If you’ve read any of the most popular books in the 20th Century, you’ve likely experienced the influence of Oxford. This moderately sized English city is most famous for its historic university – which has churned out some of the greatest minds in history (though Cambridge would certainly argue about that statement). For this reason, almost everyone knows about Oxford, and planning an Oxford day trip is a popular option for those looking to escape London for a day when visiting England.
I too took a day trip to Oxford when I lived in London; it’s such an easy destination to reach thanks to trains and buses (almost) all day, every day. I wandered Oxford’s streets, climbed its stairs, and toasted in its pubs – and knew that a day trip was not nearly long enough and I should plan a return trip. (That’s still on my to-do!)
If you’re keen to follow the footsteps of literary giants like Tolkien and Lewis, to learn about where so many people have learned, or just want to see a different part of the U.K. during your London trip, this post will help. After reading this post, you’ll know everything you need to plan the perfect Oxford day trip that will leave you wanting to return again as I do.
Note: In an attempt to be genuine, I’ve used a lot of my old photos from my trip to Oxford in 2013. They’re a bit fuzzy and have a few too many Instagram filters on, but hopefully they’re still enticing!
How to Get to Oxford
A trip to Oxford from London is among the most popular trips given the closeness of both cities and the convenient transportation options to get there.
One of the ways to get from London to Oxford is by train. There’s a train station within a 10-minute walk from the city center of London, with services leaving every 30 minutes. If you choose this option, it’s better to book your ticket in advance. Trainline.com is a great platform where you can buy tickets for as little as £5 one way.
Another way to get to Oxford is the Oxford Tube (not to be confused with the London Tube!). This option is a little cheaper but also takes a bit longer. This bus runs every 15 minutes, and you can catch it from Victoria, Marble Arch, Notting Hill Gate, or Shepherd’s Bush in London. At the end of your Oxford day trip, you can catch the bus at Gloucester Green bus station or Oxford High Street back to London. A return ticket is £15 (or £13 if you’re under 27) and valid for three months. For yet another bus option, you can check Megabus. This is one of the biggest bus operators in the UK, with daily buses from London to Oxford leaving at different times. The average ticket price is £11 for a one-way trip.
Of course, another way to get from London is by renting a car. The trip from London to Oxford takes between 60 and 90 minutes by car. You can expect to spend around £30 on gas plus the parking expenses once you arrive in Oxford. If you’re traveling with your partner or a friend, this could be a fun way to travel to Oxford.
Things to Do for One Day in Oxford
Oxford is an amazing city and just strolling down the streets makes for a wonderful experience.
This city has a lot to offer and one day is not likely to be enough to cover the beautiful spots. But don’t get discouraged! Oxford is also a compact city, so you’ll be able to squeeze several of these sights into your Oxford day trip.
1. Walking Tour of Oxford
With breathtaking architecture, historic college buildings, churches, and old shops scattered throughout the city, a walking tour is a must on your Oxford day trip.
While there are beautiful sites everywhere, there are three highlights you can’t miss. The first one is Radcliffe Camera, Oxford’s most iconic and beautiful landmark. A short distance away in New College Lane is the second one, the Bridge of Sighs; this beautiful bridge links two parts of Hertford College. The last one is Bodleian Library, which is actually a group of libraries spread across the city.
2. University Colleges
You can’t miss the colleges that make up the University of Oxford, the oldest university in the world. While Oxford University does not organize college tours, there are city tours that visit some of them, or you can also explore them on your own. Be aware that opening times vary depending on the time of year and the exam schedule and that some colleges charge an entry fee.
Here are a few ones you can explore on your visit: David’s College, Exeter College, and Trinity College.
Punting is a favorite pastime of Oxford locals – and a must-try. For those who don’t know, punting is boating in a punt, a flat-bottomed boat with a square-cut bow. To move along the water, the punter (you) stands on the deck and shoves the boat along with a pole by pushing directly on the bed of the river or lake. The technique might be a little hard to catch at first, but once the confusion settles, you’re off to a fun boat ride along the river. This is also a great way to explore lovely pubs and restaurants that sit along the river banks.
You can hire a punt for an hour or a day, or if you prefer to sit back and relax, you can also hire a guide, usually local students, to punt. Two boathouses where you can hire a punt are Cherwell Boathouse and Magdalen Bridge Boathouse, both offer punting services along the banks of River Cherwell.
4. Oxford Castle
The UK has some spectacular castles, and one of them is in Oxford. Built in the 10th century after a Norman invasion, Oxford Castle was part of the medieval system of defense of the city. By the 14th century, the castle’s military value diminished, so it was used as an administration office and prison. During the English Civil War, Oxford Castle was heavily damaged, and the remaining buildings were incorporated into Oxford’s official prison until 1996.
