Just about an hour northwest from London is the small town of Oxford, known for having one of the best universities in the world. Only the best of the best study here. Founded in 1167 by scholars who came from France, it turned into England’s first university filled with spectacular spires dominating the skyline. While no one building dominates the city, there are nearly 1,000 buildings of architectural or historic interest all within one-square mile!
Oxford is home to 20,000 students and are housed throughout the city. There are 36 different colleges and each one is unique and fiercely independent from others. Each college has a glorious history, traditions and customs those of us on the outside can only dream about! Many of them were founded by wealthy benefactors with good intentions. The oldest universities date back to between 1249 and 1264!
Of all the times I have ever been to England, Oxford never made it on to my itinerary. This time though, I wanted to see a few new things. I was torn between visiting Oxford or Cambridge as both seemed equally beautiful, but we went with Oxford instead. I really didn’t take the time to research much before going so this was the kind of trip that was more a go and find out for yourself. Turns out, it was very interesting and I learned a few new things!
**Traveler Tip** If you are driving by car, it is best to park & ride! Super easy and way affordable, just park in any of the park & ride parking lots as you get close to the city! Then, hop on a bus for about 10 minutes which takes you directly into the city center!
We took the bus pretty much to the center of town and got off at High Street & Cornmarket Street. From here we walked just round the corner and found an information center and grabbed a few brochures and maps. We were interested in possibly doing a walking tour, but I found the Oxford Visitor’s Guide which had a written walking tour guide that you could follow on your own and learn a bit of history.
Right off the bat, around the corner from the information center, you come upon Oxford’s oldest surviving building. The Saxon Tower of St. Michael at the North Gate is 1,000 years old and was once part of the city walls. Make sure to take a gander up at the top of the tower!
Just round the bin, on the corner of Cornmarket & Queen Street, is the Carfax Tower. This tower is all that remains from a 13th century church and costs about £2.50 a person to climb to the top. We chose this tower to climb as it is pretty central and thought it would offer some amazing views of Oxford. Everywhere we go, we always have to climb at least one tower so that we can see the town from above!
We then walked further south down St. Aldate’s and passed the Victorian Town Hall and the Museum of Oxford. We continued on until we reached the gates of the Christ Church College. We walked through the gates and towards the entrance of the Oxford College. This college serves as the only chapel college in the world which is a cathedral.
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Upon arriving at the entrance, I learned that scenes from Harry Potter were filmed here. I’ve always been a HP fan, but over the years have swayed in my obsession. In the first movie, when Professor McGonagall welcomes the first-year students, they are greeted in the 16th century staircase which leads to the Great Hall. The Great Hall was replicated in the studio for many scenes throughout the HP films! Upon learning this, I wanted to go in so badly! Unfortunately, students were in the process of taking exams and therefore, the Great Hall was not open to the public!
Another interesting fact that we learned while here was that Alice in Wonderland was written here by Lewis Carroll. Alice is actually a real person, based on one of the daughters of the Dean of the college at that time. She used to love hearing his stories and would buy sweets from the shop located directly across the street. Oxford will celebrate 150 years since the publication of Alice in Wonderland this year!
Deciding not to go in since we wouldn’t have been able to see everything, we continued on our walking tour, casually meandering past the Meadows on the right which lead down to the river. Along the way, we walked past but didn’t stop at the Botanical Gardens. It might look like there is nothing to do in this direction and I saw many people turn around, but it was such a lovely walk, so peaceful and beautiful!
After reaching the main street again, we stood opposite from the Magdalen College. Just a short distance from here, before the bridge, you can rent a punt, usually rowed by students from the university. Every chance I get, I usually try to hop on some kind of boat, but unfortunately, I refused to pay £25 to go punting down the Thames.
From here, we turned down a small alley to the side of Magdalen College and followed the adorable quaint and picturesque Queen’s Lane which eventually brought us to one of Oxford’s most popular tourist hotspots. Near New College, is the famous Bridge of Sighs, mistakenly thought to be a replica of the bridge in Venice. Also known as the Hertford Bridge, it was only built in 1914 to connect the old and new buildings of Hertford College.
Naturally, I wanted to have a photograph taken of us. A young man and an older woman approached and I asked him to take a picture. When he was finished, I asked if they would like a picture taken as well. Only to be told that, “Ah, yes, well I live here. I go to university here.” Naturally. Why didn’t I see his air of sophistication before I asked him!?
Just behind the Hertford Bridge (Bridge of Sighs), is the Sheldonian Theatre, which was built in 1664. This building is mostly used for ceremonies and university lectures and is probably the highlight to all students graduating from Oxford.
Not far from here is another very popular iconic building from Oxford. The Radcliffe Camera was completed in 1749 and is now the home to the Bodleian Library. This outstanding library looks tiny but it houses 11 stories, mostly underground, houses over 100 miles of shelving and has a copy of every book ever published within the UK. It can take up to 6 hours (!!!) to retrieve a book to the reading room via its intense underground network of tunnels.
Love Libraries? Be sure to check out this post!
Directly behind the Radcliffe Camera is the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. It is free to go in and outside, it is surrounded by café tables to stop and enjoy the view! Unfortunately, I did not realize this at the time, but you can climb up the tower and have some pretty amazing views of the iconic library! Check out this blogger’s experience!
As we headed out of town, we quickly checked out the Oxford Castle Unlocked which is the remains of a partly Norman medieval castle! This castle is filled with history, tales of romance and even an ancient prison that was used up until 1996 and was reopened as a hotel!
Nor far from Oxford are a few other tidbits which would be fun to visit! Unfortunately for me, it will have to wait until next time!
- Blenheim Palace – The birth place of Sir Winston Churchhill and used as a fill in for Buckingham Palace in the movie the Young Victoria!
- Cotswold Wildlife Park – the only place in the world where rhinos function as a lawnmower in front of a beautiful manor house!
- Cotswold Village – For people who are familiar with the small village in Downton Abbey!
Have you visited Oxford yet? What was your favorite thing?
For more blogs about our trip to England:
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