the river, Bossoms Boatyard offers a public-use marina.
Walton Well Rd, Oxford OX2 6ED, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-25-22-40
12.The Covered Market
The Covered Market is Oxford's historic public market, originally opened in 1774 and designed by John Gwynn, the architect of the city's famed Magdalen Bridge. The covered market is still home to a plethora of vendors today and is open to the public seven days a week throughout the morning and afternoon hours, though many businesses, especially restaurants, offer extended hours. More than 40 independent businesses are showcased throughout the market, including unique apparel boutiques such as Ansari, Burrows and Hare, Fresh Clothing, and the Hat Box. Art and gift items are sold at Aria Photography and East to West, while grocery items and specialty goods are offered at Bonner's Fruit and Veg, Cardews and Company Tea and Coffee, Jemini Flowers, and the Oxford Cheese Shop. Diners can choose from a wide variety of international cuisine options, ranging from French-style cafe Brother's and Georgina's and Greek street food eatery Souvlaki Brothers to favorite regional pie chain Pieminister Pies.
Market St, Oxford OX1 3DZ, UK
Christ Church is one of the University of Oxford's constituent colleges, originally founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII. The college is one of the university's wealthiest colleges and is known for its significant architectural sites, including the Sir Christopher Wren-designed Tom Tower and Tom Quad, Oxford's largest quadrangle, which have been featured in major motion pictures such as Harry Potter and The Golden Compass. More than half a million visitors explore the college's 175-acre campus each year and view Grade I-listed architectural sites such as the Christ Church Library, the Christ Church Cathedral, and the Chapter House. The lovely Christ Church Meadow is open to the public year-round, offering recreational opportunities at Boathouse Island and Merton Field.
St Aldate's, Oxford OX1 1DP, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-27-61-50
14.Magdalen Bridge Boathouse
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Magdalen Bridge Boathouse is a rental boat hire company located underneath Oxford's famed Magdalen College Tower along the world-famous stretch of High Street, offering opportunities to cruise along the beautiful River Cherwell. Traditional handcrafted punting boats are available for rental throughout the week, along with rowing boats and pedalos available by the hour or by the day. Chauffeured punting services are offered for more relaxing rides, led by experienced trained punters and available for up to four passengers. Pre-ordered picnic hampers are available on chauffeured rides for leisurely waterfront picnics. Though reservations are not required for boat rentals, advance reservations are recommended on busy weekend days to ensure availability.
Magdalen Bridge, Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX1 4AU, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-20-26-43
15.The Sheldonian Theatre
The Sheldonian Theatre is one of Oxford's premiere live event venues, hosting theatrical performances, live music concerts, lectures, and official university ceremonies throughout the year. The theater was constructed between 1664 and 1669 by Sir Christopher Wren, designed as a tribute to Rome's famed Theatre of Marcellus, and is named in honor of primary financial donor Gilbert Sheldon. It showcases gorgeous design elements such as a ceiling fresco painted by Robert Streater, which was completely restored to its historic condition in 2008. Visitors can attend performances throughout the year or take self-guided tours of the historic building and climb up to its eight-sided cupola, which offers stunning views of central Oxford. Hourlong guided walking tours are also offered, exploring the theater and its historic context within the university's campus.
Broad St, Oxford OX1 3AZ, UK, Phone: +44-0-18-65-27-72-99
Blackwell’s Bookshop is Britain's most famed academic book retailer, originally founded at its Oxford location on Broad Street in 1879 by Benjamin Henry Blackwell. Throughout its history, the chain was known for its innovations in promoting universal access to literature, including producing mass-marketed copies of fine works such as Shakespeare. Today, the chain operates more than 45 stores throughout the United Kingdom and is still owned and operated by the Blackwell family. Its Broad Street location is home to the Norrington Room, Europe's largest room devoted to book sales. In addition to large collections of fiction, nonfiction, and educational books, the Broad Street location is known for its collections of specialty music, art, and cultural posters. Flagship locations are also located in London, Cambridge, and Edinburgh.
48-51 Broad St, Oxford OX1 3BQ, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-79-27-92
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17.University of Oxford Merton College Chapel
University of Oxford Merton College Chapel is the official church chapel of Oxford's Merton College, dating back in its present form to the end of the 13th century. The church was originally known as the Church of St. John the Baptist and was granted to the college in 1266 by the Abbey of Reading. It is known for gorgeous architectural elements such as its 1294 eastern window, considered to be a prime example of Early English Period architecture. Visitors can attend weekly church services or enjoy spectacular performances throughout the year by the church's choir, which has toured extensively throughout Europe and frequently performs pieces specifically written for the choir to perform.
