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13 Things to do in Oxford in the Summer

Rain or shine, Oxford is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful British cities. However, there’s something about Oxford in the summer that is particularly stunning.

With the college’s vibrant green grass, the sound of laughter as people punt down the Cherwell and bright blue skies above the Radcliffe Camera, summer is the best time to visit Oxford and its dreaming spires.

Try Your Hand at Punting

There are few things more iconically Oxford that punting. This standing boating activity is so very British and a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon.

You can choose to start your journey from one of three main points in Oxford: Magdalen Bridge and Christ Church Meadow and Cherwell Boathouse.

My personal preference is Magdalen Bridge as it’s very central, there are lots of boats and you can pick up all your picnic essentials from the Sainsburys next to the bridge.

You’ll go down the Cherwell and see sights such as Oxford Botanic Gardens, St Hilda’s College and Christ Church Meadow too. How much you see depends largely on how good you are at punting and what pace you want to take it at.

What’s great is that you can also choose to punt yourself or be punted. I’d thoroughly recommend attempting to punt yourself as it’s much more fun this way and you (probably) won’t fall in. It isn’t uncommon for first-timers to lose the pole but paddling yourself back to rescue it is all part of the fun.

So pack a bag full of goodies and off you punt! Some strawberries and prosecco usually wash down well and don’t forget suncream if it’s a very sunny day. 

NB. A security deposit may be required in order to rent these punts. Check out this post for all you need to know on where to rent them from and how much it costs.

Rent a punt from one of these three businesses:
Magdalen Bridge Boathouse | Cherwell Boathouse
Salter’s Steamers

Enjoy an ice cream from G&Ds 

G&Ds is a popular independent ice cream shop in Oxford and you’ll find a few dotted around the city. I’d suggest visiting the G&Ds opposite Christ Church on St Aldates and then taking your ice cream with you on a walk about Christ Church meadow.

Whilst the entrance fee to Christ Church is the highest out of all the Oxford colleges, the meadow is completely free to enter.

RELATED: A Guide to the Best Cafes in Oxford

The ice cream and goodies at G&Ds is all homemade and often made with locally sourced ingredients. There is a huge range of flavours but a favourite of mine has always been dimebar crunch.

The flavours are seasonal and you can often find some interesting combinations such as fig & mascarpone or spiced masala chai.

G&Ds is a firm favourite of Oxford University students and locals so this is not one to miss.

Address: 94 St Aldate’s, Oxford, OX1 1BT
Opening Hours: 8am – midnight every day
Website: www.gdcafe.com

Have a Picnic in Port Meadow

Port Meadow is a 20-30 minute walk out of Oxford City centre but you’ll feel like you’re miles away from civilisation. This huge expanse of green is a wonderful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city so grab some friends, pack a picnic basket and head off for a relaxing afternoon. 

Lots of animals call Port Meadow home, including rabbits, horses, ducks and cows. The horses are wild and beautiful and it’s lovely to see them grazing out in these vast grassy fields.

RELATED: The Best Free Things to Do in Oxford

The River Thames flows alongside Port Meadow and if you’re feeling brave, you can bring a swimming costume along and go for a dip. Fair warning – it’ll be VERY cold!

Please do your own research on whether it is safe to swim in this area before you hop in. I know plenty of people who’ve swum here during the summer months but it’s best to inform yourself about wild swimming.

Address: Walton Well Rd, Oxford OX2 6ED

Enjoy Afternoon Tea at The Vaults

The Vaults & Garden cafe is an adorable cafe directly opposite the Radcliffe Camera. It’s a great location for breakfast, lunch and dinner all year round, but I particularly love their afternoon tea.

The Vaults serves a traditional British afternoon tea including scones, cream and jam on beautiful floral trays. The scones are freshly baked each day with local jersey clotted cream and home made jam. Of course you’ll get a pot of freshly brewed tea to enjoy alongside this.

And it’s not just amazing food you can enjoy here, but also amazing views. You can enjoy your afternoon tea seated outside the cafe, looking up at the beautiful round Rad Cam, Oxford’s main library.

RELATED: Where to Find the Best Brunch in Oxford

The Vaults source their ingredients from local farmers in an effort to minimise their environmental impact too, which is always great to see. The cafe’s ethos revolves around the principles of sustainability, no waste catering, ethical produce and healthy living.

Afternoon tea at The Vaults is served daily from 2pm – 6pm and costs £6.70.

Address: University Church, 1 Radcliffe Sq, Oxford OX1 4AH
Opening Hours: 8am – 6pm every day
Website: thevaultsandgarden.com

Take a Day Trip to Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, is the only palace in England that is not affiliated with the royal family.  It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and welcomes the public to explore its history.

