Oxford really is the perfect day trip material!
Chock full of historical sights, cultural gems, quaint watering holes and more than a snippet of quintessential English countryside, the compactness and cosyness of Oxford means you really can condense this all down into a day.
Indeed this city has more than enough going on to occupy you, but is also small enough to render seeing the best of it comfortable within 24 hours.
And given Oxford’s proximity to London, Bristol, Bath, Reading and several other UK cities, it’s good to know that getting there is also quick and easy, only adding to the day trip dreaminess!
So if you’re considering a top UK excursion that packs in some of England’s best qualities, look no further than an Oxford day trip – here’s the only guide you’ll ever need!
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My walking tour in Oxford was sponsored by I Love Oxford Waking Tours but, as always, all views are my own.
This page contains affiliate links meaning Big World Small Pockets may receive a small commission on any purchases at no extra cost to you.
Why an Oxford Day Trip?
I mean, the real question here is why not, because seriously Oxford might be small, but it crams a heck of a lot in!
First up, it’s a city, so you get to tick the Cathedral box. Plus there’s a castle and a heck of a lot of other churches to boot!
Next, this city is so jammed full of epic history that it’s really hard to top the UK over.
From classic colleges to the students that frequented them, Oxford connections lie so close to the heart of many of England’s greatest historical, scientific and political accounts and achievements, that it’s pretty impressive. And, of course, such connections continue to this day.
After all, this city is home to one of the country’s finest universities and some the world’s greatest minds have been educated here.
And this links nicely into the cultural aspect, especially the literary connections of Oxford, from C.S. Lewis to J.R.R. Tolkein, J.K Rowling to Lewis Carroll, means this city is home to some of the most iconic writers the UK can lay claim to.
And with all this history and culture scattered around the place, there’s also a heck of a lot of tours you can take, which make accessing the city’s best bits as part of a day trip incredibly easy.
Add in the great restaurants, pubs and cafes this city has, not to mention the wonderful bookstores and lively arts venues, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a good old day!
And that’s before you get the chance to lounge by the river, roll out a picnic mat on a college green or experience a famous Oxford river punt too.
I mean really, what isn’t to love about an Oxford day trip? Especially if you’re looking for something that screams classic oldy-worldly England!
Getting to Oxford
Now that I’ve hopefully convinced you why you should make an Oxford day trip, the next thing to tell you about is how to do that.
I’m going to give these options from London, as I think that’s simply the place most people are looking to day trip from, but really the advice could apply to wherever in the UK you’re trying to get to Oxford from.
The first option is the train – the quickest, easiest, greenest and fastest route.
Ok, it’s not always the cheapest, but booked in advance you can certainly pick up some bargains.
As always, I use Trainline to book all my train travel in the UK – they make comparing prices, times and schedules so easy, Plus I love how you can save all your eTickets in their handy app.
For those with smaller pockets, comme moi, it’s good to know that if you are booking last minute, there is a cheaper option than the train if you’re looking to enjoy an Oxford day trip.
A little bit longer than the rail option, but not by much, catching a bus to Oxford can be a great option for us budget travellers.
National Express (also bookable through Trainline) run direct services to Oxford from London, as well as various other cities across the UK and prices start from £9.
From London, National Express buses depart from Victoria Coach Station.
Otherwise, if you are in London, the Oxford Tube, a super regular and direct service, with prices that also start from £9, runs from London Victoria station too. This is a very efficient and cost-effective bus option as well.
Of course, you can also drive to Oxford for your day trip.
If you don’t have your own vehicle, check out Thrifty Car Hire, who I highly recommend.
Hiring a car can be cost-effective if you’re travelling with mates and is especially useful if you’re heading on after your Oxford day trip, perhaps to the Cotswolds or another more rural destination.
Don’t forget you’ll likely need to pay for parking in Oxford too.
If you’re looking for the cheapest parking near the city, then your best bet is the Park and Ride scheme, which will cost you less than £5 for the parking space and the bus into the centre.
Getting Around Oxford
As discussed, Oxford is super small for a city and the centre where most visitors tend to congregate is super compact.
As such, getting around using your own 2 feet is ideal.
You can use Google maps and easily navigate yourself around Oxford, but to be honest, I really recommend a good walking tour if you truly want to learn about the history of this city and to know more about all the small, quirky bits and pieces.
And I highly recommend Visit Oxford Tours, as I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon walking tour of the city I experienced with them.
Led by a former student, I learnt so much in these few hours and covered almost all the city, that I really felt it was the perfect way to enjoy an Oxford day trip to the max.
The other main way to enjoy getting around Oxford is via 2 wheels.
Yes this the cycle capital of the UK and everywhere you go you will see people on bikes.
Bike hire is available across the city, or you can even enjoy a cycling tour of the city too if you prefer.
Getting around a bit faster on 2 wheels will also give you the chance to get out of the city a little more and explore some of the countryside around if that’s what you’re into.
