Oxford is one of the most beautiful cities in the United Kingdom and a particular favorite for tourists. Oxford has been a center for higher learning since the 12th century and is home to 38 colleges and universities including the prestigious University of Oxford. The sight of so many impressive architectural structures was nicknamed the "City of Dreaming Spires" by the poet Matthew Arnold.
In a city with such a massive student population and being a major tourist destination, it is important to be able to get around as efficiently as possible. And the city of Oxford has been able to achieve this through its excellent bus service and other public transport options.
If you are staying in London and want to head to Oxford for a day trip to try the street food or meander through museums, you can drive but you might find it easier to park the car and take a train. Getting to Oxford by train doesn't take too long and you won't really be able to use a car very much once you get there. Not to worry though, because there are plenty of options for getting around Oxford.
Whether you are going for just the day or plan on spending a few days in Oxford, you will want to start exploring the city right away. But before you set out on your day out in the historical city of learning, it is smart to store your luggage or any belongings you have with you someplace safe and secure. And why carry around the extra weight? See the city without the burden of bags by dropping your things at an Oxford luggage locker.
How to get around Oxford by train
Oxford doesn't have a local train or subway system for two main reasons, there was no room and it doesn't really need one. However, there are two train stations that offer services to London, Birmingham and other major cities within the UK. The Oxford Railway train station is just a ten-minute walk from the Oxford City Centre.
The newest station is the Oxford Parkway train station, located on the northern edge of the city limits. Oxford is a small city so the train station is easy to get to by public transport or taxi.
Great Western Railway operates a regular service from the Oxford Railway train station to London Paddington twice an hour. Most of the services from the Oxford Railway train station to London require at least one transfer but there are a few direct trains.
Chiltern Railways also offers a regular service from Oxford Parkway to London Marylebone, with stops at Bicester Village. The Oxford Parkway Train Station is a newer station and offers services such as wheelchair assistance and a park and ride.
Both stations are wheelchair friendly, with cafes, shops, toilets, free wifi, and baby changing facilities, but at the Oxford Railway, you will also find a Tourist Information Office. Prices for tickets will vary depending on the time of day, which class you choose, and flexibility options.
How to get around Oxford by bus
Oxford has an excellent bus service, and there is a very good reason for that - the city has limited car access to the City Centre. The city decided it did not want the streets clogged with cars and so now offers an extensive bus service. These services are not limited to just Oxford City Centre, they extend to the suburbs and nearby towns.
The Oxford Bus Company and their partner bus companies have almost every street in Oxford and the Oxfordshire area covered. And their award-winning frequent bus service makes getting around from 6:30 am to midnight pretty easy. If you are out after midnight seeing Oxford at night, you will probably have to get a taxi.
The pay system for riding the buses is fantastic as well. It is the first integrated transport pay system outside of London. The SmartCard (called The Key) can be used on any bus within the Oxford Zone no matter the operating company. The card can be used by others as well, so you can lend it out if you like. You don't have to have a card though, Oxford buses still accept cash or you can use the contactless pay method.
The SmartCard has different options available depending on travel zones, time periods, and the number of bus operators. You can buy a SmartCard at one of the Oxford Bus Company's stores on Gloucester Green or High Street and recharge it online.
You can visit the various companies' websites to see a complete list of all the stops and timetables. It is important to note that if you are waiting at one of the non-major stops you need to wave the bus down. There is a website (Oxontime) with real-time locations of buses so you can time getting to the bus stops with minimal wait.
Beyond the great local service, there are a few other specific services that you should know about like The Oxford Tube, Park and Ride, The Airline, and Stagecoach buses.
The Oxford Tube goes to the London Victoria station every 10 minutes and it is in operation 24 hours a day for 365 days of the year. The Oxford Tube is run through Stagecoach buses, which also run services to Bicester Village, Milton Keynes, and Swindon.
The Park-and-Ride program run by the Oxford Bus Company has become extremely popular and runs from 6 am to almost midnight. Kids ride free and 11 hours of parking is included in the price so you won't feel rushed when exploring the city. The buses are extremely modern with free wifi, and USB charging and all are wheelchair accessible.
There are 5 Park and Ride stations on all the major routes of the ring road around Oxford, which makes it easy to get to the City Centre for shopping and other pursuits, no matter where you are staying in Oxford. And the ride will take between 10 and 20 minutes normally. The drop-off point is Westgate Centre in the heart of downtown Oxford so you are close to many attractions and amenities.
How to get from London Heathrow and Gatwick airport by bus
This is almost easier than getting around the city itself. "The Airline" buses run 24/7 from the Gloucester Green Bus Station with several other pick up stops in Oxford and run directly to either airport. All buses have free wifi, USB charging, and wheelchair lifts. Smaller airports are linked to Oxford by other various bus services like National Express, which goes to London Stansted.
If you are staying in other cities in the UK you can get to Oxford by the Stagecoach network of buses which arrive and depart from the Gloucester Green Bus Station. Stagecoach is the largest public transport company in the UK and also runs local bus services throughout Oxford and the surrounding area.
Another great option to get around is the Hop-on Hop-off bus service. Not only will it take you around Oxford, but you will also get to see a lot of the main attractions the city has to offer. It makes 20 stops throughout the tour so there are plenty of opportunities to explore and do your own thing. The tours also include a walking tour for places vehicles are unable to get to allow you to see even more of the city.
Tickets can be booked in advance or you can wait at one of the stops and pay the driver directly. You can get a 24-hour or 48-hour ticket which will allow you time to explore from the bus. It's a great way to see Oxford on one of the famous British double-decker buses.
How to get around Oxford by car
One of the things you will notice when researching how to get around Oxford by car is that there is not a lot of information, but there is a reason for that. Oxford is a mini-city with many historical buildings and narrow streets, and there is very little parking for cars. In fact, a majority of the streets only allow public transport access or no vehicle access at all.
Of course, car rentals are always available but you will need a couple of things in order to rent one.
Renting a car not only in Oxford but anywhere in the UK you will need an international driver's license, as well as your valid state-issued license. You will also need your passport and a major credit card for the deposit. Car rentals are the easy part, however, driving on the other side of the road can be tricky.
How to get around Oxford by bike
If you do want to have your own transportation available when you want, it is highly recommended to look at a bike rental. Using a bike to get around Oxford is considered one the best ways as the city is very biker friendly. Oxford has convenient bike-share programs throughout the city, all you need is a phone and a helmet.
How to get around Oxford by taxi
If you are uncomfortable driving in a foreign country or on the opposite side of the road but prefer not to use public transport you can always hire a taxi. There is an official list of taxis that legally operate within the Oxford city limits. You can hail a taxi from the street but is recommended to call and order one or find one at one of the many ranks around Oxford.
Can I get around Oxford by foot?
For those that prefer to take it slow and walk to the major attractions, Oxford is the perfect city for you. A lot of the historical sights of Oxford are close together and near the City Centre, and those that are not can still be reached on foot. With an area of only 18 square miles and a population of just over 150,000, it is a very small city.
Not only is it easy to criss-cross the medieval city by foot, but it is also one of the best ways to really see the city as vehicle access can be quite limited. If you want to make the best of your time walking the streets to see the sights, a great idea is to take one of the many walking tours. There are paid and free tours available or you can download an app and do it at your own pace.
A good thing to remember is that there are plenty of cobblestone streets so for those pushing strollers or in wheelchairs this could cause some difficulty.
Oxford by bus, by foot and more
Oxford is a great city to visit for a vacation, it's a beautiful medieval city with amazing cultural importance, incredible architecture, great food, and plenty of fun. You definitely want to take advantage of it, and now that you know how to get around you can.