By | 16th January 2018

Do you need a car in Oxford?

Do you need a car in Oxford > Should you rent a car in Oxford UK > Oxford ( OXF ) Do you need a car in Oxford? Is it worth hiring a car in Oxford? Should you rent a car in Oxford?

Oxford Car hire summary

Overall drive rating

Based on a weighted score across all cost and quality factors. [Full notes - drive rating]


  • Price alone isn't the only factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Oxford but clearly it's an important one. See our "why" section for more figures.
  • Cost factors include - price of car hire (peak and off peak season), car hire extras, fuel, tolls and parking costs.
  • Quality factors include - scenic drives, road quality and upkeep, general safety and congestion levels.
  • A complete index of all 10 factors will be uploaded shortly.

Cheapest rate for one week

Based on cheapest economy car hire deal with no added extras. [full notes - basic costs]



  • This is the very lowest price we could find for a one week car rental period in Oxford during the quiet season.
  • You will almost always end up paying more than this figure, but any extra costs or supplementary charges are usually determined by the renter, so we cannot easily compare like with like.
  • In many cases, rental companies will offer a cheap rental and then expect you to take out expensive insurance waivers. There are always ways to avoid this!

How much should I expect to pay in the peak season?

Based on cheapest deal during the summer holiday season. (Unless otherwise noted) [full notes - seasonal variations]



  • During the peak holiday season, public transport is often better value, as many train and bus fares are fixed throughout the year. See our "why not" section for more suggestions.
  • For most featured destinations, the peak season will be during the summer, typically July and August for northern hemisphere destinations. However, peak demand might occur at different times, for example in some ski resorts or winter sun destinations etc.

Free parking score

Based on the number of hotels which offer free parking. Total 94 - of which 61 have free parking. [full notes - parking]



  • Free hotel parking is very useful to have when you are hiring a car, and it's always worth checking ahead beforehand.
  • If free hotel parking is not available, you might want to consider renting a car for a single day, rather than for your whole trip.
  • The availability (or lack of) free hotel parking can be a really important factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Oxford, as it can be a significant extra daily cost which you won't usually be paying at home!
  • Parking costs play a very major part in our consideration of whether or not it's worth hiring a car in each destination.
  • By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.

Oxford public transport quick facts

Train score

Higher scores go to the systems which don't just take you to the most amazing places, but also to the ones which are easy to use, fast, reliable and frequent. A good train system on its own is usually enough to determine that you don't need to hire a car in many destinations.


  • [full notes trains]
  • Trains include all kinds of urban rail system from trams up to metro and suburban networks.
  • Trains also include mountain railways and cable cars.
  • Generally, places with a good rail network will automatically mean that you don't "need" to hire a car, but you can still might find that on balance you are better off by having one.

Water travel score

This is a general rating for all types of water travel, including scheduled ferries, sea / rivers cruises and excursions in Oxford


  • [full notes - water score]
  • The water score looks at means of transport on water - it does not consider water based activities like surfing or kayaking.

Overall public transport score

This is a more practical rating based on bus and rail travel, and also including ferries and other boat services, where they are part of the public transport network.


  • [full notes - overall transit] buses | trams | metro | local & regional rail | national rail
  • Is public transport in Oxford good value, or is it worth hiring a car just because it is cheaper overall?
  • Even if public transport is cheap and reliable, you might still feel that you should hire a car in Oxford because it will still give you more flexibility to reach out-of-the-way places, especially in rural areas.

Walking and Cycling Overview

Active travel score

This overall rating considers walking and cycling in and around Oxford. It includes factors such as the quality of the street environment, and whether you are likely to feel safe walking or cycling, together with the availability of bicycle hire and the ease of linking walking or cycling routes with public transport.


  • [full notes - active score] walking (city) | hiking | cycling (city /  country).
  • A high active travel score means that you might not need a car in Oxford, because you can see everything you need to see using a combination of your own two feet and the public transport system.

Car rental in - Oxford Need v worth & should!

Whether you have come here asking "do I need a car in Oxford", "is it worth hiring a car in Oxford", or whether or not you "should" hire a car here, these are all slight variations on a similar theme. Here we break each one down according to the criteria we use for each question. This is a weighted score based on the values above. These are explained further in the text which follows - [#why] [#whynot]. Do you need a car in Oxford?

