10 best things to do in Oxford

Home to the UK’s oldest and perhaps most prestigious University, Oxford is more than just a noted student hub. With its striking spires, bustling atmosphere and attractive outdoor spaces, the city has now become a Hollywood and TV filming location.

Oxford also enjoys a burgeoning food scene and showcases its rich history, in an array of galleries and museums. One of the best ways to see everything is to book car hire in Oxford, which can help you make the most of your time in the city and beyond.

We’ve narrowed down the top 10 things to check out when you visit Oxford on your travels.

1. Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Park, Woodstock, OX20 1PP

Built in 1705, Blenheim Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Oxfordshire’s top tourist attractions. Take a guided tour of the Baroque-style State Rooms to admire floor-to-ceiling portraits, golden chandeliers and opulent antiques.

You’ll learn about the Palace’s past, before venturing outside to explore the Formal Gardens and Marlborough Maze. Blenheim Palace has also had its fair share of screen time. Follow in the footsteps of James Bond in the Great Court or pay a visit to the Great Lake’s old cedar tree, used in a flashback scene from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

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2. Oxford Botanic Garden

Rose Lane, Oxford, OX1 4AZ

Founded in 1621 as the first botanic garden in the UK, the Oxford Botanic Garden has grown into a world-class collection of 5,000 species, including conifers, euphorbias, peonies and more. Tour the historic Walled Garden to see a medicinal bed of healing plants and a geographic bed of species from across the globe.

Venture inside the seven glasshouses to experience jungle, desert and swamp environments, then head to the Lower Garden for a picnic along the River Cherwell. The site is also home to Harcourt Arboretum, which showcases some of the world’s rarest tree species.

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Oxford botanic gardens

3. The Covered Market

Market Street, Oxford, OX1 3DZ

Oxford’s renowned Covered Market has been serving the city since 1774 and showcases more than 40 traders, ranging from independent brands to long-standing local businesses. Stop by in the morning to enjoy a creamy cappuccino and freshly baked pastry, before browsing the eclectic boutiques for locally made crafts, jewellery and clothes.

It’s also a great place to pick up a souvenir or gift to remember your trip. You can enter the Covered Market via the High Street, Market Street or the Golden Cross shopping arcade.

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4. Christ Church

St Aldate’s, Oxford, OX1 1DP

Christ Church is one of Oxford University’s largest and most famous colleges. Many great minds have passed through the corridors as students, including 13 British Prime Ministers. Take a guided tour to learn about the college’s history and impressive architecture, designed by former Oxford student, Christopher Wren.

You’ll be in awe of the Hall with its historic portraits of Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth and W. H. Auden – the inspiration for Hogwarts’ own Great Hall in the Harry Potter films. Afterwards, relax in the Christ Church Meadow, where you can watch grazing Longhorn cows in the summer and students rowing year-round.

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christ church cathedral

5. New College Cloister

Holywell Street, Oxford, OX1 3BN

New College is another of Oxford University’s largest colleges. Situated in an idyllic setting near the centre of Oxford, the college has vastly expanded over the centuries, but many of its 14th-cenutry structures still remain, including the college cloisters.

Follow the cloisters around the great quad and you’ll soon notice the oak tree where Draco Malfoy was turned into a ferret, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. From here, you can continue into the Chapel to glimpse the medieval stained glass windows or head outside to explore the 13th-century walls which tower above the gardens.

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6. Radcliffe Camera

Radcliffe Square, Oxford, OX1 3BG

One of the city’s most distinctive landmarks, the Radcliffe Camera dominates Oxford’s skyline, with its iconic circular dome. The “Rad-Cam” was built by James Gibbs in the mid-1700s and dedicated to the late royal physician, Dr John Radcliffe. It started out as an independent library and today it’s the main reading room in the Bodleian Libraries.

Although access is mostly limited to Oxford students, there is an occasional tour of the libraries, which leads you along the underground Gladstone Link passageway and into the Camera. You can also snap a picture of the neo-classical architecture from Radcliffe Square.

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radcliffe science library oxford

7. Divinity School

Bodleian Library, Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BG

Designed and built between 1423 and 1488, the Divinity School was Oxford University’s first purpose-built teaching and examination room. What’s more, it’s also one of the finest examples of English Gothic architecture.

The room’s most iconic feature, the vaulted ceiling, consists of 455 carved bosses which lead into Tudor arches. Harry Potter fans might recognise the ceiling, as it is the same one featured in the Hogwarts infirmary in the Philosopher’s Stone. You can take a tour of the Divinity School on its own or combine the tour with other rooms in the Bodleian Libraries.

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8. Duke Humfrey’s Library

Bodleian Library, Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BG

The oldest of the Bodleian’s five reading rooms, Duke Humfrey’s Library is named after Humphrey of Lancaster, the 1st Duke of Gloucester and youngest son of King Henry IV. It’s split into three sections, the Medieval section, Arts End and Selden End.

If you wish to see Duke Humfrey’s Library for yourself, you will need to book a guided tour which features the Divinity School, Convocation House and Chancellor’s Court. You might also recognise the room from the Harry Potter series, where Harry dons an invisibility cloak to explore the Hogwarts Library at night.

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9. Oxford Castle & Prison

Castle Street, Oxford, OX1 1AY

Learn about Oxford Castle’s 1,000-year history, from a Norman motte and bailey castle, to a post-Civil War prison. Climb up St George’s Tower for amazing views across the city, discover 18th-century prison cells and explore the 900-year-old crypt where the Legends of King Arthur are said to have been written.

After a busy day, stop by the Castleyard Cafe for tea and cake, surrounded by the historic castle walls. Here, you’ll also find the gift shop, where you can buy a souvenir guide book, your very own prison mugshot or some classic Cotswold fudge.

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oxford castle prison

10. University Parks

South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3RF

Nestled in the heart of Oxford, the University Parks is a peaceful area, where you can break away from the city centre crowds. With walking trails, lined with trees and plants, as well as plenty of green spaces, it’s a fantastic place to unwind.

Spot the students playing games and having picnics, while locals read on benches and take their dogs for a walk. Before you visit, it’s worth seeing if there any upcoming events, as there’s often charity fundraisers, open-air concerts and outdoor shows happening within the grounds throughout the year.

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Book your Oxford car hire online today with Hertz to start exploring the City of Dreaming Spires.