Looking across Radcliffe Square Oxford (Shutterstock)
List Words : Daisy Cropper | 27 January

8 things to do for free in Oxford

It's easy to keep things cheap on a trip to Oxford, says Daisy Cropper. In fact, you'll be hard-pushed to take in all the museums, galleries, parks, walks, buildings, history and more

1: Museums galore!

Ancient Egypt and Sudan gallery, Ashmolean Museum (Dreamstime)

Ancient Egypt and Sudan gallery, Ashmolean Museum (Dreamstime)

There are more museums in Oxford than even the most cultured vulture can take in on a short break. The highlights include the iconic Ashmolean Museum (Beaumont Street), don't miss the British Archaeology collection to learn about history right on Oxford's doorstep; the Pitt Rivers (South Parks Road) for atmospheric collections of shrunken heads, Eskimo outfits and various ancient weaponry; the Museum of the History of Science (Broad Street) – where you can track down Einstein's blackboard along with a mound of other geeky exhibits; and the Museum of Oxford (St Aldate's) to learn about the city's rise to fame and fortune.

2: And galleries galore!

Exhibition at Modern Art Oxford (modernartoxford.org.uk)

Exhibition at Modern Art Oxford (modernartoxford.org.uk)

If your feet are still up for tramping the city's streets track down these favourite galleries, all for free! Modern Art Oxford (Pembroke Street) has no permanent exhibits but an ever-changing range of collections from local and international artists alike. Most exhibitions run for 30 days – check out what's coming up here. Chill out in the gallery's cafe and don't miss the regular workshops talks and screenings. Stop by Arts at the Old Fire Station for cool, contemporary shows. Here you'll find a gallery, quirky shop and cafe in one – be warned, you'll want to stay a while. The North Wall Arts Centre, slightly out of town on South Parade, also hosts a good mix of sculptures, paintings and prints.

3: Picnic in Port Meadow

Port Meadow flood plain in Oxford (Dreamstime)

Port Meadow flood plain in Oxford (Dreamstime)

The perfect place to unwind after a day sightseeing. You'll find wild horses in the 30-hectare meadow, along with widgeon, teal, shoveler, Gadwall, pintail, common shelduck, ruff, redshank, dunlin, lapwing, snipe and golden plover at various times of year. There's enough space here to fly a kite, take a long walk or picnic in peace – and it's only a 15 minute walk from the city's centre. The views back to the skyline of dreamy spires are worth the walk alone.

Stop by Medley Manor Farm in the summer months to pick-your-own seasonal fruits for your picnic – the homemade raspberry ice cream is delicious.

4: Lewis Carroll's local favourites

Mad Hatter (Dreamstime)

Mad Hatter (Dreamstime)

Track down the well which inspired Lewis Carroll's 'treacle well' in Alice in Wonderland. Nearby Port Meadow is the small village of Binsey. Here you'll find The Perch – a welcoming country pub, which was allegedly a local favourite of the writer. Walk through the village and eventually you'll come to a small church and few houses. Walk through the churchyard to the right of the main building and you'll find a small well in the ground. The shallow well, dedicated to St Margaret, was once a favourite spot frequented by the writer.

There's also a pen with pygmy goats that live alongside the churchyard – they enjoy carrots, if you're interested.

5: Tour the city's streets

City of Oxford early in the morning (Dreamstime)

City of Oxford early in the morning (Dreamstime)

Oxford's city centre is compact and easily toured on foot. Take a free two-hour walking tour with Footprint Tours. Learn Oxford's history from its small beginnings as a Saxon town to its current position as a global cultural centre, famous for world leaders, history and traditions. Plus there's a few eccentric facts and stories thrown in for good measure.

Tours run from Mon-Fri, 11am and 2pm; Sat 11am, 12.30pm and 2pm; Sun 11am and 2pm. Footprint Tours also run bike trips, pub tours, Harry Potter tours, CS Lewis and Tolkien tours.

6: Shark attack

The famous shark of Headington (Shutterstock)

The famous shark of Headington (Shutterstock)

Meet the most famous resident of Headington – a 25-foot long, 400-pound shark which has face-planted a house. Literally.

The house, located at Number 2, New High Street, has been home to the headless shark sculpture for 28 years, after it swam to fame in the early hours of 9 August 1986. Balliol College graduate Bill Heine commissioned the sculpture and still owns the house today. As an explanation for the shark's arrivals, he has been quoted as saying: “The shark was to express someone feeling totally impotent and ripping a hole in their roof out of a sense of impotence and anger and desperation... It is saying something about CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), nuclear power, Chernobyl and Nagasaki.” It was erected on the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

Take a trip to Headington to track down this odd oceanic resident. Located off London Road, it's around a 50-minute walk from the city centre. Plenty of buses run this route too.

7: Marvel at Radcliffe Square

Looking across Radcliffe Square Oxford (Shutterstock)

Looking across Radcliffe Square Oxford (Shutterstock)

Take in one of the most iconic views of Oxford at Radcliffe Square. This pedestrianised area is probably the most photographed location in the city centre. Home to the Radcliffe Camera (the big, beautiful round building), the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Brasenose College and All Souls College it has plenty to impress with.

The Radcliffe Camera was originally used to house the Radcliffe Science Library in 1749; today, it is part of the world-famous Bodleian library. Access to the public is only available through private (and particularly expensive) tours. Alternatively, head over to the church which boasts some of the most beautiful spires in Britain.

If you've got £1 spare, the Divinity School (entrance on Catte Street – just off the Radcliffe Square) is worth a visit. Built in 1488 for the teaching of theology, the history and atmosphere will make you feel like a scholar.

8: Wander the Covered Market

The Covered Market in Oxford (Dreamstime)

The Covered Market in Oxford (Dreamstime)

Over 200 years old and with plenty of stories to tell, the Oxford Covered Market is a must-see on your city break. Browse through over 50 unique, independent stalls and stores, including fashion boutiques, florists, fishmongers and vegetable stalls. The building itself dates back to the 1770s and many of the market's original businesses are still trading today.

If you're partial to parting with a little cash, pick up a coffee from Ricardo's, sit back and relax – people watching has never been so intriguing. Alternatively pick up a city-famous milkshake from Moo-Moo's – be warned, the queues are hefty but worth the wait.

Heading for the halls on a Saturday? Get there nice and early. The narrow walkways get jam-packed later on in the afternoon, which isn't a pleasant experience.

Located in the centre of the city, you'll find entrances to the market on the High Street, on Market Street, or through the Golden Cross on Cornmarket. Open Mon-Sat 8.30am-5.30pm, Sun 10am-4pm.

Daisy Cropper is a regional author for UK travel website, Cool Places, bringing you the best places in Oxford and the Cotswolds. Follow her adventures on Twitter @daisy_cropper.