15 Best Places to Visit in Oxfordshire (England)

Written by Alex Bird
Updated on
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It is no disservice to the rest of Oxfordshire to say that the City of Oxford is the county’s crowning glory.

The dignified home of one of the world’s oldest and most famous universities has to be visited at least once in a lifetime.

But if you are eager to see more there’s a beautiful county waiting for you embedded with ancient ruins and opulent marvels like Blenheim Palace.

In the west are the Cotswold Hills and their beloved limestone villages, while much of the rest is rolling chalk hills laced by the River Thames while it is still just a small if very picturesque river.

Lets explore the best places to visit in Oxfordshire:

1. Oxford

OxfordSource: flickr

At the oldest English-speaking university in the world, you should begin with a tour of the various colleges clustered around centre of the city.

Most of these have wonderful architecture, and if you time your trip right you’ll be able to go inside.

Christ Church, Magdalen College and Queens’ College are vital, as is the 17th-century Bodleian Library.

And with an internationally-respected university comes museums and cultural attractions that are a cut above: The Ashmolean, the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Museum of Natural History, all are world-class.

After that there’s the Thames, which is still shallow this far upstream, so the best way to get around on the water is by punting.

2. Henley-on-Thames

Henley-on-ThamesSource: flickr

A very genteel town in the far southeast of the county, Henley is synonymous with the regatta that makes a splash in the social calendar at the turn of July.

Thousands of spectators crowd the grassy banks for rowing events entered by both seasoned Olympians and crews new to competitive rowing.

At other times you can simply bask in Henley’s refined character and go for strolls in the meadows and wooden Chiltern hillsides that climb up from the river.

The sublime Tudor country house and National Trust attraction, Greys Court, is on the edge of town and has appeared in TV shows like Downton Abbey.

Also suitably plush is Nuffield Place, once the home of the car manufacturer William Morris.

3. Burford

Burford, EnglandSource: flickr
Burford, England

On the steep sides of the Windrush Valley, Burford is seen as Oxfordshire’s “Gateway to the Cotswolds”. Burford’s stiff slopes make it somehow more picturesque, especially when you see town’s rustic stone cottages, half-timbered buildings and regal townhouses on the high street.

Wandering down towards the medieval bridge on the Windrush River you’ll be enticed by the little side streets, which have tea rooms, pubs and specialty shops.

And if you’d like to spend the night there’s a good choice of bed & breakfasts and inns for such a small town.

Allow some time to see the medieval Church of St John the Baptist, which is lavish in the true Wool Church style.

4. Witney

WitneySource: flickr

Like a few of the former weaving towns in Oxford, Witney is often placed among the best places to live in Britain.

The market square makes a very persuasive case, with its graceful period architecture and  17th-century Butter Cross, where local women once gathered to sell butter and eggs.

Across the street is the early-18th century town hall, made with that fetching Cotswold stone.

For some local flavour come by the Wychwood Brewery on weekends to be shown around and to taste the much-loved Hobgoblin brown ale.

And then at Cogges, right next to Witney, is a working Victorian manor farm that has also been a shoot location for Downton Abbey.

5. Wantage

WantageSource: wikimedia

The most famous son of Wantage has to be King Alfred the Great who was born here in 849 and ruled the Kingdom of Wessex until 899. There’s a statue of him in the middle of the market place, sculpted by Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, a cousin of Queen Victoria.

Wantage is a very sociable place to be on Friday and Saturday evenings in summer, when its many pubs and restaurants around the market are especially animated.

Wednesdays and Saturdays are market days, and you should also browse the Vale and Downland Museum, which is set in a 17th-century clothmaker’s house.

6. Abingdon

AbingdonSource: flickr

On the Thames  a few miles downriver from Oxford, Abingdon is a large, thriving town with some very imposing architecture in its centre.

Abingdon County Hall from 1670 is very grand, with tall arcades that would have provided a sophisticated space for markets and meetings.

Now it’s a handy spot to have a quick cup of tea.

Abingdon Bridge has spanned the Thames since 1416, despite needing running repairs down the centuries.

The defunct Abingdon Abbey is enclosed in a lovely park in the town, and although the abbey church is long gone you can still identify the monastic buildings, including the Long Gallery, an evocative half-timbered hall.

7. Woodstock

Blenheim PalaceSource: flickr
Blenheim Palace

This dignified market town has historical links to nobility and royalty, as Woodstock Manor was the birthplace of the eldest son of King Edward III and was where Queen Mary I was imprisoned for a time by Elizabeth I. The Oxfordshire Museum can fill you in on the town’s fabled history, while the plush centre of Woodstock more than merits a saunter for its regal townhouses, clad with ivy and wisteria.

But the biggest attraction around Woodstock is the UNESCO-listed Blenheim Palace, and what could be the most prestigious country house in Britain.

One of the few monuments to be built in the briefly-fashionable English baroque style at the start of the 18th-century, the palace was the seat of the Churchill Family and birthplace of the statesman Winston Churchill in 1874.

8. Wallingford

WallingfordSource: wikimedia

Everything you could need in Wallingford is on hand at the town’s marketplace.

