From its architecture to its history to its books, the city of Oxford is enchanting in every way and should definitely be on your UK bucket list. Even if you only have one day in Oxford, it’s worth exploring.
Oxford is easy enough to get to from London and is easily walkable. Walk in the footsteps of literary greats, stop for a pint in a pub, and tour one of the many Oxford Colleges (…and regret that you hadn’t applied to go to school there).
If you are a bookworm, like me, Oxford is an absolute dream. Ever since I read The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, I’ve wanted to visit Lyra’s Oxford.
It’s the birthplace of some of my favorite stories, including The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s also where Lewis Carrol met the real-life Alice and created Wonderland. More recently, Oxford is featured in A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.
It’s no wonder that these authors were inspired by Oxford, as it truly feels like a magical place. Even though it poured rain the whole day I was there, it was still charming. No matter the weather, I highly recommend visiting Oxford.
- By train: Great Western Railway offers train service from Paddington Station in London to Oxford Station. The ride takes about an hour, and then it’s about a ten-minute walk from Oxford Station to the city center.
- By bus: Take either a National Express or Oxford Tube bus from Victoria Station in London. The ride to Gloucester Green Station in Oxford takes a little under two hours.
Oxford is a very walkable city, especially if you’re trying to see a lot in one day. Wear comfortable shoes, pack an umbrella, and feel free to peek down the small side streets open to the public- you never know what you’ll find!
One Day in Oxford
Here’s a one-day itinerary of things to do in Oxford so that you, too, may have a magical trip!
Enjoy Brunch at the Handle Bar Cafe
Begin your one day in Oxford by fueling up with brunch. You might miss it from the outside, as it’s above a bike shop (hence the name), but inside the Handle Bar is a quaint, lively spot for a delicious meal.
When we visited, we hadn’t made reservations, so we waited in line downstairs for about twenty minutes before we were able to grab a seat. The Handle Bar stayed busy the whole time we were there, filling with tourists, students, and families.
The menu is very vegetarian/vegan-friendly (although their bacon was delicious as well). It was so pleasant to sit by the large windows, surrounded by houseplants, with a coffee in hand and watch people pass by on the street below.
Tour Christ Church College
About a seven-minute walk from the Handle Bar will take you to Christ Church College, one of the colleges of Oxford University. Founded by Henry VIII, Christ Church has withstood the test of time and produced countless alumni, including author Lewis Caroll and the philosopher John Locke.
However, contemporary travelers flock to Christ Church because of its ties to the Harry Potter films. Christ Church’s beautiful stone Grand Staircase was used in The Sorcerer’s Stone, and the famous Hogwarts’ Great Hall was modeled after the dining hall at the college.
A tour of Christ Church will take you through different parts of the campus, including the Grand Staircase, the dining hall, Christ Church Cathedral, and both the Tom and Peckwater Quads. The tour can take over an hour, depending on how quickly you want to go through. (Since we visited during COVID times, tours were done using personal multimedia devices, so you could pick what to listen to.)
Take the time to admire the beautiful War Memorial Gardens as well.
Climb the Tower of St Mary the Virgin
For a bird’s-eye-view of Oxford, climb the tower of The University Church of St Mary the Virgin. This was one of my favorite things we did during our one day in Oxford!
St. Mary’s is free to visit. However, there is a small fee to visit the tower. The tower is the oldest part of the medieval church and can be climbed via a relatively short, though very narrow, spiral staircase (127 steps to be precise). The views are worth the dizziness, as you look past the gargoyles and out over the rooftops of Oxford.
You might also get to witness someone pulling the ropes during the traditional bell-ringing as you pass through the bell chamber.
Sip Afternoon Tea at the Vaults and Garden Cafe
Located just outside St. Mary’s is the Vaults and Garden Cafe, where you can enjoy lunch or afternoon tea. The vaults date back to the late 1400s and used to be a meeting room for the St. Mary’s congregation.
