10 Things to See and Do in Oxford, England

Located in the central southern part of England, Oxford, a city of a little more than 150,000, is world renowned for its university. But the city has much more to offer than just the University of Oxford. There are luxurious hotels to stay in, and many attractions for visitors to explore. You can visit one of their world class museums, eat at one of their many eating establishments, catch a show at one of the theaters or admire the wonderful architecture of the churches, university, or Oxford Castle and take a stroll through the Harcourt Arboretum while visiting. The old-world beauty is sure to impress.

1. Pitt Rivers Museum

Located to the east of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the Pitt Rivers Museum features archaeological and anthropological exhibits. Founded in 1884, Augustus Pitt Rivers donated his collection with the condition that a permanent anthropological lecturer be appointed. Even in present day, the staff of the museum are involved in teaching archaeology and anthropology at the University. The collections are fascinating and eerie. You will see skulls, shrunken heads, an era by era paleontology display, a Dodo and more that you can’t just see anywhere. The museum caters to all ages even offering a paper and pencil to visitors to find different species of dinosaur to make it even more interesting and a challenge to keep younger people excited to explore further. You’ll need several hours to browse this excellent, one-of-a-kind and vast collection.

Gordon Bell / Shutterstock.com
Gordon Bell / Shutterstock.com

2. Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Providing the only access to Pitt Rivers Museum, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, also known simply as Oxford University Museum, exhibits natural history specimens and contains a lecture theater. If you want to visit Pitt Rivers Museum, you will also want to work a visitation of this museum into your agenda. Founded in 1860, the collection consists of geological and zoological specimens. The building itself is a sight to behold with its neo-Gothic architecture. Some of its more popular exhibits are the Oxfordshire dinosaurs, the Dodo and swifts in the tower. With more than 250,000 specimens, the zoological collection contains numerous endangered and extinct species. The Dodo exhibit is the most complete remains of that species in the world. Other collections worth mentioning include those of Thomas Bell, William Burchell and Charles Darwin. Between the two museums, you will need an entire day to take it all in.

Lyudmila Voronova / Shutterstock.com
Lyudmila Voronova / Shutterstock.com

3. Sheldonian Theatre

Built between 1664 and 1669, and named after chancellor of the university at the time, Gilbert Sheldon, who was also the financial backer, the Sheldonian Theatre hosts music concerts, lectures and University ceremonies. When you enter the theater, you will be mesmerized by the breathtaking ceiling painted by Robert Streater. You can then venture to the Cupola where you have an incredible 360° panoramic view of Oxford. You can venture through the theater on your own or book a guided tour and hear about the history as you take in the sights. If you’re really lucky, you can attend a concert when on your vacation. Just make sure to check their schedule before booking your vacation and you can purchase tickets with great seats before you go.

Sheldonian Theatre

4. Christ Church Picture Gallery

Located at Christ Church, the Christ Church Picture Gallery is an art museum featuring about 300 Old Master paintings and almost 2,000 drawings. It is considered one of the most important collections in the United Kingdom with a major part of the collection being donated by General John Guise upon his death in 1765. Since then, there have been other gifts and bequests by names such as W.T.H. Fox-Strangways, Walter Savage Landor, Sir Richard Nosworthy and C.R. Patterson. The works on display here have no equal anywhere in the world. You will be totally enthralled in the magnificence of the collection and the spiritual messages contained in them. It’s a hidden treasure within Christ Church offering a spectacular exhibit, a quiet atmosphere and memories to last a lifetime.

e X p o s e / Shutterstock.com
e X p o s e / Shutterstock.com

5. Harcourt Arboretum

Run by the University of Oxford, Harcourt Arboretum is an arboretum and a satellite of the university’s botanical garden and covers approximately 130 acres (.61 km2). Approximately 10 acres (40,000 m2) consists of typical English woodland and another 37 acres (150,000 m2) is a summer flowering meadow. The core of the arboretum consists of the Pinetum featuring giant redwoods and monkey-puzzle trees. It was originally designed to create an impressive entrance to the Nuneham House located about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) away. It’s a beautiful natural utopia well worth the visit. They offer guided tours, backpacks and seasonal trails for you to enjoy. When you borrow a backpack, it is chock full of activities to help focus your walk around the 130 acres. The arboretum is open to the general public all year round.

