Car-free aroundOxfordOxfordshire

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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.

  • County: Oxfordshire
  • Great for: Art Gallery | culture | gardens | good cafés and pubs | historic houses | history | walking |
  • Refreshments: Cafes, pubs and restaurants galore
  • Please note: researched/updated November 2023. If anything’s changed or you have tips to share, do get in touch:
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  1. 3. Bus to Blenheim Palace

    One of Oxford’s most popular and rewarding day trips is to visit baroque Blenheim Palace. It’s set in acres of rolling, landscaped park, featuring fountain-dotted formal gardens, lakes, islands, woods and waterfalls. With tapestry-hung staterooms and a magnificent library, you can easily spend a whole day exploring. Blenheim is open daily and arriving by car-free gets you a great discount off the cost of a ticket.

    • How to get to Blenheim car-free: Among other possibilities, bus S3 and bus S7 leave every 15 minutes from Magdalen Street (Stop C4) in the city centre and take about half an hour to reach Blenheim Palace. Just follow the Good Journey directions.
    • The bus drops you at Blenheim’s gates on the main road. From here, a stroll along the driveway, with views over Capability Brown’s park, brings you to the palace.
    • Show your bus ticket at the gate to get 30% off entry and walk through the imposing columns and pediments of the Great Court.
    • Heading inside the palace, follow the red carpet walkway through the Great Hall, with its painted ceiling, to writing rooms and saloons, state rooms and the spectacular Long Library.
    • Stepping out into the gardens, walk through the west colonnade into the lovely water terraces. Then turn left over the South Lawn for more views of the palace and into the elegant Italian Garden. The gardens stretch south, through rockeries and roses to a beautiful cascade.
    • In front of the palace, a road leads to the Grand Bridge and the distant Column of Victory. On the far side of the bridge, follow the path left and left again through a wooden gate to take a four-mile stroll along the lake and through the wooded park.
    • On the far side of the palace, the Pleasure Gardens have lots of family-friendly attractions. This trove of delights includes a maze, a butterfly house and a model of the neighbouring town of Woodstock. If you’ve had enough walking by now, a miniature train can take you back to the palace from here.
  1. 4. Bus to Cogges Farm

    Another great car-free outing from Oxford, takes you to Cogges Manor Farm near Witney. Goats, pigs and chickens in an idyllic rural setting with an old farmhouse kitchen, veg garden, apple orchard and stream.

    • How to get to Cogges Farm car-free: Catch bus S1, which leaves every 20 minutes from Oxford’s George Street (stop A3). Get off, 45 minutes later, at the Griffin Inn in Witney. Stroll down Church Lane and turn right into Mud Lane to find the farm.
    • Downton Abbey fans can see photos and a video in the sitting room, celebrating the scenes that the popular ITV serial filmed on the farm in 2014.
    • Outside the farm’s back door, the colourful garden is always bright with seasonal flowers and vegetables. A path from the garden takes you, past the goats, to the pigsties and – nearby – a tea room in an old, beamed barn.
    • Don’t miss St Mary’s church, with its picturesque turret, left out of the farm past a stone wall full of doves.
  1. 5. Along the Oxford canal

    Walking or cycling beside the scenic Oxford canal is a peaceful way to spend the day. There are several lovely villages to explore and the railway runs parallel so it’s easy to reach the countryside here. Winding through the Cherwell Valley from Oxford to Banbury, you pass plenty of local pubs, as well as locks and bridges. Look out for the grooves in the stone made by horses pulling barges along this historic waterway.

    • A station-to-station walk beside the Oxford Canal: One of the prettiest sections of this waterside towpath is the five-mile section from Tackley to Heyford. GWR trains from Oxford to Tackley run a few times a day and take just nine minutes. Signed “Oxford Canal Walk”, the route involves crossing the railway at Tackley station and heading downhill on a muddy track. Turn left at the bottom (signed towards Kirtlington), follow the path right, over a series of bridges, to Pigeons Lock, and turn left along the canal. See map below.
    • Arriving at Heyford Wharf (next to Heyford station), you can have a waterside cream tea at Kizzies bistro while you wait for your train. This is also the home of Oxfordshire Narrowboats, where you can rent canal boats and cruise the waterways.
    • A Cherwell Valley Day Ranger ticket gives you cheap unlimited travel on summer weekends so you can ride GWR services between Oxford and Banbury.
  1. Buses, Bikes and Places to Stay

    Here’s a bit more practical info if you’re planning a staycation in Oxford

    • There are direct GWR trains to Oxford train station from London Paddington, Reading, Worcester and Banbury. There are Chiltern trains from Marylebone station too.
    • If you’re taking several bus rides around the city there are bus tickets giving unlimited trips across the city, like the Oxford Bus company’s Go Anywhere ticket, which lets you ride across Oxford and South Oxfordshire all day.
    • Check out our feature on the River Rapids buses for more adventures in the area – heading for Reading, Wallingford or Henley on Thames. You can use these great buses to access bite-sized sections of the Thames Path.
    • If the bus journeys are on the same day that you arrive by train, get a bargain PlusBus ticket for unlimited bus rides around the whole urban area.
    • There are lots of places to stay.
    • For something a bit more luxurious, try St Margarets Hotel on St Margarets Road in leafy North Oxford. With spacious ensuite rooms, a walled garden and buffet breakfast, it’s makes a really comfortable base, but is cheaper than hotels that are right in the middle of town. St Margarets is just a twenty minute stroll from the centre along the wide Banbury Road and several buses stop nearby, including frequent bus 6 to Wolvercote (see 2 above) or bus S3 to Woodstock and Blenheim Palace (see 3 above) so it’s really well-placed for trips too.
    • If you’d like to try cycling around the area, you can hire bikes from Bainton Bikes and you will be in good company – lots of people cycle in Oxford and there are big bike racks at the railway station.
    • Or spend a day discovering the nearby beautiful Cotswolds with Go Cotswolds.
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