What can I do in one day in Oxford?
One Day in Oxford
Renowned for its academic excellence, rich history, and grand architecture, Oxford is home to many wonderful sights and attractions. With so much on offer, you’d be forgiven for thinking a day trip to Oxford is only enough to scratch the surface. However, as a relatively small city with excellent transport connections, Oxford can be experienced in a day with a well-put-together plan and a curiosity to explore.
And now, with Oxford Park&Ride’s combined ticket, planning your day trip to Oxford has never been easier; for only £5, two adults and three children can enjoy return bus travel and up to 16 hours in the city.
In this article, we will outline many of our favourite activities in Oxford; from tours to museums and views to food, there are so many things to see in Oxford and so much you don’t want to miss. Whether you choose to use this as an itinerary or simply as inspiration, get prepared for a very busy day!
Take a Tour
City Sightseeing Oxford Bus Tour
Duration: approx. 60 minutes (one loop)
With its urban beauty and detailed history, it’s no surprise that Oxford has a variety of top-quality tours on offer, including an award-winning open-top hop-on hop-off bus tour operated by City Sightseeing Oxford. The bus tour has audio commentary in 14 languages and follows a single route of 20 bus stops near all major sights, including Oxford Castle and Prison, Christ Church, Magdalen Bridge, the Sheldonian Theatre, and the Ashmolean Museum. The flexibility to hop on and off for the duration of your ticket means you are free to explore Oxford attractions and the intricacies of the city as you please.
And don’t forget, you can make great savings with Park&Ride Oxford! Show a City Sightseeing Oxford ticket seller or driver a Park&Ride Oxford ticket within a month of its issue and you can enjoy a 10% discount on any tour (T&Cs apply – click here to find out more about this offer).
Oxford City Walking Tours
Duration: from 45 minutes
If you prefer walking, City Sightseeing Oxford operates a range of fantastic walking tours of varying lengths and difficulties:
- Stepping Through Oxford Tour (45 minutes)
- Town & Gown Walking Tour (90 minutes)
- Vox City Walks Oxford (unlimited for ticket duration)
- Pubs and Taverns Tour (75 minutes)
All official guided walking tours are assessed for quality and provided by highly trained and experienced guides to ensure you fully enjoy your day trip to Oxford.
Take a Guided Tour of Oxford Castle and Prison
Duration: approx. 60 minutes
Another alternative – or addition – is Oxford Castle and Prison, a fantastic destination for family fun close to the city centre. Admission is via a guided tour which provides access to the castle and its grounds, and a highly knowledgeable tour guide assuming a periodic role. On the tour, you will step inside 18th-century prison cells, descend into the candle-lit crypt, and climb St George’s Tower and the historic mound where you can marvel at the panoramic views of the city and locate other Oxford attractions.
Have a Tea Break
After climbing up and down all those stairs, you may want to recharge before continuing your action-packed adventure. Luckily for you, there are charming cafés dotted across the city that sell everything from pastries to paninis and smoothies to hot chocolates. As Oxford is a relatively small city with great character, there are so many quirky cafés within walking distance. Below are some of our favourites.
Tucked above a bicycle shop on St Michael’s Street, The Handle Bar is a 7-minute walk from Oxford Castle and Prison. The café stays true to its roots with cycling artefacts mounted all around, creating a unique and cosy atmosphere where everyone can enjoy artisan coffee, delicious drinks, snacks, breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Art Café is a 4-minute walk from Oxford Castle and Prison and is a great choice if going towards The Story Museum or St Aldate’s. Located on Bonn Square by the Westgate Shopping Centre, the café sets out to provide fresh, homemade food and give local artists a platform to exhibit their work.
Visit a Museum
Duration: approx. 90 minutes
A day trip to Oxford wouldn’t be complete without an educational visit to the museum. Owing to its historical significance and ties to the world-famous university, Oxford is home to a diverse range of museums that explore a variety of subjects, time periods, and cultures:
- Ashmolean Museum – tells human stories across cultures and time through some of the finest art and archaeological collections in the world.
- Museum of Oxford – tells the story of the city and its people.
- Oxford University Museum of Natural History – home to over seven million specimens, including the first scientifically described dinosaur (Megalosaurus bucklandii).
- Pitt Rivers Museum – also known as the University of Oxford’s Museum of Anthropology and World Archaeology.
