Oxford is one of the most historic destinations in the United Kingdom. Home to the centuries-old and world-renowned Oxford University, Oxford is a bustling city that’s packed with medieval sites, history-laden museums, and lots and lots of other tourists.
Don’t worry, though, because when the crowds outside Harry Potter filming locations and quaint university colleges start to get too much, it’s easy to escape the city on day tours from Oxford. The charming villages of the Cotswolds are just a short drive away, while the impressive cities of Bath and Bristol are easily reachable by train.
To inspire your journey to southwest England, here are the best day trips from Oxford.
How to Get Around
Although many of the day trips mentioned below can be done by public transport, consider renting a car for the day to give yourself more flexibility and independence. Your own four wheels allow you to be in control of your time and schedule, and depending on how many people are in your group, renting a car might even work out cheaper than other forms of transportation. You can compare car rental deals and find the cheapest prices at Rentalcars.com, an aggregation site that searches and displays prices and availability from hundreds of car rental companies so that you can be sure of getting the best possible car for your budget
Don’t want to drive or deal with the hassle of public transport? No worries, we’ve listed the best tour for each day trip (where available).
1. Blenheim Palace
Just a half-hour bus ride from central Oxford are the magnificent grounds and palatial architecture of Blenheim Palace. This vast country estate with its extravagant mansion is one of the best day trips from Oxford, in part because it is a quintessentially British sight to see.
Blenheim Palace dates back at least 300 years and is the family home of one of Britain’s most aristocratic families. It’s long been the seat of the Dukes of Marlborough, and it’s the only building in the country that’s not owned by royalty that can legally be called a palace.
This UNESCO World Heritage site was the birthplace of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and as you tour through the stately rooms of the palace, don’t miss out on a trip through the recently revamped Churchill Exhibition.
Getting there: Blenheim Palace is one of the easiest day trips from Oxford, being just a quick half-hour car or bus ride from central Oxford.
Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the most famous destinations in the Cotswolds, and it’s just a one-hour car ride from Oxford.
Bourton-on-the-Water is so named because the picturesque village sits around the beautiful banks of the River Windrush. Small footbridges cross over the river in the center of the village, where you’ll find plenty of characteristically charming streets and old-fashioned houses.
Curiously, one of the biggest attractions in Bourton-on-the-Water is actually the smallest sight in the village. People come from all over the world to see the Model Village, a tiny, scaled replica that was painstakingly built by hand to create a miniature version of Bourton-on-the-Water.
Getting there: Bourton-on-the-Water is one hour by car from Oxford. Many travelers choose to join a group tour into the Cotswolds that takes in multiple villages in the area on the same day.
Another of the Cotswold’s most popular tourist destinations is the town of Burford. Burford is just a short trip from Oxford. Given its proximity to the city, it’s often called the Gateway to the Cotswolds.
You’ll find medieval streets, historic bridges over the River Windrush, and beautiful sandstone houses as you stroll through Burford. Follow the footpaths out of the town, and you’ll soon be surrounded by the glorious countryside of Oxfordshire, too.
Interestingly, you can also visit one of the Cotswold’s most unique attractions when you’re in Burford. Just a few minutes’ drive from the town is Crocodiles of the World, the only zoo in the United Kingdom dedicated entirely to crocodiles.
Getting there: Burford is as little as a half-hour drive away from Oxford (if there’s no traffic), or you can join a group tour into the Cotswolds.
4. Castle Combe
On the southern edge of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, you’ll find the stunning village of Castle Combe. Little has changed in Castle Combe for centuries, and the sandstone houses are some of the most historic in the country.
In fact, you’ve probably seen Castle Combe before because the village constantly appears in period movies and television dramas set in the English countryside.
Countless travel publications have named Castle Combe the prettiest village in England, and while there’s fierce competition just in the Cotswolds, you’ll soon see why it’s so attractive when you stroll over the medieval bridge and wander through the picture-perfect streets. There’s not all that much to do in Castle Combe, but that’s all part of its enduring charm.
Getting there: Public transport to Castle Combe is limited, so you’ll need to make the 90-minute drive in a hire car or join one of the many group tours that depart from Oxford.
5. Chiltern Hills
The Cotwolds might be the most popular countryside day trip from Oxford, but head east instead of west and you’ll soon find yourself in the equally beautiful surroundings of the Chiltern Hills.
