Top 5 Viewpoints in Oxford

A panoramic view of an ancient city featuring numerous historic buildings with tall spires, ornate architecture, and lush green trees. The sky is bright blue with scattered white clouds, enhancing the overall picturesque scene.
Image © Visit Oxford via Facebook

Gaze over the spires and rooftops from these stunning Oxford viewpoints

Oxford is known for its much-romanticised ‘dreaming spires’, the beautiful and historic architecture rising up from the centre of the university town. We’ve prepared a nifty guide to the best viewpoints in Oxford, including rooftop bars and cafes, ancient towers and green spaces further afield.

St Mary's Church Tower

University Church, The High Street, Oxford, OX1 4BJ

The University Church of St Mary the Virgin is right in the heart of Oxford in Radcliffe Square. The climb of 127 steps will take you to a viewing platform; it’s a narrow climb and a tight squeeze at the top but worth it for the birds-eye view of the historic university part of the city. You'll be able to see the High Street, the Bodleian Library and Brasenose College close-up, as well as peeking into the neighbouring All Souls, the famously mysterious college with no undergraduates, just Fellows. The tower itself dates from the 13th century and is adorned with gargoyles and grotesques, contributing to the English Gothic style of the rest of the building.

Why not reward yourself afterwards with tea and homemade cake at the Vaults Garden and Cafe, a popular spot tucked behind the church?

It’s £5 to climb the tower but the church itself is free. Open Monday-Saturday 9.30am-5pm, Sundays 12pm-5pm.

Image credit: Rooftop Restaurant at Ashmolean via Facebook

The Ashmolean Rooftop Cafe

After a morning of cultural exploration, the Ashmolean Museum’s rooftop café is a great place to sit and relax, with views of Oxford’s skyline to your right and a maze of activity visible below. The cafe has spectacular views of the whole of Oxford, and you can sprawl in a deckchair on faux grass, sip lemonade and pretend you’re on holiday in a foreign country. They serve afternoon tea on the outdoor terrace from 3pm-4.30pm, and throughout the summer there are live jazz evenings most Thursdays. Afternoon tea is £26 for two people, or a cream tea is a steal at £7.25.

The museum's collection is free to explore, but you'll have to buy some food or drink to sit on the roof. Open Sunday - Wednesday 10am-4.30pm and Thursday to Saturday 10am-10pm.

St Michael's Saxon Tower

This ancient tower is the oldest building that remains in Oxford, dating back almost a thousand years. The tower was originally part of the old city wall, sections of which are now incorporated into New College. It can be found on the corner of Turl Street and Cornmarket, and it’s 97 steps to the top. On the way up you’ll find a treasury on the first floor, containing a show-stopping array of rare silver dating from the 16th century, and a relic of the cell door from Bocardo Prison, which was where Archbishop Cranmer and Bishops Latimer and Ridley were held before they were burned at the stake by Mary Tudor. Ideal for history buffs, a trip up The Saxon Tower is a must-visit for an Oxford day out.

The tower is open from 10.30am-5pm daily, closing slightly earlier in winter. Tickets are £3 (£1.80 concession).

Image credit: Tejvan Pettinger via Flickr

South Park

An unconventional viewpoint, but we think one of the best: sitting on a hill in South Park offers a fantastic view of central Oxford. South Park is towards Headington, about a half-hour walk from the city centre, and is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the city for longer than a weekend. There’s also free parking nearby—a rarity in Oxford! The park does tend to get quite muddy in rainy weather, meaning that wellies are advised, but in the summer the grass is perfect for picnics with a far-reaching view of the city skyline.

The park is free and open all day, every day.

Varsity Rooftop Bar

This trendy bar above the Covered Market is Oxford's most luxurious viewpoint: you can access it from the High Street entrance to the market. It has proven so popular that there is now a waiting list on some evenings to sit on the actual roof, but the main downstairs bar is nice enough and the queue moves quickly. Once you're up there, you'll be greeted by wooden decking and glass, intimate tables and panoramic views of the centre of Oxford. They serve bespoke cocktails, nice wine and draft beer, and heated seats and blankets are available if it gets chilly later on.

The rooftop views are the price of whatever you’re drinking. Open Sunday-Thursday 12pm-10pm and Friday and Saturday 12pm-10.15pm.