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Cruise down the river
Photograph: Get Your Guide

The 24 best things to do in Oxford right now

From leafy quads and world-class museums to a thriving arts and music scene, these are the best things to do in Oxford

Written by
Paula Akpan
Etain O’Carroll
Lauren Corona

The world-class museums. The scenic waterways and parks. The hallowed halls and libraries and corridors where Nobel Prize-winners, prime ministers and literary giants spent their formative years. Oxford is chock-full of brilliant things to see and do, and best of all, many of them are free to visit.

Sure, several of the most famous attractions – from punting and choir services to galleries filled with ancient treasures – have something to do with the city’s storied university. But alongside all the Oxbridge buzz, you’ll find a rich industrial past, meandering rivers crying out to be explored by kayak or paddleboard, and a strong arts and music scene that brings a little edge to this most conservative of cities. Read on for the best.

🏛️ The best museums in Oxford
🍴 The best restaurants in Oxford
🏨 The best hotels in Oxford

This guide was recently updated by Lauren Corona, a writer based in Oxford. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines

Things to see in Oxford

Tour the collections at the Ashmolean Museum
Photograph: N.M. Bear / Shutterstock

1. Tour the collections at the Ashmolean Museum

What is it? Britain’s oldest public museum, home to a collection that spans continents and cultures.

Why Go? A redevelopment turned this magnificent, neo-classical but once-stuffy museum into a modern, light-filled space packed with treasures. Choose a theme and delve into the history of Chinese porcelain, medieval musical instruments or European art. You’ll find works by Michelangelo, Raphael, Pissarro and Turner here, along with Samurai armour, a Stradvari violin, Japanese netsuke and everything in between.

Don’t Miss: The Ashmolean’s rooftop bar and restaurant offer a slick menu, great service and a bird’s eye view of the city.

Go behind-the-scenes on a University of Oxford tour
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Go behind-the-scenes on a University of Oxford tour

What is it? A behind-the-scenes tour of the university’s colleges, quads and libraries led by those who know it best – its students and alumni.

Why go? Didn’t make the cut for the UK’s most prestigious university? Don’t worry, you can still see its hallowed halls, hushed quads and candle-lit chapels on this walking tour that explores its history, ceremonies and weird traditions as well as offering a personal account of what it’s like to study here.

Marvel at baroque country pile Blenheim Palace
Photograph: Pete Seaward

3. Marvel at baroque country pile Blenheim Palace

What is it? A massive country house with landscaped formal gardens and extensive parkland. It was the birthplace of Winston Churchill and is now home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough as well as regular festivals and events.

Why go? Escape the city and get a glimpse of how the other half lives in this baroque pile in the Oxfordshire countryside. Although strictly speaking, it’s not a palace, its size and splendour are such that it could easily be. Tour the ostentatious State Rooms, see where Churchill was born, walk the parklands, lose yourself in the yew maze, and check out Ai Weiwei’s monumental Gilded Cage.

Don’t miss: Take the ‘Upstairs Tour’ for an exclusive peek at the private apartments of the Marlborough family and see where Charlie Chaplin, Bill Clinton and Sylvester Stallone once stayed.

Expand your brain at Pitt Rivers Museum
Photograph: Ian Wallman

4. Expand your brain at Pitt Rivers Museum

What is it? Oxford’s world-famous museum of archaeology and ethnography where you can discover everything from reindeer knickers and mummified cats to blowpipes and Japanese libation sticks.

Why go? It takes a minute for your eyes to adjust to the half light of the enormous tiered galleries of the Pitt Rivers Museum but once they do, you know you’ve arrived somewhere special. A vast and otherworldly collection of treasures from around the world packed into glass cases and dominated by a giant totem pole, it’s an armchair traveller’s delight and the place to find out about tribal rituals, ancient ceremonies and cultural beliefs across the globe.

