The 25 Best Walks In and Around Oxford

20 Feb, 2024 | Blog Articles, Get the Edge

Oxford is a city famous for its dreaming spires, with college buildings ranging from the twelfth to the 21st century demonstrating the greatest works of some of England’s most famous architects. 

Visitors to the city will also be impressed with the large parks and meadows, and easy access to the local rivers which criss-cross the city. 

However, Oxford is more locally renowned for its beautiful countryside walks. The city is surrounded by rolling hills that merge into the picturesque Cotswolds to the west and the Chiltern hills to the east, all cradled by the spine of the Ridgeway and the Vale of the White Horse in the south. 

Oxford Scholastica summer school students take full advantage of this smorgasbord of architectural and pastoral delights during their time at Oxford! Our exciting schedule features punting along the River Cherwell, as well as day trips to Blenheim Palace and Windsor Castle

Exploring Oxford on Foot

Walking isn’t just the best way to appreciate the architecture and landscapes of Oxfordshire – it also has immense health benefits. Walking is a great way to:

  • Improve your cardiovascular health 
  • Build muscle 
  • Strengthen bones 
  • Reduce the risk of certain cancers 
  • Boost your immune function

Walking also has huge mental health benefits, reducing the body’s stress response and releasing feel-good hormones. For maximum effectiveness, take your walks with a friend or two in green spaces like Oxford’s Port Meadow.

Finally, walking has some underappreciated brain health benefits too. Brisk walking increases the amount of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which improves cognitive performance, meaning faster learning and quicker thinking! 

What Are the 25 Best Walks in and Around Oxford?

When selecting walks in Oxford, the sheer number of options can be overwhelming! Here, we’ve narrowed down our top 25 walks, both inside the city and local day trips, so that you can explore the best of Oxford’s history, nature and wildlife. 

Whether you’re an aspiring student hoping to soak up some academic luck from the cobblestones, a group of friends looking for a relaxing stroll, or a family searching for a day trip that’ll keep everyone entertained, we’ve got a recommendation perfect for your next visit.

Best for historical exploration

Oxford is full of stunning buildings, many of which have made their way into fiction and film, making it the perfect backdrop for a walk inspired by history. 

The Emperor's Heads statues at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford

1. Historic Oxford: City Centre Trail

Explore the origins of the historic city by walking around its rich centre! 

Starting at Christopher Wren’s Sheldonian Theatre with its impaled stone heads, continue down Catte Street to admire Oxford’s rendition of the Bridge of Sighs. Enter Radcliffe Square to view the Radcliffe Camera, which is bordered by the Bodleian Library, Brasenose College, St. Mary’s Church and the golden gates of All Souls College. 

All these sites are visible within a ten minute walking loop, which can be extended down Brasenose passage to include a trip to the 18th-century Covered Market and a stop at Oxford’s world famous Ben’s Cookies – a favourite with locals and scholars alike! 

These beautiful buildings have their share of ghostly tales and spooky mysteries, which you can hear first-hand on one of Oxford’s spooky walking ghost tours if you’re keen.

2. Literary Oxford: CS Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien Trail

Oxford’s literary connections are countless. The city has inspired authors across the centuries, including the Inklings writing group. It was here in Oxford that both CS Lewis, author of the Narnia series, and J. R. R. Tolkien, of The Lord of the Rings fame, read their early drafts in the local pub, The Eagle and Child. 

Explore the same locations that inspired these authors by starting with a mulled apple juice at The Eagle and Child, before heading down Broad Street to visit Exeter College – the inspiration for Jordan College in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials

From Exeter College, head via St. Mary’s Passage with its Narnia-esque door and lamppost to Christ Church, where Lewis Caroll wrote Alice in Wonderland, and iconic scenes were filmed for the Harry Potter movies. From there, you can meander through the meadows to the Botanic Gardens – and for Pullman fans, visit Lyra’s bench! 

Opposite the Botanic Gardens, take a wander through the grounds of Magdalen College, where Tolkien and Lewis would meet to discuss their work, and then head back into town, refreshed and inspired! 

This walk should take one to two hours, depending on how long you spend looking for literary allusions.

The Bridge of Sighs, Oxford

3. Oxford on Film: Set Locations Trail

Oxford has also played film-set many times over the years! 

Harry Potter filming locations include Christ Church’s Great Hall, New College’s Cloisters, and the Duke Humfrey’s Library in the Bodleian, all of which are open to the public and available on walking tours. Alternatively, you can make your own tour by saving your favourite locations in Google Maps and creating a walking route.

