20 Must-Visit Attractions in Oxford

Stained glass window in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, England
Stained glass window in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, England | © Jorge Tutor / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Sarah Dawson
18 July 2019

From the glorious architecture to its fascinating history, Oxford is jam-packed with fantastic things to see and do. Planning a trip to the ‘city of dreaming spires’, but have no idea where to start? We’ve whittled it down to 20 of the very best attractions you really don’t want to miss.

Bodleian Library

Library, University, Building, School
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Interior of Bodleian Library
Interior of Bodleian Library | © JJFarq/Shutterstock
The main research library of the University of Oxford, the Bodleian is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and without a doubt one of the most beautiful. Sat proudly in Radcliffe Square, it’s one of the city’s most iconic landmarks.

University of Oxford Botanic Garden

Botanical Garden, University
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Magdalen College Tower, Viewed from Oxford Botanic Gardens, Oxford, England
Oxford Botanic Gardens, Oxford | © David Probett / Alamy Stock Photo
Founded in 1621, the Botanic Garden is a haven of tranquillity in the heart of the city centre. Beautiful herbaceous borders, vibrant glasshouses packed with incredible plants from around the world and colourful flowers make this celebration of nature a must-see.

Oxford Castle & Prison

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Step back in time with a unique guided tour around Oxford’s historic castle. Costumed characters reveal the interesting history behind the building, plus you have the chance to climb the Saxon St George’s Tower for a stunning 360-degree panoramic view of the city, as well as explore the ancient crypt and prison.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Museum, University
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Oxford University's Museum of Natural History
Oxford University's Museum of Natural History | © Jdedmond/WikiCommons
Inside this striking neo-Gothic building you’ll find the University’s captivating collections of geological and zoological specimens. There’s plenty here to keep all the family hooked, with highlights including the most complete remains of a Dodo in the world, and awe-inspiring dinosaur skeletons.

Keble College

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View of Keble College from Engineering Science Building, Oxford
View of Keble College from Engineering Science Building, Oxford | © Oxford Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo
One of the largest of the University’s colleges, Keble is instantly recognisable thanks to its distinctive, neo-Gothic, red-brick buildings. Explore the college and its grounds for yourself, then for a real taste of student life, stay in one of the student study rooms on a bed and breakfast basis.

Pitt Rivers Museum

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Internal view of the Natural History Museum, Oxford, England, UK.
Pitt Rivers (Natural History) Museum, Oxford | © Stephen Sykes / Alamy Stock Photo
This quirky museum is a real feast for the eyes, with over half a million objects and artefacts from around the world displayed in rows and rows of glass cabinets, on the walls and hanging from the ceiling. From Japanese Noh masks and Hawaiian feather cloaks to gruesome shrunken heads, there is so much to discover here you’ll want to keep coming back to uncover more.

Radcliffe Camera

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Radcliffe Camera, Oxford. Image shot 04/2011. Exact date unknown.
Radcliffe Camera | © foto-zone / Alamy Stock Photo
No trip to Oxford would be complete without taking in the grand architecture of the Radliffe Camera. Dominating the city’s skyline for centuries, the ‘Rad Cam’ was originally built to house the University’s Radcliffe Science Library and now serves as a reading room for the Bodleian Library.

University Church of St Mary the Virgin

Building, Church, University
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The University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford. Image shot 12/2011. Exact date unknown.
The University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford | © David Goodwin / Alamy Stock Photo
With its distinctive decorated spire and beautiful architecture, St Mary’s is one of Oxford’s most-loved buildings. A church has stood on that site since Anglo-Saxon times and was adopted as the first university building in the very early days of Oxford University. Take a trip up to the top of the 13th-century tower for unbeatable views across the heart of the city.

Ashmolean Museum

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Museum exterior
Museum exterior | © Ashmolean Museum
For a fantastic, free day out, head to the University of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. Here you can explore half a million years of art and archaeology spread out of five fascinating floors. With everything from Egyptian mummies to Uccello’s masterpiece, The Hunt in the Forest, you won’t run out of things to see!

University Parks

Park, Sports Center, University
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Bridge over [River Cherwell] in summer, [University Parks], Oxford, England, UK
Bridge over the river Cherwell, University Parks | © Chris Deeney / Alamy Stock Photo
Spread out of 70 acres, University Parks is a green oasis right in the heart of the city. With a great choice of walks, a stunning collection of trees and plants and plenty of open-space, it’s the perfect spot for enjoying a relaxed picnic and watching the world go by. Chances are you’ll be able to catch a game of cricket, lacrosse, football or even Quidditch – yep, you read that right!

