There is a fabulous array of specialist tour guides and tours of Oxford, on foot and by bus. You can join a general tour, often with a smattering of interesting historical facts thrown in, or there are themed tours - based on periods of history, styles of architecture or the life of a person, real or fictional. You can even request your own tour, if you find a topic that hasn't been covered, though that might be difficult, since there are so many already on offer. And then there's the languages - many tour guides can offer more than one.
It's a good way to start exploring history, and there is a lot of interesting history to be had. Oxford's had a finger in most pies and movements: religious, political, scientific and artistic. Whether you're new to the city or a longstanding Oxford resident, you'll come away with an extra dimension to your view of the Dreaming Spires.
As well as the tours below, it's worth checking the tours listed in our Events guide.
The best literary mention of walking tours comes in Jan Mark's collection of short stories A Can Of Worms. Called 'Crocodile Time', it's the story of two teenage boys who spend their summer holidays baiting the walking tours in Oxford, their home town. But they're growing up and apart, and it's a crocodile that comes between them. Not only is it a lovely story but it's got some nice details about Oxford locations. Jan Mark lived in East Oxford in the later stages of her life.
What better companion could you have on your tour than a Daily Info Oxford map? Places of special interest, remarkable trees and all the colleges are clearly marked. Free copy available from Daily Info on 01865 241133 - or wholesale orders at 30p each.
Tom's Tours of Oxford
Free two-hour tour covering 1.5 miles around central Oxford. Oxfordshire local Tom Day promises to uncover the weird and wonderful history of the city, Oxford University, and famous and lesser-known residents. All outside/external but Tom is able to advise on the best colleges to drop into afterwards. Group tours are given in English but private tours are also available, with the option of being given in French or Spanish. Starts on St Aldate's at the gates to Broad Walk, and finishes at Radcliffe Square.
Wander Oxford Walking Tours
This free two-hour tour gives the history of the city and university, with stories about the colleges and the famous people who attended them. Guide Lisa Maree points out the beautiful buildings and landmarks, as well as the free museums and exhibitions that are currently on. Great pubs, restaurants, churches and hidden alleyways - and the places to take the best photographs! The tours run on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, starting at 10.30am on Cornmarket Street, opposite Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Oxford On Foot: Special Interest and Ghost Tours
University, special interest or ghost themed walking tours with Annetta Harvie, Blue Badge Tourist Guide. Typically £90 for a two hour tour for a group of up to twenty. Available in Danish, English, German and French. Themes include Inspector Morse and Lewis, Religion, Scientists, Ghosts and Women at Oxford.
Tel: 01865 556 742. Mob: 07845 411264. Email: [email protected]
Past, Present and Future Tours
Including Book and Film Locations, Famous Alumni, Architecture, Americans etc. Choice from a short 'Highlights tour', a specialist tour of Morse, Lewis and Endeavour film sites, Gargoyles and Grotesques, or a tour including Christ Church, and many more. Rated highly on TripAdvisor and awarded certificate of excellence. With Heidi Boon Rickard, Green Badge Guide.
Tel: 07833 176196. Email: [email protected].
Tours are tailored to the group's requirements. Frequently requested subjects include: the history of the town and the University, specific colleges, literary tour (poets, diarists and authors of Oxford), Science, Children's authors, Children's clue trail, Religion in Oxford, Historic Taverns, Codes in Stone and river tours. £80 for up to fifteen people. With Felicity Tholstrup. 21 Northmoor Road, Oxford OX2 6UW.
Telephone/Fax: 01865 512650. Email: [email protected]
Oxford Time Tours
Oxford Time Tours are an innovative, family-friendly approach to the traditional walking tour. As well as seeing some of Oxford's most beautiful and historical sites, your 'time traveller' guide will take you through Oxford's history chronologically, from its Saxon origins right up to the present day, occasionally telling stories of his trips to the past. There is a spotting list for younger children.