Do you need a car in Oxford?

This is essentially based on whether or not public transport and other "non car" options are good enough to get around and beyond the city. For the lowest "need" score, the destination should have a combination of excellent all-round public transport, great opportunities for walking and cycling, together with poor value car hire or generally poor quality roads. 
  • In destinations where both public transport and car hire options are excellent, the verdict for "do I need a car in  Oxford " will swing towards a strong no, because you can do absolutely fine without one).
Is it worth hiring a car in Oxford?

Is it worth hiring a car in Oxford?

Is car hire good value, especially during the peak season? How does this compare with transit fares? This question mainly looks at issues of cost and practicality.
  • In destinations where both public transport and car hire options are excellent, the verdict for "is it worth hiring a car in  Oxford" will swing towards whichever option offers the lowest overall cost for a group of 2-4 people travelling together.
Should you rent a car in Oxford?

Should you rent a car in Oxford?

Weighing up the above questions, if you are here for the first time AND asking about hiring a car, is it a good idea?
  • The final "carometer" swing is much more opinion based, and it takes into account which options will give you the truly best travel experience (n our humble opinion of course). Where a destination offers an excellent score with or without a car, the swing will go towards whichever option we feel gives the most truly unforgettable experience.
  • Ultimately, it's your choice whether or not you rent a car here. We're trying to give you something that's sufficiently far enough away from a "maybe" to help you make that choice. Ultimately, people only come to us because they are uncertain, but we don't really know what each person's preferences are. Whether we say you should or you shouldn't rent a car in  Oxford, you might also want to look up some of our other cities to see how  Oxford compares with other destinations in  UK or  Europe.
  • By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.

What does everyone else do?

Do most people hire a car in Oxford?

This is based on our observations of (a) car rental facilities and (b) what we think most people will do here. It's not an exact figure, just an estimate of how likely people are to get hold of a rental car here.
  • his is based on the percentage of people "in the market" who we think are likely to hire a car. This includes anyone arriving on holiday here who would usually hire a car on their travels, so it doesn't include people who don't usually drive (or don't drive), people staying with friends etc.


Visitors per year (million)

  • Cities with more visitors are more likely to have more complex airport car rental arrangements, and generally they will also have better public transport, but this is not always the case, especially in North America.


  • [full notes - do as everyone else does?]
  • You may wish to go with the flow, or you might prefer to avoid doing the most popular or obvious option. This will vary according to the range of choice available. This tends to be much higher in destinations which are closer to the middle of the car or no car scale.

Who is travelling?

Your group size and travel budget has a major impact on whether or not getting a rental car is good value compared to using public transport as your main means of getting around. Ultimately, these are all "worth" questions:

Is it worth renting a car in Oxford if I am a solo / budget traveller?

Generally, hiring a car is not good value for solo travellers for multiple reasons, especially as most of the costs of renting apply to the car, not the occupants. With public transport, the reverse is usually true! However, there are always some places where you will need a car, simply because they are almost impossible to reach using public transport.

Is it worth renting a car in Oxford for 2 people travelling together?

A rental car can be good value for couples or for friends travelling together, but since most cars come with at least four seats, it's often still better value to use public transport. However, if you prefer to keep yourselves to yourselves, then you might still want to rent.

Is it worth renting a car in Oxford for families?

Families of groups of 3-4 people travelling together will always get the best value from a rental car. However, you may also be burdened with extra costs for car seat hire, and you well also prefer to use local trains and buses, if they are quicker than getting stuck in heavy traffic.

Where are you staying?

The place you are staying, together with the sort of places you want to see, will have a large impact on whether or not you "need" to rent a car:

Do you need a car in Oxford if we are staying in the city centre / main resort area?

Most large towns or purpose built holiday resorts will have some kind of public transport, whereas parking provision will vary greatly from one place to the next. 

Do you need a car in Oxford if we are staying on the edge of the urban area?

Typically you may be staying in an apartment or hmall house on the edge of a resort or urban area. These places usually have some level of public transport, but not as much as city / resort centres.

Do you need a car in Oxford if we are staying in a rural area?

Rural proprties might include larger villas or apartments, but they can still be within a short walk of a bus stop or local railway station, and the opportunities for hiking and cycling might also be substantial, depending on the destination.

What is your attitude towards driving?

