10 of the Best Things to Do in Oxford

Date of Publication: 30 October 2015

While there is a world of sightseeing to do outside Oxford, whether it be Blenheim, Windsor or London, and Oxford Summer Courses visits them all, there is so much to do and see in Oxford itself it has been difficult to make a list of only ten! Nevertheless here goes…

  1. The Waterways
  • The Thames, the Isis, the Cherwell and the many tributaries and canals provide endless idyllic scenes, and entertainment for us here in Oxford. Not only is rowing a centuries-old pastime of Oxford city and University, our personal favourite is punting! If that isn’t for you then you can always take a steamboat along the Thames into the countryside or alternatively there are a wealth of different river walks, and scenes to be seen, especially in the beautiful Port Meadow!
  1. The College Tour
  • The colleges, founded between the 12th century and the 20th make up Oxford University and are essential for any visitors to the city! From the gargoyles and the ramparts of the Turl Street colleges to the deer park of Magdalen College, Tom Tower and bell in Christ Church to the lake in Worcester each has its own quirks and gems… All Soul’s graduate college stands alone, closed visitors, with its towering Baroque spires looming over Radcliffe Square. With Oxford Summer Courses you not only see, but also live in these colleges which have housed and honed the minds of notables across the centuries!
  1. See some Outdoor Theatre
  • Shakespeare is a particular favourite and whether in the gardens of one of Oxford Universities’ gorgeous colleges or in the quad of the Bodleian Library, it is an un-missable experience. With Oxford Summer Courses last year there was a fabulous production of Much Ado About Nothing and the previous year Worcester College hosted a production which even had scenes played out on rafts on their lake!
  1. Watch or Engage in a Mad Oxford Tradition
  • Just a smattering of the odd traditions of Oxford range from Ascension Day, where people can be found drinking ivy-laced beer and throwing pennies for children to catch in baskets, to bridge jumping – off a punt over a bridge and back down onto the punt again- to turtle racing! Spending some time in this city you’ll see a multitude of strange outfits and goings on, particularly ‘sub-fusc’, complete with ‘mortarboard’ which, if you seen a graduation ceremony, you will see doffed repeatedly towards the University chancellors while if you see someone finishing their exams you will see them ‘trashed'(see below!). Perhaps most quintessential is the Formal Hall experience- the black tie three (or more) course dining experience central to college life and which the Oxford Summer Courses student will experience in a different college hall each Friday.
  1. A Pub Crawl
  • The British Pub is a mandatory stop for the tourist to the UK, and Oxford has some of the best. Whether literary or historical, there are stories and oodles of character in so many of them. The Eagle and Child for example, just beside our base in Somerville College, was one of J.R.R. Tolkein’s favourite writing spots, and the Turf Tavern, signposted with the promise of ‘An Education in Intoxication’, hosted Bill Clinton when he allegedly “didn’t inhale”…
  1. Check out the sets of films and books around Oxford
  • The Great Hall of Hogwarts in Harry Potter (inset), a little pub in X-Men, Lyra’s Oxford in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials, the colleges in Virginia Woolf or Evelyn Waugh, all these and so many more can be found in Oxford.
  1. Visit the Museums
  • From the Ashmolean to the Pitt Rivers anthropological collection in the Natural History Museum the collections, old and more recent, and the calibre of exhibitions staged in them are stunning and phenomenal. The Ashmolean also holds the fantastic ‘Lates’ nights- an open evening on a Friday once a month with a theme and the galleries are decorated and turned into staging for dance, music, and interactive displays not to mention the fascinating lectures and occasional comedy performance!
  1. Just Wander the Streets
  • To see Oxford properly it’s best just to immerse yourself, wander, and get lost! Amble down Logic Lane and up to Jude the Obscure in Jericho. At Oxford Summer Courses we like to take students on Bill Spectre’s ghost tour where with a mixture of historical and mythical anecdotes you see the real, if spooky, Oxford, with a pinch of magic!
  1. The Bodleian Library
  • The Bodleian is a crucial part of Oxford University, and its shelves stretch for miles under the city. Its history and contents are legendary and this is even before we see the sets for the ‘Restricted Section’ and the hospital wing in the Harry Potter films, and the stunning ‘Rad Cam’ designed by Christopher Wren- the architectural genius behind St Paul’s Cathedral. It recently also houses a fantastic exhibition centre – the Weston- currently showing a collection of rare and beautiful manuscripts including a Gutenberg Bible!
  1. Take in the Cityscape
  • Find somewhere to see Oxford as a view. Matthew Arnold wrote of Oxford as a ‘city of dreaming spires’ and to see just that we favour the 360 degree view from St Mary’s Tower!

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