The historic English city of Oxford makes for a great trip, be it for a day or longer. Its full of interesting architecture, museums and green spaces, so there’s lots to keep you occupied. Its also fairly compact, meaning everything tends to be within walking distance. In this post I’ll look at some of Oxford’s highlights, as well as answer a quick Oxford FAQ.
Oxford is of course well known for it’s university. The oldest in England, it is believed teaching began here back in 1096. It grew substantially from the 12th century onward. Rather than being focused on a single campus, the university is actually spread out across the city. Meaning as you walk the cities streets you are never far from a place of learning. This is great for lovers of architecture such as myself, as there are fantastic university building’s all round here
. Oxford itself was founded around the 9th century CE, by the Anglo-Saxons. After the invasion of England by William the Conqueror, the Oxford Castle was built here by the Norman Barons. Its remains can still be seen here today. For centuries it was a small market town as well an important centre of learning. In the English Civil War it served as the Royalist ‘capital’ from 1642 until 1646.
With Britain’s Industrial revolution it grew rapidly, eventually changing into what is now a small city of 155,000. Although industry has declined since World War 2, tourism has grown substantially and is now a major source of revenue for the city. A second University has opened here too, known as Oxford Brookes.
Things to see and do in Oxford
Oxford’s Historical Buildings
As someone who ‘loves to see cool buildings’ whenever I travel, Oxford is a real gem. There are tonnes of amazing building’s here, many associated with the university. Heading into the historic centre of Oxford you can find plenty to admire. Here is a quick rundown of some of the best I saw and that I recommend for you to check out.
The Radcliffe Camera
This is one of my favourites building’s in Oxford. It looks fantastic from all angles. The photo below shows the building from it’s front entrance. I’ve also set the featured image for this blog post as a picture of the building from another angle. It is part of the University Of Oxford, who use it as an academic library. The name comes from Dr John Radcliffe, who left £40,000 for it’s construction when he died in 1714. The ‘Camera’ bit being Latin for ‘room’.
The Radcliffe Camera was constructed between 1737 and 1749, having been designed by James Gibbs. He is generally regarded as one of the most notable architects in British History. This was his last ‘major work’ and it certainly is impressive.
Bridge Of Sighs
Officially Hertford Bridge, its more commonly known as ‘The Bridge Of Sighs’. Allegedly this is because people thought it was based on the bridge in Venice of the same name. Though apparently not the case, it doesn’t stop people still calling it by that moniker. Its purpose is connecting different parts of Hertford College together. The college is part of the University of Oxford.
The Sheldonian Theatre
Like the 2 previous mentioned buildings, this is also part of the University of Oxford. The most noteworthy aspect of the building is that it serves as the university’s ceremonial hall. It also pays host to events such as music concerts and is used for lectures. Look out for ‘Emperor Heads’ here, I find them very interesting! Check out this BBC article to read more about them, including some recent additions.
Christ Church College and Cathedral
This college is the most popular to visit of all the University Of Oxford colleges, and it’s easy to see why. Though a bit pricey, I recommend visiting as I found it has some great architecture to admire. It’s also interesting to see what students experience at one of the world’s most prestigious universities.
One of the big reasons why the college draws so many visitors is that parts of the Harry Potter movies were filmed here. The Bodley Tower Staircase and Dining Hall in particular are notable locations. You don’t have to be a fan of the films to enjoy them though, they really are fantastic in their own right.
The Cathedral here dates far back in Oxfords history, having been here since 1200 CE. It serves as both the chapel for the college and as the Diocese of Oxford. Its quite compact, smaller than most other cathedrals in England.
The Covered Market
This is a great place to grab lunch when visiting Oxford. There are some awesome cafe’s here as well as market stands selling food and other wares. It’s all under cover, so you don’t need to worry about it raining whilst your here. You can see a list of their traders on their website here. The market itself actually dates all the way back in the 1770’s, so is a notable historical site as well as being a cool place to get food! Personally I recommend grabbing lunch at Georgina’s Cafe. They do great Greek food in a very cool setting. It’s actually up some stairs, so look out for the entrance when you are here.
Pitts River Museum
This museum was first founded in 1884 when Augustus Pitt Rivers donated his private collection of 22,000 items. He was a British Army Office as well as a being an ethnologist and an archaeologist. The museum now features over 6000,000 items of all different sorts. The stand out thing about this museum is that the items are all sorted by type rather than by time period of region.