Though it’s not just witches and wizards that have roamed Oxford’s streets. Detectives Morse, Lewis and Endeavour are three generations of Oxfordshire detectives, investigating crimes across fictionalised versions of the University’s colleges. A tour of these thrilling set locations will last approximately one and a half hours. 

Eagle-eyed viewers might also recognise the Bridge of Sighs in the latest Wonka movie and New College Lane in Mamma Mia 2

Best for regal retreats

Oxford, as a historically important city in England, also has plenty of links to the British monarchy to be explored on foot. 

4. Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace is a 45-minute bus or bike ride away from Oxford city centre. This awe-inspiring palace with stunning grounds was the birthplace of Winston Churchill and the home of Princess Diana’s ancestors. 

A walk around the house and gardens – with architectural offerings by Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor, and restored landscaping by Capability Brown – can last anywhere from an hour to an entire afternoon, depending on pacing and pauses to marvel at the spectacular vistas. 

In winter, go by twilight to enjoy the Christmas Market and lights trail, and in summer, enjoy a tour of the palace before cooling off with ice creams in the ornamental gardens.   

Windsor Castle

5. Windsor Castle

For those looking for older and grander delights, an hour’s drive away is the awe-inspiring Windsor Castle – a favourite day trip for our Oxford Scholastica students. 

Windsor Castle has been home to the British monarchy for over 1,000 years, and is the oldest still-occupied castle in the world. Each new century has brought architectural innovation to the castle, so its round Norman towers buttress newer medieval structures, with some Gothic, Georgian and Victorian features too – much like the architectural patchwork of Oxford’s streets!

Best for family-friendly fun

Oxford has lots of adventures for all ages, and plenty of family-friendly walks. 

6. Oxford Castle and Prison

The Oxford Castle, built in the eleventh century on the site of older architectural remains, was once a vital part of Oxford’s fortifications. The site has seen many historical events, and acted as the headquarters for the Royalists during the English Civil War. 

You can scamper up the Oxford Mound for amazing views of the city, and walk around the castle site for free. 

Following its military life, the castle was converted into a prison in the 18th century, where many ghostly tales are told about its past prisoners! Not just a fascinating place for history fans, it now exists as a museum, restaurant and hotel, with plays performed in the castle ruins each summer, and tours of the old prison running throughout the year. 

The Oxford Castle is an incredible place to visit, and our Oxford Scholastica students experience all this history for themselves, with many staying in the St. George campus, which is actually built onto the old castle walls! 

A park bench next to a fountain in the Oxford Botanic Gardens

7. Oxford Botanic Gardens

On sunny days, families often flock to the Oxford Botanic Gardens, the oldest botanic garden in the UK and home to over 5,000 plant species. Here, you can enjoy calming strolls through gardens – each with its own theme – or enter the glasshouses to be transported to the rainforest, or the Alps. 

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can visit the Insectivorous House, where carnivorous plants from around the world are displayed – just don’t get too close! 

Over the river from the gardens, you can pop into Magdalen College for a stroll around the deer park.

Best for riverside retreats

Oxford is home to two rivers (the Thames and the Cherwell) and the Oxford canal, offering fantastic walks for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

8. Oxford University Parks and Cherwell Boathouse Loop

Nestled in central Oxford is a charming circular walk lasting around 30 minutes. After a circuit of the Oxford University Parks – where you may spot students playing rugby, football or even quidditch! – exit via Norham Gardens and head up to the Cherwell Boathouse, situated on the banks of the River Cherwell. 

Here, you can engage in one of Oxford’s most beloved pastimes, and go punting along the Cherwell river

Wide shot of people punting along the river in Oxford

9. Iffley Village and River Thames Circular Walk

If you’d like to explore the famous Thames in Oxford, you can join the river at Folly Bridge on St. Aldates. 

Wander down the towpath, opposite the college boathouses, until you reach Iffley village. We recommend stopping off for lunch or some live music at the Isis Farmhouse on the way!

The charming Iffley village has a twelfth-century church with famous stained glass windows, and you can either take a bus back to the centre or stroll the two miles back along the towpath. 

This is a gentle afternoon walk, lasting an hour and a half.  

10. Wolvercote Walk via Port Meadow

Alternatively, the Thames can be explored in the North of Oxford. Head to Port Meadow in Oxford’s charming Jericho neighbourhood, and walk straight across the field and over the bridge to Medley farm. 

Follow the river northwards, past the Perch Inn and up to Godstow Abbey, an abandoned 12th century nunnery. Continue northwards to the village of Wolvercote, where J. R. R. Tolkien is buried, and then return to Oxford via Port Meadow, where paths criss-cross and horses graze. 

