Oxford Castle is a medieval Norman castle on the western edge of the city centre that was rebuilt in the late 12th/early 13th century. The castle was mostly destroyed during the English Civil War and what was left of the castle was converted into HM Prison Oxford.
The prison closed in 1996 and part of it was renovated and reopened as the Malmaison Hotel with other areas operated as restaurants and a heritage tourist attraction.
What to see at Oxford Castle and Prison
You can walk around the castle area free of charge, but you can’t see inside (not even the castle mound) without taking the Oxford Castle Unlocked guided tour.
The tour is a bit kitschy with guides dressed in character (some as prisoners or prison guards), although some people find it a welcome break from Oxford’s other more highbrow attractions. Because of this, the tour is a more entertaining option for children compared with many other things to see and do in Oxford.
The tour shows you around the remaining areas of the castle and gives you a great insight into its history. On the tour, you are able to see the 900-year-old crypt and St George’s Tower as well as the prison cells. This gives you a good overview of the building and its use as both a castle and a prison.
St George’s Tower is accessed by climbing a narrow staircase with 101 stairs, after reaching the top of the tower you are rewarded by scenic views over the city.
Visiting Oxford Castle and Prison
You can walk around the castle area free of charge, but you can’t see inside (not even the castle mound) without paying the admission fee.
Tours run every 20 minutes from 10am until 4.20pm every day.
The guided tour lasts one hour. After the tour, you will be free to explore other parts of the castle complex at your own leisure.
Because of the historic nature of the building, visitors with wheelchairs do not have access to all areas of the complex with St George’s Tower, The Mound and some prison cells off-limits as these areas involve either stairs, step paths or narrow doorways.
Due to health and safety regulations, children aged under five years old cannot climb up St George’s Tower.
There is a seating area at the base of the tower where anyone unable to climb the steps can wait. This area has interactive touch screens that show you views from the tower and mound.
The Castleyard Cafe is located next to the departure point for the castle tours and there are plenty of other places to eat and drink in the immediate vicinity.