An insider’s guide to punting in Oxford


Punting in Oxford
Punting by Magdalen Bridge in Oxford

Punting is a traditional and popular leisure activity that involves propelling a narrow flat-bottomed boat (known as a “punt”) along a river or canal using a long pole. The punter stands at the back of the boat and pushes the pole against the river or canal bed to move the punt forward.

Punting is particularly associated with the city of Cambridge, where it is a popular tourist attraction on the River Cam. However, punting is also popular in other British cities with waterways, such as Oxford and Bath.

Punting on the scenic waterways of the city – on the River Thames (the part of the River Thames that flows through Oxford is known to locals as the Isis) or River Cherwell – is a popular activity in Oxford during the Summer or when it’s warm enough to do so. It is often seen as a relaxing and leisurely way to enjoy the river by visitors and locals alike.

Punting in Oxford
Punts at Magdalen Bridge in Oxford

As you drift along the water, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the city’s spires and historic architecture, including the colleges of University of Oxford, lush green meadows, and wildlife such as ducks and swans.

The history of punting in Oxford dates back to the late 19th century. The first punting company in Oxford, Salter Bros, was established in 1880 by two brothers, William and John Salter. They began by hiring out rowing boats on the Isis but soon realized that punt boats would be more suitable for the shallow waters of the nearby River Cherwell.

The popularity of punting grew rapidly, and by the turn of the 20th century, there were several punting companies operating in Oxford. Punting became a popular pastime for students and locals and has become a popular tourist attraction.

Punting in Oxford
Punting on the River Cherwell in Oxford

There are several companies that offer guided tours with experienced punting guides who can provide information about the history of the city and its landmarks. Alternatively, you can opt to rent a punt and explore the Isis or River Cherwell at your own pace.

  1. Magdalen Bridge Boathouse – This company offers punting tours along the River Cherwell, starting from the Magdalen Bridge.
  2. Oxford Punting – This company offers punting tours along the River Thames, starting from Folly Bridge.
  3. Cherwell Boathouse – This company offers punting tours along the River Cherwell, starting from their boathouse next to the Dragon School (near the University Parks).
  4. The Oxford Chauffeur Company – This company offers chauffeur-driven punting tours along the River Thames.
  5. The Punting Company – This company offers both self-punting and chauffeured punting tours along the River Cherwell and the River Thames.

Please note that this list is not exhaustive, and there may be other punting companies in Oxford that we’re not aware of.

Punting in Oxford with the Cherwell Boathouse in the background
Punting in Oxford with the Cherwell Boathouse in the background

Punting is a relaxing and enjoyable activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. It’s a great way to experience the beauty of Oxford from a unique perspective and enjoy a peaceful afternoon on the water.

Although punting in Oxford doesn’t usually require much experience, if you are new to punting and would like to do it yourself, we’d suggest going for the River Cherwell, which is smaller and easier to navigate than the Isis.

And don’t forget to take a few drinks with you, or even pack a picnic and make a day of it! 

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