This two and a half hour walk is best done in warmer months, as the meadow frequently floods during winter. Some years it even freezes, and locals gather at the meadow to ice skate! 

Group of horses gathered by the river in Port Meadow

11. Summertown Trap Grounds 

The Oxford canal also offers a fun waterway to explore. Join the canal behind the train station and head north. Here, you can admire the gardens of the Jericho houses and look for herons, swans and moorhens in quieter stretches. 

Up by Frenchay bridge, go left and explore the Trap Grounds nature reserve, with its raised wooden walkways and hidden orchards. Return to the canal and continue along Elizabeth Jennings way, where you can take the bridge to visit lovely Summertown, with its Sunday morning farmers market. 

Take a bus back to the centre, or head via North Oxford to Norham gardens, and have a final lap of the University Parks before entering the city. 

This route takes around two hours, or three if you spend a while in the nature reserve.

Best for tranquil woodlands

Oxford is teeming with local wildlife and flora… if you know where to look!

A squirrel sitting on a bench in Christ Church meadow

12.  Walks in Wytham Woods

A short bus ride from Oxford is Wytham Woods, which is carpeted with vibrant bluebells in the spring months. University researchers often work at Wytham, studying the bees and birds, so you may meet a friendly scientist or two on your rambles! 

13. Walks in Bagley Woods

Similarly close to the city, but offering a countryside escape, are Bagley Woods in Kennington. Public access in the woods now extends all the way to Boars Hill, producing a charming – but muddy! – two and a half hour circular walk.  

Boars Hill is famous for its role in Oxford poetry, with Matthew Arnold, Robert Graves and Robert Bridges all writing from atop the hill – maybe you’ll be similarly inspired!

Best for dawn and dusk strolls

For an experience of Oxford that many miss, time your strolls to experience the beauty of the city in the changing light. 

14. Oxford at Sunrise

Exploring Oxford at sunrise (before the busy crowds wake!) is the ideal opportunity to capture the perfect Instagram-worthy shot below the Bridge of Sighs and marvel at the colleges with uninterrupted views. 

If you head to the middle of the High Street, just past Queen’s and University Colleges, and turn to face Carfax Tower, you’ll perfectly recreate the famous view of Oxford painted by Turner in 1810, which you can visit at the Ashmolean Museum. 

Christ Church at golden hour

15. Oxford at Sunset

Like sunrise, wandering through the streets of Oxford at golden hour is a special experience. As the sun sets, visit the iconic Radcliffe Square and see if you can line up the sun with the spires nearby! 

In the evenings, head to Burgess Field nature reserve in Port Meadow, a 20 minute walk from the centre of town, and lap the reserve to watch for the rabbits who emerge at dusk. 

Leaving the reserve, head back towards Oxford, pausing to watch the starling murmuration over the meadow at twilight. 

16. Oxford at Night

For the very best views of the sunset, reminiscent of famous paintings of the city, head to South Park, just 20 minutes from the city centre. Climb up the hill and settle in to watch the sun set behind Oxford’s dreaming spires. 

Once night has fallen, take a stroll back to Oxford along the High Street, enjoying the sight of Magdalen Tower and St. Mary’s Church lit from below. 

Best for countryside escapes

Nestled between the Cotswolds and the Chilterns, Oxford offers the perfect gateway for country escapes.

17. Henley-on-Thames

For local escapes close to the water, consider the nearby town of Henley-on-Thames. Famous for its rowing regatta and scenic surroundings, the town offers four riverside walks, each lasting between 30 minutes and three and a half hours. 

In particular, don’t miss the circular walk from a nearby Roman villa, via Hambleden Mill, offering panoramic views of the Thames. There’s also a high chance of spotting kingfishers here, particularly between April and August. This route takes three and a half hours, and walking boots are advised if there’s been recent rain. 

18. Farmoor Reservoir

Likewise, Farmoor Reservoir is a 25 minute drive from Oxford, and is a sailing ground for the University and local teams. 

The reservoir can be circled in two hours or less. A popular route follows the edge of the reservoir for a mile or so, and dips through the edges of the nature reserve for the rest of the way. 

The edge of the reservoir itself makes for a great running route, with smooth pathways paving the way. 

A bird standing in the mud at Farmoor Reservoir

19. From Culham to Abingdon

The local villages around Oxford also offer some peaceful river walks. 