Enjoy a scone with clotted cream and a cup of tea under the pretty vaulted ceiling, or, if it’s not raining, you can sit outside and enjoy the view of the Radcliffe Camera.
Search for the Narnia Lamppost
In his essay, “It All Began with a Picture”, author C.S. Lewis said the original inspiration of what would become The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was just a mental image of a faun carrying packages in a snowy wood. Since the book’s publication in 1950, the image of Lucy and Mr.Tumnus the faun standing under a lamppost in the woods has now become an iconic one.
While C.S. Lewis attended University College and became a fellow and professor at Magdalen College, you can find a single, solitary lamppost near All Souls College. Walking South away from the Radcliffe Camera and towards High Street, you’ll find a small walk called St Mary’s Passage.
There you’ll find a single lamppost, which you can imagine standing alone in a snowy wood. Also, see if you can spot the nearby fauns guarding a magical-looking door!
Photograph Oxford’s Most Recognizable Architecture
The Radcliffe Camera is one of Oxford’s most recognizable and beautiful buildings. (They just don’t build things like the Radcliffe Camera anymore!)
Built in the early 1700s, it was named for Dr. John Radcliffe, one of the most successful English physicians, who decreed that after his death, his money was to be used to build a library.
Currently, the Radcliffe Camera is used as a reading room for the nearby Bodleian Library. The upper room holds books on art and history, while the lower room has books focusing on literature and theology.
Hertford Bridge (aka Bridge of Sighs)
Officially called Hertford Bridge as it connects two buildings of Hertford College, this skyway walk is better known as Oxford’s Bridge of Sighs, as it is similar to the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, Italy.
Designed by Sir Thomas Jackson and completed in 1914, the bridge is only open to college members. However, it creates a fun photo opportunity for us tourists…and a spot to stay dry when it rains!
Shop at Blackwell’s Bookshop
Literary lovers rejoice! If you stop in one store in Oxford, make it Blackwell’s Bookshop. Since they opened on Broad Street in 1879, Blackwell’s has expanded around the UK, but the Oxford location is the original.
With three levels inside the store, Blackwell’s once had the largest number of books for sale in one room, when the Norrington Room opened in 1966. It’s a store in which one could easily spend hours. Grab a coffee from the cafe, chat with the knowledgeable staff, and purchase a book (or three).
Drink at one of Oxford’s Oldest Pubs
The foundation of Turf Tavern dates back to the 1300s, and it has seen its fair share of famous people at its bar throughout the centuries.
It’s a pub that is hard to find but is still somehow always busy. A few twists and turns off of Holywell Street and Bath Place will find you in the cozy courtyard of the tavern.
You’ll probably have to stoop to enter, as the ceilings are low. Filled with locals, students, and tourists alike, the Turf Tavern was one of our favorite pubs in Oxford. As it was raining during our visit, we chose to forgo the outdoor seating. We stayed cozy inside, settled into a pint, and had some fish and chips.
Pay Homage at the Eagle and Child
While it is unfortunately closed for renovations and being made into a B&B, if you are a die-hard fantasy fan such as myself, it is still worth making the pilgrimage to the Eagle and Child. It was one of the pubs at which C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien would meet and read their stories to one another.
It was still really cool to imagine those two men inside, discussing fauns and hobbits over a drink, hopefully, next to a crackling fire.
If we had arrived in Oxford just a little earlier in the morning, there are a few things to see in Oxford that I would’ve tried to fit in:
- Lyra’s Bench at Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum: Located in the Lower Garden is a bench, now affectionately as “Lyra’s Bench”. It’s named after the main character in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series of novels, and stands as a symbol connecting alternate realities.
- Bodleian Library: One of the oldest libraries in Europe, the Bodleian looks absolutely stunning…which is probably why it was also used in The Sorcerer’s Stone film.
While one day in Oxford was certainly enough to see a lot, I’d definitely like to return and spend more time there! There are just so many things to do in Oxford for bookworms!
Have you been to Oxford? What were your favorite places?
If you’re planning a day trip to Oxford, pin this article for later!