Top 15 Things to Do in Oxford This Summer
Oxford, a city with unspeakable beauty and home to some of the greatest minds and alumni of the world-famous University of Oxford. Visiting the university grounds is a great way to feel inspired and connected to those who have shaped our history, but there is so much more to Oxford than just its academic past.
No matter the weather or occasion when you visit, there’s plenty to see and even more things to do in Oxford. If you’re lucky enough to visit Oxford during the warm and sunny summer months, you’ll have the chance to embrace the greenery encompassing Oxford, as well as bright blue skies above famous landmarks such as the Radcliffe Camera. But even if the British weather reveals itself and you get caught in the rain (British summers can be troublesome), the city still offers plenty to enjoy. It really is a great city to explore.
Top 15 Things to do in Oxford this Summer:
Joining us in the city for a summer course? Or visiting with friends and family? Here are our top 15 things you could do in Oxford this summer:
1. Explore the Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum
A go-to place for both students and locals is the Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum. When you first enter the museum, you’ll be greeted by the Museum of Natural History. Here, you can travel back in time and explore the skeleton parade. You’ll come face to face with 12ft dinosaurs that used to roam the world before us. Or, you could discover a variety of taxidermy animals and remains. For example, did you know that this museum is home to the only soft tissue remains of the extinct dodo? You could read and learn about many unique specimens all under one roof.
Progressing further into the museum you’ll eventually reach the Pitt Rivers Museum. The museum was founded in 1884 it was constructed to feature influential figures in the development of archaeology and evolutionary anthropology - many artefacts were donated by General Pitt-Rivers.
Many locals and students frequently visit the museums as they hold exhibition events from time to time, so be sure to check their website to find out their latest events. Even if there are no specific events ongoing, you’ll find yourself walking through priceless exotic treasures - it is almost as though you are in an Indiana Jones movie set.
2. Try punting along River Cherwell
For those not familiar with punting, you’ll be in a narrow but long rowboat, using a setting pole/quant to push you along the river bed. It’s a popular activity for locals, with the opportunity for city goers to try punting along the Thames or Cherwell River.
Cherwell River is often famously recognised for being the creative birthplace for the famous novel Alice in Wonderland. It is said that Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece was formed whilst punting with a group of friends; while on the river, Lewis was entertaining his friends by creating tales of misadventures.
Lewis Carroll’s novel really put Oxford on the map, with annual celebrations taking place in July to celebrate his fantastical masterpiece. So, if you are planning to visit Oxford during the beginning months of July, you could be part of the experience of Oxford celebrating ‘Alice Day.’
No matter when in summer you decide to visit Oxford, you’ll never fall short of the beautiful scenery that surrounds the river. Soak up the greenery, grand architecture as well as the passing ducks you may find yourself greeting while punting. Just be careful not to fall into the river.
3. Visit the Botanical Gardens
On a hot summer's day, there is no better place to visit than the world's oldest Botanical Gardens.
During the summer months, you’ll get to experience the flowers in full bloom, so take some time and stroll around the gardens and see in person the beautiful flowers, trees and other rare plants that they have to offer. You could even bring your lunch in to enjoy on the bench - it’s a great place to relax if you need to escape the bustle of city life.
Oxford’s Botanical Gardens also have a calendar full of events suitable for all ages. With an open-air theatre, yoga sessions that take place in the gardens itself and treasure hunts for children, there’s plenty to enjoy here. If you ever find yourself wanting to escape from the busy city, take a couple of hours out of your day to revive yourself in an open space surrounded by bright, colourful nature.
4. “You’re a wizard Harry:” Tour the filming locations in Oxford
It should come as no surprise that Oxford was one of the [filming locations and inspirations for the famous film productions of the Harry Potter franchise. Note: if you want to know more about the specific Harry Potter filming locations in the city, we have written an article dedicated to exploring where this happened.
Once you’ve watched the films, read the books (along with our Harry Potter filming location blog), you’ll be ready to enter the world of wizardry yourself and explore these iconic locations.
Many different services and providers offer a guided tour of the city, ranging in price from £0 to around £30. . For the paid tours, it is likely they will take you through to historical sites of Oxford University where you’ll be shown specific rooms and locations used in the franchise, such as visiting Christ Church College where many of the scenes were filmed for Harry Potter the Philosopher’s Stone. However, for those who don’t want a guided tour, you can explore the wonders of Oxford yourself - do keep in mind, if you are visiting university grounds, you’ll likely be expected to pay an entry fee.