There’s the palace with its stately rooms as well as acres of land to explore so to make the most of your day here (and you’ll want to because it’s pretty pricey!), make a day trip out of this.

You can explore the palace with a human guide or an audio guide, whichever you prefer. There’s lots to learn as you wander around these ornate rooms and grounds so do take advantage of these.

When you’ve finished admiring the portraits, furniture and tapestries, go outside for a breath of fresh air. In the grounds you’ll find formal gardens, a lake and even a maze. The grounds are so big in fact that you might need to take their miniature train to get to places!

Address: Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, OX20 1PP
Price: £27 (concessions available)
Opening Hours: 10:30am – 5:30pm every day
Website: blenheimpalace.com

Stroll around Oxford’s Botanic Garden

The Oxford University Botanic Garden is a beautiful oasis of flowers, trees and other plants. It’s the oldest botanic garden in the UK (dating back to 1621!) and features almost 6000 different types of plant.

Summer is the best time to enjoy the gardens as the flowers are all in bloom and the weather is sunny and dry. If you want, you can even bring your lunch in to enjoy on a bench. 

Oxford Botanic Garden also has a full events calendar with open air theatre performances, yoga in the garden and treasure hunts. For those that need a breather from the bustle of central Oxford, this is the perfect place to escape for a few hours.

These botanic gardens are particularly special because of the numerous literary works inspired by them including: the Ents from Lord of the Rings, the Queen’s croquet garden, and Will and Lyra’s bench from The Northern Lights Series. Find out more from my self-guided literary tour of Oxford

Price: £5.45 (concessions available)
Address: Rose Lane, Oxford, OX1 4AZ
Opening Hours: 9am – 6pm every day

Enjoy cocktails and views at The Varsity Club

Varsity Club’s rooftop bar is a big hit in the summer months and boasts gorgeous views over the centre of Oxford.

It’s one of the pricier cocktail bars in Oxford but with 360 views over the City of Dreaming Spires, it’s more upscale that your typical cosy Oxford pub.

Happy hour runs from 12 noon to 7pm in the evening every Monday to Friday when you can enjoy two cocktails for £10 or two gin bowls for £16. Yep, gin bowls.

If you’re looking to dance the night away then get here in the early evening, stay for cocktails and dinner on the outside terrace before heading inside to boogie til late.

Address: 9 High Street, Oxford, OX1 4DB
Opening Hours: 12pm – 12pm every day (open til 3am on Fridays and Saturdays)
Website: tvcoxford.co.uk

Climb University Church of St Mary’s the Virgin

Some of the best views over Oxford can be found from the top of University Church of St Mary the Virgin, which is right in the centre of the city. It’s from these heights that you really understand why the city is commonly referred to as the “City of Dreaming Spies”. 

Take a free tour of the church to find out its history before climbing up the 127 steps to the top of the tower. Whilst a tour of the church is free, there’s a small fee to go up the tower. It’s 100% percent worth it however as there are unobstructed views over Oxford, and you’re right in the city centre.

The infamous Radcliffe Camera is located right behind the church so you get a magnificent view of this from a towering height and can see into the quads of surrounding colleges too. You can admire the uniformity of Oxford architecture and marvel at one of the UK’s most beautiful cities.

RELATED: Where to Get the Best Views of the Radcliffe Camera

NB. The stairs are narrow and steep. If you have any physical injuries or suffer from claustrophobia, this may not be advisable for you.

Price: £5
Address: High Street, Oxford OX1 4AH, England
Opening Hours: 9:30am – 5pm Monday to Saturday; 12pm – 5pm Sunday
Website: www.universitychurch.ox.ac.uk

Visit Magdalen College Deer Park

Magdalen is one of the most beautiful Oxford colleges and is definitely worth adding to any Oxford itinerary. Not only does it boast grand architecture and beautiful buildings, but also its very own deer park. Who would’ve guessed from the busy road outside that this college housed a herd of deer?

To see them, you’ll need to find the path between New Buildings and Grove Quad. Ask for directions at the entrance or refer to this handy map on their website.

RELATED: The 10 Most Beautiful Oxford Colleges

This is one of the largest Oxford colleges so there are vast grounds to explore. The River Cherwell passes through the grounds so there’s a nice riverside path you can do a slow lap of. Oscar Wilde was once a student here too so you can trace his footsteps as you walk through his alma mater.

If you’d like to spend an afternoon here you can also get a light lunch or afternoon tea in the Old Kitchen Bar and Riverside Terrace.