Don’t miss: There’s so much to see here it’s hard to take it all in, but the body art and ornament section explores the history of beautification from head shaping and tooth sharpening to piercing and tattooing.


5. Check out a Divine Schism show

What is it? Divine Schism is an independent music promoter that puts on gigs at a range of music venues across Oxford.

Why go? Want to get a taste of the Oxford music scene that nurtured bands like Radiohead and Foals? This is where to head. You'll find local bands playing with up-and-coming acts from across the globe in small venues with a great atmosphere. There's something for a range of music fans, with everything from indie pop to folk to punk on the menu. You'll often find multiple shows a week to choose from. 

Cruise down the river
Photograph: Get Your Guide

6. Cruise down the river

What is it? A river trip past Oxford’s boathouses and meadows into bucolic English countryside. The same scenery, as it happens, that inspired ‘Alice in Wonderland’.

Why go? Like its academic rival Cambridge, Oxford is encircled by pastoral scenery. You could strap on your walking boots, or you could kick back and relax on board a boat that plies the same river Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell once floated down while befriending white rabbits, red queens and sleepy dormice.


What is it? Said to be Oxford’s oldest monument, this huge meadow is edged by the Thames and a popular outdoor haunt.

Why Go? Need some big sky views? Head for Port Meadow, an ancient grassland grazed by ponies and cattle and loved by walkers, picnickers, birders and photographers. Pick up a picnic in Jericho along the way, bring a blanket and sit back and relax.

Don’t Miss: It’s all good and well getting some fresh air here but you’ll need to freshen up with a drink in The Perch, an ancient thatched inn by the river with a gorgeous garden.

8. Eat brunch at Green Routes

What is it? A cute café with a vegetarian (mostly vegan) menu and excellent coffee from local coffee roastery Routes. 

Why go? Green Routes has a cracking brunch and lunch menu that's plant-based but won't disappoint meat eaters. With whitewashed walls and tons of plants, it's a trendy spot on the already trendy Magdalen Road. Here, you're just off vibrant Cowley Road, which lined with independent shops and great places to eat and drink, so the neighbourhood is well worth checking out too. 

Don't miss: The Number 39 Bap is ridiculously good, as are the pancakes. 

Get spell-bound on a Harry Potter locations tour
Photograph: Shutterstock

9. Get spell-bound on a Harry Potter locations tour

What is it? A small-group tour of the spellbinding Oxford locations used in the shooting of the Harry Potter films. 

Why go? Know right where the sorting hat would put you? Run into the wall at King’s Cross station? Need to know more? Tour Oxford’s streets and colleges to see the inspiration behind Hogwarts' great hall and Knockturn Alley and visit the real life Divinity School which was used as a backdrop for the Hogwarts infirmary and classroom scenes. Geek out with a Potter-mania quiz along the way and learn how life in Hogwarts compares to university life today.

10. Grab a pint at the Tap Social Taproom

What is it? A local brewery with a penchant for social justice, employing prisoners and prison-leavers, with a trendy taproom in Botley just outside of central Oxford.

Why go? Located a 30-minute walk or short bus ride from the station, in the Botley area of Oxford, Tap Social is a great chance to get away from the bustle of Oxford's busier parts and get the local experience. There's great beer on tap, both from Tap Social itself and other small breweries. You can grab top-notch pizza on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and make sure you check for its weekly events, from movie nights to  comedy and live music. 

Don't miss: The Market Tap, a smaller Tap Social taproom in Oxford's iconic covered market, if you don't want to venture too far out of the city centre. 

See the city from the water
Photograph: Shutterstock

11. See the city from the water

What is it? An Oxford rite of passage, and a great way to see the city from a different perspective. 

Why Go? Meandering along the river past college buildings and manicured parks is the quintessential way to see Oxford – especially if someone else is doing the punting. Sit back, relax, watch out for stray branches, and make sure you’re the one holding the Pimms and not the pole.