I must admit I did find the museum a bit overwhelming at times. There are objects coming out from all angles, so there is a lot to take in. I feel that I probably would have enjoyed visiting the museum if it had been organised in a more traditional style. But that of course would take away from one of it’s main attractions, it’s layout. If that sounds contradictory from me then it is! Overall I still enjoyed the experience of visiting and it was really interesting to see so many objects on display. The museum is actually a department of the University of Oxford, and plays a role in research and learning. I imagine that’s fantastic for all those involved, the collection really is impressive.
Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Connected to the Pitts River Museum is the Museum of Natural History. This is definitely the more child friendly museum. Its popular with families and there were many here when I visited. This is despite it being a cold January day. There are several Dinosaur skeleton casts here, with plenty of information them and other pre-historic creatures. They cram a lot in here so if your interested to see as much as you can then allocate yourself plenty of time.
Oxford Botanic Garden
Founded in 1621 as the first botanic garden in the UK, the Oxford Botanic Garden features some interesting plants and flowers. Its a pleasant area to walk around and enjoy being outdoors. There are several glasshouses too, to highlight one in particular the Water Lily House is well worth spending some time in.
Another of the University Of Oxford colleges, it features some beautiful buildings. It was first founded in 1458 and as well as great architecture has some lovely outdoors areas. You can see deer grazing here and enjoy going around ‘Addisons Walk’. Its a path around a small island in the River Cherwell, which runs through the college grounds. There is also a small Christian chapel here which features some interesting stain glass windows.
Having been open since 1683, this free museum has a whole host of art and artefacts for you to admire. It was in fact the first public museum to open in Great Britain. Unlike the Pitts River Museum, the Ashmolean is organised into sections covering different areas and time periods. For example the first floor covers various parts of Asia, splitting into sections such Mughal India and the Islamic Middle East. You could easily spend hours and hours here trying to see everything, so personally I chose to prioritise some areas over others.
This is a food stall but I feel it’s worth it’s own entry as it’s so popular in Oxford. It serves up delicious middle eastern style wraps and sides, for a very cheap price. When I visited there were queues (that’s a line for you Americans) down the street as people waited to buy a wrap. It was worth the wait though, the wraps really do taste great! Najar’s Place is found near to the Ashmolean Museum too, so I recommend planning your visit to include buying lunch from here.
Oxford Castle and Prison
A great highlight of any trip to Oxford is to join a tour of Oxford Castle and Prison. With over a 1000 years of history, there is a lot to cover, and being taken through the castle and prison by a guide is a fantastic way to learn about it. Whilst much of the castle itself was destroyed in the English Civil War, parts do remain and the guide will explain all about why and how this is so. They will also show you the underground crypt and prison cells and tell you facts and stories relating to them. Personally I really enjoyed the tour and highly recommend it. The prison only closed in 1996 so learning about all the history from the castle’s beginning until such a recent time was really fascinating.
Entrance is by guided tour only. You can find their prices and opening times on their website.
A Quick Oxford FAQ
Oxford is in Southern England. It is fairly central, and is located between London, Birmingham and Bristol. Its county is Oxfordshire, which is considered part of South East England.
It takes around an hour to reach Oxford from London by train.
Yes, Oxford is a very walkable city. Its city centre is quite small and compact. The tourist sites are all within walking distance of each other.
Yes Oxford is great for day trip. There is plenty to do, and it’s a very pretty city to walk around. If you have longer you could easily fill 2 or 3 days here.
It really depends on what you choose to do here. Generally it’s the same price as other English cities like Bath and York. But if you choose to visit the colleges the entrance fee’s can add up.
Yes Oxford has loads of pubs. You’ll find drinking options all over the city.
Honestly Oxford is great all year round. If it’s raining or too cold you can spend plenty of time in the museums. And in the sunshine you can enjoy the green spaces like Oxford Botanic Garden.
Thanks’ for reading!
Oxford really is a great city and I hope get the chance to explore it. I put together this post about Oxford after visiting the city 3 times, each on a day trip. It’s definitely a city full of things to do and I enjoyed going back each time. There’s of course more to do than what I’ve featured, hopefully I can go back in future and add to this post!