There is a well-worn cliché that the best things in life are free, but is it really possible to have a good time without spending any money? The good news is that in Oxford, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’, writes Gill Oliver. Whether you are young, retired, single, a couple or have children to please, there are a host of exhibitions, events and activities you can take advantage of, without it costing a penny . . .


Get on your bike, literally. If you own your own set of wheels, it does not cost a bean to jump on and go for a good long cycle ride.
Not only will you keep your bank manager happy, it is a far cheaper way of losing weight and toning up than going to the gym, and is guaranteed to lift your spirits too.
We are lucky in Oxfordshire that we have miles of cycle routes and lanes, many of which run alongside rivers or canals.
Visit the website to plan your route.
Walking around the city and just taking in the sights is another way to spend a couple of hours without needing to dip into your wallet or purse. You really do see a different side to Oxford when you are strolling along, as opposed to driving through in a car or bus or rushing on your way to work.


The good news is that Oxford City Council has recently splashed out a couple of million pounds on giving 30 of our children’s playgrounds a facelift.
Not only are they free, but the kids can spend as long as they want there, providing you remember to take along some drinks and snacks.
One of the city’s finest is the Botley Park, off Botley Road in west Oxford, which includes a wildlife area.
Two play areas, a skate park, paddling pool, miniature steam railway and crazy golf should keep most children happy on a visit to Cutteslowe and Sunnymead Park. Access is via Harbord Road, off Banbury Road, the A40 (eastbound) or Wren Road.
Headington Hill Park, along with South Park, are both great places for ball games, running or just sitting around relaxing, depending on your mood.
Bury Knowle Park in Headington next to the A420 London Road, has plenty to see and do, including a carved wooden sculpture called The Wheel of Hope, tennis courts and a children’s play area.
Watch bowlers in action and marvel at the floral displays at east Oxford’s Florence Park, accessed from Cornwallis Road, off Iffley Road. Or check out the outdoor swimming pool and sand pit with beached pirate ship in Hinksey Park. The entrance is in Lake Street, off Abingdon Road.
Less well-known is Angel & Greyhound Meadow, opposite Magdalen College and accessed from Boulter Street off St Clements. A gem of a park, it is big plus is that it is not as overrun by tourists as some of its more glamorous neighbours.
And if you enjoy a spot of cricket, why not wander off to the University Parks to enjoy a game? Top touring sides often visit to take on university teams.
And when it comes to green spaces, you will be spoilt for choice in Oxford.


Families can follow a seaside trail, make a dream catcher, build an Egyptian tomb or try out many other activities at the Pitt Rivers Museum. Pitt Stops are free of charge and run on the first Saturday of every month and during school holidays. Call 01865 270927 or visit the website for more details.Br> Shields, spears and Samurai should be a big hit with all ages, on show as part of a free firearms exhibition in the museum’s recently reopened upper gallery.
The Oxford University Museum of Natural History lays on free family activities each Sunday throughout July and August from 2-4pm. (01865 272950,


Wandering through the stately courtyards of Oxford Castle is fascinating in its own right, but when teamed with the hustle and bustle of the market, makes for pure entertainment.
Stallholders offering flowers, art, jewellery and antiques vie with musicians and dancers for onlookers’ attention, an excellent people-watching sport, especially on a sunny day. (Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11am).
Inside the castle, you’ll find the O3 Gallery playing host to exhibitions of art and photography in a stunning setting and, better still, it is free to go in. For more information visit the website or call 01865 246131.
There is a rare chance to gain free entry to many of Oxford’s most prestigious and beautiful buildings as part of the Oxford Open Doors initiative on Saturday and Sunday, September 11-12, run by the Oxford Preservation Trust.
For more details of which buildings are included, call 01865 242918 or visit Dominated by its world-famous university, Oxford has no shortage of beautiful colleges — in fact there are 38 to choose from.
Many of the oldest and most visually stunning admit visitors free of charge, normally for a couple of hours during the afternoon.
Those that do not charge an admission fee include Lincoln, Exeter and Jesus, all in Turl Street; Keble with its distinctive red brick façade in Parks Road; All Souls in the High, Corpus Christi in Merton Street, St Hilda’s in Cowley Place, Hertford in Catte Street and St John’s in St Giles.
Visit the university’s website at for more information.


The humble local library is often overlooked as a free source of leisure entertainment. All offer a selection of magazines and newspapers to browse and the opportunity to surf the net in a comfortable environment.
In addition, libraries often run free activity or storytelling sessions for children. For adults, authors may be invited in to give talks or there may be basic computer skills courses or creative writing or poetry workshops on offer, most of which are usually free of charge.
Oxfordshire has 43 libraries to choose from, six of which are in Oxford itself. Call 01865 810240 or visit the website: to find out more.


Many local authority-owned sports and leisure centres run taster days for youngsters where it is possible to try a variety of activities and sports completely free of charge.
These initiatives normally take place during school holidays and are advertised in leaflets at reception, in local libraries and on posters and banners outside.
Visit the website for more details.
All across Oxford and the rest of the county there are outdoor tennis courts, paddling pools and skateboard parks that provide hours of free entertainment, as well as help you to stay fit.


Oxford is transformed into Wonderland on July 10, thanks to the Story Museum’s annual Alice’s Day event. This includes a free family trail around 15 Oxfordshire venues celebrating Lewis Carroll’s stories (


The Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust runs a host of events and activities throughout the summer, many of which are free.
You can help out on one of the BBOWT’s working parties or just go along and enjoy fabulous scenery, walks and see how many different types of wildlife and birds you can spot.
If you visit the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ website at, you will find information about birds and pictures of species which you can print off and take on a bird-spotting walk.
Take part in wildlife surveys, go to talks and learn about the open spaces in Oxford by attending monthly meetings at the West Oxford Wildlife Group ( held at West Oxford Community Centre on Botley Road.
There is no membership fee, although the group says donations and practical volunteer help are always welcome.


If you want to meet new people and feel good about yourself this summer, becoming a part-time volunteer for a charity could be the perfect answer. There are a number of neighbourhood schemes in the city that welcome new recruits with open arms.
You can give up as much or as little of your time as you choose and have the added bonus of learning new skills and doing something worthwhile.
Gardening, working with animals, becoming a hospital DJ or helping to coach youngsters in cricket are just a few of the activities that are on offer.
A good place to start is Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action (OCVA) in St Aldates, 01865 251946, or visit their website at which includes an online database where you can search for volunteering opportunities all over Oxfordshire.


Gloucester Green, right in the heart of the city, has a fabulous market each Wednesday between 9am-3pm where you can watch stallholders jostling with each other to pitch their wares. Antiques, bric-a-brac, books, jewellery and food, there’s plenty of sights and sounds to enjoy while you wander around.
It is also the venue for a farmers’ market on the first and third Thursday of each month.
All produce has to have been produced within 30 miles of Oxford so it is a great place to leisurely shop for bread, preserves, dairy, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, or just soak up the atmosphere. (01789 267000 or visit
There is also a new market in Oxford Castle on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, from 10am-4pm. The market has a variety of stalls and live music throughout the week.