Oxford. The word likely conjures up thoughts of academia, history, architecture, and Harry Potter. If you’ll be spending more than a couple of days in London, a visit to Oxford is the perfect way to explore a small town and see the English countryside. In this post, we’ll show you the many wheelchair accessible things to do in Oxford.
General wheelchair accessibility in Oxford
We know, you’re dying to get to the good stuff. But first, let us give you an overview of wheelchair accessibility in Oxford.
We were pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to navigate the streets of Oxford. After all, having been founded in AD 900 and with the University of Oxford being the oldest university of English speaking countries, our expectations were low.
Smooth-surfaced sidewalks are abundant and cobblestone is sparse. As expected in the U.K., we encountered dropdown curbs at all crosswalks.
On main roads and in tourist areas, the sidewalks were wide and unobstructed. Side streets were a different story, and we sometimes had to use (the very quiet) streets instead of sidewalks or because there weren’t any sidewalks at all.
The terrain in downtown Oxford is mostly flat, making it easy for manual wheelchair users to get around without assistance.
Travel Tip: Check out Experience Oxfordshire’s PDF Oxford Acessible Guide on wheelchair accessible restrooms, shops, and accommodation, among many others.
A note on bikes
Biking is among the most popular way for students and residents to get around Oxford. As such, fences along sidewalks are often packed with bikes.
There are signs throughout Oxford reminding people to park their bikes responsibly so that wheelchair users can pass by. Nonetheless, it’s likely that there will be a time or two when you’ll need to go out of your way to maneuver around them.
Accessible parking in Oxford
Public parking can be tricky in Oxford, especially during the high season. Public parking lots are located in and around downtown.
According to Experience Oxfordshire, there are a total of 90 accessible parking spaces in Oxford. On page 11 of their Accessible Guide, you can view the location and number of accessible parking spaces.
Accessible restrooms in Oxford
There are a number of public wheelchair accessible restrooms in Oxford, all of which are operated by the RADAR Key system.
You can obtain a key on loan from the Oxford Information Centre (Address: 15/16 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 2DA).
You can also purchase a RADAR Key there, for a small fee, with proof of a disability ID. We recommend purchasing a key, as it’ll give you access to the thousands of RADAR operated public restrooms in the U.K.
Wheelchair Accessible Things to do in Oxford
Now that we’ve gotten through the not-so-fun stuff, the time has come to talk about the amazing wheelchair accessible things to do in Oxford. Without further ado, below are twelve accessible activities in Oxford.
1. Radcliffe Square
Radcliffe Square is one of the most iconic sites in Oxford and should be at the top of your list to see.
There are a number of noteworthy places in and around this square which we will get to soon. But for now, we’ll focus on the Radcliffe Camera.
The Radcliffe Camera is part of Oxford University and was originally built as a library. Nowadays, it serves as a reading room for the nearby Bodleian Library.
Unfortunately, the Radcliffe Camera isn’t accessible. If you’ll be traveling with able-bodied people who would like to enter, they’ll need to sign up for a tour, as the entrance to the Radcliffe Camera is tightly regulated.
Travel Tip: If you’ll be traveling during the high season, we recommend arriving to Radcliffe Square early in the morning so that you can enjoy the scenery with fewer people blocking your view.
Radcliffe Square is one of the few areas in Oxford that has cobblestone. The cobblestone is in the form of small, rounded stones.
A flat-surfaced sidewalk runs halfway around the fence of the Radcliffe Camera. Students park bikes here, but there’s still enough space for most wheelchairs to comfortably pass by.
There’s also a sidewalk that runs along the buildings circling Radcliffe Square. This is a perfect place to take photos from, as you’ll be able to capture more of the buildings. Just remember, you’ll only be able to snap those shots if you arrive early in the morning or are traveling during the low season.
2. Weston Library/Bridge of Sighs
Remember how we said that there are a lot of buildings of touristic interest around Radcliffe Square? We’re going to cover them over the course of the next three points.
But before we continue, you’ll notice that the Bodleian Library isn’t listed here. Unfortunately, the Bodleian Library isn’t accessible, as a visit there requires going up dozens of stairs.
Nonetheless, the courtyard of the Weston Library is accessible, which like the Bodleian Library, is part of the University of Oxford’s library system. The courtyard is also free for the public to enter.
The accessible entrance for the courtyard of the Weston Library is located along the side entrance to the Bodleian Library. From here, follow the signs and you’ll soon arrive at the courtyard.
The courtyard is large, flat, and dirt with some small, loose gravel. Wheelchairs of all kinds will easily be able to manage.
From the courtyard, you’ll get to admire the incredible architecture of the surrounding buildings. You’ll also get a stellar view of the Bridge of Sighs, which is another popular tourist attraction.
Once you’re done enjoying the courtyard, head back from where you started to exit the complex.
3. Divinity School
As you leave the Weston Library and pass back through the main entrance of the Bodleian Library, you can opt to pay a small fee to enter The Divinity School.
Built in the 1400s, The Divinity School is the oldest surviving University of Oxford building that was built for lectures. You may also recognize it as the filming site for three Harry Potter movies, as it was used as the Hogwarts Infirmary and the location of dance lessons with Professor McGonagall.
Luckily for us, the Bodleian and Weston Libraries occupy the average tourist’s attention, leaving The Divinity School nearly vacant.
A ramp leads into The Divinity School. Once inside, you’ll be able to roll around the flat, single-story building. The space is small, so assuming that you take the time to read the handful of informational posters around, you can expect to spend around 10 minutes inside.
4. University Church of St. Mary the Virgin
The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin is another popular attraction on Radcliffe Square.
There’s an accessible entry on the left hand side, when facing the church with Radcliffe Camera to your back. However, this requires you to pass through a garden and asking a staff member for assistance to open a locked door that leads to the main part of the church.
