This post will be sharing 15 iconic places to visit in Oxford on a day trip.
For my third trip this Autumn, I decided to go down South to visit the one and only Oxford City. I had previously planned to spend two days there but I couldn’t for the life of me find affordable accommodation to stay. So, I went into the Trainline app to see the distance between Manchester and Oxford. Thankfully, it was under three hours so I figured I could make the trip in a day. The worst that could happen is that I would have to come back some other time.
I’m not sure there’s anyone that doesn’t know about the iconic Oxford University. I’ve been curious about this institution literally all my life and I was incredibly ecstatic to be able to visit and see the university for myself. Asides from the congestion from the students which tried to dampen my trip, Oxford city did not disappoint. It was just bad timing on my end.
I spent an entire day in Oxford without running out of things to do and I’m here to share how it all went down.
Getting to Oxford from Manchester
Since it was going to be a long day and Oxford is packed with a lot of attractions, I made sure I set out as early as 8am so that I could get there before noon. That turned out to be the best decision. Even though next time, I’ll probably leave at 6am as we’re having shorter days and longer nights these days.
As always, I booked my ticket for a steal on Trainline a few days ago. With my 26-30 railcard, I was able to save some coins which made my train ticket even cheaper.
For less than £50, I get a return ticket from Manchester Piccadilly to Oxford which took about an average of 2 hrs 45 mins each. Although, it took longer on my back because there was a slight delay. I arrived at Oxford before noon and immediately found my way to the City Centre which I usually do.
Here’s a walking tour to help you navigate the city centre:
Here are 14 Places To Visit In Oxford As A Solo Traveller
Now, my main goal was to visit the Oxford University campus and its surrounding areas. It wasn’t until I got there that I discovered that there’s no central campus. Instead, the institution is split into 39 independent colleges that are scattered all over the city centre. Obviously, I wasn’t about to visit all colleges as I only had one day. So, I just walked as far as my feet could take me while hitting a few landmarks in the process.
Check out the Top 10 Oxford Colleges You Must Visit.
Just like York, the city is a bit congested and centralized. Every other building is a landmark and as such, you can hit about 10 landmarks in a very short time. Although, it is very easy to get carried away because there’s just so much to see and do.
But for the purpose of this article, I’m gonna categorize these attractions which are mostly part of the Oxford University into groups so it’s easier to understand. All attractions are free unless otherwise stated.
These are a collection of 28 libraries that serve the University of Oxford. When combined together, they are the second-largest library in the United Kingdom after the British Library. In total, they currently hold about 13 million printed items. I was able to stop by three of them including;
This is part of the Bodleian academic libraries of the University of Oxford. It stands completely unmissable on the corner of Broad Street. I had passed by it a few times until my way back when I realized that it is an actual landmark and part of the university. This is because the building was refurbished in 2015 so it looks pretty recent compared to the rest.
There’s no way I couldn’t stop by the Bodleian Library; the main research library of the University of Oxford. Thankfully, the building itself was open to the public via the courtyard so I could go in and just marvel at its excellence. Over the centuries the library has expanded to occupy five buildings. All of which are landmarks on their own.
Just behind the main Bodleian Library is the Radcliffe Camera, an absolutely stunning unmissable circular library. The architecture is simply outstanding in the midst of the university buildings. I really wish it was open to the public but unfortunately you have to be a member of the library to go in. The building houses English, History and Theology books.
The next category of places to visit in Oxford is museums. I mean, are you in England if you don’t see a minimum of five museums in one city? I think not. The university has six museums and I was able to stop by two including one other external museum.
History of Science Museum
This is the world’s first purpose-built museum building which also happens to be open to the public. As the name implies, it has a huge collection of scientific instruments from the Middle Ages up until the 19th century. That is the coolest thing ever if you ask me. In fact, did you know that the museum has one of the most iconic objects which is Einstein’s Blackboard which was used by Albert Einstein when he lectured at Oxford? So cool!
Unfortunately, I got here when they were about to close. But it was so cool to discover that it is the world’s second university museum as well as Britain’s first public museum. It houses huge collections of archaeological specimens and fine art. Entry is free asides from specific exhibitions.
The Story Museum (Paid)
This was such a cute and unmissable family-friendly museum I stumbled on my way to the Christ Church Cathedral. They have a lot of interactive child-friendly exhibitions which kids will find exciting. Book your tickets here.
