Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Oxford
Oxford is one of the oldest and most celebrated university towns in Europe, and for centuries has rivaled Cambridge for academic pre-eminence in England. Its untrammeled spirit of investigation, delightful gardens, peaceful courtyards and squares, together with the hectic bustle of its pedestrian zone and excellent cultural facilities all help create a very special atmosphere.
Oxford has numerous major tourist attractions including Carfax Tower, offering superb views over the city, and the historic Covered Market with its many tourist shops. For a truly unique vacation experience, some university colleges now offer accommodation options, including bed and breakfast. Finally, Harry Potter fans may be interested to learn that various Oxford landmarks appeared in the movies, including Christ Church College, where the dining room was closely copied for the Hogwarts Great Hall.
Oxford is best known for its 38 colleges, each set around a quadrangle and several inner courtyards, with a gate that can be locked when necessary. They include a chapel, dining-hall, library and rooms for students and tutors, enabling each college to function autonomously. To help you make the most of your time exploring Oxford's unique colleges, here's a list of the most interesting to explore:
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Oxford - TripAdvisor.com
All Souls College
Archbishop Chichele of Canterbury founded All Souls College in 1438, in memory of those who fell during the Hundred Years War. The chapel is particularly notable for its 15th century hammer-beam roof with angels. The nearby Codrington Library is notable for its fascinating sundial.
Location: High St, Oxford
Balliol College was built in 1263 by John de Balliol as penance for taking the Bishop of Durham prisoner. While the present buildings are 19th century, the library has an outstanding collection of medieval manuscripts. Traditionally, students from Scotland prefer Balliol, and distinguished members include John Wycliffe, Adam Smith, King Olaf of Norway, novelist Graham Greene and Prime Ministers Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath.
Location: Balliol College, Oxford
Near the Church of St Mary the Virgin is Brasenose College, founded in 1509. The college derives its name from its brass lion's head doorknocker, another example of which can be seen in the hall. Lawrence Washington, the great-great grandfather of George Washington, took his degree here in 1623.
Location: Radcliffe Square, Oxford
Christ Church, one of the largest colleges, was founded in 1525 by Cardinal Wolsey and re-founded after his fall by Henry VIII. Tom Tower, added by Christopher Wren in 1682, contains a huge seven-ton bell known as Great Tom which peals 101 times every evening at 9:05 pm (once for each member of the original college). The main quadrangle with its charming fountain is known as Tom Quad, and is the largest courtyard in Oxford. The lower tower with its fine staircase and fan vaulting leads up to the Hall, an elegant dining hall with a magnificent wooden ceiling completed in 1529. Portraits of Henry VIII and distinguished members of the college including William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania adorn the walls.
Beyond the Deanery (Charles I lived here from 1642 to 1646) is Kill-Canon, a passage so chilly that it was feared canons would catch their death of cold. Kill-Canon leads to Peckwater Quad with its library containing drawings and mementos of Cardinal Wolsey. Art lovers will also want to visit Christ Church Picture Gallery, home to an important collection of 300 Old Masters and 2,000 drawings.
Location: St Aldates, Oxford
Corpus Christi College
Opposite the Bodleian Library stands Hertford College, on a site previously occupied by Hart Hall, which was founded in 1301. The Bridge of Sighs over New College Lane joins the old and new buildings of the college.
Location: Cattle St, Oxford
Founded by Elizabeth I in 1571, Jesus College has traditionally had a high proportion of students from Wales. The rear quadrangle (1670) is particularly fine. Members of Jesus College include former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, adventurer Lawrence of Arabia and dandy "Beau" Nash.
Location: Turl St, Oxford
Richard Fleming, Bishop of Lincoln, founded Lincoln College in 1427 "to defend the true faith". The north quadrangle dates from the period of the original foundation, and the chapel with its numerous woodcarvings is also of interest for sightseers. Lincoln College welcomes bed-and-breakfast guests during summer and Easter vacation periods.
Location: Turl St, Oxford
Magdalen College was founded in 1458 on a site outside the town walls. It's lovely Magdalen Tower was built in 1482, while the Muniment Tower is the entrance to the Chapel where evensong is sung by the college's renowned choir. There are state apartments with early 16th century tapestries in the Founder's Tower, and underneath a passage leads into the cloisters with grotesque figures known as "hieroglyphs".
Beyond the college stretches a deer park called the Grove, and a bridge leading over the River Cherwell into the Water Walks. Opposite the entrance to the college is the Oxford University Botanic Garden, one of the oldest in England (1621). Plants from all over the world can be found here, including the Magdalen Rose Garden, a gift from the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation of New York to commemorate the development of penicillin in which Oxford played a considerable part. Magdalen College also offers bed-and-breakfast accommodation when rooms are available.
Location: Rose Lane, Oxford
Merton College is the oldest college in existence and was founded in 1264 by Walter de Merton, Chancellor of England and later Bishop of Rochester. Unlike other colleges, it was intended for secular students. The Chapel consists of a choir dating from 1277, a large antechapel from 1414 and a tower added in 1481 (most of the windows have original glass). The 16th century brass lectern is another notable feature.