Tel: 07877 794793. Email: [email protected]
Run by Town & Gown Walking Tours. Entertaining tour revealing eccentric characters throughout Oxford's history. (100 mins approx), £5. Happens about once per month (around last Sunday in month) starting from Martyrs' Memorial, 2pm.
01865 775171, [email protected]
In depth: Daily Info reviews Eccentric Oxford tour
Walking Tour: Eccentric Oxford
Listed 06 July 2008
Very enjoyable and highly recommended! Richard kept a group of various nationalities taking... read more
Blackwell's Walking Tours
Literary tours run by Blackwell's Bookshop, 50 Broad Street, Oxford. See and hear where famous writers wrote, based their novels or went to college. Includes a literary tour featuring Dorothy L Sayers, Graham Greene, Jonathan Swift, TS Eliot, etc. (Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2pm), an Inklings tour for fans of CS Lewis, Neville Coghill, JRR Tolkien, Charles Williams and other members of the Inklings group (Wednesdays at 11.45am), and a Jane Austen tour, to see what Austen and her sisters would have made of the city in the 18th Century (Fridays at 2pm).
Tours run from Tuesday April 25th until Friday 27th October 2017.
Tickets £9 for adults, £8 concessions.
Enquire at Blackwells, 50 Broad St, telephone 01865 333602 or email: [email protected]
The Oxford Christmas Literary Walking Tour
Also run by Blackwell's Bookshop. View 'The Adoration of the Magi', a tapestry by two Pre-Raphaelites, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. Hear about the famous 14th century 'Boar's Head Feast', traditionally celebrated every Christmas, and visit the first coffee house in England, founded in 1650. See the beautiful 16th century wall coverings in the room that William Shakespeare occupied (in a one-time tavern older than the University!).
Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 11am between Tuesday 10th November and Friday 18th December. Tickets £9, including mulled wine/tea/coffee at 16th Century inn.
Enquire at Blackwells, 50 Broad St, telephone 01865 333602 or email: [email protected]
Knowledgeable guides explore the dramatic, prestigious and sometimes bizarre history of Oxford with a wide range of tours, including a Free Walking Tour covering an in-depth history of Oxford University Colleges and of the city, famous graduates, hauntings, Alice in Wonderland, famous filmings, and more, an Oxford University Walking Tour guided by Oxford University students, a Harry Potter Tour visiting the sites used in filming, an Oxford Pub Tour, and a comprehensive Bike & Walking Tour covering the essential parts of other tours and including bike hire for the rest of the day.
Private Tours are also available by arrangement.
Tours start from 5 Broad Street Oxford, OX1 3AJ. Email: [email protected] or call 0207 5588706.
Oxford City Walk
Entertaining, engaging and informative general and personally tailored or specialist sightseeing walking tours of Oxford. Tours last a minimum of 2 hours but can be extended. £75 for 10 people - £110 for the maximum of 30. French, German, Italian and Mandarin translation services are available for an extra fee.
Call 07530 951 320 or email [email protected]
Offering a wide range of tours & activities to suit all ages & interests. Tours depart outside Oxford Visitor Information Centre, 15 Broad Street, with enthusiastic guides wearing red ‘iloveoxford’ lanyards.
Popular tours include a Harry Potter Film Sites tour, cycle tours and an Inspector Morse tour. Also specialising in literary tours beyond Oxford, including Jane Austen's Bath & Shakespeare's Stratford, & trips to the Cotswolds & Blenheim Palace.
Concessions for local residents. Tickets bookable on (44)2079657523 or whatsapp mobile (44)7955482637 or via www.visitoxfordtours.com.
In depth: Daily Info reviews Visit Oxford Tours' Harry Potter tour
Harry Potter in Oxford Walking Tour
Listed 28 February 2018
A fantastic tour from experienced and engaging guides. We went to different colleges and... read more
Oxford Guided Tours
Standard tours, giving an overview, past and present, of the city and University, plus specialist tours such as ‘Oxford/American Miscellany’, ’Tudor Oxford’, and ‘Oxford and the Wesleys’. £100 for up to 19 people.
