You can go by car but if possible from where you are, but I recommend travelling by train instead. The journey is only about an hour from central London (Paddington/Marylebone) and with the tube time on top of it this meant I left the house around 7.15am. It's then just another 10 minutes to walk to the centre of Oxford. If you go by car you can't get to the city centre but instead have to go to one of the Park & Ride lots and take a bus into the city from there (meaning you're dependent on bus times).
9.00-10.00 – First things first, walk the straight line from the train station to Broad Street. Here you can pop into some of the touristy shops to get a flavour of the wealth of Oxford University, Britannia, Alice in Wonderland, and Harry Potter merchandise on sale. Don't buy anything yet as you don't want to be carrying it around. Instead pop into the Visitor Information Centre (sign marked with a big red I for information), which opens at 9.30am, and pick up a city map for 50p.
10.00-11.00 – Now use your brand new map to find Oxford Castle, which is a 5-10 minute walk away via Cornmarket Street and Queen Street. Here you can do an hour long tour at Oxford Castle Unlocked to learn all about its history from castle to prison. It's very interesting and I'll be doing a separate blog on it soon! After the tour, you can explore by yourself but since your ticket is valid for the whole day I recommend to instead head back to Broad Street for a walking tour, and return later on if you want to.
11.15-13.15 – There are tons of walking tours you can do in Oxford and they have different start times, so if you rather stay at Castle Unlocked then you can do another one too. I've done a free one in the past which was very fun and run by a current Oxford student, highlighting many quirky and literary references throughout the city. This time around I did the official tour from the Visitor Information Centre which focused more on the city's history and the university system, and was run by someone who went to Oxford Uni 50 years ago.
It really depends on what you're looking for from a tour, they were both very different but very good. Either way I recommend you do one early in the day as it's a great way to explore the city and get your bearings. If you do an official one make sure you book in advance. The City & University Walking Tour I did is £14pp, but they also run more specific ones around, for example, Alice in Wonderland, which I'm keen to check out a next time.
Another thing you can take into consideration is if it includes the entrance fee to any places you already want to visit. For example, the City & University one allowed us into gorgeous Bodleian Library (where they filmed the infirmary scenes in Harry Potter). So make a wish list of what you want to get out of a tour and do your research for the best match!
13.15-14.30 – After all the walking you deserve a break. There are tons of cute lunchrooms and traditional taverns in the city, in addition to high street chains such as Leon and Zizzi, so plenty of choice for a bite to eat. Make sure you have a proper rest because the afternoon will be jam-packed too!
14.30-16.00 – After lunch, head down to St Aldate's to explore an area slightly further from the centre (but still only about 10 minutes away, Oxford is very compact making it perfect to explore on foot). Here you can check out Alice's Shop (where Alice Liddell, the little girl who inspired Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll, for Alice in Wonderland) supposedly bought her candy 150 years ago. It's now a mecca of Alice merch and a must for any book lover to visit.
Right across the road is gorgeous Christ Church College. Entry is £7pp and well-worth it, if only for the grand dining hall, which inspired the dining hall in Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. The courtyard is also very picturesque and one of the best ones I saw while admiring several of the 38 Oxford colleges on my visit.
After exiting Christ Church, walk the 5 minutes across the road to Merton College (J.R.R. Tolkien taught here in the 1940s-1950s and T.S. Elliot studied here in 1914) and to do the beautiful 600m long Dead Man's Walk, running alongside Merton Field and Christ Church Meadow. On a particularly sunny day this area will make the perfect spot for a picnic. From here you'll end up in the Botanic Gardens, which seem lovely but I unfortunately didn't have time to visit. If you do want to go inside, entry is £5 and make sure to check the opening times in advance.
16.00-17.30/18.00 – For those last few hours, depending on how tired you are of course, I recommend walking back into the city centre and revisiting places you saw briefly on the walking tour but want to revisit at your own leisure to look around and take photos. This is also the perfect time to go back into the shops and buy all your souvenirs.
In my case, I revisited the iconic Radcliffe Camera (the gorgeous circular building gracing many an Oxford postcard), the Bridge of Sighs (a replica of the one in Venice), St Mary the Virgin church, Blackwell's on Broad Street (the academic bookseller started in this building back in 1879!), and Turf Tavern (known for having been visited by the likes of Bill Clinton and the cast & crew of Harry Potter). I also made an hour-long detour to some slightly further out places but for more on those you'll have to wait for A Book Lover's Guide to Literary Oxford, which I'll be publishing on the blog in a few week's time 😏
18.00-19.00 – It's dinner time! Similar to the lunch break there are plenty of places to rest your feet and have a well-deserved meal. I popped into Three Goats Heads on St. Michael's Street (just off Cornmarket Street), which was super central and the burger with chips was delicious.
And that's it, after dinner I headed back to the train station for the journey home. There were lots of other things in the city I wanted to do, including a river cruise, renting a bike, and hitting up a museum or two, but there simply wasn't enough time. I've already decided to go back over the summer so I'll explore more then and will make sure to report back here afterwards.
I hope this itinerary for a day in Oxford is helpful! If you have any further tips or recommendations do leave them in the comments below.