Today, the surviving buildings (the Motte, St George’s Tower, the crypt, and parts of the prison) are the main attraction. Also, part of the castle has been turned into a hotel.
5. St. Mary the Virgin Tower
What if I told you that the sites you’ve covered on foot are equally beautiful from above? Well, the St. Mary the Virgin Tower is the perfect place to get panoramic views of Oxford. Located right next to the Radcliffe Camera, the tower is the oldest part of the church still visible today. It was built in 1280 and is decorated with beautifully carved gargoyles and grotesques.
You need to pay an entry fee of £4 and climb up 127 steps to get to the top of the tower. But to be honest, every bit of the effort is worth it.
6. Pitt Rivers Museum
If you love museums, here’s one you can visit on your Oxford day trip. Set 15 minutes away from central Oxford along Parks Road is the Pitt Rivers Museum. This museum houses excellent anthropological and archaeological collections to learn about cultures from all over the world.
Admission to Pitt Rivers Museum is free, and you can visit it from Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 4:30pm.
7. The Ashmolean
Patio photo courtesy of Katie Hannan via Flickr
The Ashmolean is another museum worth visiting. Here you can explore art and archaeology, including particularly interesting Egyptian mummy exhibits. Besides the wonderful exhibitions housed inside, the Ashmolean’s history is another reason to visit the museum as this is Oxford’s oldest museum, dating back to 1683.
The third reason to visit the Ashmolean is not one you’ll expect for a museum… It has a rooftop restaurant and café! Sitting on top of the museum is The Ashmolean Cafe, which serves delicious world cuisine for lunch and offers exquisite afternoon tea menus you can enjoy after a long touristy day.
8. Oxford Covered Market
Built in 1770, Oxford Covered Market is a quirky market with a collection of 40 boutiques and cafés. Like most buildings in the city, Oxford Covered Market has astounding architecture worth seeing. Setting aside the beautiful architecture, Oxford Covered Market is an excellent place to splurge a little or find a souvenir to take home. It’s also a great way to support local businesses since most shop owners there are independent traders.
9. The Eagle & Child
Interior photo courtesy of Meraj Chhaya via Flickr
All spots in Oxford are worth visiting, but this is a mandatory stop for literary buffs: The Eagle & Child. This wonderful pub was the gathering spot for “The Inklings,” a literary circle integrated by Lewis Caroll and JRR Tolkien. It was on Tuesdays at midday – and at this very pub – that these two authors and many more would gather to talk about their writing. And now you can too!
You can find this pub easily as it is a 7-minute walk from Gloucester Green bus station and a 14-minute walk from Oxford train station.
10. Turf Tavern
You may have missed the Turf Tavern on your walking tour as it is hidden down a tiny alley just next to the Bridge of Sighs. This lovely pub is one of the oldest in town and is the perfect place to end your Oxford day trip.
It has a wonderful outdoor beer garden and cozy indoor seating where you can enjoy a beer and have a bite. Besides being extremely popular among University students, the Turf Tavern has also welcomed famous personalities like former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Bill Clinton.
11. Harry Potter Sights & Sites
Because I haven’t mentioned it yet: Oxford is a fabulous destination for Harry Potter fans! I’ve got a guide to all of the Harry Potter sites in Oxford on my blog Follow the Butterflies, and there are some great walking tours specifically focused on magical spots across town.
A Perfect Oxford Day Trip Itinerary
Now that you know all the amazing places you can visit in this city, here’s a possible itinerary you can follow on your day trip to Oxford.
- Start early: catch the bus service that’ll take you from the center of London straight into the heart of Oxford, where you’ll hop off in High Street.
- Take a self-guided or guided walking tour. From High Street, walk to Radcliffe Square in just 3 minutes and then explore nearby spots like Bodleian Library and the Bridge of Sighs.
- Visit at least one of the University colleges. If you want something within the range of spots mentioned above, you can explore Trinity College, which is 3 minutes away from Bodleian Library.
- Climb up St Mary The Virgin Tower to admire Oxford from above.
- Enjoy lunch at the Oxford Covered Market to kill two birds with one stone!
- After walking busy streets all morning, an hour of punting is a great way to relax with water views.
- In the event that it’s raining (a distinct possibility given, you know, England), head to the Ashmolean for the afternoon instead.
- Enjoy dinner and a pint at the Turf Tavern or The Eagle & Child.
- Afterward, head to Oxford High Street and catch the returning bus to London (or your train, depending on the time).
Oxford Tours to Consider For Your Day Trip
You can certainly visit Oxford independently and don’t need to book any tours, but some of the activities might be easier to coordinate and enjoy if you do a guided option. Here are some I recommend:
While you can’t take in everything Oxford has to offer during a day trip from London, you can get a great sense of what inspired so many academics and a handful of literary greats to spend time studying and look back fondly on their time here.
Hav eother questions about planning an Oxford day trip? Let me know in the comments!