5. Go Shopping at Westgate
When the British summer weather inevitably turns a little dreary, or, if you’re just someone that enjoys doing a spot of shopping, you’ll find no shortage of high-street names in Oxford’s main shopping centre.
Westgate offers over 100 brands featuring the best of the British high street as well as some prestigious global brands. After a busy day of shopping, you can also indulge in the variety of restaurants available on the ground and on the rooftop terrace. If you don’t fancy having a “restaurant” meal, Westgate has got you covered with their food court area, also known as ‘Westgate, Street Food Social’. So if you are travelling and visiting Oxford with friends or family and can’t decide on one cuisine, don’t worry, you won’t have to. Enjoy different vendors, choose from sloppy burgers, and Mexican food to the freshest noodles and rice boxes. If you are a food fanatic, you’ll feel right at home.
But Westgate is not only limited to food and shopping. Maybe you want to watch the latest film? They’ve got you covered. Curzon offers the “finest cinematic experience in Oxford, showing some of the latest Hollywood entertainment as well as independent and international films” (Westgate, 2022).
6. Visit the University Parks
Just like Oxford’s Botanical Gardens, the University Parks offer the chance for you to feel as though you have left the bustling city and stepped into lush open green space. This however is not the case as University Parks is conveniently located right in the heart of Oxford city.
The park was originally owned by Merton College in the 1850s and was first set out to be a park for sports purposes only. Since then, the park has become an open space available to the public for everyone to enjoy. Though the park is not specifically aimed toward sports anymore, you might still get the off-chance to catch members of the university or even local residents enjoying a game of cricket, lacrosse, tennis, football, frisbee or rugby.
7. Bill Spectre’s Ghost tour
Are you looking for some spooky fun? Then Bill Spectre’s Ghost tour will be right up your alley. A famous name among the locals, Bill offers the only Oxford theatrical ghost trail that’s suitable for both adults and children.
The tour takes place only on Friday and Saturday nights where you’ll be guided by ‘Bill Spectre’, a professional actor. He will illustrate and create illusions by using props and his famous charm. During the tour, you can learn informative historical facts about the city and some of the figures which have defined the history books. The tour has been rated hugely entertaining and is the perfect way to explore the city during the night and leave a scary tingle down your spine.
8. Take a dip in Port Meadow
Port Meadow is one of the largest open spaces in the north of Oxford - with the River Thames flowing through the heart of the meadow. When you arrive at the meadow, expect to share this beautiful open space with cattle, horses, wild ducks and geese who roam freely.
Port Meadow is a great place to go during the summer months and hang out with friends and family. After all, what better way is there to cool down on a hot summer’s day than taking a dip in the river? Port Meadow has long been famously popular with locals and students who go for a swim during hotter days.
However, if you don’t like the idea of wild swimming, why not consider taking a stroll, and walk up the west side of the meadow to find the popular “17th Century tavern,” (ExperienceOxfordshire, 2022) The Perch, which offers delicious homemade food. Or, if you’d prefer, you could have your very own picnic or barbecue. With a huge open space available to you, there’s plenty of places to sit and relax.
9. Cool down with ice cream from G&Ds
G&Ds is the most popular independent ice cream shop in Oxford and you’ll be able to find only a few shops dotted around the city. If you are planning on visiting Port Meadow (mentioned above), you could find the G&D's down Little Clarendon Street, if you exit towards the east of the meadow. Or, if you’re in the centre of town, you could visit the shop opposite Christ Church on St Aldates and enjoy during a stroll around the city.
What makes G&D's ice cream special? All the ice cream is homemade and often enough, the ingredients in their ice cream are locally sourced. They also offer a huge range of ice cream flavours, and sometimes you might be lucky enough to taste a new flavour which is only available for a couple of days.
G&Ds is hands-down a firm favourite for Oxford students as well as locals - no matter if it is sunny or raining, there’s always time to visit G&Ds.
### 10. Visit the Covered Market
Exploring the local scenes, the city’s indoor market is located in the middle of the City and has 3 different access points for those exploring the local area.
The market offers a variety of things for you to explore and eat, with more than 50 traders selling fresh produce, gifts, fashion, flowers and jewellery. This is a great place to visit as it showcases the very best crafts, food and drinks that Oxford has to offer.