We can give you suggestions based on whatever we consider to be a "typical" visitor to Oxford, but ultimately your decision is also going to be influenced by whether or not you ususally prefer to hire a car in the first place.

Should I hire a car in Oxford if I prefer not to drive?

This is especially the case when there is only one main driver in the group, and it's based on the attitude of the driver rather than their passengers! The main driver may also simply prefer to use public transport, or they may prefer to take scenic train journeys where available.

Should we rent a car in Oxford if we are easy either way?

This is more aimed at the typical visitor who isn't that bothered about how they get around, as long as it is the most convenient / best value option.

Should I rent a car in Oxford if I prefer to drive?

For people who usually prefer the freedom and flexibility of having a hire car. Is it still best to rent a car in Oxford, or are there good reasons not to?

Most people know that the city of dreaming spires is also one of the U.K.’s least accessible cities to motorists in private cars, whilst also being second only to Cambridge when it comes to the volume of cyclists. Yet Oxford is also home to Inspector Morse and his legendary red Jaguar, and even if the city itself is not very car friendly, there is plenty of great driving country beyond its boundaries.

Do you need a car in Oxford? Introduction

When someone asks "Do you need a car in Oxford?", this often breaks down to two key questions:
  1. Can you actually get around using public transport, or is a car all but essential?
  2. Is it worth hiring a car in Oxford? Is it good value for money, compared with non-car options?
Over the next few sections, we wil look at the pros and cons of driving in Oxford as a tourist, and ultimately weigh these up, so we can answer the key question of Should you rent a car in Oxford?
Why? Why not? Ratings Comments

Most people visiting the city will either arrive by train or coach, and be considering picking up a car from the city centre, or they will travel up from one of the London’s airports.

Why should you rent a car in Oxford?

What are the main reasons for hiring a car here? Do you just want to drive locally? Do you want to go further afield, or should you even look at taking a road trip? In terms of factors like the cost of the hire itself, fuel costs, road tolls and parking charges, is it worth hiring a car in Oxford?
  • Cotswolds — arguably home to the finest villages in England, the Cotswolds is one of the most visited scenic areas in the UK, and is easily accessed by car to the west of Oxford. Try and avoid summer weekends, when many villages become too overcrowded and parking is impossible. The smaller villages are just as delightful as their more famous larger cousins! As with anywhere, a car is going to give you far more flexibility to explore the Cotswolds at your own pace. Although local bus services do exist (see below), they need careful planning, and they aren’t much use for providing connections to the many houses, gardens, and other attractions within the Cotswolds area.
  • Blenheim Palace — the world-famous Blenheim Palace sits on the edge of the Cotswolds near the village of Woodstock, to the north-west of Oxford.
  • Morse Country – a hire car is ideal for visiting the many haunts frequented by Morse in his various murder investigations in and around Oxford.
  • Bicester Village — shopaholics will want to head for Bicester Village, just beyond junction 9 of the M40. This massive outlet shopping park is adjacent to Bicester Town railway station, which is served by trains from Oxford. However, if you are travelling out from London, you will arrive at Bicester North Station, from where a shuttle bus is available to get to Bicester Village. If you are laid down with heavy shopping, it always tends to be much easier to load up the boot of a car.
  • Milton Keynes — for a complete contrast to the dreaming spires of Oxford, visit the spotlessly efficient new town of Milton Keynes, home to a virtually infinite number of roundabouts and the longest shopping centre in the UK.
  • Chiltern Hills — the scenic beauty around Oxford is by no means restricted to venturing west. Drive for just 20 minutes to the south-east of Oxford, and you will hit the Chiltern Hills, home to many stunningly beautiful villages, which don’t have quite the same tourist hordes at the Cotswolds.
  • Stratford-upon-Avon and Shakespeare country — although the town of Stratford upon Avon itself has a railway station, it is much more cumbersome to get there by train than it should be, as the more direct route has long since closed.
    Instead, you’ll need to change in Banbury or Royal Leamington Spa, only to loop back on yourself to end up in Stratford. With a hire car, you can explore many of the wonderful Warwickshire lanes on your way.
    Even Warwick Castle, with its limited parking is still a quick sprint up the M40, rather than an indirect train journey, although if you like walking, you can go along the banks of either the River Avon or the Grand Union Canal to reach Warwick directly from Leamington station.
  • Vale of the White Horse — head south from Oxford on the A34, and just beyond Abingdon you will find the start of the Vale of White Horse, which contains numerous examples of these huge equine carvings. This trail will take you south of Swindon and up to the start of Salisbury Plain.
  • Downton Abbey — just south of Newbury is Highclere Castle, made famous by the multiple award-winning period drama Downton Abbey.
  • Stonehenge — just to the north of Salisbury, on the southern edge of the Salisbury Plain is the World Heritage site of Stonehenge.
  • Poor airport access – unless you are flying into Heathrow or Birmingham (see below), Oxford is not that well connected to London’s vast array of airports. It may well be easier to drive here, and then to use the hire car for the rest of your trip.

