Oxford tourist attractions

Top Oxford sights

Thoughts of Oxford inevitably conjure up the university, revered as one of the world’s great academic institutions. The city’s skyline is dominated by its “dreaming spires”, while the streets and narrow lanes of its compact medieval heart form a dense maze lined with historic honey-stone buildings containing the university’s grand colleges. Its combination of workaday vitality with hallowed academia and thousands of students strolling its lanes makes Oxford one of Britain’s most appealing cities.

  1. Stroll around Christ Church College and the cathedral
  2. Rent a punt
  3. Visit the Pitt Rivers Museum
  4. Discover the Ashmolean Museum
  5. Marvel at the Boolean Library
  6. See St Mary the Virgin, the University Church
  7. Head to the Christ Church Meadow area

Harry Potter scenes, picturesque alleys, grand architecture and an impressive array of museums, Oxford is a wonderful city break.

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1. Stroll around Christ Church College and the cathedral

The largest and most imposing of Oxford’s colleges, Christ Church was founded by Cardinal Wolsey in 1524. Today, a great number of visitors come to view its grand dining hall and Great Staircase, which featured in the Harry Potter films - a firm favourite for little ones and cinema fanatics. The college chapel is in fact the city’s beautiful cathedral and stands as one of the top Oxford tourist attractions.

Best for: Grand architecture

While you’re there: If you’re looking to visit the colleges, plan your visit in advance since access may be restricted at exam time.

2. Rent a punt

Renting a punt - essentially a flat-bottomed Venetian-style gondola powered by a brave soul brandishing a pole - is one of the finest ways to experience Oxford. In Oxford, Magdalen Bridge Boathouse, on the High Street, rents punts, rowboats and pedalos. It’s perfect for a cruise downstream past the architectural splendours of the college Backs or a trip upstream to rural Grantchester. This is one of the best Oxford attractions, enjoy!

Best for: A unique way to see Oxford

While you’re there: Punting tours are available in Oxford - just ask the ubiquitous touts.

3. Visit the Pitt Rivers Museum

A few minutes’ walk north along Parks Road, and accessed through the Natural History Museum, the Pitt Rivers Museum is a treasure trove of anthropological miscellanea gathered from around the world by Victorian adventurers. Its fascinating collection includes displays of ceremonial masks, weaponry, tattooing implements, shrunken heads, body adornments and more.

Best for: An interesting museum

While you’re there: After all that exploring why not go to the Covered Market for a plethora of independent cafés to have lunch?

4. Discover the Ashmolean Museum

Five minutes’ walk west along Museum Road and south along St Giles is the mammoth Neoclassical Ashmolean Museum. Its extensive collections include Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian and Egyptian antiquities. Islamic, Indian, European and Chinese art, the world’s largest collection of Raphael drawings are all on display too.

Best for: Art

While you’re there: There is a priceless Stradivari “Messiah” violin dating from 1716 on display too.

5. Marvel at the Boolean Library

Just north of the High Street stands the Bodleian Library, the country’s second-largest copyright library, with a staggering 4000 books added every week. Tours take in the fifteenth-century Divinity School (Hogwarts’ infirmary in the Harry Potter films) and Duke Humphrey’s medieval library. This is one of the most rewarding Oxford sightseeing experiences.

Best for: A wonderful library

While you’re there: Extended tours include the circular Radcliffe Camera, a spectacular reading room with Britain’s third-largest dome.

6. See St Mary the Virgin, the University Church

South of the Radcliffe Camera, you can scale the spire of the University Church, St Mary the Virgin, on the High Street. Head here for fantastic panoramic views of central Oxford. If you're looking for Oxford holidays, make sure to book ahead if you’re visiting in summer. The city is popular with travellers during this time.

Best for: Views

While you’re there: Head to the Grove park nearby for an afternoon stroll.

7. Head to the Christ Church Meadow area

South of Christ Church, Christ Church Meadow offers scenic views and gentle walks - either east along Broad Walk to the River Cherwell or south along New Walk. From the Broad Walk, paths lead to Merton College founded in 1264 and home to Oxford’s first quad, the Mob Quad, as well as the oldest medieval library in use, where Tolkien wrote much of Lord of the Rings. Nearby Rose Lane emerges at the eastern end of the High Street opposite Magdalen College (pronounced “maudlin”), with a beautiful medieval chapel and cloisters.

Best for: A picturesque wander around

While you’re there: The gargoyles on the Magdalen College’s buttresses is said to have inspired the statues in The Chronicles of Narnia.

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