For those who want to explore Oxford on foot and would like to tread the streets on their own, we’ve put together a self-guided tour of the city that will take you through the historic halls of the universities, past world-class museums and gardens and gives you multiple opportunities to climb towers and spires and take in wonderful views of Oxford. Oh, and don’t forget a visit to a filming location and the inspiration for the Great Hall in Harry Potter!
The length of the tour depends on which places you wish to enter and visit. If walking straight through, the tour would take around two hours, but if you wish to visit some of the museums, enter some of the historic locations, and maybe stop for a drink and a bite to eat in the covered market, this walk could easily last you an entire day. Check out our other blogs on Visiting Oxford and Reasons to visit Oxford as well.
Click for movable map.
START: Carfax Tower
FINISH: Oxford Castle
Carfax Tower (A)
Start your tour at the Carfax Tower, the last remaining part of the 12th century St. Martin’s Church. Standing at 74 feet (23m), no building in Oxford may be built higher than this tower. It’s a good idea to go inside and climb up the 99 steps to the top which gives you an unparalleled view of the city you’re about to explore. For those traveling on a budget, don’t worry, as entry is under £5.00 for both children and adults!
Walk up CORNMARKET STREET and after a few minutes you will come to St. Michael at the North Gate on your RIGHT HAND side.
St. Michael at the North Gate (B)
This is the oldest building in all of Oxford, dating back to the 11th century. The tower here dates from 1040 and is part of the original church, which can be visited. Inside, the cell where the Oxford Martyrs were held is still available to see. The marriage certificate of William Morris and Jane Burden, who were married here in 1859, is also on display inside.
Continue down CORNMARKET STREET which turns into MAGDALEN STREET. Ahead on the RIGHT HAND SIDE will be the Martyr’s Memorial.
Martyrs’ Memorial (C)
The Memorial here is a Victorian creation, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, commemorating the Oxford Martyrs who were put to death nearby in the 16th century. Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer were burned at the stake for their Anglican religious beliefs in 1555 and this memorial is dedicated to their memory.
Across the street from the Martyrs Memorial sits the grand entrance to the Ashmolean Museum.
Ashmolean Museum (D)
The world’s first University museum, the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology was established in 1683 and has been thrilling visitors ever since.
There is much to see inside and highlights include drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, paintings by Turner, a Stradivari violin, works by Picasso and van Dyk, Oliver Cromwell’s death mask, the lantern Guy Fawkes carried during the Gunpowder Plot, and works of art and architecture dating back literally thousands of years!
The Museum takes a good chunk of time to visit so it’s up to you to decide whether a visit to the museum will fit into your walking tour or if you’d prefer to carry directly on.
MAGDALEN STREET here turns into ST GILES. Follow ST GILES past the Museum and eventually on the LEFT HAND SIDE will appear The Eagle & Child.
The Eagle and Child (E)
Standing here since at least the mid 1600’s, The Eagle and Child is affectionately known in town as the Bird and Baby or the Fowl and Foetus and is one of the best loved pubs in Oxford because of its history and literary connections. The pub was the meeting point of The Inklings (a writing group that included Hugo Dyson, Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien) met on Thursday evenings at Lewis’s college dormitories but soon began meeting on Mondays and Tuesdays for lunch at The Eagle and Child.
Turn back down ST. GILES STREET. Take the fork on the LEFT for MAGDALEN STREET EASY which will take you past Balliol College on the LEFT HAND SIDE. Then turn LEFT onto BROAD STREET which takes you past Trinity College on the LEFT before taking you to Blackwell’s Book Shop.
Balliol/Trinity College (F)
Balliol College, founded in 1263, counts three prime ministers, five Noel laureates and two Indian cricked captains as alumni.
Trinity College, founded in 1555, counts three prime ministers, a King of Belgium, numerous politicians and explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton as alumni.
Blackwells boasts the largest single room devoted to book sales in Europe: the Norrington Room. With 10,000 sq. ft. and over 3 miles of shelving, Blackwell’s is an Oxford institution and has been selling books to Oxford students and literati such as J. R. R. Tolkien since its construction on New Year’s Day in 1879.
