Oxford is one of the least affordable city in the UK to live in but you will be surprised at how many free things you can do in Oxford. This post is dedicated to children though, as we all agree days out with kids can get really expensive, so I have put together this guide of FREE walks, parks, museums and activities around Oxfordshire so you can create a fantastic family day out yourself.
Before I start, lets tackle the elephant in the room.. aka.. traffic and parking in central Oxford. I would seriously recommend to NOT drive in your car if you can. I was horrified to find out that parking is now 12£ for two hours AND that is the maximum you can stay. Traffic wardens are always roaming around and I have previously even been fined for not parking “within the line”. It is just not worth the hassle and stress.
We usually take the bus (which adds to our adventure). There are a few park and rides around Oxford. You can pay for the combined parking and day return bus ticket into Oxford for two adults and up to three children (under 16) for £6.80, which includes 11 hours of parking (true as of March 2022). Find the one closest to you HERE.
If you do want to drive in, the best and cheapest option (in my opinion) is to park in the West gate car park, which is an easy walk to the town centre, instead of at and around St. Giles street. Visit the Westgate Oxford website for uptodate prices.
So once you are in the town centre, you can enjoy the ambience of Oxford just gazing at its architecture. Do not forget to picture at one of Oxford’s most famous and photographed location, Radcliffe Square, which is home to the Radcliffe Camera, University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Brasenose College and All Souls College, the Bodleian Libraries and the Bridge of Sighs. Visit to the covered market is also a must too!
It costs nothing to just walk along its historic streets but if you wanted to make it fun and go hunting for treasures such as statues, carvings, quirky signs and street decorations as you go around these places, you can get a treasure trail map (for 6.99£ including delivery but you can use my affiliate link for 10% off HERE or simply by using the coupon code OXFMUM). Footprint Tours Oxford offers a range of free walking tours, giving a comprehensive overview of the best free things to do in Oxford.
You can go inside most of the college grounds if you want. Some are free, especially if you are an Oxford resident or Oxford university alumni, but many have a small charge. Click here for details. If you had to choose one, I would go for the Christ Church College or Divinity School where Harry Potter was filmed!
For more natural beauty, stroll around the university parks admiring the beautiful plants and trees, which is open to the public almost every day of the year or go to the Christ Church Meadow. As you walk round and follow the river, I am sure you will see students either punting or rowing or playing sport or just laying on the ground to give you a glimpse into their lives.
For walks outside central Oxford, please visit our page FREE family and kids friendly walks in and around Oxfordshire
While you are in the city centre, you may want to visit one of the many fantastic museums for FREE.
If your little one loves dinosaurs or fossils, then Oxford university museum of Natural History is a must with its full length Dino skeletons, huge triceratops skull, other animal skeletons such as giraffe and elephants, giant ammonite, an actual meteorite etc etc. Pitts river museum is also free and accessible through the Oxford Natural History Museum, so you get a double whammy. Museum of Oxford is a small one on St. Aldate’s but has interactive audio-visual features for kids, so can be a good time filler. The Ashmolean Museum is the world’s first university museum and one of the best things to do in Oxford for free. They often run family activities, so it is worth checking their website. Oxford History of Science museum is also close by, though I don’t think it is suitable for small children etc. You can find Einstein’s blackboard with his writing on it. If you wanted to spend some money, then the Story Museum is well worth it. The Oxfordshire Museum is smaller and located in Woodstock, outside central Oxford, but is worth a visit for its dinosaur garden and interactive dinosaur gallery.
Cutteslowe and Sunnymead park is the largest playground in Oxford. You can literally spend the whole day here with its three children’s play areas, huge sand pit, small splash park, pond with duck feeding, miniature golf course, train rides on the Miniature Railway and plenty of open green space.
Florence park is overshadowed by Cutteslow park but has three fantastic play areas and brilliant walk around its length. They also have five tennis courts, high fly trapeze, or miniature golf (charges apply).
Hinksey Park in Oxford is a decent sized playground with a “boat themed”sandpit with nice equipment. There are separate climbing frames for little and older children. There is a free splash park and chargeable outdoor heated swimming pool. After having your full in the park, you can go for a walk around the duck pond or a longer one around the South Hinksey lake, over the bridge to the other side of Hinskey. There was even a bridge over the train tracks, where we loved train spotting. Details of that walk are HERE— combine the two for a brilliant day out!
Abbey Meadow Park in Abingdon is stunning and has something for children of all ages. The climbing fort with a spiral slide for older children is one of the best (and the safest) I have come across. After the play area, you can also bike/scootie around the edge, walk along the lock, cross the bridges, feed the ducks or just watch the boats on the lock. You must have passed Abbey Meadow and gardens as you came through. There’s a splash park and an outdoor heated pool as well.
Deddington adventure play ground at the Windmill centre is another all rounder. The centre has two playgrounds on the huge park. There is a small boardwalk to a woodland area which has a pretty cool adventure trail running through its full length under the trees. The surrounding grass area is ideal for ball games with tennis courts, an all-weather court (available to hire for football, netball, tennis and other ball games), a brand new multi-use games area and a fitness trail- you’re spoilt for choice really.
Benson Play Park, near Wallingford is newly built park and deserves every star it is getting from everyone and more. The huge beast of the climbing frame with the long tunnel slide stands in the centre. There are so many unusual play bits here that merit praise on its own and are waiting to be explored. Combine it with a walk in the nearby Ewelme Watercress beds and you have a solid winner! Crowmarsh Gifford Park and the Riverside Park and Pools in Wallingford offering a heated outdoor pool are also really close by. The pool has a charge but the Riverside Jubilee Splash Park is free.
Kilkenny Lane country park in Carterton is another absolutely FREE gem but unfortunately its large climbing frame is cordoned off at the moment for refurbishment. It also has a huge sand pit was also amazing with interesting apparatus, including an excavator. Good paths surround it for walks or Scootie rides, though Carterton skate park is not too far away
Spiceball Country Park is the largest park in Banbury which has a fenced play area, an amazing skate park, a cycling track/ activity trail and canal and the River Cherwell running through it. The play area itself is small as compared to other country parks but is lovely and pretty unique. The surrounding huge green space is ideal for walking, cycling, ball games, kite flying etc, and there is the bonus of river/ canal on the side- what’s not to like
Strictly speaking, Blenheim palace is not free, but you can convert your ticket to an annual pass for free (basically buy one day, get 12 months free) and then visit as many times as you want (Under 3s are FREE). They have huge gardens to explore, a lovely play area, a giant maze (not so easy to come out of!!) and they offer plenty of seasonal FREE and paid activities throughout the year. The much awaited, “The Lost Garden” has also finally opened at Blenheim Palace. You can read the review of the playground HERE and the kids/ family focussed review of the estate HERE
You can also visit the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum located just outside our Woodstock Gates. To gain free access, all you need to do is show your Blenheim Palace Annual Pass on entrance to the Museum. It’s a short walk (approx. 10 mins) from the Palace.
Again, Strictly speaking, these are not free but if you have National Trust Membership, kids can be added on for 10£ for a year (under 5s are free) and you can visit as many times as you want, which makes it a really good bargain. Nearby National Trust locations include Waddesdon, Cliveden, Stowe, Basildon Park, Hughenden Manor, Boarstall Duck decoy, Upton House and Greys court.
If you want ideas for FREE family days out from Oxfordshire, then have a look at this GUIDE. You will be able to spend a good few hours in the venue or I will have another place close by ready too. The entry is free for most of these but parking may be paid and some activities charge-able.