- The Story Museum – celebrates stories in all forms and their enduring power to teach and delight.
All museums are highly accessible from Oxford City Centre or via the City Sightseeing Oxford Bus Tour:
- Ashmolean Museum – 7-minute walk, Stop 20.
- Museum of Oxford – 2-minute walk, Stop 7.
- Oxford University Museum of Natural History – 15-minute walk, Stop 12 or 15.
- Pitt Rivers Museum – 15-minute walk, Stop 12 or 15.
- The Story Museum – 4-minute walk, Stop 7.
Climb Carfax Tower
Duration: approx. 30 minutes
Following a trip to the museum, there is yet another opportunity for a fantastic view of the Oxford skyline. Standing 74 feet tall on Queen Street in the city centre, Carfax Tower is all that remains of the 12th-century St Martin’s Church after the main part was demolished to make more room for traffic in 1896. Those who climb its 99 steps will be rewarded with an amazing panoramic view of the city and will see why Oxford is known as the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’.
Have Lunch at the Covered Market
Having climbed hundreds of stairs and walked many miles, finding a spot for lunch is most likely the next item on your to-do list! At only a 3-minute walk from Carfax Tower and with over fifty specialist traders of goods and food, the Oxford Covered Market is the perfect place to try your luck. This cultural hub has delicious cuisine from all over the world, including France, Italy, Greece, and Lebanon.
After you’ve eaten, take a walk through the bustling alleys and browse the quirky family-run businesses and treat yourself to something special!
Explore Radcliffe Square and the Radcliffe Camera
Duration: approx. 40 minutes
Now that you are re-energised, it’s time for a very short walk to visit an unmissable icon of Oxford: the Radcliffe Camera.
Constructed in the 18th century and still in use as a working library, the Radcliffe Camera has become a staple landmark and is a must-see on your day trip to Oxford. Take time to explore the surrounding square and admire its architectural beauty, or step inside the Radcliffe Camera and experience part of the Bodleian Library complex where scholars have studied for centuries.
Escape the Rush of the City
Visit the Oxford Botanic Garden
Duration: approx. 75 minutes
After a day in the bustling city, escape to the tranquillity of the oldest botanic garden in the UK. Located by Stop 10 of the City Sightseeing Oxford Bus Tour route and only a short walk from Radcliffe Square, the Oxford Botanic Garden is home to over 5,000 different types of plants and provides a green oasis amid Oxford’s honey-coloured architecture. With a variety of guided tours and family activities, a visit to the Oxford Botanic Garden is fun for everyone.
Go Punting from the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse
Duration: approx. 60 minutes
If you’d rather relax on the water, Magdalen Bridge Boathouse is located down an unassuming cobbled track on the opposite side of the road to the Oxford Botanic Garden. From here, you can enjoy one of Oxford’s favourite pastimes: punting. Punts hold up to 5 people and can be rented for an hour or a day, with chauffer options available for an additional cost.
Travelling south on the river will take you past the Oxford Botanic Garden and through Christ Church Meadow towards St Hilda’s College Gardens or the River Thames depending on which path you choose. Alternatively, punting north will take you past Magdalen College Tower, the Angel and Greyhound meadows, Magdalen College gardens, and into the serene Oxfordshire countryside.
Find your New Favourite Meal
The perfect way to end you day trip to Oxford is with a delicious meal, but as there are so many fantastic options across the city, you may be spoilt for choice! Some of the best areas to try are:
- Cowley Road
- Gloucester Green and George Street
- Westgate Oxford
Cowley Road is located over The Plain near Magdalen Bridge, making it the ideal option after punting or visiting the Oxford Botanic Garden. It is well-connected to the city centre via many regular bus services such as the 1, 10, and city5.
As one of Oxford’s most diverse and multicultural areas, the variety of cuisines is unrivalled: American, Chinese, Greek, Moroccan, Thai, and so much more! Most of these restaurants are independent, making Cowley Road the perfect place to try something new.
For more information on the best restaurants on Cowley Road, click here.
Gloucester Green and George Street
Closer to the city centre, Gloucester Green and George Street have a variety of well-known chain restaurants so you can enjoy an affordable and tasty meal.
Popular restaurants in the area include:
Westgate Shopping Centre
Even closer to the city centre, Westgate Oxford has a range of large and small chain restaurants to try, as well as a food court offering cuisine from all over the world.