Located an hour’s train ride from London, Oxford ranks among the most beautiful cities in England with its golden-hued colleges all arranged neatly along the River Cherwell. While visiting Oxford, you will be walking in the footsteps of Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Poets as you admire the architecture of Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor.
While there is no getting away from the fact that Oxford revolves around its prestigious university, the city boasts tons of attractions, many of which are free to visit. We think that you’re going to love our ten best free things to do in Oxford.
Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology
Built between 1678–1683, the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology was Britain’s first public museum. Housing everything from Egyptian mummies to contemporary art, the museum is a great way to take a trip through time. Families visiting the museum are invited to share an interactive exploration of some of the museum’s most intriguing objects by utilizing various multimedia activities. Enjoy sounds and stories while playing games and taking quizzes about the museum’s impressive collection.
Museum of Natural History
Founded as a museum for scientific study in 1860, the Oxford Museum of Natural History is a stunning example of neo-Gothic architecture. Amongst its permanent collection is the Oxfordshire dinosaurs, and the only soft tissue remains of the now-extinct dodo.
Pitt Rivers Museum
The Pitt Rivers Museum is another free-to-enter museum in Oxford that is well worth a visit. Founded by Augustus Pitt Rivers in 1884, the museum has a collection of approximately 500,000 items that have been donated from around the world. One of the museum’s highlights was a collection of Amazonian shrunken heads that have now been removed from display.
Featured in the Harry Potter films, as Hogwarts’ library, the Bodleian Library was a haven for such literary luminaries as Oscar Wilde, CS Lewis, and JRR Tolkien. To view the building in its entirety, the Bodleian Library offers paid tours. You can, however, visit Blackwell Hall and the exhibition rooms in the Weston Library for free.
Walk Around Christ Church Meadow
While visiting one of Oxford’s most prestigious colleges costs money, what you can do in Oxford for free is walk around Christ Church Meadow. Accessed via the War Memorial Garden, the meadow is a beautiful historic open space in the city’s heart. While there, walk down to the river, and watch the university rowers training for the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race. If you have children in tow, bring along some bread to feed the geese and ducks.
Evensong at an Oxford College
Some budget conscience visitors have said that one of the best free things to do in Oxford was getting a glimpse of the city’s beautiful universities without paying the usual £9.00 entry fee.
Not to be treated as a regular tourist activity, the colleges hold a religious service in their chapels each evening. Although it may not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, visitors attending the service are treated to the sound of choristers in an fascinating setting. Some colleges for Evensong are Christ Church, Magdalen, or New College. The service starts at 18:00 and lasts for around an hour.
Oxford’s Covered Market
One thing you may not think of as being a thing to do in Oxford for free is to go window shopping in the city’s famous covered market. With a history dating back to the 1770s, the covered market showcases the very best of local artisan food and drinks. The covered market can be accessed or through the Golden Cross on Cornmarket Street or directly from the High Street.
Tip: If it’s a lovely day, pick up something for lunch and head down to Christ Church Meadow for a picnic.
Named after English physician, academic, and politician, John Radcliffe is one of the most photographed locations in Oxford. Surrounded by Oxford University buildings, Radcliffe Square is also home to the Radcliffe Camera built in the mid-1700s to house the Radcliffe Science Library. Whenever you see a photo of Oxford, you can trust that the round Radcliffe Camera will likely appear in it somewhere.
Bridge of Sighs
Officially called Hertford Bridge, the Oxford Bridge of Sighs is a skyway joining two parts of Hertford College. Designed to resemble the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) in Venice. The bridge gained its name due to it being the last view of Venice that convicts saw before going to prison. Because of its distinctive appeal, the Hertford Bridge has become an Oxford landmark.
How to get to Oxford from London
Getting to Oxford by car
The M25, M4, and M40 each offer direct routes into Oxford.
There are regular trains from all major UK stations to Oxford. Driving from London, going via London Paddington to Oxford is the most direct route. Taking a bus from the city to Oxford station is recommended unless prepared to walk quite a distance. Trainline offers very competitive train tickets for such a journey, although a few third suppliers offer cheap promotions throughout the year.
Getting to Oxford by bus
Travelling by bus to Oxford is the cheapest option. Gloucester Green bus station or Oxford High Street are the bus tops to keep an eye open for.
There is also the Oxford Tube which is a bus service that travels directly to Oxford centre from the city of London.