4 Merton St, Oxford OX1 4JD, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-27-63-10
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Magdalen College is one of Oxford's wealthiest and most beautiful constituent colleges, located along the banks of the River Cherwell. The college, which was originally founded in by William of Waynflete in 1458, gained international acclaim during the mid-2oth century for high-profile students such as C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia book series. Visitors can explore the college's grounds and view gorgeous architecture such as the prominent Magdalen Tower, an Oxford landmark, which is home to renowned tower-top performances from the college's choir each May Morning. Beautiful outdoor areas include The Grove, The Meadow, and the Fellows' Garden, which is connected to Addison's Walk via a pedestrian bridge.
Oxford OX1 4AU, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-27-60-00
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19.The Vaults and Garden
© The Vaults and Garden
The Vaults and Garden is an ecologically-sustainable cafe in Oxford housed within a 14th-century building, founded by William Pouget as a socially-positive cafe offering organic breakfast and lunch options. The restaurant prepares all its entrees with local, organic, and ethically-produced goods and emphasizes no-waste and detox-living principles in all of its operations. Delicious breakfast options include scrambled egg platters, avocado toast, and full Oxford breakfasts with bacon, sausage, eggs, beans, and toast. At lunch, diners can choose from classics such as Oxford cheese rarebit or try international options such as spiced chickpea tagine or chicken panang curry. Ecologically-focused events are hosted at the cafe regularly, along with live music performances and public talks and discussions.
University Church, 1 Radcliffe Sq, Oxford OX1 4AH, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-27-91-12
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20.The Missing Bean
© The Missing Bean
The Missing Bean is a charming espresso bar in the heart of Oxford, originally founded in 2009 on Turl Street. The cafe serves up its own custom house blend and single-origin coffees, which are brewed at the company's nearby roastery location. Sustainably-produced beans are sourced directly from around the world, selected for their exceptional quality and flavor profiles. Diners can enjoy delicious housemade pastries along with coffees and espresso beverages throughout the day. At lunch, savory ciabatta sandwiches are prepared with fresh-baked bread sourced from area Oxford bakeries. Vegan and gluten-free delicacies are available for diners with dietary concerns. Regular cupping events are hosted at both locations, teaching participants about the intricacies of coffee tasting.
14 Turl St, Oxford OX1 3DQ, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-79-48-86
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21.The Handle Bar
© The Handle Bar
The Handle Bar is a laid-back cafe in Oxford's City Centre, named for its location atop a popular area bicycle shop. The St. Michael's Street cafe offers seasonal menus crafted from locally-sourced ingredients, catering to vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free diners and others with dietary restrictions. Coffee beverages are served throughout the day, prepared with beans sourced from Oxford's The Missing Bean. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner menus feature delicious entrees such as harissa-marinated lamb steak, warm maple-roasted squash salad, and coconut-based pancake stacks. Downstairs, the sipping bar Le Bar throws back to the vibe of 1920s-era American speakeasies, crafting artisanal cocktails with housemade syrups, cordials, and juices.
28-32, St Michael's St, Oxford OX1 2EB, UK, Phone: +44-18-65-25-13-15
21 Best Things to Do in Oxford, UK
- The University of Oxford Botanic Garden, Photo: Oxana/stock.adobe.com
- The Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Photo: Alexey Fedorenko/stock.adobe.com
- The Bodleian Library, Photo: Skowron/stock.adobe.com
- The Pitt Rivers Museum, Photo: The Pitt Rivers Museum
- Keble College, Photo: Moti Meiri/stock.adobe.com
- The Radcliffe Camera, Photo: HildaWeges/stock.adobe.com
- The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Photo: Pawel/stock.adobe.com
- The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Photo: BasPhoto/stock.adobe.com
- Oxford University Parks, Photo: ryanking999/stock.adobe.com
- Modern Art Oxford, Photo: Modern Art Oxford
- Port Meadow, Photo: allouphoto/stock.adobe.com
- The Covered Market, Photo: gdefilip/stock.adobe.com
- Christ Church, Photo: LevT/stock.adobe.com
- Magdalen Bridge Boathouse, Photo: Daisy Daisy/stock.adobe.com
- The Sheldonian Theatre, Photo: EleSi/stock.adobe.com
- Blackwell’s Bookshop, Photo: buntworthy/stock.adobe.com
- University of Oxford Merton College Chapel, Photo: DoctorJools/stock.adobe.com
- Magdalen College, Photo: Sergii Figurnyi/stock.adobe.com
- The Vaults and Garden, Photo: The Vaults and Garden
- The Missing Bean, Photo: The Missing Bean
- The Handle Bar, Photo: The Handle Bar
- Cover Photo: Leonid Andronov/stock.adobe.com