One of the best historic and scenic day trips from London is Oxford Castle & Prison in Oxford, England. This 1,000-year-old castle offers an immersive experience into its intriguing past as well as its historic and preserved buildings.
While I received a complimentary ticket to tour Oxford Castle & Prison, opinions are always my own. And my opinion is to add this fascinating heritage attraction to your itinerary when planning a day trip to Oxford (or longer) from London.
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Best things to do at Oxford Castle & Prison
I am so grateful the Oxford Castle & Prison hosted me as it is definitely one of the top things to do in Oxford, England. And it is one of the best day trips I took from London.
All tours at Oxford Castle & Prison are guided by an entertaining, informative, and costumed actor (yes, they even dress up in character from the past). While you can tour the castle and the grounds at your leisure after the tour, you must purchase a ticket for a 50-minute guided tour at a designated time. Tours are limited to 20 people.
While children are welcome to visit the Oxford Castle & Prison, those under the age of five are not allowed to climb the St. George’s Tower for safety reasons. Additionally, the tower is not accessible. However, Oxford Castle & Prison does offer a video to watch to learn more about its long history. And then you can join your group for the remainder of the tour.
Be sure to get your code from the visitor center so you can walk to the top of The Mound – more details on this historic and scenic view later.
Other top things to do at Oxford Castle & Prison
If you want more cool experiences, Oxford Castle & Prison also offers special events such as:
- Jailbreak escape room
- Murder mysteries
- Oxford history walks
- Spectre ghost tours
- Spooky tours (October)
- Potion-making class (October)
- Christmas trail (late November to late December)
History and background of Oxford Castle & Prison
The Oxford Castle & Prison dates back to the early 11th century built by Norman baron Robert O’Doyly at the request of William the Conquerer. It’s one of the first motte-and-bailey castles built after the Norman invasion in 1066. Essentially, it was a fortified and elevated earth mound (about 20 meters or ~65 feet) with a moat next to the River Thames to provide protection from their enemies. The brick and mortar castle came about in 1073 while they built the St. George’s Chapel a year later. This chapel is believed to be the start of the long line of prestigious Oxford colleges.
This medieval castle eventually became a gaol or prison in the 18th century and continued operating as a prison until 1996. Today, thanks to preservation efforts, the Oxford Castle & Prison along with its boutique hotel is one of the best historic attractions in Oxford.
Points of interest at the Oxford Castle & Prison
Here’s a list of some of my favorite highlights and points of interest at the Oxford Castle & Prison.
- Climb 101 stairs to the top of St. George’s Tower – the oldest building in Oxford, England – for panoramic views of the city
- Go underground and check out the 900-year-old (and allegedly haunted) crypt and remains of the St. George’s Chapel. Legend has it that this is where Geoffrey of Monmouth penned King Arthur and believed to be the birthplace of Oxford’s prestigious educational reputation.
- Explore the Debtor’s Tower and the Prison D-Wing from the 18th century and read about former prisoners – including children as young as seven years old. You’ll find lots of interpretive signs that tell the century-old stories of Oxford Castle & Prison like Mary Blandy – who was accused of killing her father with poison – yet she was given special privileges such as hosting tea parties. Her ghost apparently haunts the Mound and the streets of Oxford.
- Make sure you step into the padded cell where a film projection was so realistic it felt like I was being locked in.
- Gain entrance with a code (from the gift shop) to climb to the top of the Mound for some beautiful views – the original site of the 11th century motte-and-bailey castle (basically a fortification to defend at a higher elevation). Otherwise you can pay a pound to unlock and enter through the gate.
Frequently Asked Questions about Oxford Castle & Prison in Oxford, England
Here are a few frequently asked questions (FAQs) about Oxford Castle & Prison in Oxford, England.
Where is Oxford Castle & Prison located?
Oxford Castle & Prison is located at 44-46 Oxford Castle in Oxford, England. It is accessible by car and located only about a five-minute walk from train and bus stations.
Is there parking at Oxford Castle & Prison?
No onsite parking is available at the Oxford Castle & Prison. Oxford is a very walkable city. If arriving by train, it’s only a five-minute walk to the castle..
Where can I purchase tickets for Oxford Castle & Prison?
As tours are limited to 20 people, it’s recommended to purchase tickets for Oxford Castle & Prison online in advance. That way you can tour at your preferred time. Please note that children under five are not allowed access to St. George’s Tower for safety reasons.
What are the hours for Oxford Castle & Prison?
Oxford Castle & Prison is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. They are closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day (Dec. 24-26). Sometimes their operating hours vary by season, so be sure to confirm times on their website.
How long does it take to tour Oxford Castle & Prison?
Guided tours run every 20 to 30 minutes (depending on the day) and last about 50 minutes. You may then explore the castle and grounds at your leisure. I recommend at least two hours for your visit to Oxford Castle & Prison.
Can you take photos at Oxford Castle & Prison?
Yes, you can take photos and videos at Oxford Castle & Prison.
Is the Oxford Castle & Prison haunted?
Many claim that the Oxford Castle & Prison are haunted. For example, the 900-year-old crypt is allegedly haunted, and there are reports that a famous murderer who was hung now haunts Oxford Castle & Prison and the Mound.
Can you stay overnight at the Oxford Castle & Prison?
You can stay at the boutique hotel, Malmaison Oxford, where the rooms were once prison cells.
Is there a restaurant at Oxford Castle & Prison?
The gift shop offers a few snacks and you’ll fund outdoor seating. You can find lots of great restaurants nearby Oxford Castle & Prison.
Does Oxford Castle & Prison have restrooms?
Yes, Oxford Castle & Prison has onsite restrooms.
Can you purchase souvenirs at Oxford Castle & Prison? Does it have a gift shop?
Yes, Oxford Castle & Prison offers a gift shop in the main entrance.
Is Oxford Castle & Prison accessible?
Unfortunately, not all areas of the Oxford Castle & Prison are wheelchair-accessible due to its historic architecture, such as St. George’s Tower and The Mound. However, the main entrance, gift shop, and Key Learning Centre are fully accessible. And you will find lifts in the castle, the prison wing, and the Key Learning Centre. Due to its historic infrastructure, the Oxford Castle & Prison is not pram-, stroller-, or pushcart-friendly.
What’s nearby Oxford Castle & Prison?
While you can do and see a lot of cool and historic things at Oxford on a day trip from London, I do recommend staying longer. I stayed in Oxford for five days and still did not see and do everything I wanted to experience. But if you only have a few hours, I’ve listed a few of my top things to do in Oxford – and attractions that are nearby Oxford Castle & Prison.
Top things to do in Oxford, England
- Oxford walking tour / tour of Oxford colleges (there are 39 of them!)
- Christ Church – especially Grand Hall if you’re a Harry Potter fan
- Bodleian Library – Divinity School and Duke Humphrey’s Reading Room (both Harry Potter filming locations – also beautiful architecture and lots of history)
- Oxford Press University (if you’re a word nerd like me)
- Carfax Tower
- Oxford University Museum of Natural History
- The Turf Tavern – dating back to 1831
- University of St. Mary the Virgin and Tower
- Bridge of Sighs
- Oxford Botanical Garden
- Punting or other boat tour on River Thames or River Cherwell
- Radcliff Camera
Add Oxford Castle & Prison to your top day trips from London itinerary
I highly recommend a visit to tour Oxford Castle & Prison in Oxford. It’s one of the best day trips from London
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