Run by Chris Lloyd. Email [email protected] or call 01235 526030.
Scholars Walk Tours
Tours leaving from Broad Street, outside Oxfam. As well as offering a range of themed walks (Library Tours, Ghosts, Harry Potter, and Inspector Morse), leaving at 11am and 2pm each day, they provide bike tours and evening ghost tours. Prices vary from £5 per person for a half-hour Bodleian Library tour up to £20 for a 2 hour bike tour.
Places can be booked online or via 07412 937003.
Spooky tours with Bill Spectre on Friday and Saturday evenings at 6.30pm (starting outside Oxford Castle Unlocked). Shorter tours beginning on the same nights at 7pm outside the Visitor Information Centre, 15-16 Broad Street. Long tours last 1 3/4 hours, shorter tours 1 1/4.
Adults £8, child concessions available. Starting from £100, Bill Spectre can be booked for private ghost walks in Oxford, Burford, Stratford and Woodstock - not a bad idea for a winter bachelor party. Tickets can be bought on the day or reserved online at www.ghosttrail.org/ghost-walk-oxford.htm.
For more information call 07941 041811 or email [email protected]
In depth: Daily Info shivers through Bill Spectre's Ghost Tour
Ghost Tour with Bill Spectre
Listed 28 October 2015
Bill Spectre's Ghost Trail, touring Christ Church College on a mild October early evening,... read more
For a historical perspective on Oxford let Lita Doolan (playwright and Daily Info reviewer) take you back in time, to explore the Saxon Oxford underlying the current streets. All you need is a mobile phone, and the Kings and Conflict on Saxon Soil audio guide costs £3.99. The tour starts at Christ Church and ends at Logic Lane, and lasts around 40 mins.
Live Canon, the poetry group who particularly celebrate poetry out loud, have created a poetry walking tour of Oxford. It's available seasonally some summers from the box office of Oxford Playhouse. There may also be a CD!
The Oxford Poetry Walk
Listed 04 April 2012
Oxford Playhouse and Live Canon theatre makers have combined – just in time for summer visitors... read more
VisitOxfordTours.com Pub Tour
Three hour tour introducing Oxford's historic pubs & urban legends. Intended for locals or visitors to Oxford for private events any time. Alternatively, book individual ticketed tours for 5pm tour at £25/person on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays via www.VisitOxfordTours.com.
Footprints Ale Trail
Touring the more architecturally interesting Oxford pubs and telling anecdotes of famous students who were thrown out of them. Available on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights starting at 8pm. Tickets £9, c. 90 minutes. Meet at the blue bicycle on Broad St (opposite the Visitor Information Centre).
All tours depart from Oxford Visitor Information Centre (15-16 Broad Street, OX1 3AS), unless otherwise stated. Times and dates below are for guidance only, and not all tours are available all year round. Check current options and book online, in person at the Visitor Information Centre, or ring 01865 252200.
University and City Tour (2 hours): Daily at 10.45am, £6 - £9.50, with additional tours at busy times. Family Tour (1.5 hours); during the school holidays at 1.30pm. Please check in advance for actual dates and note that there should be at least one adult to every four children.
Bodleian Libraries Tours: Explore Oxford from the literary heart of the city, the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford. Walk amongst some of the UK’s most iconic buildings as our qualified guides narrate the stories each historic street has to tell. The town and the gown, ancient to recent history; there are many stories to uncover. So, follow in the footsteps of famous authors, scientists, politicians, and film stars with trusted tour guides and get the full Oxford experience. Starting and ending at the Weston Library, the City of Oxford Walking Tours offer a look beyond the remarkable spaces within the Bodleian Library. For more information please see https://visit.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/tours
Inspector Morse Tour (2 hours): Saturdays at 1.30pm. Please note that this a very popular tour and advance booking is highly recommended. £10, or £19 including Castle.
The Civil War: Hear about how the University town turned into a temporary garrison at the centre of the Civil War.