Modern Art Oxford

Art Gallery
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Barbara Kruger Exhibition, Modern Art Oxford
Barbara Kruger Exhibition, Modern Art Oxford | © Elly Godfroy / Alamy Stock Photo
Established in 1965, Modern Art Oxford is the place to go for cutting-edge exhibitions of the very best international contemporary art. With an aim to make modern art accessible and engaging to all, it’s a breath of fresh air among the other more historic buildings and museums in the city.

Port Meadow

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Cooling off at Port Meadow, Oxford, UK.
Port Meadow, Oxford | © Anthony P Morris, Farmoor / Alamy Stock Photo
You wouldn’t expect to find a large stretch of ancient open meadow land in the city, but that’s precisely the charm of this tranquil slice of Oxford countryside. Take a walk through the wildflowers, past grazing horses and cattle, before stopping for a pint at the ever-popular 17th-century pub, The Perch.

The Covered Market

Market, Shopping Mall
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The Covered Market, Oxford
The Covered Market, Oxford | © CBCK/Shutterstock
Opened to the public in 1774, the Covered Market has been a hub of Oxford life ever since. Inside this striking building, you’ll find a fantastic mix of permanent stalls and shops selling all kinds of things. From fresh fruit and veg to jewellery, it’s all here. Take a wander around and soak up the lively atmosphere of this world-famous market.

Bridge of Sighs

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Bridge of Sighs
Bridge of Sighs | © David Ionut/Shutterstock
Officially named Hertford Bridge, but more commonly referred to as the Bridge of Sighs, this decorative skyway joins two parts of Hertford College, over New College Lane. It picked up its nickname due to the supposed similarity to the famous Bridge of Sighs in Venice, and is now a much-loved Oxford landmark and the site of many a selfie.

Christ Church

Cathedral, Church, University
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Christ Church
Christ Church | © Moomusician/Shutterstock
Arguably the most well-known of the colleges that make up Oxford University, Christ Church sits at the very heart of the city. Explore its rich history as you walk through Tom’s Quad, the Hall (which inspired Hogwart’s Great Hall in the Harry Potter films), the majestic cathedral and picturesque meadow.

Punting on the River Cherwell

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Punting on the River Cherwell | © Daisy Daisy/Shutterstock
Punting on the River Cherwell | © Daisy Daisy/Shutterstock
You can’t visit Oxford without giving punting a try. Hire a boat from the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse, pack a picnic and go for a punt down the scenic River Cherwell. It’s a quintessentially Oxford, timeless way to spend an afternoon – especially when the sun is shining!

The Sheldonian Theatre

Building, Theatre
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The Sheldonian Theatre
The Sheldonian Theatre | © Greir/Shutterstock
This breath-taking Grade I listed building, the first major design by world-famous architect Sir Christopher Wren, is where it all happens for Oxford University students. Inside these hallowed walls students are admitted to the university and receive their degree. The theatre also regularly holds classical music concerts, so treat yourself to tickets to really experience the grandeur of the place for yourself.

Blackwell’s Bookshop

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Blackwell's bookshop, 48-50 Broad Street, Oxford UK
Blackwell's bookshop, Oxford | © Nick Higham / Alamy Stock Photo
Wondering why a bookshop is on this list? Blackwell’s isn’t your typical bookshop! An integral part of University life, Blackwell’s is the biggest academic and specialist bookseller in the UK, stocking hundreds of thousands of titles. The famous Norrington Room boasts a whopping three miles (5km) of shelving, earning a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest single room selling books.

University of Oxford Merton College Chapel

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Merton College, one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford, Oxfordshire, England
Merton College | © travelbild / Alamy Stock Photo
There’s something very atmospheric about this beautiful 13th-century chapel. From the gorgeous Gothic exterior and enormous east window, to the absolutely magnificent organ – built in 2013 by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders and transported all the way from Iowa, America – the church is a visual delight.

Magdalen College

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Magdalen College
Magdalen College | © Doctor Jools/Shutterstock
Step into Magdalen College and you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. Walking around the atmospheric Hall, Chapel and Medieval Old Kitchen Bar will give you a glimpse into what it’s like to be a student at one of the world’s most famous universities.
These recommendations were updated on July 18, 2019 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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