Last Updated on November 28, 2022 by Sophie Nadeau
Easy to visit as a day trip from London and well worth a visit in its own right, the City of Dreaming Spires (a.k.a. Oxford) deserves a place on any UK bucket list. And with highlights such as the oldest university in England, many a museum, and some stunning architecture, there’s no shortage of things to do in this fantastic British city. Here’s your perfect guide and itinerary for how to spend one day in Oxford!
Morning in Oxford
Start your day the right way by heading to one of Oxford’s many quaint cafés for a spot of tea or a well-brewed coffee. Personal recommendations for coffee shops in the city include The Grand Café (the oldest café in England is so old that it was even mentioned in Samuel Pepys’ diary of 1650) and Vaults and Garden.
The latter café, as its name would suggest, is tucked away beneath the vaults of a 14th-century building and provides excellent views onto the Radcliffe Camera (known also as the RadCam). There are indoor and outdoor seating options available. After your morning brew, head out to explore the city.
A walking tour is often the best way to get to know a city, including its many hidden gems, secret spots, and offbeat destinations. On your stroll around Oxford, be sure to spot the Oxford Castle district, the Bodleian Library (you can enter the Divinity school for a few pounds), and the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. For the best view of the city, be sure to go up the tower of St Mary the Virgin!
Afternoon in Oxford
Feeling peckish? Oxford has no shortage of fantastic cafés, brasseries, and restaurants to suit every budget. Thanks to its status as a student city, there’s plenty of cheap eats. Some of the best speciality brunch spots in the city include The Rickety Press (67 Cranham St, Oxford OX2 6DE) and The Missing Bean (14 Turl St, Oxford OX1 3DQ), which features literary-inspired steps to actually get inside the establishment!
Post-lunch, it’s time to explore some of the University Colleges that the city is so famous for. What you may well not know before visiting Oxford, is that you can actually visit the colleges, admire their architecture, and soak up the rich history and ambience of the buildings.
Some colleges are more expensive to visit than others, while a few colleges are actually entirely free to enter! Fancy seeking out some Harry Potter filming locations in Oxford? Well, for a glimpse of the location that inspired the Harry Potter ‘Great Hall,’ head into Christ Church College (which is also where the Cathedral that makes Oxford a city can be found).
Otherwise, entrance into Exeter College is free and provides a glimpse of university life without the price tag of many of the other colleges! Following your visit to the University, there are a few different things you could do.
Following on from the wizarding Harry Potter theme, why not scout out some other film/ book inspiration locations such as those from Alice in Wonderland? Otherwise, there are a plethora of museums to enjoy, including the free to visit Ashmolean Museum and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
Evening in Oxford
Thanks to its status as a student city, there’s no shortage of drinking establishments around Oxford in the form of bars, pubs, taverns, and inns. Many of these are incredibly historical, with the Lamb & Flag alleged to be the place where Thomas Hard wrote much of Jude the Obscure and The Eagle and Child, which was once frequented by the likes of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis.
However, if you’re looking for one of the most unusual things to do in Oxford, then you should undoubtedly head to the FREVD bar. Located within the walls of a former 19th-century Neo-Classical Church, this bar serves reasonably priced cocktails and has both indoor and outdoor seating.
Things to know before visiting Oxford for the first time
The city is small and compact, making it easy to walk around and enjoy all of the major Oxford attractions on foot. With this being said, there are plenty of uneven pavements and cobbled lanes, meaning you’ll want to leave your high heels at home. Instead, wear shoes that are comfortable to walk in!
Next, if you want to enjoy the city without the crowds, then you should consider a visit during the shoulder seasons. What this means is making a trip to Oxford in the late spring or early autumn, i.e. just before/ after the summer months when tourist numbers (and prices) in the city are at their highest.
Finally, the best way to enjoy Oxford is over the course of several days, meaning that you’ll likely want to book a place to stay in the city, even if it’s just for one night. Thanks to its status as a must-see destination, many of the best places to stay fill up fast. Check here for the best accommodation rates in Oxford.
How to visit Oxford as a day trip from London
Have just one day in Oxford and don’t want to miss out on anything? Be sure to wake up early! You’ll want to catch a train as soon as you can so as to pack in as much as possible during your day trip to Oxford from London. Located around 60 miles Northwest of London, there are a few ways to reach the City of Dreaming Spires from the UK capital.
Of course, you can always take a car! However, since transport links between the city are so great, and the cost of parking a car is so high, I would recommend not using this option. The cheapest way to reach the city is via bus and both National Express and the Oxford Bus Company offer service between the cities.
Last but not least, the most convenient way to get to Oxford is by train. The journey takes around an hour each way and if you purchase open-end tickets, then you’ll be free to come and go as you please. Check this website for times, prices, and further information.
Finally, if you have a little more time to explore the area, then there are plenty of wonderful side excursions and day trips to take from Oxford. The Cotswolds is on the doorstep of the university city and provides the perfect opportunity to enjoy chocolate box villages and stunning scenery. From Oxford, you can easily also visit the villages of Witney, Burford, and Bibury!
London to Oxford day trips, tours & excursions
Oxford, Stratford, and Cotswolds: Day Trip from London
If you’re looking to enjoy multiple cities (as well as the beautiful British countryside) as a day excursion from London, then you might consider booking this tour. Included in the ticket is a full ten-hour trip to Stratford-upon-Avon (birthplace of William Shakespeare), followed by a drive through the stunning Cotswolds, and then a visit to the city of Oxford.
From London: Full-Day Windsor, Stonehenge & Oxford Tour
For those who are short on time but who still wish to discover some of the most iconic day trips from London, this full day trip is for you! First up, there’s the chance to see Windsor Castle (the official residence of the Queen). Next, there’s a wander around the legendary Stonehenge and finally there’s a visit to the city of Oxford.
Oxford and Cotswolds Villages Day Trip from London
Though some of the other day trips from London are wonderful if you’re looking to see everything in one go, if you prefer to travel at a slower and more relaxed pace in order to soak up each destination, then you might consider focusing on just one or two. This day tour from London to Oxford includes a chance to see picture perfect Bibury, as well as soak up the sights of Oxford itself.
Full-Day Downton Abbey, Oxford and Bampton Tour from London
Fancy seeing the real-life Dowton Abbey? Well, Highclere Castle is where the series was filmed and this day trip will take you to the country house, as well as Bampton Village, which is also featured in the hit TV series. The excursion from London will also take you to Oxford where you can enjoy the university city!
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about Oxford and spending one day in the city
Is Oxford worth a day trip?
In our opinion
Oxford is worth more than a day trip and you should aim to spend a long weekend in the City of Dreaming Spires if you truly want to soak up the sights and attractions that this stunning UK destination has to offer. With this being said, if you’re short on time, then a day trip from London to Oxford is well worth it and offers an exciting insight into the historic university town.
Is Oxford walkable?
Due to its compact nature (with most of the main attractions within a short distance of one another), Oxford is easily one of the most walkable cities in Europe. With this being said, there are plenty of cobbled lanes and so you’ll want to pack a good pair of shoes which are easy to walk around in (such as sneakers). Alternatively, you can see the city via a hop-on-hop off bus tour like this one.
Is Oxford expensive?
Though perhaps not quite as expensive as strolling around London for a weekend, it’s certainly fair to say that Oxford is one of the more expensive cities to visit in England, if not all of the UK. Luckily, there are plenty of free things to do in Oxford so that you can have fun in the city, no matter what your travelling budget.