Maybe I shouldn’t be sharing all my favourite instagrammable places in Oxford. But Oxford photography is one of my favourite things to do. Oxford is a beautiful city so why shouldn’t everyone be able to see all the ins and outs and not just the main streets.
I spent 3 and a half years living in Oxford as well as living most of my life in the Oxfordshire area. So I’m pretty familiar with the city. But it’s only once you get a camera in hand that it makes you notice a lot more around you and it’s nice to see some of the more unusual and more colourful places that are popping up. I’m sure when I lived in the city 19 years ago the place wasn’t as colourful as it is today. I’m sure everyone’s repainting their buildings to get snapped for Instagram. Why not, because it certainly makes a city look even more pretty if that is possible for Oxford.
If you go out to the Cowley Road you’ll see the street art and in the summertime area you’ll see cafes and pretty pubs down streets like North Parade Avenue But I’m concentrating on the city centre itself as that’s where most people tend to go when they visit the city.
Here’s my most instagrammable places in the city of Oxford and tips for how to get the best shots and avoid the crowds. Because that’s the problem with popular cities, there’s always other people wanting to take photos as well as you. Most of them are also free to view but I’ve stated where there is an entry fee.
The most instagrammable places for Oxford photography
Colourful streets can be found in various places around the city. Try Holywell Street with pretty pastels and a beautiful white bed and breakfast often with a vintage bicycle parked right outside for that perfect shot. Bath Place is also on route for a quick snap of the hotel.
Just a couple minutes walk away there’s Oriel Street a bit more unknown but with both pastels and some brighter shades.
You can also find other colourful buildings in Broad Street, just look up above the souvenir shops and down the High Street.
The Golden Cross Arcade has also become more colourful in recent years and if you can avoid the advertising boards you can get a lovely colourful shot down there.
Pretty shops and frontages
The most well-known pretty facade in Oxford has to be the Grand High Cafe. It really is a beautiful place inside and out and I’d certainly recommend having a bite to eat yeah. It brings back memories for me of having Sunday lunch there with an ex-boyfriend. Be warned it’s not cheap though.
While the new Westgate Centre isn’t particularly photogenic, some of the cafes are. Head to the roof and look out for the gardens at Cinnamon Kitchen as well as enjoying the Lebanese delights and decor at Comptoir Libanais, and Instagram worthy restaurant Victors.
Don’t forget Turl Street for quirky shop facades like the old books and curiosities in Scripture.
Green spaces and river
Oxford has plenty of green spaces mostly down by the river and in the University Parks. They do get really busy in the height of summer in particular with the student tourists who come over to stay. But if you hit the timing right be there early or late or on a Sunday you may be in luck and get more empty space to take photos.
Punting isn’t the best for photography but if you head to Magdalen College and Magdalen Bridge it’s a great opportunity to get the punts lined up on the river first thing in the morning. You can also walk into the parks from Christchurch College grounds and along the river which is good for spotting rowers out on the water.
Oxford Botanic Gardens is a hidden gem and great in all seasons. A little oasis of calm amongst the hustle and bustle, to enjoy the water fountains the vegetable garden and the back of the river and it’s not usually too busy so great for photos. Just behind the buildings you can also get down to the river and Christchurch that way.
The Grove (deer park) is part of Magdalen college. It isn’t somewhere that I’ve been and is paid entry but it is an alternative to the free green spaces around the city, and can be viewed from the path through the grounds.
Oxford is renowned for its old and beautiful historic buildings and you don’t need to walk far before you found some of the classic sites. From the High Street you can easily walk through to Radcliffe Square stopping on the way up St Mary’s Passage to see the porch with the characters that inspired CS Lewis to create Mr Tumnus in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.
From the Radcliffe Camera it’s easy to find the Sheldonian Theatre and the Bodleian Library. The latter which you can take a tour around and indulge your inner Harry Potter in the chapel where they shot the ball, and the famous Duke Humfrey’s library. You’re unable to take cameras into the library unfortunately.
With Oxford being famous for its universities many of the colleges open up to the public at different times during the day. You don’t need to book these in advance you can just turn up and pay at the front offices so if you go past when one is open it’s worth looking in to get some photos. My most recent visit was to Balliol College which is one of the oldest and has gorgeous gardens to enjoy.
The Bridge of Sighs at Hertford College is another shot not to be missed.
Most people would head to the Westgate shopping centre to the top floor and bars so they can look out over the city. But the views aren’t great from that direction, it’s a lot of modern houses flat roofs and not really the dreaming spires that Oxford is famous for. The alternative is up the Carfax tower. This is better, but I can beat there with my recent find which is the St Mary the Virgin Church down the High (also known as the University Church).
Obviously avoid service times if you want to take photos in the church. And it does have a beautiful black and white floor in the main aisle and some gorgeous stained glass windows. The steps up to the tower are extremely narrow so don’t take large bags up with you and the passing places are very narrow so try and avoid getting there too much in the middle of the day. You do pay to go up the tower but it’s cheap so it’s worth it for the views. When you reach the top you can see Oxford from every side of the tower. And it really is a view to savour.
The covered market isn’t the most attractive but if you want to get close ups and interesting items and colours to shoot then it’s a great place to visit especially if you like food photography
The flower shop always has great displays outside and if you’re lucky, crates of lavender. And there’s beautiful displays of chocolates, colourful clothes and bags at other shops to enjoy.
My latest visit also saw animal sculptures hanging from the ceiling. I’m not sure why they were there cos I didn’t seem to be anything to explain them but they added a certain charm and there were plenty of people taking photos of them full stop nothing like a bit of quirkiness to add to a day out. And Oxford certainly has some of that.
Tips for getting the best out of Oxford photography
* Definitely go early in the day rather than waiting for all the tourists to turn up. You could try later on but you’ll need to avoid people coming out for the theatre and meals.
* Look for the close-up detail on buildings, floors and shopfronts. They really add to the landscape pictures and skyline views, to be able to provide more of the story in the details.
* Head further out of the city centre into Jericho and Summertown for other pretty streets and shops.
* Don’t just look at the obvious in front of you, look up and down.
* Join one of the Oxford instawalks as there’s a friendly group go out regularly, and you’ll discover new places.
Let me know what your favourite instagram locations in Oxford are and I’ll add them to my list.
Do you take photos in your nearest city?
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