Distinguished members of Merton College include Lord Randolph Churchill and poet T. S. Eliot. A passage under the Treasury leads into the attractive Mob Quad (1380). This 14th century library is the oldest in England still in use, and harbors many historic books.
Location: Merton St, Oxford
The fortress-like New College was founded in 1379 by the Bishop of Winchester, specifically for students from that city. The chapel was one of the first examples of the Perpendicular style, its stained glass mostly 14th century. Other notable features are the statue of Lazarus by Epstein and memorials to three German members of the college who fell in the war.
The choir stalls have the original 14th century misericords, and choral evensong in the chapel is an occasion not to be missed. Other outstanding features include the high hall with its fine linenfold paneling, the wood vaulted cloisters and the detached 14th century bell tower. The beautiful gardens (1711) are bounded on two sides by old town walls.
Location: New College, Oxford
Oriel College, founded by Edward II in 1326, takes its name from a house known as La Oriole, which previously stood on the site. The 19th century Tractarian movement originated in Oriel, taking its name from the Tracts for the Times written here by John Henry Newman (1801-90). The Anglican priest was one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement.
Location: Oriel College, Oxford
Opposite the historic Examination Schools lies Queen's College, founded in 1340 by Robert de Eglesfield and rebuilt in Palladian style between 1692 and 1730. A statue of Queen Caroline commemorates her gift of £1000 to the college. Queen's Lane leads to St Edmund's Hall, the first mention of which is in 1317. The medieval students' residences were for centuries used by Queen's College, but since 1957 has existed as a separate college. Its tiny inner courtyard and fountain date from the 15th century.
Location: High St, Oxford
Until 1993, when men were finally admitted, Somerville College had been exclusively for women since its inception in 1894. Its list of famous members includes Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, writer Dorothy Sayers, and soprano Kiri te Kanawa.
Location: Walton St, Oxford
St John's College
St John's College was founded in 1555 by Sir Thomas White, a wealthy merchant and Lord Mayor of London. Part of the college consists of the remains of St Bernard's College, a Cistercian establishment built in 1437. The chapel contains the tomb of Archbishop Laud (beheaded 1645), a member and later master of the college. A fan-vaulted passage leads into Canterbury Quadrangle with its attractive colonnades and gardens. Famous members of St John's College include former US foreign minister Dean Rusk and author Robert Graves.
Location: St. Giles, Oxford
Originally named the Great Hall of the University, University College is today most commonly referred to by students as "Univ". Although money for the college was made available as early as 1249, construction didn't begin until 1280. The buildings which exist today are in the Late Gothic style, some erected in the 17th century. In a small domed building there's a marble statue of Shelley, famously expelled from the college for his atheism.
Location: University College, Oxford
Wadham College has changed little since its foundation in 1610. Its spectacular hall ranks as one of the finest in Oxford, while the chapel has excellent stained glass and gardens are particularly beautiful. Famous members of Wadham include Admiral Blake, Admiral of the Fleet under Oliver Cromwell, and architect Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). Wadham College is the founding place of the scientific group of minds known as the Royal Society.
Location: Parks Rd, Oxford
Worcester College was founded in 1714 and incorporates parts of Gloucester College, founded for Benedictine students in 1283. On the south side of the college are six 15th century cottages, with another three on the north side. The college gardens are some of the largest in Oxford and contain a lovely lake.
Location: Walton St, Oxford
2 Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church acquired the status of cathedral in 1546, although the present building dates from the 12th century. The most striking feature in the interior is the double arcading of the nave, creating an impression of much greater height. In the 14th century the church was extended to the north, and the choir was created in 1500 with fan vaulting overhanging keystones.
In the south transept is the Thomas Becket window (1320) and five glass windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones and made by William Morris in 1871. Also of note are the St Frideswide window (1858) and three 14th century tombs (Lady Montacute, Prior Sutton, and John de Nowers), as well as the remains of the Frideswide shrine (1289). The grave of philosopher George Berkeley (1681-1735), who gave his name to the town of Berkeley in California, is also located at the cathedral.
Location: St. Aldates, Oxford
3 City Center
Although the center of Oxford is not large, plenty of time should be allowed for a visit since there are so many things to see. The city's four principal streets meet at the intersection known as Carfax, a good starting point for a tour. The 14th century Carfax Tower, a relic of St Martin's Church (now destroyed), has great views. Also worth visiting are the Town Hall, St Aldate's Church (1318) and Pembroke College, founded in 1624 but with origins dating back to 1446. Notable graduates include Samuel Johnson, a student here from 1728-29. The nearby Modern Art Oxford, a visual art gallery focusing on exhibitions of modern and contemporary art, regularly offers talks, music and movies.
Oxford's splendid High Street is lined with numerous magnificent buildings (including many of the colleges listed above) and was described by American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne as "the finest street in England". While sightseeing, visit the University church, St Mary the Virgin, with its fine Decorated tower (1280) offering excellent views of the city. The choir was rebuilt in 1462, the nave and Lady Chapel date from 1490, and the stalls date from 1466.