Why not? Visiting Oxford without a car

What is public transport like in Oxford? What about local conditions for walking or cycling? Can you rely on public transport and maybe a few taxis for most or all of your trip? Are there some times of year when it's easier to get by without a car than others? When should you rent a car in Oxford?

  • City of Oxford — needless to say, as already mentioned above, there is no point in hiring a car just to drive up to the city of Oxford, as, much to the disgust of Oxfordshire motormouth Jeremy Clarkson, the city is largely designed to keep the private car out, and parking is notoriously expensive.
    Many people visiting the city use the park and ride facilities instead, and Oxford has no less than five of these, covering all the main access roads.
    There is little point in getting a hire car just to end up taking a bus into the city centre –you might as well arrive by train or coach, as the rail and bus stations are much more central.
  • Cycling city — needless to say, Oxford is one of the best places in the UK in which to ride a bike. If you can brave it past the ring of tarmac that surrounds the city, then a good bike will give you almost as much flexibility as a hire car will, and during those hot summer weekends, it can access those parts of the Cotswolds that cars sometimes cannot reach.
  • Blenheim Palace by bus — Blenheim Palace is one of those attractions where you will either want to spend several hours inside marvelling at the historic grandeur of the building itself, or you will want to go walking around the Capability Brown – designed landscape. In either case, you would just have to pay through the nose again for parking, so why bother? Plenty of local bus services are available to and from the village of Woodstock, which is adjacent to the palace entrance.
  • Cotswolds by train and bus — you can head deep into the Cotswolds by train, heading out of Oxford towards Evesham and Worcester. Alternatively, take the train down to Didcot, from where connections are available through the South West Cotswolds to Stroud and then Gloucester. Plenty of bus routes are available to reach other towns and villages in the Cotswolds. Although a hire car will give you more flexibility, during the busy summer months, Cotswolds villages like Burton on the Water, Broadway, Snowshill or Stow on the Wold can be absolutely overrun by cars trying to park, so you might find it isn’t worth the hassle.
  • Swindon — Swindon might not be everybody’s idea of a must see town, but if you have an interest in industrial history, this was the site of the Great Western Railway’s main engineering centre, and it was also a pioneering example of Victorian paternalistic town planning. Naturally, Swindon is best visited by train, but you would need to change at Didcot to get here.
  • Airport Access – the Oxford tube offers a very regular coach service to and from Heathrow Airport. Coaches are also available direct to Luton Airport. Another option is to look for flights to Birmingham, and to take the train direct to Oxford from there (hourly, approx. 1 hour journey). However, other London airports are not so easy to get to from Oxford.

Conclusion — of course, there is no need to get a hire car just to visit Oxford itself, but that was obvious from the start. To explore outside the city, a hire car really is the best option to get the most of this region, as so many places which are worth visiting are well outside the reach of scheduled bus and train services.

Verdict – yes


Our slider ratings range from 0 (it isn't even possible to hire a car, e.g. Hong Kong) through to 10 (you really must rent a car here, e.g. Phoenix, Tampa). However, most places are somewhere inbetween these extremes, and this is where it gets more interesting! Further ratings breakdowns, including a much more detailed public transport rating, are currently being added. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.


What is our final score for Oxford on the Carornocar scale?

Remember, this isn't so much a rating of the road network, or a score for what we think of the buses or trains, but it's simply a scale showing the swing between whether or not we think a rental car is a good idea here.


Would you hire a car in Oxford?

Have you driven in Oxford? Do you agree with our advice on whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Oxford}? Do you need a car in Oxford? For some or all of the time? Tell us what you think using the comments section below:

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