Harcourt Arboretum Oxford
Photo by: University of Oxford

6. Oxford Castle

Located on the western side of central Oxford in Oxfordshire, he Oxford Castle is a large, party ruined Norman medieval castle. Originally, the castle was moated and consisted of wooden mote and bailey. By the end of the 18th century, most of the castle was destroyed and the remaining buildings became the local prison. In 1996, the prison was closed and redeveloped as a hotel. The remains of the castle, including the mote, St. George’s Tower and the crypt are now Grade 1 listed buildings and a Scheduled Monument. You can take a guided tour through the castle and let the characters tell you about the 1,000 year old history of the building. You can climb up St. George’s Tower and take in the views of the city, descend into the 900 year old crypt and explore Debtors’ Tower and Prison D-Wing. It’s a medieval adventure for the entire family.

Oxford Castle

7. Oxford Playhouse

Located on Beaumont Street in Oxford, the Oxford Playhouse is an independent theater for everyone of all ages and backgrounds. It hosts a wide variety of live performances including British and International drama, family shows, contemporary music and dance, student and amateur shows, comedies, lectures and poetry. The Playhouse also hosts its own productions and tours its own shows. It hosts Artists in Residence and an off-site events on an ongoing basis. Some of the shows currently being performed include: SANCHO: An Act of Remembrance, Handbagged, EAST is EAST, Arrest that Poet!, You’re Getting Warmer, and Charlotte Sometimes, just to name a few. It promises to provide all the entertainment and talent you could possibly expect from a world-class playhouse. It’s a great experience for the entire family.

By OxfordPlayhouse - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21982224
By OxfordPlayhouseOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21982224

8. The Headington Shark

Located at 2 New High Street, Headington in Oxford, the Headington Shark is a rooftop sculpture sure to capture your attention. The sculpture depicts an over-sized shark embedded head first into the roof of a house. The sculpture weighs 4 long hundredweight (200 kg), is 25 feet (7.6 m) long, and is constructed of painted fiberglass. The shark first appeared on the roof in August of 1986 and according to the gate of the house, the sculpture is named Untitled 1986. The sculptor of the masterpiece is John Buckley, a friend of the homeowner, Bill Heine, a local radio presenter. It is a present day conceptual piece of art protesting the Nuclear Age. You won’t want to miss this impressive piece of work when visiting Oxford. It’s lovely and creative as well as a passive but strong message against nuclear energy.

Photo by: Google Maps
Photo by: Google Maps

9. Science Oxford

The Science Oxford is a charitable organization located in Oxford that is dedicated to encourage the pursuit of science and enterprise with the ultimate goal of making connections between science, enterprise and society. The organization is broken up into different activities: Science Oxford remains its master brand name, Science Oxford Live features the discovery zone and focuses on science programs for families, Science Oxford Next hosts shows and workshops in schools in an attempt to connect young people with the excitement of science and enterprise, Science Oxford Networks connects businesses with schools and the public,  and Science Oxford Online is their website demonstrating how science works into every day life. Both educational and fascinating, Science Oxford is definitely worth a visit for the entire family.

Photo by: Science Oxford
Photo by: Science Oxford

10. St. Peter-in-the-East

Located on Queen Lane, north of High Street in Oxford, St. Peter-in-the-East is a 12th century church that forms part of St. Edmund Hall. The core of the church was built between 1130 and 1160, with the North Aisle being added in the 13th century, the tower and extension to the nave in the 14th century and the Vestry and small chapel to St. Thomas were added in the 16th century. The crypt of St. Peter constructed in the 12th century is divided into two rows of four columns linked by rounded arches which facilitated the roof to be split into fifteen separate groin vaults. The graveyard of St. Peter-in-the-East contains some notable people such as the tomb of Thomas Hearne and aeronaut James Sadler. It is a beautiful piece of English history and fascinating to explore.

By Jacob Lundberg - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5750003
By Jacob LundbergOwn work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5750003

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