Things to Do in Oxford
Located in central Oxford in a complex of historic buildings, the venerable Bodleian Library is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. It’s the main research library for the University of Oxford and also a copyright library, housing every book printed in the UK and Ireland, a collection of more than 12 million printed items.
The oldest university in the English-speaking world, the University of Oxford is the main draw to the riverside town of Oxford. With a history dating back to the 11th century, the university’s many colleges offer a wealth of gorgeous historical architecture—not to mention settings for movies including theHarry Potter series.
Attended by leading luminaries across the centuries—and in possession of an art museum, soaring cathedral, and stately quad—Christ Church is among Oxford’s largest, grandest, and most prestigious colleges. Famously used as a set for theHarry Potter films, it is now also a pop cultural attraction.
Located in the heart of Oxford, the Radcliffe Camera is one of the city’s most recognizable and photographed landmarks, with its unusual shape and impressive dome. Completed in 1749, it was the first rotunda library in England, and today it is one of the main reading rooms of the Bodleian Library complex.
Built in the early 18th century, this stately home is one of Britain’s grandest historical estates. It was gifted by Queen Anne to the Duke of Marlborough, General John Churchill, for his role in defeating the French at the 1704 Battle of Blenheim, and Britain’s beloved wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill was born here in 1874.
One of Oxford’s most recognizable landmarks, the Sheldonian Theatre is a neoclassical building dating to 1669. Designed by the celebrated architect Sir Christopher Wren, the venue is used for ceremonial events by the University of Oxford (including graduations), as well as lectures, concerts, and other publicly accessible performances.
Linking the two halves of Hertford College, the Bridge of Sighs (formally known as Hertford Bridge) arcs above New College Lane in the heart of Oxford. Despite its ancient-seeming exterior and leaded windows, it’s only a little over a century old. While it shares a name with the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, it actually looks much more similar to that city’s Rialto Bridge.
Explore nearly 1,000 years of history at Oxford Castle & Prison, located near central Oxford. Originally built in 1071 by Normans who came across with William the Conqueror, the castle was later turned into a prison. Now a museum and tourist site, it also offers stunning panoramic views over Oxford from one of the city’s oldest buildings.
Set on High Street in the heart of town, graduates-only All Souls College is Oxford’s most elitist institution. Only the university’s best and brightest are invited to sit the entrance exam, and just two are accepted as fellows each year. Fifteenth-century architecture mingles with Hawksmoor and Wren detailings for pure tranquility.
Between its baroque chapel, extensive gardens, and historic buildings, Trinity is one of Oxford’s prettiest small colleges. Founded in 1555 by Sir Thomas Pope, it occupies a prime position in central Oxford, opposite the landmark Bodleian Library.
More Things to Do in Oxford
Home to fishmongers and produce vendors, quirky hat specialists and trendy sandwich shops, Oxford Covered Market is both a bustling retail hub and a destination for food lovers. The market has operated continuously since its founding in 1774, and today it hosts more than 50 independent shops.
One of Oxford’s oldest colleges, Balliol College dates back to the 13th century, although the precise date is disputed. The architecture of this rambling college is predominantly from the 19th century, though parts of the Front Quadrangle are as old as the 15th century. It takes its name from its founder, John de Balliol.
The junction of High Street, Cornmarket Street, Queen Street, and St. Aldgate’s, Carfax is a major meeting point in the heart of Oxford. The lofty St. Martin’s Tower (Carfax Tower), which offers some of the best views of the “city of dreaming spires,” sits at the intersection.
Established in 1683, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford is the oldest public museum in the UK and one of the oldest in the world. It’s home to one of the most important collections of art and archaeology in the world, spanning civilizations both Eastern and Western and from the Neolithic era to the present day.
Magdalen College—pronounced “Maudlin”—is one of the most storied and scenic colleges at Oxford University. Founded in 1458, it’s known for its lofty Magdalen Tower, its choral associations, and the celebrated figures who once walked its halls, including C.S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde, and Sir John Betjeman.
Set in the elegant 17th-century building that held the original Ashmolean Museum, the History of Science Museum (previously known as the Museum of the History of Science) is a treasure trove of scientific wonders. From Einstein’s equations to Marconi’s radio transmitter, by way of astrolabes and penicillin, it’s endlessly fascinating.
Founded in 1621, Oxford University's Botanic Garden is the oldest in the UK and one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world. Located near Magdalen College, this 5-acre (2-hectare) garden is home to nearly 6,000 types of plants, representing more biodiversity than any other collection of similar size.
First built in 1897, Oxford Town Hall is a glorious structure in the heart of the city that’s an ever-popular destination for weddings and events. Besides a café and gift shop, it’s also home to the Micro-Museum, a temporary replacement for the Museum of Oxford, which is scheduled to reopen in the town hall in summer 2020.
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