Things to do in Oxford (when you’re trying to save some cash)

Having lived in Oxford for nearly two years, I will say that it is an expensive city to live in. As such, all the activities I used to do on my weekends were, well, free. Oxford is super famous for several (literary) reasons:

  1. The University of Oxford. Basically, the University owns most of city centre Oxford – everywhere you turn is a different college. If you walk up to someone in Oxford and say “can you direct me to the University?” you will have to be more specific. Do you want Jesus College? The School of Divinity? Christchurch? They’re all pretty spread out! As a super super old university, there are lots of gorgeous old buildings in the city center. If (like me) you like old buildings, just walking around is a fun thing to do.
  2. Alice in Wonderland was written by C.S.Lewis (aka mathematician Charles Dogeson) in Oxford, for the daughter of the Dean of Christchurch College. Alice Liddell.
  3. Harry Potter filmed Hogwarts across a variety of the colleges of Oxford.

As a result of all three of the above, every other city centre shop sells Oxford University hoodies, Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland memorabilia. If you want something for one of these three, I’d recommend shopping around a bit – one of the shops will probably have a good deal (and you can always go back to the best deal). If you don’t actually want something, it can be fun just having a look at it all.

However, I am not here to talk about the shopping opportunities – I’m not a big person for shopping so I can’t help much there. I try to avoid spending money where possible (hey, I’ve been saving for New Zealand!) so the things I’m recommending I can guarantee cost as a baseline absolutely nothing (plus whatever you want to spend on whatever you want). It’s a lot of museums to be perfectly honest – museums are great! They’re usually temperature controlled so any random heatwave can be avoided.

Ashmoleon Museum

The Ashmoleon is the University’s museum of art and archaeology. It was first opened in 1683, and the inital collection was donated by Elias Ashmole to the University in 1682. The museum was initally on Broad Street (where the Museum of the history of Science is now based) but it is currently located in a grand, gorgeous building on Beaumont Street.

There is so much to see! The entire top floor is art dividied by style and decade, there is a sculpture hall (That I sometimes just sit in with my sketchbook), an Egyptian section, and load loads more. There are interactive sections and treasure trails for the kids! Honestly, you could spend an entire day here at least if you wanted to. As it is, I have my favourites. I love the sculpture hall and if I only have half an hour I’ll whistle round Egypt as well.

Museum is open 10-5 every day, and operates a donation system. For more information about the museum, it’s opening etc here’s the website: Ashmoleon Museum, Oxford

Additional Extras: The Ashmoleon Museum also have a touring/extra/paid exhibition on the top floor. It changes about three times a year

Natural History and Pitt Rivers

Natural History Museum (with Pitt Rivers Collection at the back!)
And the Pitt Rivers Collection at the back is just fun to wander! Bit dark but Atmosphere!

The Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museums are actually in the same building. Basically the Natural History is the elegant looking front of the museum, and the Pitt Rivers is a single dude’s collection basically in the basement. It’s incredible. The Natural History museum has skeletons (and a This Was Done By A Female Scientist tour thing) and Pitt Rivers is a maze of oddities including shrunken heads and a canoe suspended from the ceiling. It’s a wacky place. I love taking people there for the first time – it’s a bit dark and people are confused when we first go it but it is awesome! Both museums are big on engagement, so there are usually things going on.

Walking to Iffley Lock down the Thames towpath.

Towpath down the River Thames

If you like walking (like me) I can highly recommend walking down the Thames from town to Iffley Lock and back (or then walking over and getting on the number 3 back to town from Iffley Road. It’s gorgeous and there is a pub near the Lock with a thriving beer garden (the inside is grim – grab your drinks and sit by the river!). Join the river at Folly Bridge and walk south. This stretch of the river is popular with cyclists, runners (so watch out if you’re walking with other people basically) and with the university college rowing teams. Once you get to Iffley area, there is also a nature reserve. Basically, it’s gorgeous.

I think it probably takes about 40 minutes to an hour each way (I walk fast, so I’m erring a little).

Weston Library

Weston Library, Broad Street, Oxford

Technically part of the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, the Weston Library usually has some pretty neat free exhibitions going on. At the moment (correct as of August 2019) the exhibitions are on maps (well worth a visit, it was highly entertaining!) and how images have been drawn in 3D across history. Both were good! I’ve never done the rest of the library tour (I assume there is one) but it’s generally well air-conned (good for those stupidly hot random days we get in the UK).

Current exhibitions at the Weston Library

A good lunch spot is the steps opposite the Weston Library at the bottom of Broad Street because it’s shady in the early afternoon. It’s technically the steps to the back of the Bodleian courtyard but eh, cool lunch spot without risk of melanoma.

Walking Around…

Oxford has lots of touristy bits. The Covered Market is good to walk around (try and spot the White Rabbit…) and there are also sections which will look wildly familiar if you watch anything set in Oxford (e.g. Endeavour, A Discovery of Witches etc) like the Radcliffe Camera, the Hereford Bridge (Bridge of Sighs), the Bodleian Library. I didn’t include the latter on my list of things to do because it costs money to go on the tour and as such I have never done it so I cannot recommend either way. I can recommend that you go to the (free) courtyard – I find their collection of doors highly entertaining. To be perfectly honest, just walking around Oxford will yield gorgeous buildings and lots of people walking unbelievably slowly/stopping randomly for NO REASON. It can be a bit frustrating. I tend to duck into any reasonably empty alley I see and try and figure out a back way to wherever I am trying to go (with varying degrees of success I must admit…)

Some photos of the touristy spots are in my Gallery here!

Oxford is gorgeous, I will admit. There are usually a lot of tourists, a lot of walking tours, and lots of things to see. It is easy to spend a lot of money. So if you’re looking to watch the pennies while in Oxford, these are things that will easily take up time and not cost you more than the coffee in the café.


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