Thankfully, Oxfordshire is very flat!
You can also use the local bus service to scoot around Oxford.
Or there is an Oxford Bus Sightseeing Tour, care of a classic open-deck bus, you can try if you think you’re not up to the walking or cycling!
Top 15 Things to Do in Oxford
And now we come to the big question – what to do on an Oxford day trip!
Well, where do I begin!
We’ve already talked about some of the things I suggest you do, namely experience a walking or cycling half day tour – both these are great ways to get acquainted and up to speed with the city if you only have a day there.
Honestly, you’ll learn and see so much during one of these that you’ll really feel you got your money’s worth!
After that, if you still have time, or if you’re the sort of person who isn’t into tours, you can explore the city independently!
Here’s my pick of the bunch….
#1 Hit up the Colleges
There’s so many pretty ones to choose and from wandering the college greens to exploring the iconic rooms they have, this is definitely one of the best things to do in Oxford.
However, the College can be pricey.
Indeed each college has its own entrance fee, and some of them can be quite hefty, so do your research if your budget is small!
In this vein, it’s good to know that Worcester College is free!
Christchurch meadow is another great free college space to head for. There’s plenty of duck to feed there too!
#2 Check out Radcliffe Camera
A great free thing to do on your Oxford day trip, the Radcliffe Camera is something of the heart of historic Oxford.
Essentially a historic library and archive, the recognisable architectural structure of this building, with its 360 degree properties, makes it hard to miss,
You can get some stunning snaps here (and of the colleges and the stunning Medieval buildings around) even if you’re not allowed in.
Also nearby is St Mary’s, the tower of which you can and should climb.
#3 Snap Bodleian Library
Another library that you can and should snap in Oxford to keep up with the classic historic vibes, is the Bodleian Library.
Something of an Oxford icon too, this place should not be missed on your day trip itinerary.
#4 Try Punting
An absolute Oxbridge classic, there’s no way you can come on an Oxford day trip and not experience a spot of punting!
Whether you choose to hire a boat and give it a go yourself (FYI, it’s not as easy as it looks), or pay for your own experienced punter, the choice is yours.
Alternatively, hiring a pedalo and cruising the river that way can be a good middle ground.
#5 Visit the Botanical Gardens
One of Oxford’s top sights, there’s no doubt a stroll through these beautiful gardens is well worth an hour of your day trip.
#6 Go in Oxford Castle
Ditto with Oxford Castle!
While this is a short walk out of the main centre of the College action, and certainly not as grand as some of England’s big old other castles, it’s still a must-see during your time here.
#7 Climb the Saxon Tower
And carrying on the historical vibes, another great landmark to check out during your time in Oxford is the area around the old North Gate to the city.
Here, along Ship Street, the original Medieval buildings are incredible.
Don’t miss a trip inside St Mary’s Church too (free and boasting some amazing stained glass windows), but best of all, is the climb up the Saxon Tower for a great lookout over this part of Oxford.
It’s over 1000 years old!
#8 Learn about the Bridge of Sighs
You don’t have to head to the iconic Bridge of Sighs to learn why a strange bridge came to be positioned over a street in Oxford.
The answer is because some College students who went to Venice loved it so much they wanted to replicate one of the bridges between 2 halves of their College back in Oxford.
The 2 halves just happened to have a road between them!
But besides the tale, you should go to the Bridge of Sighs anyway – it’s def worth a visit (and a snap!)!
#9 Enjoy Ashmolean Museum
There a stack of museums to visit in Oxford and with all the colleges and libraries and churches too, you can quickly overdo it!
So why not just pick one?
I recommend the Ashmolean Museum – centrally located, it’s free to enter and has not only a historic backstory (it was founded in 1683) but contains some great art and archaeological collections.
#10 Peruse the Bookshops
And if you’re into museums, you can’t miss the bookshops too!
There’s so many in Oxford, especially independent ones which date back many years, that you could get lost in there for ages… or at least I could.
Founded in 1879, Blackwells of Oxford is the largest academic and specialist bookseller in the UK and is a must for book-lovers everywhere!
#11 Drink a Pint
And right next door to Blackwells (as the above photo testifies) is a pub.
In fact, this sentence could be translated to pretty much anywhere in Oxford.
There’s so many pubs in this city, you’re always pretty much next door to one!
As such, hitting up at least one of them is definitely one of the best things to do in Oxford.
My personal recommendation would be the Turf Tavern, with so many past famous punters, it’s hard to beat!
#12 Relax in a Café
And while we’re on the food and drink combo, you’ve definitely got to try a few lovely cafes while you’re in Oxford too… they’re almost as plentiful as the pubs!
My favourite has to be Café in the Vaults – set in a historic building with a view of the Radcliffe Camera and offering oat-milk flat whites, it’s hard to beat!
