10 Free Things to Do in Oxford, England
Ah, Oxford! The City of Dreaming Spires is most famous for its 800-year-old University, but nowadays the city is a bustling cosmopolitan town with a mix of ancient and modern. Located a short hop north and west of London, Oxford offers plenty to do for visitors.
While there are plenty of activities in Oxford that cost a pretty pound, there are plenty of free (but premium) things to occupy your visit. Here is a list of our favorite ten free things to do in Oxford, England.
01Search for Sharknado
Oxford’s most famous resident is also its most unusual.
The 440 pound, 25-foot shark is embedded head-first in the roof of a house in Headington, a suburb of Oxford. The Headington shark first appeared in August 9, 1986, on the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. The sculpture is an expression of protest and anger against the use of nuclear power and weapons.
The shark was controversial when it first appeared. Oxford City Council tried to have it removed several times over the course of 6 years. Due to community support of the shark, it was allowed to remain.
The shark was renovated on its 21st anniversary in August 2007.
02Picnic in Port Meadow
02See Old Friends
The Oxford University Museum of Natural History is your stop for all things post-living.
If fossils are your fancy, be sure to stop by the Museum of Natural History. This free museum displays many of Oxford University’s natural history specimens, such as dinosaur bones, insects, and geological displays. To top it all off, the museum collection is housed in a neo-Gothic building that is a feast for the eyes.
Because the museum is free and educational, it is a popular destination for school field trips. Go early if you want to avoid the crowds of school-age children and moms with strollers in tow.
Location: Parks Road
Hours: Daily, 10am – 5pm
03Explore the Strange
The Pitt Rivers Museum contains a variety of odd and interesting archaeological and anthropological artifacts from around the world.
The Pitt Rivers Museum was founded in 1884 by Lt. General Augustus Pitt Rivers, who donated 22,000 eclectic archeological items collected during his career. The collection has since grown to an astounding 500,000 items, arranged thematically in a densely packed three floors. The artifacts range from weapons to tools, statuary to native outfits, and even the macabre shrunken head or two.
Location: Parks Road
Entry: The Pitt Rivers Museum can only be accessed through the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. If you have any trouble finding it, simply ask anyone from Oxford to point you towards “the museum with the shrunken heads.”
04Mess About on the River
Punting is Oxford’s answer to the gondola.
Take an afternoon stroll down to Magdalen Bridge and watch as people try their hand at punting – an Oxford favorite pastime since before the 1880s. Hours can be spent watching tourists attempt to propel their crafts along the river. While some are competent boatsmen, others ineptly zigzag across the river, crashing into every log and bush along the bank.
Why not try your hand at punting? While hiring a boat isn’t free, it is without a doubt one of the most fun and relaxing ways to spend an afternoon in Oxford. If you don’t feel comfortable navigating a punting boat, you can rent a row boat or pedalo, or even your own chauffeur for your journey down the river.
Location: Magdalen Bridge Boathouse
Cost: Free to watch. £22/hour to rent a punt (extra for a chauffer; a £30 refundable deposit is required)
05Step Back in Time
The world’s oldest university is home to one of the world’s oldest collection of antiquities.
Spend an afternoon wandering through Ashmolean Museum’s 39 galleries which feature antiquities, treasures, and art ranging from the Ancient World to the present day. The collections are incredibly rich and emaculately curated. While you’re there, pop up to the Ashmolean Rooftop Restaurant for a cup of tea and a bite to eat.
06Follow in the Footsteps of Literary Greatness
Oxford is a city that has inspired literary genius. Visitors to Oxford are particularly keen to trace links to its famous writers.
Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, created his famous “Alice in Wonderland” stories for Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church. Fantastic as it was, “Wonderland” was rooted in the environs around Oxford, including the Thames River, Christ Church College, the Natural History Museum, and The Perch tavern.
A group of literary academics known as the Inklings sprung up in Oxford which included famous writers such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. The Inklings met regularly in the Eagle & Child pub in St. Giles to discuss literature and their own work. A plaque and a letter signed by both Lewis and Tolkien mark their favorite nook. C.S. Lewis’ grave can be found at Holy Trinity Church at Headington Quarry, where Lewis worshipped for 30 years. J.R.R. Tolkien is buried with his beloved “Luthien,” his wife Edith, at Wolvercote Cemetery off Banbury Road and Five Mile Drive.
07Take a Walking Tour of Oxford
Oxford is a city that you can get lost in. Beautiful architecture and intellectual finds seem to be around every corner.
Oxford’s city center is compact and easily toured on foot. You can explore on your own or take a free 2-hour walking tour with Footprint Tours. Discover the history of Oxford, from humble beginnings as a Saxon town through its current position as a famous seat of culture and learning. While the tour is free, be sure to tip your guide if you enjoy it!
Meeting Point: Broad Street
Hours: Monday to Friday and Sunday: 10am (July & August only), 11am, 12:30pm & 2pm; Saturday: 10am, 11am, 12:30pm, 2pm & 3:30pm.
08Live Like a Student
Wander through the quads, halls, and chapels of Oxford’s colleges, and imagine life as a student.
Several of Oxford’s thirty-eight constituent colleges allow free, self-guided tours during certain hours. Each college offers unique architecture and history, and some have exquisite chapels that rival the cathedrals of Europe. If you don’t have time to visit each one, we recommend All Souls College, Exeter College, Hertford College, Keble College, St. John’s College, and Wadham College.
09Stroll Through the Covered Market
Oxford’s Covered Market offers a unique showcase of local crafts, food, and drink.
Dating back to the 1700’s, the Covered Market features over 50 independent stalls and stores, including food and vegatable stalls, coffee shops, florists, fishmongers, and fashion boutiques. The Market is a great place to grab something to eat, especially if you’re looking for something on the go. While you’re there, stop by the Cake Shop and admire the master bakers as they craft their sweet creations.
The Covered Market can be accessed from the High Street, Market Street, or through the Golden Cross in Cornmarket Street.
Opening times: Monday to Saturday 8am – 5:30pm; Sunday 10am – 4pm.
10Picnic in Port Meadow
This 300-acre meadow is the perfect place for a picnic or to unwind after a day of sightseeing in Oxford.
Port Meadow – west of Oxford and only a 15-minute walk from the city center – is England’s oldest and largest continuous meadow. Visitors are privy to strolls among wild horses, sheep, and plenty of birds, with views of the Oxford skyline. It’s a great place to plan a picnic and relax amongst nature. Entry is through Walton Well Road or Aristotle Lane and the most popular route is to walk up the west side of the Meadow until reaching The Perch pub.
Did you know?
According to legend, Port Meadow has never been ploughed. Because of this, the meadow contains well-preserved archeological remains from the Bronze and Iron Ages up to 17th-century.
That’s it for our top 10 favorite free things to do in Oxford, England. How about you? Have you been to Oxford? Got anything to add to the list?