When visiting Oxford you might think it will cost quite a few pounds (British money) to hit some of the best tourist sights, but this is not always so. While you can spend money on tours and some of the amazing attractions Oxford has to offer, you can also have a great time visiting some of Oxford's most iconic spots completely free.
To help you out, we've put together a list of the top 9 free things to do in Oxford. But before you get all excited and run off to see the free sights, stow backpacks, purses, and bags in a luggage storage location in Oxford. Pick up your belongings when the day is done. Why carry extra things when you don't have to?
Go to the Markets
Browsing the shops, boutiques and markets is always an enjoyable pastime. Oxford has several large market places where you can easily spend hours wandering the shops checking out everything on offer from fresh produce to local crafts. A few of the best markets are Gloucester Green Market, The Covered Market, North Parade Market, and East Oxford Farmers Market.
Gloucester Green Market is an open-air market that flows with life. You will find every sort of shop here, clothing, homemade crafts, things for the house, and food stalls. You could spend hours perusing all the shops and you could eat for free as most of the food vendors offer free samples.
The Covered Market is mainly a market for food with cafes, restaurants and fresh produce making up most of the shops. There are, however, a few boutique shops to wander through and just do a little window shopping. North Parade and East Oxford are smaller markets and are primarily for produce but are still worth checking out both the markets and the area surrounding them.
Explore Port Meadows
Port Meadows is a huge open area where you can see cattle and horses roaming freely, and is a favorite spot for bird watching. You will find many waterways, including the River Thames, for walking and hiking, fishing (with a license), and for the more adventurous, wild swimming, which can be a little dangerous.
Port Meadows does have a designated picnic and BBQ area near the entrance at Godstow Road. However, they can be done anywhere within the meadow, just be aware of the horses and cows. Dogs are also welcome but must be under control and not disturb the other wildlife and farm animals.
Find Harry Potter Filming Locations
Many areas in Oxford either inspired or were used throughout the movies series, Harry Potter fans are able to take tours or discover these areas on their own. Christ Church College was used for scenes of the staircase and hallways at Hogwarts. And the Great Hall in Hogwarts was designed after the dining hall of the college.
The Bodleian Library had two filming locations, the Divinity Hall which was used for a number of sets, and the Duke Humfrey's Library, used as the restricted section of Hogwart's library. This location is not free unfortunately but it is pretty cheap. New College in Oxford also saw its cloisters, courtyard, and tree used in the films and it is free to check them out.
Watch Some Sports
For sports fans, one of the best free things to do in Oxford is to head out to Oxford University Parks on a Wednesday or Saturday to watch some games. On these days, football (soccer) and lacrosse are played by the Oxford University team, and if Cambridge, their biggest rival, happens to be playing things really heat up.
If you can't make it out for an Oxford University game there are other universities and local teams that also use Oxford University Parks for their matches. In fact, if you are lucky enough you can even watch a game of Quidditch, although there is no flying on broomsticks.
Radcliffe Square, right near the City Centre on High Street, is probably the most visited place in Oxford. This area is simply stunning with not one new building in sight and a whole host of great free and not free places to visit and take pictures. Located in central Oxford, Radcliffe Square is surrounded by Brasenose College, All Souls College, University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and the Bodleian Library.
In the center of Radcliffe Square is the iconic Radcliffe Camera, the most photographed building in Oxford. Radcliffe Camera is actually a library of Oxford University and is free to enter. It is possible to enter all of the landmarks for free, however, there are certain areas within the buildings that have fees like St. Mary's Church Tower.
Eat Fudge for Free
Fudge is delicious, free fudge is even better! For those that suffer from an incurable sweet tooth, going to the Fudge Kitchen on Broad Street is a very good and bad thing. While they let you have free samples of their luxurious handmade fudge, you will be hard-pressed not to spend a bunch of money on the addicting treat.
What makes it even better (or worse) is they have other delicious treats like chocolates, truffles, and brittles. They also offer fudge-making experiences that give you a chance to cook and fold the fudge. These classes are a lot of fun but do have a cost, and it's not just the calories you will consume testing it while you are making it.
Street Art on Cowley Road
The Cowley Road area is a younger part of Oxford, but historically and demographically, and is him to some great graffiti. At the end of each terrace row of houses, you will find large street art murals, some of which are 4 stories high. These works of art are part of the Cowley Road Works which was organized to help inspire young local artists and bring the community together.
While you are searching out the street art around Cowley, take advantage of the area and do some window shopping in the vintage shops and craft stores. Visit at night to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere with its eclectic bars and cafes.
