10 Amazing Things to See and Do in Oxford This Summer

10 Amazing Things to See and Do in Oxford This Summer

Summer is most definitely here! Whether you’re visiting Oxford for the first time, or looking for ideas to keep your guests entertained this Summer, here are a few of the top things to see and do in Oxford.


Live Music and Theatre                                                  Punting

Quirky Oxford                                                                 Literary Oxford

Pubs, Glorious Pubs                                                      Historic Oxford

Dreaming Spires and Side Streets                                 Museums

Parks and Meadows                                                       The University of Oxford


10. Live Music and Theatre

Holywell Music Room ImageHolywell Music Room, Holywell Street

There’s always something great going on in Oxford, whatever kind of entertainment you’re into. The city has a wide variety of brilliant live music to keep you happy, whether it’s classical music at Holywell Music Room or rock at the O2 Academy. You can usually find fantastic live music at The Town Hall, The Bullingdon on Cowley Road and The Half Moon on St Clements Street too.

There are also some fantastic plays and musicals to get stuck into at The New Theatre and Oxford Playhouse, all year round. Be sure to catch a little Shakespeare as well, with outdoor plays at the Castle, Twelfth Night at Oxford Playhouse and a very special part Shakespeare/part Crystal Maze rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream being put on especially by The Creation Theatre this Summer.

Keep your eyes peeled for performances held by The University of Oxford, too, as it can be a brilliant way to see some great talent and a few extra colleges at the same time!


9. Quirky Oxford

The Headington Shark ImageThe Headington Shark

While the museums and spires are must-see attractions, with good reason, no visit to Oxford would be quite complete without experiencing a few of our fair city’s little idiosyncrasies.

Those with an interest in appreciating the slightly odd would do well venture up to Headington Shops, where, if you’re paying close attention, you may just spot a gigantic shark tail poking out from the roof of someone’s home, fin and all. What can we say, it’s something of an Oxford icon. 

Cowley Road Carnival Image

   Cowley Road Carnival, 2017

Amongst the fabulous, boutiquey shops of The Covered Market you may discover an unusual tourist attraction dangling in the window of M. Feller, Son & Daughter…none other than the world’s oldest ham. This year the ham will celebrate its 115th year, having spent its younger days touring North America. You may, understandably, think we’re pulling your leg, so why not go and see for yourself!

And finally, Oxford has many weird and wonderful traditions and events, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for what’s on. May Morning, Cowley Road Carnival and St Giles Fair are just a few of our favourites. We also recommend keeping your eyes peeled for the occasional unicyclist or Morris dancer jingling about town, and, from time to time, students covered in confetti and cream.



8. Pubs, Glorious Pubs

The Turf Tavern ImageThe Turf Tavern

There’s a reason why Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse spent much of his time sampling the pubs in this part of the world—it’s that we have so many fantastic ones to choose from. In fact, many of Oxford’s pubs are so iconic, and so historic, that they've have become tourist attractions in their own right.

If you can find it, tucked down its little passageway, a trip to The Turf Tavern is a must. The pub dates back to the 14th century, and has welcomed many a famous face through its doors over its long history, including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Bill Clinton and Stephen Hawking. Fans of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien will find happy refuge in The Eagle and Child on St Giles, where these authors would regularly meet to discuss their writing. We also recommend popping into The Chequers on The High Street, which operated as both an inn and a zoo during the 18th Century.


7. Dreaming Spires and Pretty Side Streets

Elephant Gargoyle Holywell Street ImageOxford Martin School

As a city that’s famed for its dreaming spires, impressive sandstone buildings and little winding back streets, it’s fair to say that Oxford’s overall architecture and layout is massively appealing to visitors from far and wide. While there are so many things to see here, it can often be worth just having a wander, and seeing where your feet take you—you may well discover something interesting that you never knew was there!

A stroll down Magpie Lane, for example, will take you to sleepy Merton Street, just slightly away from the usual bustle of the city. On Merton Street, you’ll discover one of Oxford’s most picturesque, cobbled streets, and more than likely find it hard to resist taking a few photos.

