Here are the best days out in Oxfordshire for shoppers, for animal lovers, for children, adventurers, and for you – enjoy!
Oxfordshire centres around the city of Oxford, home to the prestigious Oxford University. The university dominates the city, with beautiful college buildings, libraries, museums, and gardens. Outside of the city, Oxfordshire contains part of the rolling Chiltern Hills, the beautiful villages of the Cotswolds’ and the River Thames, as it winds its way towards London.
Let us show you 15 of the best places to visit in Oxfordshire, from stunning Blenheim Palace to the famous Thames Path walking trail.
1. Blenheim Palace, Woodstock
UNESCO-listed Blenheim Palace is famous for being the only non-royal country house in England to be granted the title of palace. It is the seat of the Duke of Marlborough and was the birthplace of Winston Churchill, just a tiny part of the palace’s rich history.
Modern visitors to Blenheim Palace can spend a day exploring the grand stately rooms of the palace, wandering around the botanic gardens, or delving further into the estate, with numerous walking trails heading out into the countryside. These walks range from 1.5 to 4.6 miles and encompass different areas of the estate.
There’s also a ‘Walk in Churchill’s Footsteps’ exhibit, a children’s play area, a large maze, and a miniature train.
2. Oxford walking tour
One of the best ways to explore all the main sights of Oxford is to join a guided walking tour of the city. There are all sorts of different tours you can sign up to – the place to start is the Visitor Information Centre on Broad Street. Many of the tours centre around the university, visiting some of the colleges with the services of a knowledgeable guide.
Other tours show you some of the favourite haunts of author J. R. R. Tolkien, and filming locations for the Harry Potter series. The Visitor Information Centre will be able to tell you about all the different tours being offered at the time of your visit and will help you to book the right tour for you.
Oxford walking tours are one of the best days out in Oxfordshire if you’ve never been before – you can get a good introduction to the county through its city, and have an opportunity to ask all your questions too.
3. Christ Church, Oxford
There are numerous University of Oxford colleges which you’ll want to visit in the city, but if you only have time to explore one, then Christ Church is our pick. The college is home to six Grade I listed buildings, the eye-catching 17th century Tom Tower, and the iconic Gothic cathedral. Christ Church college was founded by King Henry VIII in 1546, so it is little surprise that so much history endures within its boundaries.
A standard admission ticket will get you access to all of this, plus the Hall and the Quads, so you’ll be able to have a good look around.
4. Chiltern Hills
The Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding National Beauty stretches across four English counties, including Oxfordshire. It’s one of the most beautiful areas of nature in England, and the rolling hills make for perfect hiking territory. If you like to embrace the great outdoors then packing a picnic and heading into the countryside is one of the best ways to spend your day out in Oxfordshire.
The hills are punctuated with sleepy rural villages, most home to a good pub. And remember to keep your eyes firmly on the skies as you walk – red kites were reintroduced to the Chilterns in 1990, having been virtually wiped out from England. The reintroduction was a remarkable success and red kites are now found throughout the country again, though they remain in the greatest numbers across the Chilterns.
Hiking the Chiltern Hills is one of the best days out in Oxfordshire for the adventurous types among us!
5. Cotswold Wildlife Park, Burford
As Oxfordshire’s largest and most impressive zoological facility, no animal lover can spend any time in the county without visiting Cotswold Wildlife Park. Exhibits include a high-rise giraffe walkway, so you can come eye to eye with these gentle giants.
There are also Asiatic lions, white rhinos, zebra, giant anteaters and more.
As well as the animals exhibits, Cotswold Wildlife Park houses a large Victorian manor house and accompanying gardens. Visitors can stroll through these gardens, which have been specially managed to link in with the surrounding animal exhibits, and to ensure there are plenty of flowering plants in bloom all year round.
6. Oxford University Museum of Natural History
It’s not a shock to learn that a university as historic as Oxford also encompasses several world class museums, and the university’s Museum of Natural History is probably the best. Housed in a stunning Victorian building, with the modern twist of a glass roof, the museum is split into the Earth Collections and the Life Collections. Exhibits include a reconstructed meglosaur trail, made using footprints of the dinosaur discovered not far from Oxford.
There’s also a collection of rare zoological specimens, collected by famous figures including Charles Darwin. And the world’s most complete remains of a dodo are also housed here, including a head and foot of this unfortunate bird.
7. Didcot Railway Centre
Rail enthusiasts simply have to visit Didcot Railway Centre, home to a huge collection of more than 30 locomotives, including four which are still operational. These trains chug along the museum’s operational heritage line, giving visitors a truly interactive experience.
Although the chance to ride on historic steam trains is the main attraction, there is plenty else to keep visitors entertained at the centre. Several old stations have been preserved, there’s a display of old carriages and wagons, a Small Artefacts Museum, and a preserved Air Raid Shelter, as well as a refreshments room and children’s play area.
All in all, Didcot Railway Centre represents a great Oxfordshire day out for the entire family.