Price: £7 (concessions available)
Address: Magdalen College, High Street, Oxford, OX1 4AU
Opening Hours: 10am -7pm (seasonal, so check the website)
Website: www.magd.ox.ac.uk

Take a dip at Hinksey Outdoor Pool

Hinksey is a heated outdoor pool just a short walk from the centre of Oxford. Swimming under the hot sun here you could almost forget that you’re in a city. It’s a great place for all ages to hang out when the weather is warm as you could visit to just splash around or go for a serious swim.

There are a couple of different ticket options and you can pay extra to go in either early/late when it might be more peaceful. It’s worth checking the timetable to see what’s on each day too as there are swimming classes and other activities scheduled on a daily basis.

What’s more, there’s a cafe onsite with healthy snacks and foods so you can spend the whole day here if you wish. It’s got absolutely glowing reviews so I’d perhaps forgo the packed sandwiches in favour of lunch here instead!

Plus, you’ll need to fuel up if you’re here for some serious swimming.

NB Parking space is limited at Hinksey Pool so please research where to park beforehand if you are coming by car.

Price: £2.50-£6.50 pp. Family tickets and concessions available.
Address: Hinksey Park, Abingdon Road, Oxford, OX1 4RP
Opening Hours: 7am – 6pm/8pm (seasonal)
Website: www.fusion-lifestyle.com/centres/hinksey-outdoor-pool/

Go on a Bike Tour Around the City

Biking is the most common way to get around Oxford for locals and students alike. You’ll definitely notice the mass of bikes around the city when you visit!

Experience Oxford like a local by taking your own bike tour around the city. You can do this with a guided tour or you can arrange your own route.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to put on a helmet!

RELATED: The Perfect Oxford Day Trip Itinerary

Oxford is a small, walking city but the advantage of a bike is that you’ll be able to see so much more in one day. If you want to see parks or colleges that are a little way out of the centre then a bike is a great idea. You’ll be able to whizz from Christ Church Meadow all the way up to Keble college in no time!

Book a bike tour around Oxford and the surrounding country here now.

Book a Hot Air Balloon Flight Over Oxford

Sure, Oxford is pretty beautiful when your feet are planted firmly on the pavement, but what about from the skies? If you’re visiting Oxford for a special occasion and want to go all out, book a hot air balloon ride over Oxford and the surrounding countryside.

You’ll be able to admire Oxford’s beautiful architecture as you rise into the sky. If you’re lucky, you may even fly as far as Blenheim Palace so you could view that magnificent property from the above too!

I was fortunate enough to get a small taste of what this might be like at Christ Church Commemoration Ball in 2017 when I rose up in a balloon to watch the sunrise and can assure you it is breathtakingly beautiful.

Prices for this start at £117 pp so save this for a special day with a special someone! Book a hot air balloon ride over Oxford with Virgin Balloon Flights here.

Watch the Sunset at South Parks

You’ll have to walk right out of the centre of Oxford and towards Headington to get to South Parks but it’s worth it for the views of Oxford from a distance. It’s located up atop a hill and so you get gorgeous views of the whole city and can see the silhouettes of the spires against the setting sun.

It’s a really peaceful and romantic spot to visit at dusk and would make for a great late afternoon picnic destination in the summer months.

There’s nowhere better to watch the sunset in Oxford so if you want to get out of the city centre, head here for the evening. It’s one of the best free things to do in Oxford.

If a picnic isn’t your thing, hit up one of the many excellent restaurants out in this area before you head back to the centre. Arbequina, Kazbar and The Rusty Bicycle are some of favourite restaurnts in Cowley.

So here you have your essential Oxford itinerary for summer! This is one of the loveliest cities to explore in the sunshine as there are so many outdoor spaces to enjoy.

How to get to Oxford

By Train 

There are regular trains from all major UK stations to Oxford. If you are coming from London, you will need to go via London Paddington. Oxford station is a little way out of the city centre but you can then take a bus or walk into town. Book via the Trainline for the cheapest tickets.

By Bus

If you’re planning to come by bus, aim to get off at either Oxford High Street or Gloucester Green bus station depending on your first Oxford destination.

The Oxford Tube is a super convenient and cheap bus service that’ll take you from the centre of London straight into the heart of Oxford. If you’re taking this route, I’d recommend getting off at the High Street so that you can walk to Radcliffe Square in just 3 minutes. 

By Car

Oxford is easily accessible via the M4, M25, M40 and A roads.

Where to Stay in Oxford

Booking.com

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The Harry Potter Tour of Oxford
A Guide to Alice in Wonderland in Oxford

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Laura

Editor of What’s Hot?

Laura is an award-winning travel and book blogger based in the UK. She studied French literature at Oxford University and is now an IP lawyer at a top law firm in London. She was named UK Book Blogger of the Year in 2019 and loves to combine her passion for books and travel with literary travel.