The University of Oxford, Blenheim Palace, pristine parks and gardens, and ancient riverside meadows are among the many Oxford tourist attractions. Whether you’re staying for a weekend, a week or you like it so much you want to move here, you’ll never run out of sights to see.
With its renowned university in the city centre, Oxford isn’t short of historic buildings. But the city has a history of its own beyond the dreaming spires, including one of the UK’s most magnificent palaces.
Most of the city’s historic buildings are part of the University of Oxford, as you might expect. From Radcliffe Square, where you’ll find the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin and All Souls College spires surrounding Radcliffe Camera, to several iconic buildings at Christ Church College over in St. Aldate’s, you’ll find many landmarks just by walking around.
Some will be familiar from TV shows and films, such as Downton Abbey, Lewis, Inspector Morse, Dr Strange and Harry Potter. But the history of this quaint city extends well beyond the university.
The oldest building in Oxford is the Saxon Tower of St. Michael at the North Gate, dating back to 1040. Originally the north gate of the old city walls, the church now sits amidst the city’s busiest shopping area on Cornmarket Street. Visit the church itself to find on display the cell door that the Oxford Martyrs were locked behind before being burned at the stake.
Speaking of the Martyrs, head to St. Giles’ and take a look at the Martyrs’ Memorial, a Gothic-era monument that commemorates the three 16th-century protestants who were tried for heresy during the English Reformation and burned at the stake on what is now Broad Street. The precise site is marked by a section of cobbled stones forming a cross.
The old city church of Oxford, which also marks the geographical city centre, is Carfax Tower. At the meeting of the High Street, Queen Street, St. Aldate’s and Cornmarket, Carfax’s name derives from the French word for crossroads. The tower is all that’s left of a 12th-century church. Standing 74 metres tall, no building in the city centre is allowed to be built any higher. For a couple of quid you can climb the 99 steps to the top of Carfax and enjoy one of the best views of the city’s famous skyline.
In various incarnations since the Norman times, Oxford Castle and Prison has sat on the western edge of the city centre, which now offers a range of educational events and family-friendly activities.
Just under 10 miles north of central Oxford, 20 minutes’ drive from our Witney hotel, is the stunning Blenheim Palace. Now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the palace and its grounds are one of the finest examples of English Baroque architecture. It also happens to be the birthplace and family home of Sir Winston Churchill – the only UK palace that isn’t home to a royal or a bishop. The building includes gilded state apartments, a mausoleum to the 1st Duke of Marlborough and a library designed by Sir Christopher Wren that contains collections of fine art. The park and gardens offer one the UK’s most magnificent walking spots, with over 2,000 acres of formal gardens, ancient oak woodland and lakeside paths to explore.
We’ve mentioned Blenheim Palace has splendid parkland to explore, but you can also find natural beauty in the city centre. From college gardens and woodland to riverside meadows, Oxford is a green and pleasant land.
There is no riverside stroll more pleasant than Port Meadow, stretching north from central Oxford to Wolvercote. Common land of international ecological and conservation significance, Port Meadow has hardly changed in its 4,000-year history. The site is protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Enjoy a peaceful walk along the River Thames, with roaming horses and cattle for company, and huge flocks of wading birds in the flooded plains. You can even start and end your walk at the charming pubs, The Perch and The Trout Inn.
Christ Church Meadow is another picturesque place to get away from bustling crowds, but closer to the centre. The meadow is actually part of Christ Church College grounds, where the River Cherwell meets the Thames. From the meadow, you can set off on a riverside walk south to Iffley, or stay put and have a picnic. From there it’s a short walk to the neighbouring University of Oxford Botanic Garden. Small but perfectly formed, the botanic garden is one of the oldest in the world and contains almost 6,000 varieties of plants.
Lots of other colleges have beautiful green spaces too, but they are more hidden. St. John’s College gardens have spectacular springtime crocus lawns, while Magdalen College has extensive gardens, parkland and riverside footpaths all open to the public. Some colleges ask for an entry fee, but you’ll be so far off the beaten track you might just forget you’re in a city centre.
On the northern edge of the city centre is University Parks, a peaceful spot in the heart of Oxford enjoyed by many locals. The paths are lined with exotic flowers and trees, the lawns are ideal places where you can lie back and enjoy a picnic or just people watch, there’s a duck pond and an attractive bridge over the River Cherwell. All this and still there are plenty of recreational space, including the cricket ground where the university team regularly turn out. You can catch other sports being played in the park too, even the university quidditch team calls University Parks home.
The largest park in the city centre is South Park, on the way to Headington in the east. South Park is often the setting for music and food festivals during the summer. At other times, it’s an idyllic place to take a walk. Go to the top of Headington Hill and you can take in wonderful views of the Oxford skyline from afar.
To the south, a 25-minute drive from our Didcot hotel, Harcourt Arboretum has 130 acres of woodland and landscaped grounds for you to explore. Another university establishment, the arboretum contains lots of rare and unusual plants and trees. But it’s the native bluebell woods in the spring that make the visit most worthwhile – that and the resident peacocks welcoming visitors at the front entrance.
Oxford’s main stadium is the 12,500-capacity Kassam Stadium in Cowley, home to football team Oxford United since 2001. After a brief spell of glory in the 80s, when they claimed a League Cup trophy, Oxford United have since dipped in and out of the professional leagues. They currently play in EFL League One after promotion from League Two in 2016. The car park isn’t the largest but plenty of bus services run from the city centre on match days.
Most mainstream music events take place at the O2 Academy Oxford on Cowley Road. Many bands at the top of their game have graced the stage, including rock and pop giants Radiohead, Coldplay, Muse, The Strokes, The Killers and Ed Sheeran.
There are plenty of reasons for visiting Oxford. Whether it's the world-famous university, Westgate shopping sprees, world-class museums, or the waistband-busting food scene, you can take your pick from four wonderful Oxford hotels with parking. Each one is an excellent base for exploring this most-fascinating of cities.
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