Find out how to make the most of the Easter holidays in Oxford
What is spring like in England? Spring is an especially beautiful time of year in the UK. After a long, cold, often very wet winter, England’s parks, gardens, and woodlands are suddenly awash with spring colours: first white snowdrops, then a wave of purple and yellow crocii, then daffodils, tulips, and finally bluebells around May. We have lots of suggestions below to help you find the best place to enjoy the glory of the spring out of doors.
Egg hunts and more: With the warmer weather comes a whole host of opportunities to get outside and have fun, especially with children. It might not really be warm enough to punt, but you will almost certainly see people braving the elements and determinedly punting on Oxford’s rivers. The Botanic Gardens and others hold egg hunts and other activities for children, and you can find out below in “Experience English Springtime” about things to do a bit further afield, such as taking part in lambing on a farm, or the Easter festival at Blenheim Palace.
Worship: The Easter Vacation at Oxford coincides with the Christian season of Lent, which is traditionally a forty-day period during which people fast and prepare themselves spiritually before Easter Sunday. The week leading up to Easter Sunday begins the Sunday before, on Palm Sunday, a day on which Christians commemorate Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. If you attend a Palm Sunday service, there will almost certainly be a procession with palms, and there might even be a real live donkey involved! The week that follows from Palm Sunday is called Holy Week, and most churches observe two major days during this week: Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, a meal between Jesus and his disciples at which he instituted the commemoration of his own death, and is now celebrated as Holy Communion in Christian churches. Good Friday marks the day on which Jesus was crucified, and is a public holiday, as is Easter Monday (the day after Easter Sunday). Easter Sunday celebrations sometimes start with an Easter Vigil, which is a service held either very late on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday, or very early in the morning on Easter Sunday itself, with an Easter fire or the lighting of candles. In many churches, the Gloria (part of the Communion service) has not been sung for forty days, and the first singing of it at the Easter vigil, or the Easter service, is accompanied by the loud ringing of bells that are handed out beforehand to the congregation - a wonderful way to participate!
SPRING ACTIVITIES FOR ALL AGES
What’s On For Children
Oxfordshire County Library has a rich programme of events for children during the Easter vacation. Check their website for more. Eastertime story and crafts might be of particular interest on Saturday 20 April.
Red Kite Days has an extremely useful website that lists all sorts of child-friendly activities around Oxfordshire. Check frequently to see what’s happening in the current week.
Experience Oxfordshire has a comprehensive site with ideas for family days out around Oxfordshire.
Lambing: Learn about lambing (and see lambs being born!) at Cotswold Farm Park - 16 February to 28 April.
For a very extensive and frequently updated list of lambing days and educational sessions for children on farms around Oxfordshire and Berkshire, visit Red Kite Days.
Easter Egg-hunt at Cutteslowe Park Community Garden Centre: Friday 19 April, 12-4pm (Free).
Harry Potter/Alice in Wonderland/Narnia/Lord of the Rings tours: Oxford has been home to, and inspiration for, many literary giants - especially children’s authors. Children will love walking tours of the city that give them background on their favourite authors and show them a glimpse of the locations used in their favourite films. There are many agencies running such tours; check out our Tours page for more information.
Easter at Blenheim Palace (19-22 April): a weekend family festival in the Blenheim Palace pleasure gardens, with Easter trails, a fairground, puppet shows, face painting, and lots more. Visit their website for more information, or for a full timetable of events, click here.
Victorian Funfair at Blenheim Palace (13-22 April): The Pleasure Gardens will transform into a Victorian Funfair from 10.00 - 17.30 with rides including a Mirror Maze, Carousel, Cup and Saucer, Helter Skelter, Swing Boats and more. Buy tickets here.
What’s On For Adults
What’s in flower right now? Take a look at the website for the BBC Two programme “Springwatch” - it has lots of resources on what to look out for as the season progresses. Be sure to make a visit to the Botanic Gardens, the oldest of its kind in the UK, to check out a wide variety of flowering plants. A walk through the University Parks or Christ Church Meadow will yield rewarding views as well. Some colleges are open to tourists for a fee, or for free if you are a member of the University, and many have stunning gardens that are coming into flower now. Visit Magdalen College for a particularly gorgeous display of spring flowers along Addison’s Walk, where you’re also likely to catch sight of some deer in the Magdalen College deer park. Further away but well worth a visit, the Harcourt Arboretum (a park designed for the study, cultivation, and enjoyment of trees) is affiliated with the Botanic Gardens and is a wonderful place to talk a long walk and experience a slightly wilder garden environment. Their beautiful and very large grounds offer a unique collection of trees, many of which will be in flower in the spring. Just watch out for the peacocks, which can be get angry if harassed.
Punting: It might still be a bit chilly, but the boat rental companies are open for business in the spring. You can hire in a variety of different ways (by hour/by day, chauffeured or not); their websites give full details.
Magdalen Bridge Boathouse: oxfordpunting.co.uk (01865 202643), firstname.lastname@example.org - open from 1 February, weather permitting
Cherwell Boathouse: cherwellboathouseco.uk (01865 515978), email@example.com - open from mid-march
Picnics: There are lots of places to sit on the grass and enjoy the sunshine and longer afternoons of spring. Some good spots include the Botanic Gardens, the University Parks, and Christ Church Meadow. Further afield, you can visit South Park (at the end of St Clements’ Street, the largest park within the city limits), or Bury Knowle Park in Headington, which has an excellent playground and several other attractions, including a sensory garden. The Blenheim Palace grounds, a bus ride away from central Oxford, are also beautiful.
MUSIC AND CULTURE
The Christian seasons of Lent, Passiontide, and Easter have inspired some of the finest and most moving music in the western canon, and Oxford, with its plethora of ancient chapels and beautiful concert halls, is a great place to hear world-class performances of sacred works.
Visit Daily Info’s “What’s On” page and click on “Concerts” to see a full list of what’s on during the Easter holidays. We particularly recommend Passiontide at Merton - 12-14 April, as well two concerts at New College in Holy Week: Bach’s St John Passion on Good Friday (19 April) and Bach’s Easter Oratorio on Holy Saturday (20 April).
You can also check out our Concerts page for more information about individual venues.
Oxford Literary Festival
One of the highlights of the Easter vacation in Oxford is the Oxford Literary Festival, which this year features a wide variety of speakers and runs from 30 March to 7 April. Find out more on their website.
Click on each link to visit the “What’s On” pages for current exhibits and special events. Most museums on this list have many special and regular events targeted specifically towards children, though the Oxford Castle and Prison is recommended for children over 5. While Modern Art Oxford is child-friendly and pram-friendly, there are very few family-specific events.
For many Christians, Easter (which falls on 21 April in 2019) is the high point of the church year. The season of Lent precedes it, and begins on 6 March in 2019. Oxford has a great variety of places of worship; below is a selection of places of worshipw here the Lent, Passiontide, and Easter celebrations, often accompanied by stunning music, are especially notable. Click on each to see their schedule of services.
For complete details of religious organisations and places of worship of all faiths, please see our Worship page.