Books, boats and bargains: the best things to do in Oxford

Did you know that to enjoy Oxford you don’t have to be a genius? In addition to its prestigious university, this charming English city has another lesser-known side that you’d love to discover: beautiful streets full of history, a wonderful art scene, lots of partying… and do you know what’s best about it? That in a university city like this, everyone knows that prices are cheaper, and Oxford is no exception! There are so many different things to do for a little money that it takes you a long time to include this jewel of the UK in your list of must-see destinations.

things to do in oxford, row of coloured houses in oxford

things to do in oxford, row of coloured houses in oxford

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The 11 best things to do in Oxford for backpackers

1. Marvel at his magnificent university

It’s practically impossible to travel to Oxford and not visit this legend, don’t you think? Its 30 faculties, with their imposing towers, spacious halls and green gardens, are spread throughout the city. Each building is full of history and most of them can be visited for free. Others, usually the most famous, charge a small entrance fee, as is the case at New College, where for £5 you can stroll through its halls like Harry Potter in the Three Wise Men Tournament (and we’re not kidding, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was recorded here!). You can explore it on your own or, if you prefer, sign up for a free walking tour of the university to go directly to the most important places with an expert guide.

things to do in oxford, university of oxford college campus

things to do in oxford, university of oxford college campus

📷 @delfidelarua7

2. Dive into the books of the Bodleian Library

If you don’t know what to do in Oxford when it rains, don’t give it any more thought. Oxford’s main research library is one of the oldest and largest in the world, with over 12 million books! Daily tours, exhibitions and other activities are usually organized, so it is best to check their website before coming to find out what events are planned when you visit. The buildings that make up the Bodleian Library are some of Oxford’s most emblematic, so don’t miss the opportunity to take a few cool photos. And finally, a curious fact: did you know that nobody can take books from the Bodleian library? Ale! You already have one more reason to look for a cozy little corner and spend the afternoon reading books!

things to do in oxford, bodleian library

things to do in oxford, bodleian library

3. Haz punting

Climbing a punt is one of the best things to do in Oxford without a doubt. But if you come across someone from Cambridge, don’t get into the debate of who does it better! If you didn’t know, punting consists of getting on board a punt (a traditional river boat) and letting yourself be carried away by a guide who is located at the back of the boat and who is in charge of pushing the boat with an enormous oar (something similar to a gondolier, but in this case it is called a punter). If you’re one of those who prefers to take charge and live your own adventure, you can also take one of these boats on your own, but you’ll have to have a film balance!

Punting is usually complemented by a picnic and a few bottles of wine, so it’s a perfect activity to do both in summer, when the sun is shining, and in winter, as you’ll warm up your body and be provided with a blanket and comfortable cushions. Learn about the city while sailing the river with food and drink? Would you be foolish to miss it!

things to do in oxford, two people punting on the river

things to do in oxford, two people punting on the river

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4. Go out in Oxford’s coolest neighbourhood

Although not far from the city centre, Jericho, Oxford’s most alternative neighbourhood, has a totally different atmosphere. The imposing churches and cobblestone streets are replaced by pastel-colored houses, independent boutiques and the most kitsch cafes. On its streets you will see all kinds of artists that give this neighborhood a creative and bohemian atmosphere. Just look at their street art or the bands they play in local pubs. As a matter of fact, the musical heritage of this neighbourhood is quite surprising. Without going any further, at the Jericho Tavern Radiohead it held its first concert in 1986!

things to do in oxford, a street in the jericho neighbourhood in oxford

things to do in oxford, a street in the jericho neighbourhood in oxford

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5. Find some bargain market

For a moment put aside the main street shops and give your support to the independent shops which are concentrated in the Oxford Covered Market, where more than 50 local businesses set up their stalls every day of the week. Each shop is totally unique and you will find everything: cheeses, coffees, flowers, hats and much, much more. Lose yourself in the shops and take your time to appreciate the local crafts. And above all, don’t go without trying a Moo Moo shop shake! You’ll end up unbuttoning your trousers!