Gargoyles and Grotesques: Medieval and modern stonemasons used imagination and humour increating a wealth of amazing stone carvings. Bring your binoculars!
John and Charles Wesley: Learn about the brothers who went to Christ Church and started the Methodist Movement.
Oxford Children's Stories: Explore the Oxford of Alice, Lyra & Will, of Prince Caspian & Susan.
Medieval Oxford: Learn about Oxford's period as a walled town and the bloody confrontations between the townfolk and the academics. £10, 1.45pm.
Sciences at Oxford: Launched to celebrate Charles Darwin's anniversary. Oxford has made its Scientific mark since the work of Bacon in the 14th century, and the 17th century saw Boyle, Hooke and Halley make their respective discoveries.
Valentine's Oxford: Sweet city with her dreaming spires: how many have visited and fallen in love with Oxford?
Oxford Immortalised: Oxford has inspired scriptwriters and filmmakers. Discover the sights made famous by favourite films and television programmes.
Literary Tours: Rich heritage of the many famous writers: poets, novelists, critics and children's authors who have studied or lived in Oxford.
Oxford's West End: One of the city's little known secrets, containing a late 18th Century prison (now a hotel), the remains of a Norman Castle, the sites of the first college and the original Thames. There is evidence of occupation from the Bronze Age, the Roman occupation and early Anglo Saxon settlements where friars lived and beer was brewed. The tour covers the area's long history, its ancient buildings and riveting stories.
Pottering in Harry's Footsteps: Tour the locations where the Harry Potter films were shot. £15 adult, £10 child (8-15). Saturdays, 1.45pm.
Stained Glass: Almost every style and period of English glass-painting is represented, from Gothic to modern times, including beautiful 17th century windows and a wealth of 19th century glass, particularly by William Morris and Co.
Architecture: Oxford has a fine collection of religious architecture. Explore buildings from the Saxon and Norman periods, a vast domination of gothic architecture, and prime examples from Classical, Victorian and Modern periods.
Garden Tours: Including the vast expanse of Christ Church meadow, the oldest Botanic Garden in Britain, magnificent University Parks, containing the scientifically important hybrid garden as well as many college gardens. Beauty in all seasons.
The Rivers and Rowing Regatta: Christ Church Meadow, which has provided inspiration and relaxation for university members and townspeople alike. Walk beside the river Cherwell and along the Thames Path seeing the traditional annual competitive sport of colleges' bumping races.
See Oxford by bus! A complete circuit lasts approximately 1 hour, and buses depart every 10 - 15 minutes in summer or every 20 - 30 minutes in winter from each stop. Tickets (as of August 2016) valid for 24 hours: £14.50, Senior £11.50, Student £12.50, Child (5-15) £8.50 or valid for 48 hours: £16.50, Senior £13.50, Student £14.50, Child £9.50. Family tickets (2 adults + up to 3 children) are also available: £39.50 for a 24 hour ticket at £45 for a 48 hour ticket. You can get on and off at any of the 20 stops:
Oxford Railway Station
Park End Street
Gloucester Green Bus Station
Westgate Shopping Centre
The Queen's College
St. Cross Road
Trinity College Gates
There's a helpful map of these stops on the City Sightseeing website, which also shows the colleges.
Inside Historic Buildings
The magnificent buildings housing Oxford's famous library include the New Library (1937), the Old Library (1602), the gorgeous Divinity School (1488), the very pretty Radcliffe Camera (1860) and a whole lot of storage spaces (the Stacks) all over the county. "The Bod" is a working library, so if you want to take one of their official tours (and it's well worth it for the weird history) be aware that certain areas may be closed for ceremonial functions. If there's something you particularly want to see, check in advance of your visit. Having said that, there are short tours available most days at 10.30am (£7) and extended 90 minute tours on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays (£13), as well as self-guided audio tours (£2.50).
You can get standard or mini tour tickets (first come, first served - and there is a limit on numbers per day) at the Great Gate ticket office, on Catte Street (opposite Hertford College, between the Radcliffe Camera and the Bridge of Sighs).
