Oxford is associated with one of the most prestigious universities in the world, but the city is much more than a hub for bookworms! Oxford is full of charming, winding alleyways that house boutiques and the many unique bookshops (the city’s Blackwells Bookshop is the largest bookstore in the world).
Oxford is home to a range of fascinating museums and it is a place where you can re-live scenes from movies like “Harry Potter” (you will find the “Great Staircase” from the movie in Oxford’s Christ Church) and “Narnia”, when looking at the special lion-marked door close to the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. What to see, where to go; with our curated 3-day Oxford itinerary, you will not miss any of Oxford’s tourist highlights!
This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
Oxford Day 1
The closest international airport to Oxford is London Heathrow, but both Heathrow and Gatwick Airport are connected to Oxford by The Airline coach route. The buses operate all week, 24 hours a day. If you arrive in Stansted Airport, you can reach Oxford by the National Express 757, which runs approximately every two hours.
Upon your arrival in Oxford, check into your hotel, drop off your luggage and head into the city for the first explorations! Not sure where to stay in Oxford? We recommend Mercure Oxford Eastgate Hotel, it’s a sleek, modern hotel in Oxford’s historic centre. It is a perfect pick for a short stay; close to shopping and popular Oxford attractions.
Tour on City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off Bus
If you want to “see it all”, there is no better option than embarking onto the Hop-on Hop-off Bus. With one ticket valid for 24 hours, you can hop off as much as you like to get a closer look at the Oxford attractions. The route covers over 20 stops, showing you the modern and historical side of the city.
Admire the impressive architecture of Oxford’s University buildings and the Trinity College Gates, built in the 16th century (stop no. 14). You will stop at Christ Church too, which is where all Harry Potter fans will want to disembark. If you feel like having a walk, hop off at stop no. 2: Park End Street that dates back to the second half of the 18th century. At 27 Park End Street, you will find the former Marmalade Factory, now called “The Jam Factory” that houses an art centre, restaurant and bar.
If you are not in the mood for walking around, you can also just sit back and enjoy the drive through Oxford’s centre. Pre-recorded audio commentary is available in multiple languages, so you have your own digital guide with you on the tour. You book the Hop-on Hop-off Bus tickets online, and you may board the bus at any stop (to find the nearest bus stop, see the digital map available on Hop-on Hop-off Bus’ website). Ticket fees are approximately 20 USD for adults and 12 USD for children.
Dinner in Oxford
Delicious food, beautiful presentation and a laid-back atmosphere; you will find it all at the Hamptons-inspired Victors Restaurant & Bar in Westgate. It is our top recommendation for your first dinner in Oxford. The eatery offers a menu of modern, American plates, both nibble-friendly servings and larger portions.
Most dishes are designed to be shared! The food will arrive at the centre of the table, so prepare for a family-style dinner in a relaxed environment. Vegan and vegetarian options are available, and you can spice up your dining experience with innovative cocktails, drinks or wine that the staff will help you pair with your food choice.
Check out Victors’ website for seasonal deals and discounts.
Oxford Day 2
Start your second day in Oxford with some morning leisure and relaxed sightseeing. Have breakfast at the hotel and then head to the city centre, ready for more Oxford explorations.
Oxford University Museum of Natural History
The museum was established in the second half of the 19th century, collecting scientific studies from across the University of Oxford. Inside you will see the world’s first scientifically described dinosaur as well as the only soft tissue remains of the extinct dodo bird.
At the museum, you will find specific expositions focused on zoology, geology, fossils, evolution, and many more. There will be temporary science exhibitions too; changing throughout the year, all covering various topics of (modern) science.
Oxford University Museum of Natural History is open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM. The entry is free, you can place a donation if you wish. You can rent audio guides at the museum, but a digital floor plan and simple audio guide are also accessible on the museum’s website, so you can display both on your phone during your visit.
The Pitt Rivers Museum
Founded in 1884, Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum is unique to other museums when it comes to object display and curation. The displays showcasing objects, photographs and manuscripts from all over the world are arranged following a “democracy of things”.