South of Oxford lies Culham, a small village nestled in a meander of the River Thames. From here, you can walk up the river to Abingdon, a historic market town, crossing at the weir and returning along the other river bank. 

This is a lovely flat walk which takes just under an hour. It can be extended by venturing into the countryside around Culham, or exploring the Abingdon County Hall Museum and local shops. 

20. Kennington and Radley Loop

Similarly, the neighbouring villages of Kennington and Radley lie halfway along the river between Oxford and Abingdon, and can be connected via a short loop. 

Take a ten minute train from Oxford to Radley, and journey along the river to Sandford weir. Return via St. John’s Wood in Kennington, join the fields behind Radley College, and then head back to the train station via the old church. 

This is a pleasant amble that takes between one and two hours. 

21. Thame’s Historical Walks

For those wanting a change of scenery from Oxford’s dreaming spires – but still craving a walk through historic sites – the town of Thame offers short and insightful historical walks. 

Just a short drive from the city is the town of Thame, which has a variety of self-guided walks, lasting approximately an hour, as well as a “Blue Plaques” route, where you can find significant locations associated with famous residents of the town. 

22. Stratford-upon-Avon

If you fancy travelling a little further afield, consider a trip to the nearby town of Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. Here, you can enjoy many homages to the Bard, alongside the water with a gentle four and a half mile circular route. 

From the centre of town, head along Meer Street to the Shakespeare Memorial Fountain. Go past the preserved Tudor houses to Shakespeare’s New Place, the poet’s final place of residence, and then to the Old Town. 

Venture through the Holy Trinity Cemetery to the River Avon footpath. Walk along the river for one and a half miles before crossing back at Weir Brake Lock. Then, return to the town to enjoy the views of the Holy Trinity Church and Stratford Theatres for the final stretch of the river, before finding your way back to the town centre.

Anne Hathaway's cottage in Stratford-Upon-Avon

23. White Horse and Dragon Hills

For fans of archaeology and ancient history, White Horse Hill isn’t to be missed. Here, you can find a prehistoric 3,000 year old chalk carving of a horse, standing 110 metres tall across the hills of Uffington. 

Nearby this awe-inspiring carving is Dragon Hill, said to be the location of St. George’s famous fight with a dragon. The legend tells how the dragon’s blood poisoned the grass, leaving the summit of the hill bare. 

Walks from White Horse Hill can be taken along the ridgeway to Wayland’s Smithy, an ancient burial ground decorated with standing stones and thought to be 5,500 years old! The walk between the Horse and Barrow is just over a mile long, and a circuit of all three landmarks can be completed in around an hour. 

24. West Kennet Long Barrow

You can find a similar walk between ancient sites at the West Kennet Long Barrow. Approximately an hour’s drive away, this ancient burial site is over 5,650 years old – 1,000 years older than the Great Pyramids of Giza! 

From here, you can do a challenging three and a half hour hike, signposted by the National Trust, that will take you past the standing stones of Avebury Henge, by the Bronze Age burial grounds, and across the rolling Wiltshire hills. 

25. Cotswolds

Finally, visitors to Oxford looking for a quintessential country walk must visit the nearby Cotswolds, a county full of chocolate-box cottages and watercolour views! 

The Cotswolds can be reached by train, with Moreton-on-the-Marsh a speedy 40 minute direct train from Oxford. 

Once in the Cotswolds, there are plenty of circular walks that can be found on local walking websites. Alternatively, you can find a village and amble to your heart’s content, stopping to admire the view or buy an ice cream from a local shop! 

For more adventurous ramblers, take the train from Oxford to Moreton-on-the-Marsh for a three and a half hour hike through the countryside and woodlands to Kingham – another classic Cotswolds village – where you can get the train back to Oxford. 

A bridge and river in the Cotswolds

With streets full of history, literary references and architectural delights, Oxford is certainly a city best explored on foot!

The manicured gardens, well-kept parks, and local nature reserves offer a variety of wildlife and flora, from the collection of plants at the Botanic Garden, to Magdalen’s deer, Port Meadow’s rabbits, and the red kites overhead. 

For those able to venture outside the city walls, adventures await in local palaces, abandoned abbeys, and ancient burial sites and standing stones. 

Whether you’re here to study, or just to enjoy its manifold treasures, Oxford is a city that always has more to offer!


By Alix Hibble

Alix has a PhD in Experimental Psychology from the University of Oxford, where she currently works as a lecturer in Study Skills. She loves exploring Oxford while listening to science and comedy podcasts, experimenting in the kitchen, and hosting murder mystery parties for friends.

Discover Oxford by applying to a summer school today!

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