The most accessible tour is the Divinity School - it was the University's first examination hall and has a famous vaulted Gothic ceiling jam-packed with elaborately tortured stone. You can take your kids and it costs only £1.
Groups should be booked for in advance (01865 287400), have limited options, and unfortunately aren't allowed at all in the high season (June-September). Children must be over 11 and accompanied by an adult, but there is a history trail for the small kids.
Guided tour of the Sheldonian Theatre and the surrounding area
Discover how the University of Oxford was formed, together with the history behind the Sheldonian Theatre - the University’s Ceremonial Hall - on a (new in 2014) one-hour guided walking tour. Website
The tour starts in the splendour of the Sheldonian Theatre. Guests get to visit the University Church, the Clarendon and Bodleian Quadrangle and Radcliffe Square. Visitors will learn how the University was formed and hear about its rebellious and violent past. The tour then returns to the Sheldonian Theatre where visitors are invited to sit in the Ladies Gallery and hear about its origins as Sir Christopher Wren's first major building, which opened in 1669. Following the tour, visitors are welcome to explore the Theatre’s Cupola at leisure - offering one of the best indoor panoramic views of Oxford famous skyline.
Also offered are bookings for group and corporate clients, and drinks reception packages for corporate bookings.
Tours run all year, and an adult ticket costs £8.00. Concessions and groups: £6.00 (Under 18s, students, over 60s, University staff and registered disabled plus one companion). Children under 6 go free.
In depth: Daily Info's review of the Sheldonian Tour
Sheldonian Theatre Guided Tour
Listed 28 April 2015
Songs about ducks, misplaced brass noses and what to do with cherry stones are just some of... read more
Pitt Rivers After Hours Guided Tour
Pitt Rivers Museum: After Hours Guided Tour
Listed 16 July 2015
I’ve been a fan of the Pitt Rivers Museum for years, fascinated by its labyrinthine displays... read more
Tours of Oxfordshire
A six hour tour of the North Cotswolds including cream tea in the private thatched cottage of your tour guide Becky. See carefully selected areas of the Cotswolds most tourists don't find, and how an English family live. Every tour is different and takes in special events going on at different times of year. The tour starts and ends at Moreton-in-Marsh station, and costs £85. Details from Becky: 01608 674700, [email protected] or visit www.secretcottage.co.uk.
VisitOxfordTours.com offers cycling or driving day trips from Oxford into the Cotswolds, plus tours of other destinations like Blenheim Palace, Stratford-upon-Avon and Bath. Call 07955 482637 or visit their website.
If you're interested in Oxfordshire history, you might like to visit the appointment-only Museums Resource Centre:
If you want to explore Oxford and Oxfordshire in your own time, have a look at the self-guided itineraries available from myOxfordTravel.
For a literal overview of the city, The Oxford Helicopter will whizz you up for a sweep of the dreaming spires, Blenheim Palace or even to Stratford. The Oxford Spires tour takes 20 minutes, Blenheim Express 10 minutes, and Shakespeare Voyager 40 minutes. Prices are per person, or you can book the whole helicopter for your party (up to 6 people). Tours take off from London Oxford Airport, near Kidlington. 2019 prices are £150 pp for the Oxford Spires tour.
A number of hot air balloon companies operate locally, offering peaceful and majestic flights over Oxford and surrounding countryside. Routes vary depending on thermals, and everyone beneath you will wave and envy your amazing birds' eye views and silent progress through the sky.
Local operators include H.O.T. Air Balloons based in Henley-on-Thames (see what they did there!) who have a very comprehensive guide online to how it all works. National companies Virgin Balloon Flights and Adventure Balloons also run tours in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire with several launch sites around the county. 2019 prices range around £100-£150pp depending on launch time, with weekday morning launches being cheapest.
Did you enjoy it?
If you've tried out any of these tours do feel free to review the experience. It might help someone else to make up their mind! And of course if we've left out a tour or got anything wrong, please tell us.