Therefore, the best wheelchair accessible entrance to the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin is from High Street. The entrance is entirely flat and leads directly into the church.
Once inside, you’ll get to enjoy the church’s beautiful architecture. The aisles are quite wide, but during high season flocks of tourists can make even the widest of spaces in Oxford feel small.
If you’re traveling with able-bodied companions, there’s the option for them to climb to the top of the church’s tower for a fee.
5. Oxford Castle & Prison
Is an English town truly a town if it doesn’t have a castle?
The Oxford Castle is located on the western side of downtown Oxford. Amazingly, this 1,000 year old castle and prison are nearly entirely accessible.
The Oxford Castle & Prison’s website does an excellent job of describing its accessibility. Below are a few key takeaways:
- Elevators are located in both the castle and prison.
- The only parts that aren’t accessible are St. George’s Tower, The Mound, and some of the prison cells, as the door are 620 – 640mm wide.
- You’ll be able to participate in the regular guided group tour. While the able-bodied visit St. George’s Tower and The Mound, you’ll be given an interactive touchscreen to see photos and learn about the history of these two sites.
One item that the website doesn’t mention is that the terrain can be uneven in some areas. Overall though, we are impressed by the Oxford Castle and Prison’s commitment to creating so many wheelchair accessible facilities.
6. Christ Church
The Christ Church in Oxford is the most popular of Oxford’s colleges for tourists.
It was a film site for Harry Potter and The Golden Compass.
The Christ Church is accessible via the Tom Gate. This entrance is only accessible for wheelchair users, and there’ll be someone manning the entrance to let you in.
The entrance fee to Christ Church is waived for wheelchair users and one companion.
Once inside, accessible areas of Christ Church include Tom Quad (north and south sides have ramps), the Cathedral (via the West Door), Ante Hall (by means of an elevator which you’ll need assistance from a staff member to use), and Christ Church Meadow, via the War Memorial Garden entrance.
The Christ Church also offers accessible restrooms at Tom Quad and in a couple of other areas that aren’t typically open for the public. You can ask a staff member for support and they’ll show you to the nearest accessible restroom.
For more details about wheelchair accessibility at Christ Church, the University of Oxford has put together a wonderful online resource.
7. The Covered Market
As expected from an English town, Oxford is home to a market. But it’s not just any market.
As its name implies, The Covered Market is an indoor space. Filled with boutique shops, candy stores, cafes, and a section for veggies and meat, it’s a must while in Oxford.
Wide, flat paths lead throughout the market. It can get crowded, particularly during the high season. However, between the classier shops and covered top, The Covered Market in many ways feels more like a mall than a bustling, push-and-shove kind of market.
As you’ll likely have seen on signs pointing to the market, the Covered Market has an accessible restroom.
8. Oxford Botanic Garden
The botanic garden is part of the University of Oxford and is the oldest botanic garden in the United Kingdom.
With over 6,000 species of plants and open year-round, it’s the perfect place for nature lovers.
The Oxford Botanic Garden is entirely accessible and they have an accessible restroom onsite. The paths around the gardens are made up of tightly packed gravel. While the glasshouses are accessible, beware that some of the aisles are narrow.
You can read more about accessibility on the University of Oxford’s website.
9. University Parks
Speaking of nature, University Parks sits beside downtown Oxford and offers a wonderful escape from the crowded tourist areas.
Part of the University of Oxford, but free and open to the public, University Parks is a great place to have a picnic and watch a game of cricket or Quidditch (for all you Harry Potter fans).
The paths through University Parks is tightly packed dirt. This means that if you’re there on a rainy day, you may want to skip this visit as it can get muddy.
There are a variety of entrances to University Parks and most are accessible. You can read about entrances that have modified accessibility here.
An accessible restroom is located beside the Cricket Pavilion. It’s RADAR operated, so if you don’t already have a RADAR key, make sure to check out this page to learn about the U.K.’s impressive accessible program.
10. Roam the streets
While there are plenty of specific points of interest in Oxford, one of our favorite things to do there is to wander aimlessly.
But while you’re roaming around, make sure to visit Cornmarket Street. This is Oxford’s pedestrian street which has countless shops, cafes, and old buildings with moss-covered roofs.
As we already touched on earlier in this post, most streets in Oxford are wheelchair accessible by means of flat sidewalks and dropdown curbs.
Nonetheless, if you venture down side streets you’ll come across some beautiful, but less accessible, areas. In these cases, you may need to use the road. Side streets in Oxford are usually quiet, so in our opinion, they’re worth exploring.
11. Explore the canal
Getting back to the nature theme, the Oxford Canal is a fun place to stroll along. The paths are paved and mostly flat, making it one of the great wheelchair accessible things to do in Oxford.
The Oxford Canal runs along the west side of the city. If you’ll be arriving from the train station, you’ll pass it as you enter town.
Not to be confused with River Cherwell, which runs through University Parks, the Oxford Canal becomes alive in the summer. This time of year, it’s fun to pack a picnic and watch the boats row down the canal.
As you may have guessed, Oxford is full of great museums. Admittedly, we’re more of the wander around and sightsee type, so we didn’t enter any of these museums. However, we’ve put together the following list of some of the top museums in Oxford with links to their accessible pages.
Pitt Rivers Museum– (Archaeology and ethnography)
Ashmolean Museum (Art and archeology)
Oxford is a quintessential European town. Between its architecture, history, and a decent level of wheelchair accessibility, we cannot recommend it enough.
Are you a wheelchair user who’s been to Oxford? Share your favorite Oxford spots and any wheelchair accessible things to do that we may have missed. If you’ll be taking a trip to Oxford and have questions about accessibility, drop us a message and we’ll do our best to help.
Laura has been wandering the globe for over a decade. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.