Don’t Miss: Steer clear of the main river where you’ll have to share the water with rowing eights, paddleboarders and fishermen, and stick to the backwaters instead. The best bet is to head up the Cherwell to the Victoria Arms for a pint and a picnic.

Get spooked on a theatrical ghost trail
Photograph: Get Your Guide

12. Get spooked on a theatrical ghost trail

What is it? An interactive, dramatic and ghoulish tour of Oxford's history with some spooky shenanigans thrown in.  

Why go? Possibly one of the most entertaining ways to while away an evening in Oxford, this walking tour is led by costumed actors who lay bare the city’s gruesome past and brutal murders, and conjure up the many spectres that haunt its streets. Hear stories of fallen cavalry and how Dead Man’s Walk got its name before ending up at one of Oxford's most famous pubs.

Travel the world with Oxford Botanic Gardens & Arboretum
Photograph: ReoromART /

13. Travel the world with Oxford Botanic Gardens & Arboretum

What is it? The UK’s oldest botanic garden and its 130 acres of woodland, which between them, house species from across the globe.

Why go? Established 400 years ago to grow plants for medicinal research, Oxford’s botanic gardens and giant glasshouses contain more than 6,000 types of plant including specimens used to treat cancer and heart complaints as well as carnivorous plants and tropical wonders.

Don’t miss: The Harcourt Arboretum, a ten-minute drive away, to see spring magnolias, rhododendrons and bluebells in full glory, or the autumnal glow of acers and redwoods.

See an indie film at Ultimate Picture Palace
Photograph: Ian Wallman

14. See an indie film at Ultimate Picture Palace

What is it? An old-school, independent cinema beloved by residents of East Oxford showing a mix of indie, classic and mainstream films.

Why go? Forget the corporate blandness of cinema chains and go instead to the Ultimate Picture Palace to watch either the latest Hollywood-does-indie film or a brilliant black-and-white classic. Sundays were made for this.

Attend candle-lit Evensong at Magdalen College
Photograph: IR Stone / Shutterstock

15. Attend candle-lit Evensong at Magdalen College

What is it? A 40-minute choral service that gives a sneak peek of college life as well as a chance to hear magnificent music.

Why Go? You don’t need to be religious or even musical to appreciate Evensong in an Oxford college chapel. The hushed atmosphere, classical architecture and solemn sense of purpose make an impression long before the first chord is struck. Once the organ gets going and the voices rise, you’ll find the hairs on your neck rising as you’re transported to a hgher spiritual ground.

Don’t Miss: Although many of the Oxford colleges allow members of the public to join Evensong services, Magdalen is known as one of the best.

Tour Oxford’s backwaters by kayak
Photograph: Oxford Kayak Tours

16. Tour Oxford’s backwaters by kayak

What is it? A four-hour backwater tour of the city.

Why go? Gliding along the Cherwell and Isis (as the Thames is known locally) you’ll get a totally different perspective on Oxford, sneaking around the back of college walls, peering into leafy greens and getting an engaging lowdown on the history of the city, its bathing places and riverine escapes as you go. The tours are suitable for complete beginners and offer the chance to leave the traffic and tourists behind and see views of the city and its colleges that many locals know nothing about.

Take a tour of The Oxford Artisan Distillery
Photograph: TOAD Oxford

17. Take a tour of The Oxford Artisan Distillery

What is it? Oxford’s first (legal) distillery with a suitably quirky edge, a link to medieval farming and an eye on the future.

Why go? To sip the award-winning spirits of course – vodka, gin and rye whiskey made from heritage grains rescued from a medieval thatched roof and now farmed locally. Follow their journey from seed to still to bottle, hear about ancient methods of farming, see the handmade custom stills Nautilus and Nemo, and savour how it all comes together in silky-smooth spirits with distinctive flavours.

Don’t miss: The distillery’s garden bar sits at the highest point in hilly South Park. Come for a weekend drink and walk the park for views down over the city. 

