Oxford. The word likely conjures up thoughts of academia, history, architecture, and Harry Potter. If you’re spending more than a couple of days in London, a visit to Oxford is an excellent way to explore a smaller town and see the English countryside.
In this post, I’ll introduce you to the many wheelchair accessible things to do in Oxford.
Note: The information here is based on my observation as a non-wheelchair user. If you have firsthand experience as a wheelchair user in Oxford, I’d love to hear about your time there in the comments section. I appreciate it, and I’m sure our future readers will too.
General Wheelchair Accessibility in Oxford
I was surprised by how accessible Oxford was. After all, having been founded in AD 900 and with the University of Oxford being the oldest university in English-speaking countries, my expectations were low.
Smooth-surfaced sidewalks are abundant, and cobblestone is relatively sparse. As expected in the U.K., dropdown curbs are at all crosswalks. Note: This was my observation in 2019. A reader commented in September 2023 that the pavement on the sidewalks is bumpy and hard to navigate.
On main roads and in tourist areas, the sidewalks were wide and unobstructed. The side streets were a different story, though. So, you might have to use (the very quiet) streets instead of sidewalks if they’re too narrow or non-existent.
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 Accessible Guide on wheelchair accessible restrooms, shops, and accommodations, 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, there will likely 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 several public wheelchair accessible restrooms in Oxford, all of which are operated by the RADAR Key system.
You can obtain a RADAR key on loan from the Oxford Information Centre (Address: 15/16 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 2DA).
Alternatively, you can purchase a RADAR Key there for a small fee with proof of a disability ID. I recommend purchasing a key if you’ll be spending a lot of time in the United Kingdom, 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
Without further ado, below are twelve wheelchair 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.
There are several noteworthy places in and around this square which I’ll cover shortly. But for now, I’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’re 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’re traveling during the high season, I recommend arriving at Radcliffe Square early in the morning to enjoy the scenery with fewer people.
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 enough space for most wheelchairs to pass by comfortably.
There’s also a sidewalk that runs along the buildings circling Radcliffe Square. This is a perfect place to take photos, as you’ll be able to capture more of the buildings.
2. Weston Library/Bridge of Sighs
Remember how I said there are a lot of buildings of tourist interest around Radcliffe Square? I’ll cover them over the course of the next three points.
But before I 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 there, 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 be able to enjoy a stellar view of the Bridge of Sighs, which is another popular tourist attraction in Oxford.
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 made for lectures.
You may also recognize it as the filming site for three Harry Potter movies. It was used as the Hogwarts Infirmary and the location of dance lessons with Professor McGonagall.
Since the Bodleian and Weston Libraries occupy the average tourist’s attention, it leaves The Divinity School nearly vacant.
A ramp leads into The Divinity School. Once inside, you’ll be able to explore the flat, single-story building. The space is small, so assuming you take the time to read the handful of informational posters, 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 where you’ll need to ask 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 building.
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 non-wheelchair users, 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 some takeaways:
- Elevators are located in both the castle and the 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 non-wheelchair users 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, the Oxford Castle and Prison’s commitment to creating so many wheelchair accessible facilities is impressive
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 Tom Gate. This entrance is only accessible for wheelchair users, and there’ll be someone managing 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 (the 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 a few other areas that aren’t typically open to 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 created 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-see 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 being 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 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. That means 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 my 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 with countless shops, cafes, and old buildings with moss-covered roofs.
As I already mentioned 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 beautiful but less accessible areas. In these cases, you may need to use the road. Luckily, the side streets in Oxford are usually quiet.
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’re arriving from the train station, you’ll pass it as you enter the town.
Not to be confused with River Cherwell, which runs through University Parks, the Oxford Canal becomes lively in the summer. During that 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, I’m more of the wander around and sightsee type, so I didn’t enter any of these museums.
However, I’ve put together the following list with some of the top museums in Oxford, including links to their accessible pages.
Pitt Rivers Museum (Archaeology and ethnography)
Ashmolean Museum (Art and archeology)
Ready to Visit Oxford?
Oxford is a quintessential European town. Between its architecture, history, and a decent level of wheelchair accessibility, you’re bound to have an enjoyable time.
Are you a wheelchair user who’s been to Oxford? If so, I’d love to hear about your favorite Oxford spots and any tips you’d like to share.
If you’ll be taking a trip to Oxford and have questions about accessibility, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help.