Merton Street Image

Merton Street

If you’ve been off enjoying the wonderful Hertford Bridge (Bridge of Sighs), why not duck under the bridge and along New College Passage, just behind it? The street meanders between the colleges, eventually leading you out to St Edmund Hall and onto The High Street.

We also recommend ambling down Holywell Street, which still features picturesque gas style lampposts and some truly gorgeous old buildings on either side of the street. If it’s dreaming spires you crave, though, these are best enjoyed from the top of South Park, where you can get the perfect view of the entire city while sitting in the sun.


6. Parks and Meadows

Christ Church Meadow ImageView of Christ Church College from Christ Church Meadow

As famous as Oxford is for its colleges and spires, it’s also an incredibly leafy city, with parks and meadows never far from reach. Christ Church Meadow and University Parks prove popular choices with visitors and locals alike, and who can blame them? These green spots boast gorgeous river walks and the kind of tranquillity you find yourself dreaming of when trying to squeeze down busy Cornmarket Street on a Summer’s day. 

South Park Image
    South Park

To get away from the crowds for a bit, we suggest taking a trip to Port Meadow. This wide-open expanse is both beautiful and quiet, and if you wander as far as Wolvercote, you may just discover a couple of Oxford’s finest pubs—The Perch and The Trout.

If you’re right in the city centre and just looking for somewhere lovely to stop and eat a sandwich or read a book, though, you’ll find the perfect spot in the tiny, but well hidden, Wellington Square, just off Little Clarendon Street. Accross town, East Oxford's South Park boasts some of the most scenic views in the city. 


5. PuntingPunting Magdalen Bridge ImagePunts at Magdalen Bridge Boat House

There’s nothing quite like drifting down river on a gorgeous Summer's day. If the weather is feeling kind, hiring a punt can be a fantastic way to lazily while-away some of the day while taking in Oxford’s beauty.

For those who are worried about going in circles, punting into other objects, or falling off, you can hire someone to steer you along. And, for those not fond of being on the water, there’s no need to miss out. Simply find a nice spot along the river and enjoy the view…which may or may not include other punters toppling into the water.

For maximum punting fun, pack a picnic, or punt along to The Victoria Arms in Old Marston, which sits along on the River Cherwell and features one of Oxford’s finest beer gardens.


4. Literary Oxford

 Alice's Shop ImageAlice's Shop, St Giles

Book-lovers flock to Oxford each year to get a peek at some of the places that are linked to the great authors and works of literature that have come out of this part of the world (as well as the many filming locations used in adaptations).

For fans of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, a trip to the tiny, but very special, Alice’s Shop on St Aldates will make your day. The shop itself appeared in Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, and was once the favourite sweet shop of the Alice that Carroll based his character on.

There are also plenty of Tolkien and Lewis treats to sink your teeth into, such as the colleges where the two men studied and taught (Exeter, Pembroke, Merton, University, Magdalen) and an Ent-like tree in the Botanic Gardens that was apparently Tolkien’s favourite.

The Kilns

C.S Lewis's House, The Kilns

Both authors are buried in Oxford, and for those wanting to take a literary pilgrimage, you’ll find Tolkien resting in Wolvercote cemetery, and Lewis at Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry, just around the corner from his former home.

You can also indulge in Inspector Morse’s Oxford, or see some of the places that were used in the filming of the Harry Potter films—most notably Christ Church College. If you’re lucky, you might just spot the crew for ITV’s Endeavour out and about filming in town.

If you just really love to read, though, you won’t regret taking a trip into Blackwell’s on Broad Street. The shop’s famous Norrington Room, alone, houses more than 160,000 books, and holds a Guinness World Record!


3. Historic Oxford

Martyrs Memorial ImageThe Martyr's Memorial, St Giles

As an Anglo-Saxon settlement, Oxford dates back to at least the 9th century AD, later becoming an important Norman town. In around 1176, The University of Oxford was founded, sealing the city’s fate as a place of interest for the centuries to come. It’s hardly surprising, then, that people flock here from all over the world to discover a piece of old Oxford, and the city really doesn’t disappoint. Around every corner lies some historical treasure, whether it’s a truly old building or a gripping tale.