The Chiltern Hills is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and you’ll find untouched countryside, charming country villages, and plenty of wonderful walking trails.
One of the area’s best destinations is the town of Wendover, where you can join the Ridgeway National Trail (a long-distance hiking trail). From Wendover, hike into Wendover Woods, one of the last remaining areas of distinctive woodland left in southern England and the site of the highest hill in the Chilterns.
Getting there: The best option for traveling to the Chiltern Hills is to hire a car for the day, as public transport is limited.
One of the best places to visit from Oxford is Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of England’s most famous bard, William Shakespeare.
If you’re a fan of any of the 16th-century playwright’s works, then you’ll love visiting Shakespeare’s birthplace, Shakespeare’s former school, and the cottage of his wife, Anne Hathaway.
Stratford-upon-Avon keeps Shakespeare’s literary ambitions alive to this day, too, and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre plays host to countless plays and performances throughout the year.
Getting there: To travel by train from Oxford to Stratford-upon-Avon, you’ll need to change in Leamington Spa. Travel time is around 1.5 hours. Lots of tour companies offer dedicated day tours to Stratford-upon-Avon, too, often with added stops in villages in the Cotswolds.
One of the best side trips from Oxford is a day out in Bath. This ancient city is perhaps even more historic than Oxford. Tourists have been visiting Bath since the Roman era to bathe in the city’s fabled hot springs.
Little has really changed since Roman times, and you can tour through the excavated Roman bathhouse before heading to the modern Thermae Bath Spa for a chilled-out rooftop bathing session with extravagant views over the city.
You should save time to visit Bath Abbey, the Jane Austen Center, and Pulteney Bridge, and to take a walk along the River Avon.
Getting there: Bath is an easy train trip from Oxford as it’s 1.5 hours each way with a change at Didcot Parkway. Alternatively, there are National Express buses, or driving would take around two hours.
Bristol is one of the UK’s trendiest cities; after all, this is the hometown of the famous street artist Banksy. You can see the best and quirkiest sights in the city by joining a street art tour, during which you’ll be shown stunning murals, artsy streets, and some of Banky’s first graffiti.
Bristol is as much about the food as it is the street art, and after seeing the major sights and attractions, make sure you’ve got plenty of spare time for eating and drinking.
During the day head to St. Nicholas’ Market, where you can gorge on pies and gyros or dine on falafel and Portuguese egg tarts. In the evening, head to Wapping Wharf, where old shipping containers have been repurposed into taco restaurants and Persian takeaways.
Getting there: The easiest way to travel from Oxford to Bristol is by train. It takes around two hours, usually with a change at Didcot Parkway. National Express buses also travel the route, or it’s just under two hours by car (But keep in mind that there are few places to park in Bristol.)
Few other rocks in the United Kingdom are quite so famous as Stonehenge, and when you’re staying in Oxford, this ancient prehistoric monument is just a day trip away.
Stonehenge was built thousands of years ago by some of southern England’s earliest inhabitants, and the giant menhirs have stood the test of time to stand tall to this day.
Learn more about the history and archaeology of Stonehenge at the visitor’s center before walking in the shadow of the stones themselves.
Getting there: Stonehenge is located off the A303, around 90 minutes to the south of Oxford. If you don’t have a car, then join a group tour from Oxford instead.
Don’t forget that there are so many things to see in England beyond Oxford, including the nation’s capital, London. Oxford is incredibly well connected to London, and while you won’t want to drive into the center of one of the world’s largest cities, take the train and you’ll be at Paddington Station in one hour.
From Paddington, you can easily hop on the underground to visit famous sights and attractions like Buckingham Palace, Westminster, Hyde Park, and so much more. If you’re looking for museums, then the British Museum and Natural History Museum are both completely free to enter.
If you’re after some excellent food, then head to Borough Market or Camden Town, then jump on the last train back to Oxford after a few drinks out in the capital.
Getting there: Trains run direct from Oxford to Paddington Station all through the day. Journey time is usually one hour. Alternatively, you can take the Oxford Tube, a bus service which connects you to London Victoria Bus Station. The bus is cheaper than the train but takes around two hours.
There’s no doubt that some of the best places to visit in England are all located in the southwest of the country. With its excellent train, bus, and road connections, historic Oxford is an excellent base from which to start exploring. If you’re traveling to the UK, then why not use our Oxford day trips guide to plan your next adventure?