Recently, we took the City Sightseeing Oxford Tour to see what the city had to offer families with young children like ours. There is good reason why millions of people flock to the City every year. With over a thousand historic buildings, fascinating museums, theatres, restaurants, shops and open spaces, you can pack in a lot of adventure.
City Sightseeing Oxford Tour – The Details…
The City Sightseeing open top buses provide a brilliant way to get around and discover all of Oxford’s major attractions and some beautiful hidden gems too.
The bus tours last for about an hour, and buses depart from the Rail Station every 10-15 minutes. Tour tickets are valid for 24 or 48hrs and you can hop on and off when and where you like along the route.
The bus tour encompasses 22 perfectly placed bus stops, making all of the great attractions easily accessible to its users; Oxford Castle, Ashmolean Museum, Christ Church College, Magdalen Bridge and Radcliffe Camera just to name a few.
The buses offer an easy to use audio guide (in 13 languages) and some a live guide too. A kid’s commentary is now available and is suitable for children of all ages. City tour tickets also include a FREE 30 minute walking tour and offers discounts for local attractions and restaurants.
Destination Summer: Discovering Oxford as a family
Oxford has so much to offer, and the City Sightseeing Tour provides a great way to explore the city. We took some time before beginning our trip to read the tour guide, to make sure we made the most of our day. Our tour began at the Rail Station, where we boarded our first open top bus of the day. It wasn’t long before we were passing Oxford Castle and Westgate Shopping, and onto our first desired stop at St Aldgates (Stop 7).
Walking in the footsteps of Alice in Wonderland…
Alice’s Shop had appealed to me straight away having seen it on the tour guide and I’m so glad we stopped there. The shop is where the real Alice in Wonderland bought her sweets 150 years ago and was written into one of the Alice books, Through the Looking-Glass. It is now a gorgeous little treasure trove of Alice in Wonderland gifts and memorabilia, with items priced to suit everyone’s budget. Such a lovely find!
Harry Potter filming locations…
Across the road, is Christ Church, one of the filming locations of Harry Potter. This was absolutely on our must visit list. We walked through the beautiful Christ Church Meadow which is currently in full bloom and looking incredible. Sadly, the walking tours inside Christ Church didn’t start until 2pm, so we wandered around the grounds for a while before heading through some charming cobbled streets towards the Radcliffe Camera.
Radcliffe Camera and the History of Science Museum…
Probably Oxford’s most photographed landmark, the Radcliffe Camera forms part of the world-famous Bodleian Library complex. Only students and scholars are admitted, but you can still take in the fantastic views and stroll through the nearby Bodleian courtyards. The free 30-minute City Sightseeing walking tour can be picked up close by at Stop 8, on the High Street.
There, we boarded our next bus to continue the tour along the High Street. The bus passed over the Magdalen Bridge (here you can hire traditionally crafted punts, rowing boats and pedalos) and past the Oxford Botanic Garden, which is the oldest in Great Britain and home to over 8,000 plant species. We shall definitely visit here on our next trip to Oxford.
We decided to stop off at Stop 13 for the History of Science Museum. The museum displays fascinating scientific instruments and hosts family-friendly events for children. Free family trails are available in the Entrance Gallery for all ages. Most exciting for me, the museum houses a blackboard used by none other than Albert Einstein which can be seen in the Basement.
From the museum, we took a nice stroll past the Sheldonian Theatre and along Parks Road. We stopped for a quick picnic pit-stop and were soon on our way again.
Towering skeleton dinosaurs and the famous Oxford Dodo…
Next stop, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Trevor and I visited here with Jack when he was still in a pram. I couldn’t wait to see the boys faces when they got inside.
I love everything that there is to love about this museum. The Museum of Natural History houses the University’s scientific collections of geological and zoological specimens. The museum itself is a Grade 1 listed building, renowned for its spectacular neo-Gothic architecture which is absolutely striking. The museum tower is a favourite nesting site of Swifts, which return to the UK every summer after their long migration from Africa.
The central court displays the Iguanodon and T. rex skeletons which tower over you, the Oxford Dodo, insects, minerals, and the first dinosaur to be scientifically described – Oxfordshire’s Megalosaurus.
The museum is free to enter, and hosts a lively programme of research and public events for all. Free family trails are available in the centre court, suitable for all ages. The boys absolutely loved their time at the museum. The dinosaur skeletons were a big hit as expected, as were the dinosaur footprints outside. They stayed well clear of the brown bear (it looks so real) but loved watching the real bees. I absolutely suggest a visit here.
Back on the bus, and off to the Castle!
Travelling back in time at Oxford Castle and Prison…
Before heading into the Castle, Daddy was punished to the stocks and set upon by the kids for reasons unknown. After about 2-hours (just kidding), he was set free and we headed inside for a tour of the Castle and Prison.
Led by costumed character guides, the tours reveal fascinating stories entrenched in the building’s 1,000 year history. The tour begins with a climb up the Saxon St. Georges Tower for panoramic views over Oxford and continues underground into the 900-year-old crypt. It is said that spirits and ghosts make their presence known here in the dead of night.
The tour also includes a visit to the 18-century Debtors Tower and Prison D-Wing. Here, your mugshots are taken and are later available to purchase from the gift shop. After the tour you can re-visit the castle’s prison where you can explore at your own leisure.
Before leaving site, we made an attempt to climb the mound. We got half way to the top before heading back down again as it didn’t feel particularly safe to me.
Sadly, I feel that the tour wasn’t ideal for younger children. Apart from trying out the punishments following the tour, not much else seemed to keep them entertained. Personally, I liked learning about the history and would love to do one of the After Dark Tours sometime.
Food, glorious food…
Food was definitely in order following our action packed day. Just around the corner from the Rail Station is this gorgeous retreat, perched on the riverside and shrouded by weeping willows.
The Oxford Retreat offers a warm and relaxed vibe following its recent and stylish refurbishment. The service was really friendly and nothing was too much trouble for the staff.
Although a small menu is on offer, the options are great and are well priced too. Its nice to actually dine somewhere that focuses on serving high-quality dishes. Honestly, my mouth is watering just thinking about the food we had and I would absolutely eat here again.
Final thoughts ~ Oxford and the City Sightseeing Tour
Being able to hop on and off the buses made our day out so much easier. Doing the bus tour, offered a completely different view of the city and we were able to see and do so much more than we have been able to previously. It’s a brilliant way to see all of Oxford, especially if you are only spending the day. The boys loved being on the buses and I really enjoyed the audio guide, which was both interesting and informative. I would absolutely use the City Sightseeing Tour service again and highly recommend it to anyone heading to Oxford this summer.
If you are looking for a fab day out with the family, then I would highly recommend a visit to Oxford. The city offers tonnes of things to see and do for all the family.
Get the most out of your visit by checking out The Oxford Bus Company for City Sightseeing Tour and ticket information.
*This post is in paid partnership with the Oxford Bus Company. However, all thoughts and photos are my own.