no alt text

Bucket list experience:

Last updated: 04 November, 2022
Expert travel writer: Annabelle Thorpe

Oxford is a city dominated by its world-famous university, with 38 spectacular colleges dotted around the city centre. Founded between the 12th and 15th centuries, these bastions of world-class education offer visitors the opportunity to stroll through centuries of British history, where a litany of impressive historical figures – from prime ministers and presidents to famous scientists – once lived and studied.

The architecture is equally impressive, from the wonderful, 15th-century Gothic towers of Magdalen College to the beautiful gardens and quads at 13th-century New College.

It’s worth doing research beforehand, as each college offers something different. Art-lovers should head to Christchurch, which has a spectacular art collection, including works by Rubens and Michelangelo, while University College is famous for its stained glass.

Price from: £3
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 13+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

The colleges are all clustered in the city centre, so you can easily visit several in one afternoon. Some charge admission fees while others are free. See the website for a printable map of individual college locations.

The helpful tourist information centre on Broad Street also has maps and is the meeting point for free walking tours of the colleges. You don’t need to book – just turn up and join the next one that’s leaving.

When to do it

Most colleges are open to visitors in the afternoons, but times vary between colleges, so check the website for specific schedules.

The bridge runs between two buildings above a cobblestone street underneath which people are walking. The bridge is arched sandstone with rectangular glass windows.
Experience

Bridge of Sighs

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)

One of the city’s iconic Insta shots, this raised bridge, linking two sections of Hertford College is notable for its similarity to the Bridge of Sighs in Venice.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

Website >
Overview >
Students and families stand and walk in front of Christ Church College's sandstone building.
Experience

Christ Church College

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)

Dating back to 1539, this grand college is now most famous for its dining room, the model for Hogwarts’ Great Hall in the Harry Potter films. The chapel is also worth a visit. It opens to the public for evensong every evening.

Best for ages: 18+ | £15

Website >
Overview >
The inner yard and campus buildings of Magdalen College. A long pale grey sandstone building, with three chimneys rising at regular intervals. The building is low to the ground with many square windows with pale wood window frames. There is green foliage in rough rectangle shapes climbing the façade at regular intervals. An arched doorway leads inside the building, and there is a pathway leading past the building with grass on either side.
Experience

Magdalen College

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)

Founded in 1458, Magdalen is regarded as one of the most beautiful Oxbridge colleges. The Great Tower, built circa 1500, is an Oxford landmark. Famous alumni include Oscar Wilde, Andrew Lloyd Webber and King Edward VIII.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

Website >
Overview >
A continuous sandstone building in a rectangular shape with a court in the centre (not pictured). Seen from outside, a low sandstone wall runs along the outside, and an elaborate turret can be seen rising from the centre of the building, with intricate spires crowning it. There is closely-cut green grass outside, and a few trees.
Experience

Merton College Chapel

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)

Dating back to the 13th century, the chapel is famous for its original stained-glass windows and the imposing Dobson Organ – one of the finest in the UK.

Best for ages: 18+ | £3

Website >
Overview >

Our selection of the best Viator tours of this attraction or activity

1.5-hour Oxford University and Colleges Walking Tour

1.5-hour Oxford University and Colleges Walking Tour

Oxford

Explore Oxford University and city on this 90-minute walking tour for up to 25 people. Learn about the history and architecture from an expe...

£20 | Rating 4.60 / 5 [1081 ratings]

Website >

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo
Shared | Oxford University Tour With Optional Christ Church Entry Led By Alumni

Shared | Oxford University Tour With Optional Christ Church Entry Led By Alumni

Oxford

Our University of Oxford graduate guide will take you on an enthralling journey through time as we recount to you the fascinating story of O...

£20 | Rating 4.78 / 5 [161 ratings]

Website >

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo
Oxford Official University & City Tour

Oxford Official University & City Tour

Oxford

An Oxford Official Walking Tour is the best way to explore the "City of dreaming spires". Led by one of our knowledgeable guides t...

£22 | Rating 4.79 / 5 [457 ratings]

Website >

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo
Social Distancing Specialised Oxford University Walking Tour With Student Guides

Social Distancing Specialised Oxford University Walking Tour With Student Guides

Oxford

Designed to see the best of Oxford in a safe environment with the smallest group sizing we have ever done. With this specialised tour we tak...

£22 | Rating 4.97 / 5 [42 ratings]

Website >

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo

Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay near this experience, closest first

Tower House

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)[0.1 miles]

A charming B&B in a 16th-century townhouse, right in the heart of the city centre and close to all the main sights.

Official star rating:

Old Bank Hotel

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)[0.4 miles]

A 5-star boutique heritage gem in a converted bank, with luxurious rooms and an excellent central location.

Official star rating:

Old Parsonage

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)[0.7 miles]

History and style combine at this elegant hotel and restaurant. Art-filled and centrally located, it’s the perfect romantic escape.

Official star rating:

Head of the River

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)[0.7 miles]

An idyllically-situated gastropub with rooms overlooking the River Isis, with a buzzy restaurant and terrace serving well-made Modern British dishes.

Official star rating:

Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

Oxford

Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)

One of Britain’s most beautiful and historic cities, graced by heartstopping architecture and home to the world’s second-oldest university.

Website >
Overview >

Our writer’s recommendations of other bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination, closest first

Ashmolean Museum

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)[0.3 miles]

A world-class collection of art and architecture in the heart of Oxford that ranges across 3,000 years of history, with Egyptian rooms to rival those of the British Museum.

Best for ages: 6+ | Free

Punting on the River Cherwell

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)[1.8 miles]

Glide along the Cherwell in a traditional punt, and take in the spectacular architecture of Oxford’s iconic colleges from the tranquillity of the river.

Best for ages: 6+ | £16 | 1+ hours

Website >
Overview >

Blenheim Palace

Woodstock, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)[12.1 miles]

One of Britain’s greatest country houses, and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, Blenheim boasts 300 years of history in a spectacular setting.

Best for ages: 13+ | £32

Other worthwhile experiences near this experience if you have time or interest..

Arcade of shops with a lady looking at a flwoer stall
Experience

Oxford Covered Market

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)[0.1 miles]

First opened as a food market in 1774, the Covered Market is now home to fifty different stallholders, selling everything from vintage clothes, jewellery and flowers to specialist foodie treats.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

Website >
Overview >
The outside of the Museum of the History of Science building. A cylindrical pale yellow sandstone building with arched windows and a wooden door.
Experience

Museum of the History of Science

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)[0.2 miles]

An extraordinary collection of scientific instruments and artefacts, dating from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, with highlights including Einstein’s blackboard and a Roman disc sundial. 

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

Website >
Overview >
Inside the gallery. The room has pale wood floors, and high ceilings with skylights. There are people walking around large sculptures.
Experience

Modern Art Oxford

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)[0.3 miles]

One of the country’s leading galleries for cutting edge, avant-garde art, there is a rolling programme of temporary exhibitions, alongside film and music events.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

Website >
Overview >
Inside the Bodleian Library Divinity School. The room has dark wooden seating and a vaulted, intricately carved stone ceiling.
Experience

Bodleian Library

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)[0.3 miles]

Dating back to the 14th century, the Bodleian buildings – including the Divinity School, Oxford’s oldest teaching room – are some of Oxford’s most beautiful. Visits by pre-bookable tours only.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

Website >
Overview >