I was only able to stop by two cathedrals because I was pressed for time. As always, I wasn’t disappointed.
University Church of St. Mary the Virgin (Paid)
Right in the heart of Oxford, in the university premises is the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. I didn’t even know that it was a cathedral because its outdoor cafe was buzzing with people. But the signage managed to give it away. As a result of its proximity to the university, it was automatically adopted and became the first building of Oxford University for lectures and convocations. For only £5, you can see one of the best views of Oxford city from the tower. Book your tickets here.
Christ Church Catherdral (Paid)
One of the most iconic and must-see places to visit in Oxford is the medieval Christ Church Cathedral. It doubles as the official chapel of the Christ Church college; one of the largest and wealthiest colleges of the University of Oxford. While it’s not free to the public, you can still enjoy some scenery by walking around the Christ Church Meadow. Book your tickets here.
Other Miscellaneous Attractions
After a bit of back and forth and satisfying some of my curiosities, I decided to wander away from the university premises. Here are some interesting attractions I discovered along the way.
The Sheldonian Theatre (Paid)
Another core building is the Sheldonian Theatre which is the ceremonial home of the Unversity of Oxford. It plays host to all kinds of events including weddings, meetings, lectures and concerts. Book your tickets here.
The Covered Market
Just behind the University is the Covered Market, a historic market established in 1774 in a guise to organize the stalls on the main street of Oxford. Which makes sense because the city welcomes visitors from all spheres of life. The last thing they would want to do is to give visitors a wrong impression of the city. A quick walk around the market shows how the traders are forced to keep their stalls neat and tidy at all times. It houses all sorts of shops including food retailers, butchers, gift shops and bakeries.
Carfax Tower (Paid)
This is the remains of the official city church of Oxford from the 13th century. The location of the church is bound to affect traffic in some way. It’s no wonder that in 1876, part of it was demolished. For only £3, you can climb the 99 steps of the tower to soak in the skyline of Oxford city. Book your tickets here.
Westgate Shopping Centre
There’s nothing like an ultra-modern shopping centre in a medieval city. Of course, I had to stop by to see some of the high street brands with outlets in Oxford. I took a short break here, grabbed some refreshments and got a new lipstick from the MAC store before checking out the rooftop bars and dining. I used that excuse to get a bird’s eye view of Oxford.
Oxford Castle & Prison
One of the must-see places to visit in Oxford is the partly ruined 1000-year-old Oxford Castle and Prison. Unlike other castles which are usually located on the outskirts of the city, this was surprising because it is situated near the Westgate Shopping Centre by the city centre. It wasn’t until I got there that I realized why this is the case. It is partly ruined hence it isn’t as large as it once was. Still, it was nice to take a self-guided tour around the remains of this former Castle and Prison now used as a hotel and tourist attraction.
Modern Art Oxford
I thought I wasn’t going to see any art galleries at all in Oxford until I discovered this contemporary art gallery on my way to the Christ Church Cathedral. So, if art is your thing, there have a number of modern art and contemporary exhibitions all the time. Make sure you check their websites to see what’s on.
You can either decide to stop by the Oxford Canal on your way to or back from the city centre. Either, that serene walk along the canal is the perfect break away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
Best Time to Visit Oxford
As you can tell, Oxford is a university city which means you’ll always find students swarming around. In my experience, this is not the best time to visit the city. As someone who also lives in a University city, the presence or lack thereof of students can make or mar your experience. I honestly don’t know how I forgot that the term is currently in session at Oxford. You can imagine how incredibly busy it was. As such, I didn’t enjoy it to the fullest. Nevertheless, next time I won’t be making that mistake anymore.
Oxford university terms are pretty short as they last only eight weeks. So, your goal is to visit in between those terms when the students are on break and the city is a bit quieter. Their terms are as follows;
- Spring Term aka Hilary from mid-January to mid-March.
- Summer Term aka Trinity from end of April to mid-June.
- Autumn Term aka Michealmus from early October to early December.
So the best times to visit Oxford are;
- Mid-March to Mid-April.
- Mid-June to End of September.
- Mid Decemeber to Early January.
To avoid the Tourists crowd, you’ll want to avoid going during the Summer and just go during the Spring or Autumn.
I hope you have enjoyed this post on 14 iconic places to visit in Oxford. As you can see, one day is nearly not enough to explore this stunning city. If you really want to enjoy this city, I suggest you plan to stay for one or two weeks.