One of the oldest buildings in the city, Oxford Castle is a large Norman medieval fortress on the western edge of the city. Originally a wooden structure, it was converted into a stone castle in the 11th century, before finding use as a prison which was finally closed in 1996.
Initially built as an urban castle with a large moat, the central mound was 18 metres high offering impressive views across the River Thames and Oxfordshire. The castle was then rebuilt again in the 12th and 13th centuries, adding a crypt, a ten-sided stone keep and a 16 metre-deep well to protect the castle from any sieges. The castle was extensively used during the 1140 civil war and again during the Barons’ War in 1215 before the castle fell into disrepair and was largely used as a criminal court, administrative building and a prison.
A partly ruined castle, the prison section has been redeveloped into a quirky hotel while much of the impressive castle has been lovingly refurbished and brought back to life over recent decades. Now a leading tourist attraction in the city, visitors can explore the 1,000-year-old building by climbing to the top of the St. George’s Tower (be warned, it’s a rather hefty 101 steps to the top and children under five aren’t allowed) and drinking in the stunning panoramic views across Oxford.
Tour guides in period costume will take you on an hour-long tour around the oldest parts of the castle including the 900-year-old crypt and the 18th-century Debtors’ Tower and D-Wing Prison, while also explaining the incredible history of the castle right up to the modern day. The tour guides give you a real sense of history, taking you down hidden passageways and exploring deep into the castle.
It’s open daily from 10am-4.20pm, while the gift shop, café and mound are open until 5.30pm.