The visitors’ attention is pointed towards the fascinating cross-cultural connections and interesting distinctions, raising questions and opening discussions about the way that humanity deals with problems and understands life and lifestyle across the world. With displays presenting daily objects as well as items of ritualistic significance, the expositions speak about daily lives but also beliefs and spiritual practices across the globe.
You can enter the Pitt Rivers Museum through the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and the museum is open daily (Monday: 12 PM – 4.30 PM, Tuesday to Sunday: 10 AM – 4.30 PM). There is no entry fee, but donations are welcome.
Built in the second half of the 17th century, the Sheldonian Theatre was named after Gilbert Sheldon, chancellor of the University at the time. Sheldon was also the main financial backer, and the building is now being used for music concerts and performances, lectures and University ceremonies (like graduations and matriculation).
The building itself is known for its remarkable eight-sided cupola (a dome-like structure mounted on top of a building). The cupola is open to visitors; you can access it via a staircase that leads to the dome over the main ceiling. With its large windows on all sides, the Sheldonian Theatre cupola provides stunning views across central Oxford. Another part of the ceiling that will surely attract the visitors’ attention is the impressive ceiling fresco by Robert Streater, King Charles II’s court painter.
Sheldonian Theatre is open throughout the year, except days dedicated to University ceremonies (double-check the daily opening hours and specific closing dates on the Theatre’s website before you visit). Adult admission ticket is £3.80.
The Bridge of Sighs
The distinctive design of the Hertford Bridge, often referred to as Oxford’s ” Bridge of Sighs”, makes it a popular city landmark. The bridge is a skyway over New College Lane, connecting two parts of Hertford College. On the southern side of the bridge, the building houses administrative offices, and the northern building is mostly student dorms.
Even though Hertford Bridge is more visually similar to the Rialto Bridge in Venice, it is often framed as a replica of the Venetian “Bridge of Sighs”. Much of the current architecture of Hertford Bridge was designed by Sir Thomas Jackson and, in spite of the opposition from New College, the construction was completed in 1914.
The Radcliffe Camera
Designed by James Gibbs in neo-classical style and built in the first half of the 18th century, The Radcliffe Camera or simply “The Camera” is one of the most distinct buildings of Oxford University. With its unique round structure, the building is now a remarkable part of the University complex, especially popular among tourists. The Camera was originally built to house the Radcliffe Science Library. It is named after John Radcliffe, a doctor who, upon his death in 1714, left an estate of 40.000 GBP which funded the construction and maintenance of the library.
The building of the Radcliffe Camera is the earliest example of a circular library in England. Nowadays, after the Radcliffe Science Library was moved into another building, the Radcliffe Camera holds books from the English, history, and theology collections. The Radcliffe Camera is accessible by guided tour only on particular dates, and a visit can be arranged by booking onto a Bodleian Library Tour.
Cotswolds Taster Tour
Immerse yourself in idyllic English villages, nestled among tranquil valleys. The Cotswolds Area has been an inspiration for artists, writers and philosophers, and on this 5-hour long tour you will have the chance to explore the area and experience the highlights of the charming Cotswolds.
With the bus departing at 1pm, your journey towards Cotswold will leave from central Oxford, passing through the atmospheric villages of Asthall and Swinbrook. Upon arrival in Bourton-on-the-Water, often called ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’, you will have time to explore the many local cafés and charming boutiques with knick knacks and souvenirs.
The guide will give a general overview about Oxford as you drive out of the city and they will provided you with some fun facts about the Cotswolds such as:
- The Cotswolds are 790 square miles with lots of small towns and villages
- The name means “Rolling lands of the sheep pens”: Cot – pen or enclosure high up on a hill and Wold Gentle slopping land – a hill
- Cottages in the villages are usually named after the trades that once were in those home. eg: bakers,
- The famous Cotswold thatched roofs need to be re done every 15-20 years which costs around 30,000-35,000 GBP as there are only approx 1000 thatchers left in the UK.
- Tolkien drew inspiration from the Coltswolds for the “Lord of the Rings” middle earth.
- in Stow, there was a battle in ate during the British civil war and it is said that it was such a bloody battle, that the streets ran red with blood, deep enough for ducks to float along.