8. Thames Path
The Thames is probably England’s best known river, given that it flows through the heart of the capital – but the stretch of river flowing through Oxfordshire is far more natural, pristine, and beautiful than the London river.
The Thames Path is a National Trail along the banks of the river. It winds through flowering meadows, fields of livestock, past disused locks, and old stone bridges. Depending how far along the trail you walk, you’ll pass through quiet rural villages, old school pubs and ancient woodland, possibly accompanied by a few ducks, or perhaps even an otter or two.
The path actually runs for 184 miles along the entire Thames, from its source in Gloucestershire to the Thames Barrier in Greenwich, London. But a few hours spent walking part of the trail on a sunny day is well worth the effort.
Walking the Thames Path here is one of the best days out Oxfordshire has to offer.
9. Crocodiles of the World, Witney
The UK’s only dedicated crocodile zoo is the perfect place for fans of this snapping reptile. Located in the Oxfordshire town of Witney, Crocodiles of the World is home to species including the critically endangered Siamese crocodile, the Chinese alligator, Nile crocodile and American alligator, amongst other species. This is one of the best days out in Oxfordshire for children.
Get up close and personal with the ancient reptiles thanks to the zoo’s underwater viewing exhibits, informative talks, and animal feeds, which take place throughout the day. There are other animals at the zoo too, including meerkats, otters, giant tortoises and one of only four groups of Komodo dragons to live in the UK.
Crocodiles of the World is also important in the conservation efforts of some of the species it houses – they are part of international captive breeding programs for Chinese alligators, Siamese crocodiles, and American alligators.
10. Minster Lovell
You might not have heard of Minster Lovell – the tiny collection of hamlets in western Oxfordshire isn’t top of the list of main attractions in the county. But it is a fascinating place to visit, and a great opportunity to delve into the surrounding countryside.
In the Middle Ages, the area was owned by the Baron of Lovell and Holland, one of England’s richest men. The ruins of his manor house are maintained by English Heritage and the picturesque location, surrounded by the River Windrush, are a charming place to enjoy a picnic. If you’d prefer a dine in meal, then the nearby village is home to two country pubs, serving up a great range of food and drink.
11. The Headington Shark, Oxford
The Headington Shark is without a doubt the most unusual Oxfordshire attraction on this list. In August 1986, on an unassuming street in Oxford, a giant fiberglass shark appeared on the roof of a house. The sculpture was actually designed to commemorate the 41st anniversary of the nuclear bomb being dropped on Nagasaki. The fiberglass shark is 25 feet long and still protrudes from the roof of the house today, having been preserved by the owner over the decades.
You can even stay in the house – it has been converted into an Airbnb to capitalise on the quirkiness of the Headington Shark.
12. Grey’s Court, Henley-on-Thames
Located in the picturesque Chiltern Hills, just outside Henley-on-Thames, Grey’s Court is a Tudor manor house and estate which is now owned and managed by the National Trust. The house has starred in TV shows such as Downtown Abbey and Agatha Christie’s Poirot, with its period features, courtyard and walled garden now attracting thousands of visitors every year.
As well as the grand manor house, packed with fascinating artefacts, visitors can enjoy afternoon tea in the tea house, browse the gift shop, or take the dog for a walk around the estate.
13. Shopping at Bicester Village
The historic market town of Bicester is well worth a visit in its own right, with classical architecture and lots of lovely restaurants and independent shops. But, the area is better known for the Bicester Village shopping centre, which attracts bargain hunters from all over the country.
A warning – it can get extremely busy, especially at peak times. Good luck at Christmas!
The shopping centre houses exclusive designer brands including Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, Gucci, Prada, Burberry… the list goes on. Set along one main street with stores branching off either side, it’s arguably the best place to go shopping in England. There are plenty of food and drink outlets to visit as well.
14. Bodleian Library, Oxford
Back in Oxford, there’s one more important part of the university that is well worth a visit. Bodleian Library is the university’s main research library and is the second largest library in the UK. In total, it houses more than 5 million books, maps, and manuscripts, including some of the oldest and rarest texts in existence. The library offers guided tours, or you can visit on your own, but you may get a little lost!
There are up to four exhibitions on at the library at any given time, with rare texts being displayed for a limited time. Unlike any other library you’re likely to visit, it’s one of the best days out in Oxfordshire for any keen bookworm.
15. River & Rowing Museum, Henley-on-Thames
Henley-on-Thames is perhaps best known for the annual Henley Regatta, which has been taking place since 1839. It is little surprise then, that an excellent museum has sprung up in the town to chart the history of rowing and the River Thames in the area. The River & Rowing Museum takes visitors back in time, with more than 20,000 items on display. These include artefacts related to the history of rowing, and also galleries displaying items to do with the famous children’s novel ‘Wind in the Willows’ and the artist John Piper.
Days out in Oxfordshire
Whilst Oxford is without a doubt the focal point of Oxfordshire county, there is a lot to be said for getting out of the city and into the surrounding areas. The Chiltern Hills and the Thames Path are both excellent walking environments, whilst there are also numerous great museums and attractions for the entire family to enjoy on a day out in Oxfordshire.