This is the site of Wallingford’s most memorable landmarks, like the neoclassical Corn Exchange, the glorious arcaded town hall from the 1600s and the Norman church of St Mary-le-More.

You can also come to the tourist information centre for leaflets about Wallingford’s heritage trail, which touches on the Saxon era when the town was a vital fortification for Alfred the Great.

Wallingford Castle, built by the Normans, was one of the south’s most powerful strongholds until it was torn down in the Civil War and left as the ethereal crumbling ruin that remains today.

9. Chipping Norton

Chipping NortonSource: flickr
Chipping Norton

Although it’s just a small town, most people in the UK know about Chipping Norton for the “Chipping Norton Set”. A loose association of local movers and shakers including the former Prime Minister David Cameron, the Murdoch Family and the former editor of the Sun newspaper.

Besides this connection Chipping Norton is a very charming place, well-known for its antiques shops, and being up in the Cotswolds it’s also the highest town in the whole of Oxfordshire.

St Mary the Virgin is a quintessential Cotswold church and is flooded with light inside because of its uninterrupted clerestory windows.

In the verdant countryside outside the town are the Rollright Stones, a Neolithic and Bronze Age stone circle.

10. Faringdon

Faringdon Town HallSource: flickr
Faringdon Town Hall

An adorable historic market town southwest of Oxford, Faringdon has much more going for it than you might expect for settlement of this size.

In the centre, the Town Hall is the standout sight, dating to the 1600s and still a cornerstone of daily life.

For all its serenity today, Faringdon Hill to the east has seen some big events, like battles in the succession crisis known as “The Anarchy” in the 12th century and again during the English Civil War when the Republicans had a fortress.

Today the hill is topped with a 43-metre-high folly from 1935, with a neo-gothic design and giving you great views of the Vale of the White Horse.

Also check out the 14th-century Great Coxwell Barn, and the Uffington White Horse, a chalk hill figure fashioned some 3,000 years ago.

11. Banbury

BanburySource: flickr

More of a working town than many of the destinations on this list, Banbury, in the far north of Oxfordshire, has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

This flourishing town attracts shoppers from miles around, and the pedestrianised centre with its fair share of history is the right location a wander.

Banbury is also a springboard for the fantastic heritage in the area.

There are three resplendent country houses: Sulgrave Manor, Upton House and Broughton Castle, all worthy of a detour.

To pick one, Broughton Castle is a medieval fortified manor house that was extended in Elizabethan times  and has a magical walled garden.

12. Bicester

BicesterSource: flickr

This historic market town is expanding quickly, building new homes for commuters working in London and Oxford.

But Bicester is much more than just a bedroom community, as the fabulous architecture around the marketplace will show you, including gorgeous 17th-century townhouses and a smattering of older half-timbered buildings.

But for many holidaymakers the town’s reputation is founded squarely on Bicester Village, an outlet mall that pulls in a staggering 6.3 million shoppers a year.

More visitors from China come these luxury outlets than to any other attraction in the country apart from Buckingham Palace!

13. Minster Lovell

Minster Lovell HallSource: flickr
Minster Lovell Hall

A very small bundle of villages and hamlets in the west of the county, Minster Lovell may be an unassuming sort of place now, but in the middle ages one of England’s richest men called the shots from this place.

Minster Lovell Hall is run by English Heritage, maintaining the beautiful ruins of a late-medieval manor house built for the Baron of Lovell and Holland.

The building has been abandoned since the 1700s and the whole site is framed by the River Windrush and its picnic-friendly banks.

Photographers and antiquarians won’t want to leave, but there are a couple pubs in the village to put a cap on a perfect day out.

14. Thame

ThameSource: flickr

Oxfordshire specialises in well-heeled market towns, and Thame is one of the prettiest.

In its distant past it was a fortified town in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Wessex, and now it’s a very comfortable place to pass a few hours.

Traditional amenities like butchers, bakers, tea rooms and pubs share Thame with posher boutiques and eateries.

Be here on Tuesdays for what many agree is Oxfordshire’s best outdoor market, likened to an outdoor delicatessen, with local fruit and vegetables, cakes, chutneys  and a host of other home-made delights.

15. Didcot

Didcot Railway CentreSource: flickr
Didcot Railway Centre

In a county stereotyped for its refined towns and twee villages, Didcot swings the other way and is a gritty railway town that coalesced around Brunel’s Great Western Railway in the mid-1800s.

For decades the cooling towers of the Didcot Power Station have been a landmark identifiable from miles around, but with hi-tech industries and research centres moving in and the power station being decommissioned, Didcot is now all about innovation.

For tourists though, the Didcot Railway Centre is just the ticket if you’d like to relive the halcyon days of steam locomotives.

The attraction is based in a massive engine shed, with more than 30 locomotives, four of which are operational on then museum’s a heritage line.

15 Best Places to Visit in Oxfordshire (England):

  • Oxford
  • Henley-on-Thames
  • Burford
  • Witney
  • Wantage
  • Abingdon
  • Woodstock
  • Wallingford
  • Chipping Norton
  • Faringdon
  • Banbury
  • Bicester
  • Minster Lovell
  • Thame
  • Didcot