Don't be surprised to find more than painted graffiti art on the streets as the Oxford Drunken Knitwits, have started "yarn bombing" areas throughout the city. It's the Knitwits way of raising awareness (and funds) for mental health charities, through non-damaging graffiti. And for some older graffiti art, head to the Old Library at the Oxford Union showing scenes of the legend of King Arthur and others, from the 1850s. There is a very small fee for this one.
If you are visiting Oxford in May, check out the Oxfordshire Artweeks where studios and art galleries open their doors to the public. The event is city-wide and artists of every possible medium from painting to jewelry and digital even open their homes to the public.
Free Walking Tours
A great free thing to do in Oxford is to take one of the many free walking tours. This is one of the best ways to see more than just the highlights of the area, but the city itself. There are basically two ways to do a free walking tour. You can take one of the organized ones or download an app and do it at your own pace.
Taking a tour with the guide will allow asking questions and can be more entertaining and informative (depending on the guide). These guides are volunteers and run the tours because of their passion for their city and it shows, which makes these tours so good. Using an app allows you to go at your own speed. You are not committed to a certain time and you can choose your own route.
If you are nervous about the qualifications of the tour guides go to the Tourist Information Centre, on Broad Street, which runs and recommends tours by qualified guides. Remember that the guides are volunteers and don't get paid for these tours, so giving a tip at the end, although not required, is a nice thing to do.
Visit a Free Museum
One thing you will find in the United Kingdom is that many of the art galleries and museums are free. This is because they are part of a government funding program, and while they are free, they also ask that you donate something if you can. Not only are the museums free but they are interesting and fun, even for kids.
Pitt Rivers Museum
The Pitt Rivers Museum, a branch of the University of Oxford, is home to its collection of anthropology and world archaeology. The museum has an amazing and fantastically odd collection of artifacts like shrunken heads and ancient ritualistic and tribal items that will fascinate everyone. Even the way the museum is organized is unusual, with display cabinets with objects of the same type rather than the same era.
The building itself is striking and adds to the feeling of being in a curiosity shop rather than a museum. The collection of weird and wonderful items is so big that the displays are changed regularly. There is always something new to see! It is easy to see why visiting this museum is one of the best free things to do in Oxford.
History of Science Museum
The History of Science Museum is a world of scientific wonders. From artifacts and inventions that changed the world to some of the most famous scientist's everyday items, like Einstein's chalkboard, make it a really fascinating place to check out. Some of the exhibits even allow you to handle some of the items.
See ancient sundials, Lewis Carroll's photography equipment, cool astrolabes and so much more. In fact, they have over 33,000 scientific objects to keep you engaged for hours. From the Middle Ages to the modern world, you will not only see the evolution of science but also how man has used it.
Museum of Natural History
For a smaller natural history museum, this attraction is packed with some pretty cool objects and displays. Skeletons of whales, a T-rex (the first thing you see when you walk in), and other prehistoric animals adorn the halls and ceilings. It is also home to the only remains of the extinct Dodo bird and the few dinosaurs found only in the Oxfordshire area.
The Museum of Natural History in London is much bigger but many prefer the one in Oxford as it is less busy and has a very extensive collection to explore. If you are into rocks they have a colorful gemstone collection and a meteorite that you get to touch. If you have kids, they will absolutely love this museum as it has fun and interactive activities for them.
Be sure to make plenty of time because once you finish exploring this museum, you will want to head through the door that leads to the Pitt Rivers Museum.
The beautiful classical building of the Ashmolean Museum is an art and archeological museum that houses a huge collection of over 112,500 objects. The museum houses the largest Egyptian collection outside of Cairo, as well as objects from 500,00 BC. Organized by country, this allows you to visit the ones that interest you the most.
The museum has interactive displays, talks by experts, and "trails" for kids to investigate (you can too) all for free. Wandering the halls of the oldest university museum in the world is pretty cool in itself, but adding in all the amazing works of art makes it one of the best free things to do in Oxford.
See Oxford for Free
If you are interested in visiting some of the religious Oxford colleges or churches that charge an entry, here's a little trick so you can visit for free. Why not attend Evensong? The Christ Church Cathedral is the most stunning one but New College and Magdalen are also good choices.
Weston Library is another place to go for free. They have exhibits including unique maps. Market Street is a wonderful area to walk and browse and maybe find some tasty Oxford street food at a bargain price. Exploring Oxford is fun, no matter what you decide to do!