Known as the city of dreaming spires, Oxford, England has been home to some of the greatest minds of the past few centuries. It was the birthplace of The Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland, and The Chronicles of Narnia, and, with the oldest English-language university in the world, has been the center of scholarship for hundreds of years.
This beautiful city inspires the imagination, evokes a sense of scholarship and incredible, multilayered history. And to put it simply, it is one my favorite places on earth. If you were to visit England, I’d not only recommend that you visit Oxford, I’d absolutely insist on it. Oxford is a place that is not to be missed. Here’s a look at the top 10 things to do in Oxford, England.
Top 10 Things to Do in Oxford, England
Located less than 60 miles northwest of London, Oxford is a great place to go on a day trip if you’re visiting and are looking to escape into the English countryside. While it is perhaps best known for its university, the city is so rich in history and full of beautiful architecture that there’s much more to do and see. Here’s my top ten things to see in Oxford.
1. Climb the Carfax Tower
Located in what many think of as the center of the city, the circa 15th century Carfax Tower offers some of the best views of the city. It’s also great for those on a budget as entry is just £1.20-£2.30.
2. Discover Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland at Christ Church College
Of the 39 colleges that comprise Oxford University, Christ Church is the one not to be missed. Founded in 1524, Christ Church College has produced a wealth of famous students including philosopher John Locke, poet W.H. Auden, and William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. It is also well-known as being the site where movies such as Brideshead Revisited, The Golden Compass, and Harry Potter were filmed. During a tour of the college, you can visit its beautiful cathedral, stroll through the bucolic Christ Church Meadow, and see the locations which inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice in Wonderland while he was living there.
3. Go Punting on the River Cherwell
Going punting in Oxford is, in some ways, akin to riding a gondola in Venice: you travel by striking scenery in a calm, leisurely way in a traditional watercraft which embodies the city’s history and mystique. A punt is a flat-bottomed boat that is propelled by a pole which touches the river bottom. You can either rent your own punt or hire a “chauffeur” to take you down the River Cherwell.
4. Visit the Oxford Botanic Garden
Great Britain’s oldest botanic garden is home to more than 8,000 species of plants and is simply breathtaking. Note: engaging in Tomfoolery here is also encouraged.
5. Travel Back in Time in the Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library is the largest university library in the United Kingdom. Many famous people throughout history have studied in its reading rooms including 40 Nobel Prize winners, five English kings, and writers such as Oscar Wilde, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis.
During my visit I studied in the Bodleian Library or the “the Bod,” as it is affectionately known and it was a surreal experience. I read about witchcraft and religion in Duke Humfrey’s medieval library, directly below a stern, imposing portrait of King Henry VIII. Around me, scholars were studying original medieval manuscripts under dim, golden lamplight. I felt as if I’d been transported back in time.
6. Admire the Radcliffe Camera
Close to the Bodleian Library is the Radcliffe Camera, a library which was built from 1737-1749. Although it is not open to the public, the outside of the building itself is gorgeous enough to warrant a visit.
7. Promenade through University Parks
Along the River Cherwell are 70 acres of land that make up University Parks. Walk along sun-dappled paths, read on park benches, or partake in a game of football or cricket in one of the many sports areas.
A fun fact about the University Parks: several years ago, I was so engrossed in an Ultimate Frisbee game in one of these parks that I didn’t pay much attention to the helicopter that was landing nearby. Later, my friends informed me that none other than Prince Charles and Prince William had descended from the helicopter when I’d been so caught up in the game. So who knows? Perhaps you’ll have spot a member of the British royal family when you’re there!
8. Visit Oxford Castle Unlocked
The Oxford Castle was built in the 11th century and served as a place of incarceration from 1071 to 1996. During a guided tour of the castle, you can visit a 900-year-old crypt and climb the mound of the original motte-and-bailey castle.
9. Explore the Ashmolean Museum
As you may have noticed by now, Oxford is home of several of the oldest buildings and establishments in Great Britain. None is more intriguing than the Ashmolean Museum, the oldest museum in Great Britain, England’s first public museum, and the first ever university museum. Its large collection of art and archaeology contains such items the largest collection of Raphael in the world, the Alfred Jewel, the Guy Fawkes lantern, and some of the most important Anglo-Saxon artifacts outside of the British Museum.
10. Have a Pint at the Eagle and Child Pub
The Eagle and Child has been a public house since 1650 and is perhaps most famous as the place where C.S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and a group of other writers known as “The Inklings” used to gather and read their works. It is also less famously known as where your humble writer ordered her first alcohol beverage (a pint of Guinness).
Note: The following is a guest post from Michelle Philippon. After working in the social services sector for five years, Michelle decided to do something drastic and moved to Madrid, Spain, to become an English teacher. A recovering Anglophile, she has recently come to love tinto de verano, paella, and other Spanish foods, but she continues to enjoy BBC dramas. Read about her sarcastic misadventures in Madrid at http://sundriesfromspain.tumblr.com/ or follow her on Twitter @MusingMichelle5.