With Blackwell’s on your LEFT, the building on your RIGHT is The Sheldonian Theatre.
Sheldonian Theatre (H)
Designed by noted architect Christopher Wren, the Sheldonian Theatre was built in 1668 with the sole intention of hosting graduation ceremonies. Today, the theatre is used for music recitals, conferences, ceremonies and performances. The top of the building houses a viewing gallery set into an eight-sided cupola, which is open to visitors.
With the Sheldonian Theatre on your RIGHT, continue up BROAD STREET for a few minutes until you come to the Clarendon Building on your RIGHT.
Clarendon Building (I)
Designed by Christopher Wren’s pupil, Nicholas Hawksmoor, The Clarendon Building was completed in 1715. Originally it was home to the Oxford University Press and was funded by Edward Hyde, the 1st Earl of Clarendon. Today it is part of the Boldeian, the main research library of Oxford University.
Continue up BROAD STREET until it ends then turn RIGHT onto CATTLE STREET. Take the first LEFT onto NEW COLLEGE LANE until you get to the bridge spanning the road.
Bridge of Sighs (J)
Technically named The Hertford Bridge, The Bridge of Sighs gained this nickname due to its similarity to the famous Bridge of Sighs in Vienna. Far more recently constructed than much of Oxford, the Bridge of Sigh was completed in 1914 and designed by architect Sir Thomas Jackson in order to connect two sections of Hertford College.
Just after The Bridge of Sighs take the first LEFT onto the small ST. HELEN’S PASSAGE. Follow the path along as it curves and it will lead you to The Turf Tavern.
The Turf Tavern (K)
Known mostly as “The Turf”, The Turf Tavern is a popular historic haunt in Oxford. With foundation doing back to the 13th century and the bar area from the 17th, the pub is bordered on one side by the remaining section of the old city wall, as the pub was strategically built just outside the city wall in order to host illegal activities such as gambling! The Turf has also hosted two events in popular culture…
- It was here that Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke set a Guinness World Record for consuming a yard-long glass of ale in 11 seconds.
- Rumour has it that it was at The Turf that American president Bill Clinton (who was attending Oxford) infamously smoked marijuana but “did not inhale.”
Come back out onto St. Helen’s Passage back to New College Lane and turn LEFT. The path will take you past New College as it turns into Queen’s Lane. Follow Queen’s Lane, passing St. Edmund’s Hall on the LEFT before taking a RIGHT onto the High Street, taking you past Queens College on the RIGHT. Walk until you get to St. Mary the Virgin on your RIGHT.
New College (L)
Founded in 1379, New College counts Virginia Woolf, Hugh Grant and Dennis Potter as alumni.
St. Edmund Hall (M)
Founded in 1278 and containing the last surviving medieval hall at the University of Oxford, St. Edmund Hall counts two MPs; Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times; Journalist Samir Ahmed; and Olympic fencer Allan Jay as alumni.
University Church of St. Mary the Virgin (N)
Built in the 13th century, but with foundations going back to 1086, St. Mary the Virgin is said to be the first church of Oxford University. The Tower can be climbed by the public and the 124 steps to the top reward guests with fine views around Oxford, including a stunning panorama including the famous view of Radcliffe Camera.
While facing St. Mary the Virgin, take the path to the RIGHT of the building, Catte Street. All Soul’s College will be on your RIGHT and take either the first or the second path on your LEFT around the Radcliffe Camera.
All Souls College (O)
Founded in 1438, All Souls College counts Christopher Wren, T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”), and George Nathaniel Curzon as alumni.