Somewhere we would recommend in Covered Market is Moo-Moo’s milkshakes. They offer customised milkshakes; let the inner child out and mix all your favourite kinds of chocolates and sweet treats. It’s a fun and much loved local place to have the perfect blended milkshake.
11. Take a trip to Blenheim Palace
Though this is not located in the city of Oxford, Blenheim Palace is only a half an hour bus ride from the city centre. As the name suggests, Blenheim Palace is an historic house and garden, with over 300 years of history. It’s the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and is also the only non-royal, non-episcopal country house in England to hold the title of palace.
If you plan on visiting this beautiful estate we would recommend packing your walking shoes as there are 12,000 acres of estate to explore.
With it being located in Oxfordshire, you would expect nothing less than it being grand with stunning architecture and open green spaces. It really is like walking straight into a movie scene.
Walking inside the palace, you’ll get a tour taking you around all the different family rooms and you’ll even get to see the room in which Winston Churchill was born. The house offers some incredible displays and designs; Blenheim showcases the true beauty of traditional British architecture.
Outside the palace are the gardens, which are a great place to have a picnic - or if you didn’t pack one, there is a coffee shop which offers outdoor seating with a view of the garden as well as a spectacular view of the running fountain. Enjoy roaming the grounds on a summer’s day and soaking up the historic atmosphere.
12. Climb the University Church of St Mary the Virgin
The best way to get your bearings around the city early on is to get a birds-eye view of the city by climbing St Mary’s tower. The tower is the best opportunity to see the beauty of this historic city and it’ll only cost you £5 to get a stunning view of Oxford.
However, climbing this tower is not for the faint-hearted! With 127 steps before you arrive at the top, get ready to up your step count. But rest assured it is worth the sweat because you’ll be rewarded with the city’s skyline, including views of the iconic Radcliffe Camera and Brasenose College.
Just note, if you plan to incorporate this into your trip, we would recommend you arrive early in the day as this is a popular attraction amongst many visitors.
13. Visit the Deer at Magdalen College
Although all of the University of Oxford’s colleges are worth visiting, Magdalen College offers some spectacular wildlife and walks, and is therefore definitely worth adding to your must-see places. The college not only offers the historical, grand architecture that most Oxford colleges do, but they also have their very own deer park. The deer park tends to be the real highlight - who could imagine seeing so many deer so close to the city centre?
When you visit the college you’ll be engulfed by the 100 acres of ground. As the largest college in Oxford, there will be plenty for you to see and explore. The River Cherwell also passes through the grounds, a great opportunity to have a walk alongside the river. After your peaceful walk, you could visit the café nearby to enjoy an afternoon tea or grab a light lunch.
14. Tour the city on 2 wheels
It may come as no surprise that Oxford is known as a bike city, with many Oxford locals and students using bikes as their preferred mode of transport.
Explore the city like a local - you can take your own bike and tour around the city, or if that’s not possible, you could even rent a bike with many dotted around the city. If you want a thorough tour of the city you could even book a guided bicycle tour. Otherwise, you could arrange your own route with a map and a sense of adventure.
Oxford is a fairly compact city and can be done by foot, but the advantage of cycling is you’ll be able to see more of the city in a day or even benefit from seeing some University colleges that are a little further than walking distance.
15. Watch the sunset at South Park
A perfect way to end the perfect day: South park is a popular location for students to meet and enjoy a warm summer’s evening.
You’ll have to walk (or cycle) away from the city and towards Headington. The journey should take you roughly 15-20 minutes to walk, if not then there are many bus options available. Just be aware that South Park is at the top of a hill, but this is the best way to experience an unforgettable view of the whole city.
Finish your day by watching the sunset in Oxford. Settle down by bringing your own food and drinks, and just let time pass you. If not, there are many local restaurants and takeaways nearby where you can indulge before heading back to South Park to enjoy the stunning views.
Join us in Oxford this summer
Are you feeling inspired to explore Oxford this summer? You could join us on an Oxford summer course and experience life as a student in the city. Get the chance to explore all the places that we have highlighted while excelling academically in your chosen subject. Get an authentic taste of life as an Oxbridge student and walk in the footsteps of some of the greatest minds in history - all in one of the UK’s best-kept cities.
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Exploring the city of Oxford this year? Read our guide to the top 15 things to do in Oxford this summer and learn more about local culture.