Walking and cycling routes - river and canal

River Thames

Walking and running along the River Thames path

There is an easy path to follow alongside the Thames as it flows through the city, with lots of places to join it, well connected to the rest of the city. 

Enjoy a quiet walk away from the bustle of the city and surrounded by nature. Swans, ducks, herons and kingfishers are regular sightings. During the spring and summer, wildflowers bloom along the banks. Take a picnic, feed the ducks, enjoy a stroll.

The route is level and paved for much of its route, with a good quality path from Osney all the way downstream to Kennington. The path from Osney out of the city heading upstream to Wolvercote in the north is more rural, has a number of bridges and steps and can be muddy in the winter. 

For those with reduced mobility, in wheelchairs or using a pram, mobility scooter or similar – there are plenty of places where you can access the river path. There are easy-access ramps down from Donnington Bridge and from Osney Bridge.  At Iffley, the path to the river is level all the way to Iffley Lock picnic area.  If you wish to cross the lock, ask the Environment Agency lock-keeper who has special wheelchair ramps and will assist you to cross. 

Thames Path National Trail

This path is also part of the Thames Path National Trail, which follows a 183-mile route from its source in the Cotswolds, through Oxford on its way to London and the sea beyond.  Visitors travel from all over the world to complete the route, either in one go over a number of days, or just doing small sections at a time over the years.

For more information on what is one of the country’s most popular national trails, visit the Thames Path National Trail website.

Flooding can be a real risk and lives have been lost when trying to cross flooded paths. Avoid these routes at times of high river flows, particularly at night, and obey signage - particularly when sections of the path are closed.

Cycling on the River Thames path

The path provides a traffic-free route across the city for cycling.  It is particularly good for connecting from Iffley, Hinksey, Rose Hill, to Osney and the city centre.

The paths also lead out of the city to the south, giving an excellent route to Kennington along the National Cycle Network Route 5, onward to Radley, Abingdon and Didcot (including the rail station).  This route is all smoothly-paved and is suitable for all abilities.

The section from Oxford to Abingdon and Didcot is called the Hanson Way, with a leaflet and map available.

You can cycle along the Thames path going north towards Wolvercote, although you will need to push your bicycle over several bridges and the path becomes muddy and bumpy at times.  It is an enjoyable route to reach Port Meadow, Wolvercote, Wytham and beyond.

But cyclists must remember that these paths are not dedicated cycle lanes.  You must share the space, slow down, give way to pedestrians and use lights and a bell to warn people of your presence.  You must walk your bicycle past locks.

Flooding can be a real risk and cyclists have lost their lives trying to cross flooded paths. Avoid these routes at times of high river flows, particularly at night, and obey signage – particularly when sections of the path are closed.

Popular places along the River Thames

Iffley Lock:  The lock is a short walk from Rose Hill, Iffley or Hinksey/Donnington areas of the city.  There is a picnic area at the lock where you can watch the boats coming and going, look out over the river, feed the ducks and enjoy the peace and quiet of the river.  The lock-keeper’s cottage garden is always worth a visit.

Longbridges Nature Reserve:  Formerly a bathing space, this backwater off the main Thames is a lovely spot for a picnic, hidden away yet just a few minutes walk from Donnington Bridge.

Folly Bridge: Folly Bridge is the closest point to the city centre, just a short walk down St Aldate’s Street.

Grandpont Nature Reserve: The river path runs alongside Grandpont Nature Reserve, with open grass perfect for a riverside picnic or exploring the woods. 

Osney Bridge: This is one of the closest points to Oxford Railway Station and the city centre.  The stream that runs off it turns Osney into an island.  It is a valuable fishery, home to many species of fish and a heron is often seen looking for his lunch. 

Sheepwash Channel and the Oxford Canal:  Turning off the Thames Path, you can cross under the low railway bridge (mind your head!) along the Sheepwash Channel, linking the path to the Oxford Canal.  This is the site of an old railway swing-bridge which opened to allow boats to pass under the railway.

Port MeadowThe Thames Path crosses back over Medley bridge and the track becomes more rural, over fields grazed by cattle. Incredible views over the wide river across Port Meadow on the far bank.

Godstow Nunnery: The path passes the ruins of Godstow Nunnery, established around 1115 and the burial site of Rosamond Clifford, or Rosamund ‘the Fair’ as she was known, the famous mistress of Henry II.  Godstow is famous for being the location where Lewis Caroll began his story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland having been inspired when picnicking by the river here with his friend Alice Liddell.