#13 Eat at the Covered Market
Oxford’s Covered Market is another great spot to grab a bite – with lots of independent traders in a charming setting, it’s a great spot to enjoy Oxford’s ambience and local foodie scene.
#14 Explore Cowley Road
And yet another great spot to get food in Oxford, as well as pick up the younger, slightly more alternative vibes this city has to offer, is to head to the Cowley Road area.
Just slightly out of Oxford’s city centre, this place has a real local feel and a lot of fun shops and eateries to explore.
#15 Take a Stroll
And finally, one of the best things to do in Oxford, especially if you do plan to extend your time here beyond a day trip, is to enjoy a stroll in the gorgeous countryside surrounding the city.
But you don’t have to go far and can easily squeeze this into a day trip too if you have a full day too.
Top picks include the walk along the Thames Tow Path from Oxford to Abingdon (which is the setting for Wind in the Willows) as well as the lovely stroll you can enjoy in Port Meadow.
With a bit longer, the nearby Chiltern Hills (an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) means it’s very possible to enjoy a stretch of the Thames Path.
I can highly recommend the Goring to Pangbourne section which is near Oxford.
Otherwise, the area around the historic market town of Berkhamsted is also lovely with ancient castle ruins, great walks, a vibrant modern community and some lovely pubs set along the canal!
Alternatively, you can nip the other way into the Cotswolds (another Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and check out the quaint villages of Chipping North, Stow-on-the-Wold and Moreton-in-Marsh as well as the walks around them too.
Get some great ideas in this ideal Cotswold itinerary I wrote.
What to Pack for an Oxford Day Trip
A key part in any good day trip recipe is packing right, so here’s my list of the top 5 packing essentials you shouldn’t head to this city without.
#1 A Good Camera – No doubt you’re going to be snapping like crazy in this amazing city and need to ensure you have a good camera to do the place justice. I love my Sony A6000, which is light, compact and great for travel.
#2 Decent Walking Shoes – No point coming this far and not being able to enjoy a walking or cycling around the lanes and colleges of Oxford. Get prepared therefore and ensure you have a decent pair of walking shoes – these cross trainers from New Balance are ideal (and totally stylish) for the job.
#3 Light Waterproof Jacket – Whatever the time of year, you have to remember this is England after all – a country in which the heavens can open at any point! Don’t get caught out therefore and ensure you have a good lightweight and waterproof jacket with you. This North Face one is perfect.
#4 Compact Hiking Day Pack – I never go on any day trip without a sturdy backpack to ensure I’ve got room to take everything I need and that the weight is equally distributed across my back and shoulders. This super featherweight one from Marmot is my go-to, because it folds down to nothing and is water-resistant.
#5 Picnic Rug – And finally, I would never head off on an Oxford day trip without a good picnic blanket! Perfect for spreading out across any College Green, or along the banks of the river, this one is great because it has a waterproof bottom and rolls up nicely so you can easily carry it.
Oxford Day Trips Costs
The main costs you have to factor into your Oxford day trip are:
- Price for return travel
- Costs of any tours
- Expense of any College entrance fees
Obviously all 5 of these variables will alter depending how you choose to structure your Oxford day trip and where you’re travelling from.
The last 3 will depend greatly on your much you want to indulgence!
As a budget travel baseline however, I’d allow for the following minimum costs:
- Return Bus Tickets from London = £18
- Half Day Walking Tour with I Love Oxford Walking Tour = £20
- Entrance to one Iconic College = £12
- Coffee & Cake = £5
The minimum total for a budget Oxford day trip is therefore around £55.
Not bad for a day in one of England’s most iconic cities!
You can obviously keep costs low by bringing your own snacks and by not taking a tour or paying to get into a single college. But in this instance, I’d question if you’re really going to get the value of a day trip at all!
Want to Stay the Night?
If budget is less of an issue however, or you feel like splurging and extending your Oxford day trip, then rest assured there’s plenty of places to stay overnight in this city, whatever your budget.
Here’s my pick of the bunch…
Budget: Central Backpackers Oxford
Mid-Range: Royal Oxford Hotel
Luxury: The George Street Hotel
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So there you have it, the only Oxford day trip guide you’ll ever need!
Did I miss anything out?
Do let me know in the comments box below so we can help fellow Oxford day trippers out!
2 thoughts on “Epic Oxford Day Trip Guide: Only 1 You Need!”
This is so helpful. I’ve only been to Oxford once for a festival, and I didn’t get to explore at all. I only live in Bristol so it’s easy to get to but it’s just one of those places I’ve never been to! I’m definitely going to visit soon though.
Ha ha Becky, it was totally one of those places I shamefully hadn’t been to either – despite having spent many a year in London! Feels good to have ticked it off the list now! Hope you can get there soon, it really is a delightful day trip and so easy from Bristol as you know. Happy exploring, Steph 🙂