6. Party down Cowley Street as one more student.

One thing you can always count on in a student city is that every night there will be a party somewhere. Don’t miss the modern premises on Cowley Street, an area where many students live and where you’ll be surrounded by young people and drinks at great prices (the perfect place, come on!). One of our favorite places to savor a good pint of beer is the Big Society, where you’ll find quality music, table football, American-style fast food and lots of handcrafted beers. If you’re looking for something a little quieter, stop by Café Baba, a Moroccan cocktail bar with a leafy secret garden, and start the night enjoying their 4 pound and 2×1 cocktails during their happy hour!

things to do in oxford, sunny side of oxford sign on house

things to do in oxford, sunny side of oxford sign on house

📷 @hopewarrenx

7. Immortalize a few street art jewels

Oxford may not be one of the first cities you think of when we talk about street art, but you’d be surprised at how many masterpieces there are all over the city. Jericho’s bohemian neighborhood and modern Cowley Street are the best places to see them. In fact, the local Oxford Street Art Collective has transformed Cowley Street in recent years, adding colour to every corner and creating eye-catching murals that cover entire walls of buildings and celebrate the great diversity in this neighbourhood.

However, if we are talking about Oxford street art, we cannot forget the emblematic Headington Shark, a sculpture of almost eight metres that crosses the roof of a house located in a residential neighbourhood that would otherwise be a very normal place. The sculpture appeared in 1986 as a commission from the owner of the house, and now it is a local legend!

things to do in oxford, a shark sticking out of the roof of a house

things to do in oxford, a shark sticking out of the roof of a house

📷 James Turnbull

8. Soak up the flower power

Would you like to escape the city without leaving it? If you’re a flower lover you can disconnect from everything at the Oxford Botanical Gardens, the first of its kind to emerge in the UK in 1621 and which has been full of colour ever since. Its gardens, greenhouses and different spaces house more than 6000 species of plants. Get some good sports and charge your camera to the top, because you’ll want to cover all its corners! In the summer months they usually set up a mobile vintage-style cafeteria for you to have a coffee in the most idyllic setting you can imagine.

things to do in oxford, orange, red, yellow and pink tulips

things to do in oxford, orange, red, yellow and pink tulips

📷 @krystina_elise

9. Give yourself a real Indian feast.

There is no shortage of places to eat in Oxford, but we are particularly obsessed with one: the Mowgli. This site, in addition to being super instagrammable, offers a varied range of typical Indian flavors served in small dishes to share, something as well as some Indian-style tapas! They have a very complete menu full of family recipes (most of them vegetarian) and in which you will also find a great selection of vegan dishes. After visiting this place, you won’t be able to get your yoghurt chat bombs out of your head. We warn you!

things to do in oxford, a mix of dishes from the indian restaurant mowgli

things to do in oxford, a mix of dishes from the indian restaurant mowgli

📷 @mowglistreetfood

10. Renew your wardrobe (or backpack) in a sustainable way

If in the last few months you’ve been putting on the same five little models that you carried in your backpack as you traveled the world, maybe it’s time for you to renew yourself a little bit. Everyone knows that buying second-hand stuff is a good way to take care of the planet, but vintage shopping in Oxford is on a different level! Try your luck at Unicorn, a small shop that is full of real jewelry (so full is it, it can even be difficult to get around!). No item carries the price, so you’ll have to haggle. At Reign Vintage you’ll also find beautiful, high quality garments, and at The Retro Room you’ll be able to sell those things you no longer want from your backpack to make a profit! If you’re in town on the first Saturday of the month, don’t miss the Magdalen Flea Market, where you’ll find all kinds of vintage jewelry, antiques and works of art.

things to do in oxford, a girl looking at a rack of dresses

things to do in oxford, a girl looking at a rack of dresses

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11. Visit a free art gallery

One of the best free things to do in Oxford is to visit Modern Art Oxford. This public gallery located in the heart of the city and dedicated to contemporary visual arts offers a varied agenda of exhibitions and interactive events. You’ll be able to see works by local and international artists, so before you come check out their website to find out what they’re up to. Culture us to the max without spending a pound? Exactly, that’s what we’re talking about!

Do you still think Oxford is just for nerds?

We hope that our list of the best things to do in Oxford has inspired you enough to include this charming city in your backpacking itinerary around the UK. If you have any advice our readers should know, tell us in the comments. And don’t forget to visit Oxford’s best hostels during your stay!

things to do in oxford, people cycling down a high street in oxford with a pink building

things to do in oxford, people cycling down a high street in oxford with a pink building

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