Radcliffe Camera (P)
One of the most recognisable buildings in Oxford the circular dome and round structure if Radcliffe Camera is world-famous. Built in 1749 to house the Radcliffe Science Library, the structure is now a reading room for the Bodlean Library. Funding from the structure was provided by the estate of Dr. John Radcliffe who left a fortune to Oxford University in his will. Although not open to the public (unless taking a guided tour) the Radcliffe Camera has a place in popular culture: J. R. R. Tolkien claimed that the building resembled Sauron’ Tower; it is mentioned in His Dark Materials; has been seen in Inspector Morse; and is the location of important scenes in Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.
Go back down Catte Street and turn RIGHT onto High Street before making a LEFT onto Magpie Lane. Then turn LEFT onto Merton Street which takes you past Merton College. Follow on until you return to High Street and make a RIGHT, passing Magdalen College on your LEFT. The Botanic Gardens are located on your RIGHT.
Merton College (Q)
Founded in 1264, Merton Collee counts J. R. R. Tolkein; T. S. Eliot; the heir to the Japanese Throne, Crown Prince Naurhito and Kris Kristofferson as alumni.
Magdalen College (R)
Founded in 1458, Magdalen College counts Oscar Wilde, C. S. Lewis, Dudly Moore, T. E. Lawrence, Sir John Betjeman, Andrew Lloyd Webber and King Edward VII as alumni.
Botanical Gardens (S)
Started in 1621, and spanning 4.5 acres (1.8 hectares), this is the oldest botanic gardens in Britain. The Botanic Gardens were previously dedicated to the study of medicinal plants and today houses examples from over 90% of the higher plant families. It is believed that the gardens were the inspiration for the gardens where Alice in Wonderland encounters the Queen of Hearts’ servants painting the roses red!
When facing the Botanical Gardens, turn back on yourself RIGHT down High Street then take the first LEFT onto Rose Lane. Rose Lane will split and take a LEFT onto Christ Church Meadow Walk along the park. Walk until you come to Broad Walk on the RIGHT and take this path. The Broadwalk will dead end on St. Aldate’s and here take a RIGHT. Walk up, passing Christ Church College on the RIGHT and continue until you reach the Museum of Oxford on your RIGHT.
Christ Church (T)
Founded in 1522 and soon taken over by King Henry VIII, Christ Church counts Lewis Carroll, Albert Einstein, John Locke and William Penn as alumni. It’s also worth noting that The Great Hall at the college was used for filming scenes in Harry Potter!
Museum of Oxford (U)
The Museum of Oxford displays original treasures and artifacts found in the area from the prehistoric times. A relatively recent organisation, the Museum of Oxford was founded in 1975 (although the building here dates back to 1897) and the exhibitions here contain items donated by Oxford Colleges and contains a medieval crypt.
Keep the Museum of Oxford on the RIGHT and continue up St. Aldate’s until it turns into High Street. Follow it to the RIGHT and you will come to the Covered Market on your LEFT.
The Original Ben’s Cookies/Covered Market (V)
Officially opened on 1st November 1774, the Covered Market began when it was decided to clear the, “untidy, messy and unsavoury stalls” from the main streets of Oxford. Architect John Gwynn designed the covered market which today is home to dozens obtruding stalls, including greengrocers, butchers (who sell famous Oxford sausages), flower shops, sandwich stalls and bakeries.
Notably it is also home to the original Ben’s Cookies stall, located here since 1984 guests can still buy delicious, fresh baked world-famous cookies.
Get back onto High Street after visiting the Covered Market. With the Market BEHNID you, turn RIGHT. High Street will turn into Queen Street as you walk straight ahead, passing the Carfax Tower where you began. Continue straight until Queen Street turns into Bonn Square which turns into New Road. Keep going straight ahead until the Oxford Castle appears on your LEFT.
Oxford Castle (W)
Dating back 1,000 years and doubling as both a home and a prison, Oxford Castle now has a new life as a hotel. The original castle was damaged severely in the English Civil War but still operated as a prison until 1996 before being transformed into a historic place to stay. The ruins of the original tower, such as the base of St George’s Tower, still stands and the crypt is preserved and may be visited. The grassy motte outside of the Castle dates from the 11th century, as does the crypt, and both are worth a visit.
It is here your walk finishes.