Oxford Wall Image

Remaining piece of Oxford city walls

To make the most of Oxford’s vast history be sure to take a peek at St Michael’s at the North Gate on Cornmarket Street. This impressive Saxon tower has stood on the spot since 1040, and is the oldest building in the city. A trip to Oxford Castle is also highly recommended. Here, you can climb the original Norman motte, where the wooden castle first stood, and take a tour around the castle and prison with the Oxford Castle Unlocked experience.

The image on the right shows a remaining piece of what we think might be the mediaeval city walls, which is tucked away, out of sight, behind Boswells. As you'd never normally get the chance to see it, we thought we'd give you a little sneak peek!

And finally, connoisseurs of Oxford’s history won’t want to leave the city without having first visited the infamous spot where the Oxford Martyrs were burned as heretics in 1555. A small, cobbled, cross is set into the pavement on Broad Street, just a stones-throw from Boswells, to mark the spot where the execution took place. The memorial to the Martyrs, built in 1843, proudly stands just around the corner, on St Giles.


2. Museums

Museum of Natural History ImageThe Museum of Natural History, Parks Road

As home to Britain’s first public museum, The Ashmolean, it’s little surprise that Oxford has so many fantastic museums. The Ashmolean now sits grandly on Beaumont Street, and houses a vast collection of impressive artefacts and paintings. For something a little extra special though, take a trip along to one of the Ashmolean’s Live Friday evening events. 

Ashmolean Museum Image
The Ashmolean Museum

For the bold and adventurous, a trip to the Pitt Rivers anthropological museum, on Parks Road, is a must. Here you’ll discover more wonderful knick-knacks and artefacts from all over the world than you can imagine…as well as some very impressive shrunken heads! The Museum of Natural History is right next door to the Pitt Rivers, and is home to Oxfordshire’s dinosaurs, amongst other things. Why not pop in and say hi to the T-Rex?

We also highly recommend dropping into The Museum of the History of Science, The Museum of Oxford and the permanent exhibit at The Town Hall (the inside of the building is pretty stunning, it has to be said). And yes, entrance is absolutely free to all of these amazing places, except for some special exhibitions.


1. The University of Oxford

Radcliffe Camera ImageThe Radcliffe Camera and St Mary's Church, Radcliffe Square

It’s probably fair to say that Oxford is most famous for The University, and people come from quite literally all over the world to see it.

The University of Oxford is made up of 38 colleges and 6 permanent private halls, which means that seeing absolutely all of it is no easy task. To make the most of your time here we suggest picking a handful of varied colleges to visit. Not all of the colleges are open to the public, and those that are can vary in terms of times and days that you can wander in, so it’s always a good idea to check ahead. 

Christ Church College Image
   Christ Church College

Here are a few Oxford Colleges that you might want to investigate, to start your quest. Christ Church College proves a popular choice. The college is well known for having been used in the Harry Potter films, and it was Charles I’s home and parliament during the English Civil War. If you’re keen to see colleges with grounds, though, Magdalen College has an impressive 100 acres to explore, including a deer park. While Worcester College’s grounds are perhaps some of the most beautiful around. If you’re keen to see one of the very old colleges, New College is a very good option, with its original cloisters dating back to 1379. And, if you’re looking for something altogether different, Keble college features an impressive Victorian Gothic, red brick design, which is unlike any other college.

But The University of Oxford isn’t just colleges. The Bodleian Library, the Sheldonian Theatre and The Radcliffe Camera are some of the best, and most recognisable sights that Oxford has to offer, and so we highly suggest taking a trip down Broad Street to discover these absolute gems—you’ll definitely need a camera!

And Finally...

Tourist DepartmentAfter all of that exhausting and rewarding sightseeing, why not pop into Boswells on Broad Street for a little souvenir shopping to finish up your day?

As Oxford’s oldest department store, which turns 279 this year, we’ve got lots of history of our own to offer, and plenty of goodies and gifts to choose from to spoil the folks back home with too.

And, if you’re feeling especially worn out, we highly recommend treating yourself to a cup of tea and piece of cake in our 1738 Tea Room!

All Oxford Images: Elena Woolley

7th July 2017

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