Address: Oxford Visitor Information Centre, 15-16 Broad St, Oxford
4 Radcliffe Square
Radcliffe Square is home to the Old Schools Quadrangle (1613) and the Radcliffe Camera (1737), a rotunda that originally housed the Radcliffe Library. The 16-sided room on the ground floor is now a reading room for the Bodleian Library, the university library and the country's first public library, founded in 1598.
A copy of every book published in Britain is deposited here, including some two million volumes and 40,000 manuscripts. From the library, you can also explore the magnificent Divinity School.
Location: Broad St, Oxford
5 Sheldonian Theatre
Built in 1664, the Sheldonian Theatre was Sir Christopher Wren's second major building and is used for the university's annual Commemoration. The Museum of the History of Science - housed in the Old Ashmolean Building, the world's first purpose-built museum building - is a fascinating facility. It specializes in the study of the history of science, and the development of western culture and collecting. The museum includes the blackboard that Albert Einstein used during his Oxford lectures of 1931.
Other nearby attractions are the Holywell Music Room (1748), reputedly the oldest concert hall in the world, and Kettell Hall (1620) with its beautiful chapel and fine woodcarvings.
Location: Broad St, Oxford
6 Martyrs' Memorial
A cross in St Giles Street marks the spot where the reformers Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer were burned at the stake between 1555-56, an event commemorated by the Martyrs' Memorial (1841). The nearby Rhodes House (headquarters of the Rhodes Trust founded in honor of South African statesman Cecil Rhodes) is also worth checking out. Also close by is the Oxford University Museum, built in 1855 and containing a number of interesting collections, including geological, mineralogical and zoological sections, as well as work by Darwin, Burchell and Hope. There's also a pleasant walk along the Cherwell past Parson's Pleasure to a path called Mesopotamia, which leads to Magdalen Bridge.
Location: St Giles, Oxford
7 Ashmolean Museum
The Ashmolean Museum, founded in 1683, is the most important of the four university museums and is the oldest in the country. The neo-Classical building houses a magnificent collection of art and antiquities, including classical sculpture, Far Eastern art, Greek and Roman pottery and a valuable collection of jewelry.
Location: Beaumont St, Oxford
8 Cornmarket Street
Pedestrian friendly Cornmarket Street, commonly known as the "Corn", is Oxford's busiest shopping street. It features the former Crew Inn, where Shakespeare is said to have stayed on his journey between Stratford and London. On the right-hand side of the street is St Michael's Church, with its early Norman tower.
Location: Cornmarket St, Oxford
9 Oxford Castle Unlocked
Oxford Castle has been a place of incarceration since 1071, continuing until the closure of Her Majesty's Prison Oxford in 1996. Today, visitors can learn about the real people and events from the site's turbulent past through fascinating displays and re-enactments.
You can also climb the Saxon St George's Tower, Oxford's oldest building, and enjoy its stunning 360-degree views. Afterwards, descend deep underground into the 900-year-old crypt. Other areas to explore include the confines of the 18th century Debtors' Tower and the 11th century motte-and-bailey castle.
Address: 44-46 Oxford Castle, Oxford
10 Blenheim Palace
In Woodstock, just eight miles northwest of Oxford, is Blenheim Palace, seat of the dukes of Marlborough, the Spencer-Churchill family and birthplace of Winston Churchill. The magnificent palace was built between 1701 and 1724 for John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, with the financial support of Queen Anne. The royal wished to express her thanks to the Duke for his victory in 1704 over the French at the Battle of Blenheim.
From the main building, with its neo-Classical columned entrance-hall, quadrantal annexes with crowned corner-towers and colonnades lead to the side wings with their large courtyards. There is also a vast courtyard in front of the main building. From here it's possible to walk directly into the gardens with their French Rococo borders and splendid old trees forming part of the English park landscaped by Lancelot "Capability" Brown. Other attractions include Italian and herb gardens, a butterfly house and a maze.
Alternatively, you can lose yourself among the 200 rooms of the palace itself. Of particular interest are the monumental Great Hall with its painted ceiling depicting the Battle of Blenheim and the room commemorating Sir Winston Churchill. The palace chapel contains a grandiose tomb for the first Duke of Marlborough, his wife and children.
Location: Blenheim Palace, Woodstock
Abingdon, six miles south of Oxford, is a charming town on the River Thames. A large number of interesting houses and churches include the old two-story County Hall (1678), now a local museum. Also of note are the beautiful St Helen's Church with its graceful spire, double aisles and elaborately painted paneling (1390), and Christ's Hospital, founded in 1553.
Parts of the once influential Benedictine abbey (675 AD) can still be explored, including the Checker Hall (13th century), the Long Gallery (about 1500) and the abbey doorway (1450). Abingdon has several leisure and recreation facilities, including White Horse Leisure and Tennis Centre, Tilley Park and the Southern Town Park. Each year in October, the center of town is closed for the Ock Street Michaelmas Fair, the longest street fair in Europe.
Location: Market Place, Abingdon, Oxfordshire