Follow in Alice’s footsteps at Christ Church
Photograph: e x p o s e/Shutterstock

18. Follow in Alice’s footsteps at Christ Church

What is it? Oxford’s largest and grandest college, inspiration for Hogwarts and home of Oxford’s cathedral.

Why go? If the magnificent buildings aren’t enough to draw you in, the history of Christ Church should entice you whether you’re a fan of politics, philosophy, science or literature. A quick look at the alumni list reads like a who’s who of world leaders, writers and thinkers. Most of all, though, it’s the connection to ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Harry Potter’ that are worth exploring.

Don’t miss: Visit the Great Hall to see the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s rabbit hole (a hidden door used by the dean when late for dinner), Alice’s elongated neck (the long-necked firedogs) and portrait of Henry VIII (which inspired the Queen of Hearts).


What is it? A magical museum celebrating storytelling from around the world as well as offering the perfect introduction to Oxford’s literary history.

Why go? To walk through a wardrobe door into Narnia, travel between story worlds, rediscover your favourite book characters and explore an enchanted library where you can wander between shelves and find yourself inside a story. Hands-on, family fun that will transport you into your favourite tales and introduce you to plenty more.

Don’t miss: The museum hosts loads of interesting talks, events and performances, as well as regular workshops, a comic club and adult-only nights of fairy tales for grown-ups.  

What is it? Oxford’s historic castle and prison spans 1,000 years of history and tales of murder, romance, escape and execution.

Why go? It was a grisly lot being a prisoner in Oxford. Between the corrupt warders, plagues of vermin and merciless treatment, it’s no wonder escape attempts were regular. Learn about it all, and the history of the city’s Norman castle, or join a ghost hunt to flush out some of the prison’s former inmates.

Don’t miss: Nip around the side of the prison for a drink in the former visitor’s room, now the bar of a plush Malmaison hotel.


What is it? One of the UK’s leading contemporary art galleries showing a range of bold, temporary exhibitions by international heavyweights.

Why Go? Small enough for a quick visit but ambitious enough to pull in big names in the art world such as Anish Kapoor and Tracey Emin, MAO rarely disappoints. Its progressive programming and extensive range of workshops and participatory or educational events brings great art to the public in the most accessible ways.

Don’t Miss: The gallery runs a series of workshops alongside its shows, many aimed at children and families. Check out their events guide to see how you can get involved.

What is it? The pub/music venue where Radiohead first performed a gig, and a mini-mecca for fans of alternative ’90s bands.

Why go? Oxford is home to many great pubs, but the Jericho Tavern is one of the most famous – thanks largely to its connection to various bands who took their baby steps in the late 80s/early 90s. Radiohead performed here under the (not-so-good) name of ‘On a Friday’ and Supergrass were signed shortly after gracing the Jericho Tavern stage.

Satisfy your sweet tooth at G&D’s ice-cream cafés
Photograph: Vicky Jirayu /

23. Satisfy your sweet tooth at G&D’s ice-cream cafés

What is it? An Oxford institution, these three independent cafés serve the city’s best ice cream, bagels and brownies.

Why go? Proudly independent, locally based and making all deliveries by bike, G&D’s has the feel-good factor as well as scrumptious handmade bakes and ice creams that have earned it generations of loyal followers. Along with sweet treats, you’ll need to be game for cow-themed competitions and hopefully, in time, a return to late-night openings to rival any kebab van.

Follow in the footsteps of Inspector Morse
Photograph: Shutterstock

24. Follow in the footsteps of Inspector Morse

What is it? A tour of the Oxford locations – pubs, colleges and streets – familiar to any fan of the Colin Dexter detective series Morse, Lewis and Endeavour.

Why go? If neither Hogwarts nor Narnia wet your whistle, then this might be the ticket for you. This tour will take you around the areas Inspector Morse frequented when trying to puzzle his way out of a case. Post-walk pint of ale optional, but probably a must.

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