Check out the quirky shops with antiques, and if you are curious to see what inspired J. R. R. Tolkien in his writings, head to St. Edwards Church. Its remarkable wooden door is said to have been an inspiration to the author. On the way back to Oxford, there will be a final photo stop at the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill – Blenheim Palace. Tour tickets can be booked online, and the ticket fee is 65 GBP per person.
Oxford Day 3
The Oxford Artisan Distillery Tour
Get ready for a behind-the scenes-experience at TOAD – The Oxford Artisan Distillery, where you can discover the principles of spirit distilling and follow the production processes of various craft spirits. See for yourself what goes into the spirits by joining one of the guided tours offered at the Distillery.
You will have a detailed look into the production of vodka, gin, absinthe and rye whisky, the guided tour will lead you through every step of the journey: “from grain to bottle”. TOAD pride themselves on sourcing and using heritage grain and being very hands on through the whole process. The founders spent a lot of money and a lot of man hours went into building their distill out of an old train engine.
The tour will finish with an opportunity to ask your guide questions as well as tasting session of a selection of TOAD’s craft spirits. The Oxford Artisan Distillery is located 3.5 kilometres outside Oxford’s centre. We recommend you allow around one and a half to two hours for this visit, including travel time.
Even if you aren’t a gin drinker, I would highly recommend a visit because their vodka and gin tastes so smooth and sweet, it makes it really easy to drink – take it from a converted gin drinker 😉
The Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Libraries are complex of libraries associated with the University of Oxford. Whereas touring around specific faculty libraries might be confusing, tourists are invited to visit the Old Bodleian Library and the Weston Library. Both are open daily all year round, and it is even possible to join a guided tour.
Within the Old Bodleian Library there are several spaces to visit: The Divinity School (the oldest teaching and examination room of the University), Convocation House, Chancellor’s Court, Duke Humfrey’s Library (most ancient of the rooms and the “heart” of the library), The Radcliffe Camera and the Proscholium (entrance hall built in the early 17th century). One last noteworthy spot is Old Schools Quadrangle from where you get a great view of the Old Library building. Bear in mind that some of the spaces are accessible by guided tour only!
The Old Bodleian Library and the Weston Library also host temporary art and cultural exhibitions as well as workshops, lectures and other types of public events. All exhibitions and lectures are free, fees apply for special events and courses. You can visit the exhibition galleries between 10 AM – 5 PM.
Oxford Castle and Prison
For a true taste of Oxford’s fascinating history, visit the city’s 1000-year-old castle and prison. Do not miss your chance to climb the Saxon St. George’s Tower (note that children under 5 years of age will not be permitted access). It is one of the oldest buildings in Oxford that gives you a stunning 360° panoramic view over Oxford’s historic city grounds.
Climb right down to the deep underground to explore the 900-year-old crypt – the only surviving remains of The Chapel of St. George. Oxford Castle and Prison’s historical Exhibition Wing is housing exhibitions that present the modern history of the site and its inmates.
Admission to the castle is by guided tour only, which is an experience in itself, as the tours are led by costumed character guides. You can buy single tickets (adult fee: £12.50, child age 5 – 15: £8.50) or combined ticket packages (for groups or families).
Oxford Castle and Prison are open daily; note that the last tour leaves at 4.20pm! If you want to be sure to secure your spot (especially if you will visit with a group or your family), make sure to place a reservation well in advance, don’t be disappointed when you arrive and are unable to get in.
Dinner in Oxford
For rich, flavourful food, colourful “coco-tails” and a broad selection of fine wines, head to The Coconut Tree. You will be amazed by Sri Lankan food and warm hospitality. It is your chance to try signature dishes with a dash of Ceylon piquancy.
Sri Lankan cuisine is naturally abundant in vegan and vegetarian dishes, so loads of plant-based options are available, and the recipes you are about to try at The Coconut Tree go generations back. Make sure to try Hoppers – bowl-shaped coconut milk pancakes served with a flavorful selection of Sri Lankan dips.
You can make a direct online reservation at The Coconut Tree’s website. Sunday through Thursday the kitchen closes at 10 PM and on Friday and Saturday, you can place your food order up until 11 PM.