Great Things to Do in Oxford with Kids

Harry Potter and The Trip to Oxford: Explore the university city with kids

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Oxford University, England UK

It may be known throughout the world for its prestigious university, but we at the Plum Guide have put together a brochure of a digital nature with a focus on the ultimate things to do in Oxford with kids. Of course, that includes taking a tour of the university, because what parent wouldn’t want to show their little ones a glimpse of a future it’ll be nigh-on impossible to attain, leading to years of therapy down the line, when they feel like they’ll never live up to their parents’ expectations. No, we’re not drawing from our own experience. Mummy? Are you reading this?

‘Children begin by loving their parents; after a time they judge them; rarely, if ever, do they forgive them,’ said Oxford University alumni Oscar Wilde. So, maybe it’s not such a good idea to send them here. In any case, there are plenty of activities for kids in and around the city, from children’s museums to wildlife parks and gardens. Here are some of the best things to do in Oxford with kids.

Tour the university

Let’s get this activity – the one that sets unrealistic expectations on the little ones for life – out of the way first. With any luck, it won’t make an indelible stain on their little psyches. Don't worry, this isn't as boring as it sounds: many parts of Oxford University were used as Harry Potter filming locations, making this a great option when looking for things to do in Oxford with kids. The Oxford University and City Walking Tour will amaze your little ones by giving them behind-the-scenes insight into the wizarding world. You’ll also get to see some of the historic architecture, with highlights including the Bodleian Library and the Bridge of Sighs. Walk across the latter and sigh really loudly to annoy the students passing through. Check out the Sheldonian Theatre and the Radcliffe Camera, among the many iconic attractions at the university.

Oxford University, UK

Oxford University, UK

If you get a bit tired of all the ye olde architecture, book your stay in Oxford at an ultra-modern Plum Guide apartment. Nothing like the comfort of bold printed wallpaper, is there?

Trailing Vines, Plum Guide home in Oxford

Trailing Vines, Plum Guide home in Oxford

Walk around the rest of the city and go shopping

Of course, Oxford existed long before its university. Or did it? Yes, it did, it was known as Oxenaforda, named for a river crossing for oxen in A.D. 900. Take a stroll through the city (which is pretty much dominated by the university campus – darn, we’re back to the university topic again). Amble through the St. Aldates area for its boutique stores and notice the Oxford Town Hall. Get your kids some presents in the vast Westgate shopping mall as a reward for their patience or as a motivator to do well at school and end up here. Browse the shops in the Golden Cross arcade and delve into the Covered Market for a sense of the local culture. The Clarendon Centre, Queen Street and the Cornmarket are all busy commercial and cultural hubs in the Oxford city centre. And if you want to stay in the heart of the city, book a night or two at Plum Guide-vetted home Cherwell.

Cherwell, Plum Guide home in Oxford

Cherwell, Plum Guide home in Oxford

Family museums

Children will (probably) love the Story Museum, with its immersive displays that celebrate and showcase stories of all kinds. It has all manner of workshops and interactive exhibits, as well as readings from children’s book authors and stages set up to tell stories through design and pictures.

Take the kids to the nearby Oxford University Museum of Natural History to see a giant (well, normal-sized by the species' standards) T-Rex. Find out about the progress of the swifts (birds) nesting in the tower and ask a docent about the architectural quirks of this cathedral-like building. See a stuffed dodo and learn about the extinct reptiles of the Jurassic seas.

Didcot Railway Centre, Oxford, UK

Didcot Railway Centre, Oxford, UK

Check out the old-world costumes and antiques in the Pitt Rivers Museum and take the little ones to the Oxford Bus Museum, because kids seem to really like transport. While you’re at it, drop in at the Didcot Railway Centre, a little south of the city.

Enjoy the parks

Oxford is a pretty green city, packed with parks and gardens that are a far cry from the chaos of big cities like London (which, to be fair, is also pretty green and filled with parks). The University of Oxford Botanic Gardens is particularly stunning, and is thought to be the oldest garden of its kind in the Great Britain. Make your way between the Walled Garden, the Glasshouses and the Lower Garden, marvelling at the design of the Danby Gateway among other impressive designs.

Oxford University Botanic Garden | © Peter Dean/Flickr

Oxford University Botanic Garden | © Peter Dean/Flickr

For something more park-like, watch a game of cricket in the Oxford University Parks or travel to the Port Meadow, where you could set up a picnic on the lawn beside the lake. Head into the countryside and clamber up and down the hills of the Shotover Country Park. The kids will love the Oxford Wet n Wild in Berinsfield, comprising an inflatable obstacle course with trampolines and slides.

Visiting England's other unattainable university town? We've got you covered for things to do in Cambridge, too. Or, if you're having a break from the kids (and who can blame you?), we've put together a general guide of things to do in Oxford. The main difference? There are two pubs on this list. You're welcome.

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