Stroll through the flowering water meadows or out of town along the Thames; get a bus to Blenheim Palace or a train along the canal. Notorious for traffic jam nightmares, Oxford’s streets are often best negotiated on foot. Great Western Railway's direct trains travel from London Paddington to Oxford in as little as 48 minutes and there's no need for a car when you get there either. These itineraries include varied day trips by bus, train or even boat: a walking guide to the city’s highlights and some ideas for hiking (or biking) further afield. Oxford makes a great base for a car-free holiday. Scroll to the end of this feature for more tips on trains, buses, bikes and places to stay.
1. Birds-eye views and hidden treasures
There are already a ridiculous number of guide books to Oxford. Rather than try and replicate them – here are just a few of the city’s best views and visitor attractions.
- The open-topped City Sightseeing tours start near Oxford station and take you past all the major sights, from the 11th-century castle mound to Britain’s oldest Botanic Garden. There are different commentaries, including one for kids, and the various ticket options include bonus walking tours and – on the Gold Tour – entry to Carfax Tower. Follow Good Journey’s directions.
- Carfax Tower at an ancient crossroads, with a view straight down the High Street, is one of several towers offering panoramic views of Oxford and the countryside beyond. St Mary’s church, overlooks the iconic Radcliffe Camera and, nearby, the cupola on top of the Sheldonian Theatre has an aerial view of the neighbouring Bodleian Library.
- Beautiful city walks include the circuit around Christ Church meadows, from Folly Bridge to the Botanic Gardens, and along the Rivers Thames and Cherwell. You can even rent a punt or rowing boat from Folly or Magdalen Bridges and see the city from the water, or take a summer trip to Abingdon with Salter’s Steamers.
- You have to pay to get into Magdalen College, but the half mile or so of “Addison’s Walk” makes it worthwhile; the water meadows are home to the college deer in summer and autumn, and covered with rare snake’s-head fritillaries in spring. C.S. Lewis walked here with Tolkien and a poem on the wall, near a view of the mill, reflects the Narnia writer’s faith that “This year the summer will come true.”
- Most of the colleges have started charging visitors now, but those that are still free include the lovely Corpus Christi and Exeter, both open in the afternoons.
- Also free, and sometimes overlooked, are Oxford’s marvellous museums. The Pitt Rivers houses shrunken heads, Egyptian cat sculptures and towering totem poles; the popular Ashmolean (don’t miss the pre-Raphaelite paintings on the top floor) is packed with treasures and there’s a little collection of bibliographic gems in the Bodleian’s new Weston Library.
2. Pub crawl the Thames Path to Wolvercote
Turn right and right again out of Oxford railway station, along the Botley Road, to find the Thames Path leading right, soon with water on both sides. Follow the path over a footbridge with lovely views across Port Meadow. See map below.
- At Binsey, a well-marked path leads left to the Perch pub (open daily).
- The ruins of Godstow Abbey are a mile further north near the Trout. This is the area where much of Phillip Pullman’s first Book of Dust novel is set.
- There are several great pubs along the route; besides the well-known, waterside Perch and Trout, Jacob’s Inn, with lovely old buildings, a warm atmosphere and its own farm animals, is in the centre of Wolvercote village.
- Like the White Hart next door, Jacob’s has the advantage of being very near the bus stop for buses back to Oxford. Bus 6 goes every 20 minutes from Home Close round the corner.
- For more adventures along the River Thames, take a look at our feature on the River Rapids bus routes, which head southwards out of the city and are perfect for walking along the Thames Path.