Home to one of the world’s most elite academic institutions, Oxford is famous the world over. Beautifully built, rich with history, and only a 1hr 30 minute train journey from the Big Smoke – the city may be known for its prestigious university established back in the 12th century, but if you think Oxford is all straight-laced bookishness, think again. Oxford is a dynamic town with youth on its side and history at its back, ready to welcome in the curious tourist with open arms. So get inspired, with the 10 very best reasons to visit Oxford!
1. Study like a student 🤓
Oxford’s main research library, the Bodleian Library has been attracting intellectual admirers for decades and is a stand-out bit of Oxford architecture. It’s a sacred attraction for all bibliophiles and those with respect for the institution. And not only is it one of the oldest library in Europe, with over 12 million items, it is also the second biggest library in Britain (taking second place after the British Library in London.)
2. Get your dinosaur on 🐚
The wondrous neo-gothic building that is the Oxford University Museum of Natural History is a true Oxford wonder with an interior so stunning it’ll have even the most archeologically-illiterate appreciating the craftsmanship. Designed under the influence of John Ruskin’s writing on architecture, the museum has a large square court with a glass roof and intricate iron pillar support. It attracts over 670,000 visitors a year and is split into three main collections: the ‘Earth Collections’ covering the paleontology (if you watched FRIENDS, you’ll know what this means!) and the mineral/rock collections, the ‘Life Collections’ which include zoological and entomological collections, finished off with the mysterious ‘Archive Collections’.
3. The best 360 degree panoramic view 🔭
Located in Oxford’s medieval city centre, the Sheldonian Theatre was designed by Sir Christopher Wren – one of the most highly acclaimed English architects in history – who studied at none other than Oxford University. It was built between 1664 and 1669 and has more than stood the test of time. With its magnificent ceiling, painted by Robert Streater during the reign of King Charles II, this theatre packs a historical punch and is a great place to swing by or watch a performance. It’s also home to one of the best indoor 360 degree panoramic views of Oxford from its very own Cupola.
4. Have yourself a leisurely picnic in the park 🌲
A spring time necessity – the simple picnic. The Oxford University Parks, referred to locally as the University Parks, or just The Parks, is a large parkland area slightly northeast of the city centre and should be the number 1 for a warm afternoon. Offering an escape from the hustle and bustle of the student city, the Parks boast a wide choice of walks, some exceptionally photogenic trees and plants, as well as tonnes of space for informal games and that all important picnic.
5. Take a trip on the quirky side 🎨
Cowley Road, Oxford’s version of London’s infamous Brick Lane, is a hub for artistic talent and has a thrifty vibe like no where else in Oxford. Away from the sometimes stuffy academic spaces, it’s a quirky neighbourhood filled with energy, ethnic food shops, second hand shops, and has become known for the many painted murals. With such injection of art and colour, Cowley Road shows the art scene is very much alive in Oxford.
6. Dive into coffee culture (and play board games while you eat!) 🎲
Oxford is full of cafes – all different kinds to suite all different tastes. From organic delis to pub grub, fancy food to art-deco tea houses; Oxford has a big enough selection to keep you on your culinary toes. At Thirsty Meeples, sit down for a coffee and cake and a choice of over 2000 board games at your disposal. This board game cafe is the perfect (and only) Oxford spot where you can game the night away, so make sure you’re not in a hurry! Staff are always prepped to give advice on game rules and they serve so players need never abandon their table or their game.
7. Welcome in the spring 🌻
The University of Oxford Botanic Garden is the oldest botanic garden in Great Britain, and is one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world. Scientific in that, way back in 1621 when the garden was founded, this attraction was a physic garden, growing plants for medicinal research. Since then, the gardens are more preoccupied with giving the best visitor experience possible. Their glasshouses take you on an ‘around the world’ tour, with each cultivating plants from a different part of the globe. With frequent exhibitions and numerous informative display boards, the gardens are both pretty AND intelligent.
8. Soak up some meadow peace and quiet ⛲️
Port Meadow is nothing but a giant meadow beside the River Thames to the north and west of Oxford. However, for many people, Port Meadow is the undisputed most beautiful spot in Oxford. It’s a great destination for a walk, even better for a cycle, where you can ride past the river with the wind through your hair. Port Meadow has been left unploughed for at least 4000 years, and thankfully doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon. Travel along and stumble upon family picnics and happy dog walkers until you reach the gastro-pub, The Trout, where you can reward your fine country walk with a traditional pint by the riverside.
9. View some ‘jaws’ dropping street art 🐳
You have to see it to believe it, but on one unsuspecting rooftop in North East Oxford, you’ll find a life-size shark, dived headfirst through the roof tiles. This classic piece of Oxford street art first appeared on 9 August 1986, when local radio presenter Bill Heine commissioned the shark on his own house. Made of painted fibreglass, it was erected on the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and is said to be an artistic, political comment on nuclear arms. Causing controversy, the Oxford City Council tried to get it taken down, but in light of local support for the shark, the matter was taken to the central government, who allowed it to remain!
10. Release your inner Jackson Pollock 🖌
Modern Art Oxford is the best way to finish off a cultural trip to Oxford in true artsy style. With eccentric exhibitions; expect an up-to-date showcase of contemporary painting, sculpture, video-art and much more. There’s cafe with healthy, wholesome food and a shop with an impressive collection of contemporary art books for those looking to take the experience home with them. A little less contemporary, but just as fascinating, there is the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology (voted the #1 thing to do in Oxford on Trip Advisor). With its architectural Vatican-vibes, this museum is home to one of the best Egyptian archeology collections in the world and helpfully seek to provide very descriptive and concise information on the walls beside each artifact and collection, so you can come away uber-knowledgable. Covering all eras and all locations, don’t be surprised by how long you “accidentally” spend in there.