Oxford City Centre is home to the world-renowned Oxford University colleges, such as Christ Church, Trinity, Balliol and Magdalen. The city centre also hosts an extensive range of shops and restaurants. The city centre also encompasses several peaceful parks and meadows.
Most visitors to Oxford City centre orient themselves around Carfax – a crossroads that forms the junction of Cornmarket Street, Queen Street, St Aldate’s and the High – which is generally considered to be the centre of the city. On the northwest corner of Carfax is St Martin’s Tower, more commonly referred to as “Carfax Tower”. This is all that remains of the 13th century St Martin’s Church, the official city church of Oxford from 1122.
Oxford’s Cornmarket Street is a semi-pedestrianised shopping street that runs northwards from Carfax Tower to Magdalen Street and through to St Giles.
Boswells of Oxford established what was the largest department store in Oxford at 50 Cornmarket Street in 1738. In 1928, the shop opened a new main entrance on Broad Street, but it still retained an entrance on Cornmarket Street. The store closed in 2020, and the building is being transformed into The Store Hotel – a new 4-star luxury hotel.
Also at this end of Cornmarket Street lies The tower of the Church of England parish church of St Michael at the North Gate – the oldest building in Oxford.
Another iconic Oxford street is St Giles, a wide boulevard leading north from the city centre of Oxford. The Playhouse Theatre, the 5-star Randolph Hotel, and the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology – are just a few of St Giles’ many riches.
Founded in 1683, the Ashmolean Museum is the University of Oxford’s museum of art and archaeology and perhaps, Oxford’s principal museum. The world-famous collections range from Egyptian mummies to contemporary art, telling human stories across cultures and across time.
At the south end lies the recently restored Martyrs’ Memorial that commemorates Archbishop Cranmer and Protestant Bishops Latimer and Ridley, who were burnt at the stake in Tudor times by the Roman Catholic Queen Mary. A cross in the road outside Balliol college marks the actual spot of the execution.
St Giles hosts the annual St Giles Fair – one of the greatest and most prestigious funfairs in the country – held on the Monday and Tuesday following the first Sunday after St Giles’ Day (01 September).
Queen Street is another semi-pedestrianised shopping street in the city centre – running westwards from Carfax.
Halfway along Queen Street, on the north side, is an entrance to the Clarendon Centre, a shopping centre. And at the end of Queen Street lies The Westgate, a modern shopping complex. Also at the western end of Queen Street is Bonn Square, named after the German city of Bonn with which Oxford is twinned.
St Aldate’s south from Carfax. On the east side of the street is the Town Hall, which includes the Museum of Oxford. Opened by His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, on 12 May 1897, Oxford Town Hall is a Victorian Grade II* listed building that serves as the administrative base of Oxford City Council. The town hall hosts over 2,000 events throughout the year and has seen the likes of Rolling Stones and David Bowie take to its stage. It is where Nelson Mandela accepted his Freedom of the City Award.
Also on St Aldate’s is Christ Church Cathedral, with its imposing Tom Tower. It is the cathedral of the Diocese of Oxford, which, broadly speaking, covers the counties of Oxford, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. The cathedral has a rich musical heritage. The Choir of Christ Church, Oxford, was founded nearly 500 years ago and is justly famous for the youthfulness of its sound and its daring and adventurous musical programming.
South of Christ Church is an entrance to Christ Church Meadow.
High Street runs eastwards in a gentle curve from Carfax to the Magdalen Bridge to the east of the city.
It is where you’ll find Oxford’s world-famous Covered Market, which can be accessed either from the High Street, Market Street or through the Golden Cross on Cornmarket Street. Home to several independent traders, the market dates back to the 1770s and provides a unique showcase for local food, drink and crafts.
Further along is the High is the University Church of St Mary the Virgin – a vibrant, welcoming, and inclusive church within the Church of England that has been the spiritual heart of the university. Behind the church lies the landmark Radcliff Camera which is part of The Bodleian Library – the principal library of the University of Oxford.
And further east is Examination Schools. Built between 1876 and 1882 and designed by Sir Thomas Jackson, this historical Grade II listed venue was created to house the university’s examinations. While still used for this purpose today, this flexible venue is also ideal for large conferences, business meetings, and a whole range of events all year round.
Broad Street is home to the Old Library – part of the Bodleian Library – one of the worlds oldest libraries, housing millions of books. It has been used as a working library by the University of Oxford for over 400 years. The Bodleian Library is the second largest library in Britain (second in size only to the British Library).
The History of Science Museum Oxford (also known as the Museum of the History of Science) on Broad Street houses an unrivalled collection of historic scientific instruments in the world’s oldest surviving purpose-built museum building, the original Ashmolean – built in 1683. It is right next to the Sheldonian Theatre.
The Sheldonian Theatre is an exquisite Grade I listed building and the official ceremonial hall of the University of Oxford. Some of the ceremonial activities that take place in the theatre include matriculation, graduation ceremonies, Encaenia and Congregation. This unique historic Oxford venue – designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1664 and 1669 – is open to the public to visit when not in use.
Running almost parallel to Magdalen Street and St Giles – with the southern end at Broad Street by the Sheldonian Theatre is Parks Road, where you can find the Museum of Natural History – a stunning example of neo-Gothic architecture.
Founded in 1860 as the centre for scientific study at the University of Oxford, the museum houses the university’s scientific collections of zoological, entomological, geological, palaeontological and mineralogical specimens accumulated in the course of the last three centuries.
Right behind it is the Pitt Rivers Museum, a global museum founded in 1884 that displays archaeological and ethnographic objects from many cultures across the world and all periods. It’s home to over half a million objects and curious artefacts, including masks, magic and musical instruments, as well as photographic, film, manuscript and sound collections.
The northern end of Parks Street is dominated by the University Parks – a green oasis that offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Originally owned by Merton College, the park was purchased by the university in the 1850s. Although the park is open to the public during the day, it is private land owned by the university. The principal public park (and the largest park within the city limits) is South Park on Headington Hill in the east of the city.