During my time living in London, I got to visit Oxford twice, and I can safely say it might be one of the UK’s most beautiful cities.
Home to the world-renowned University of Oxford (established in the 12th Century and considered to be the oldest University of the English-speaking world), Oxford has a large student population which gives it a lively atmosphere. Oxford might not be as cosmopolitan as London, but the small city still has plenty of cool little cafés and restaurants, some nice pubs, and many busy nightclubs.
For a small city, Oxford has plenty of things to see and do. A walk down the main high street, along the canals, or through the maze of cobble stone streets that make the inner city, is enough to entertain; the entire city, boasting gorgeous architecture built with brown sandstone blocks, is highly photogenic.
The University of Oxford and the over 30 colleges that make up the city, all offer some areas that can be accessed by the public (with an entrance fee). The Bodleian Library, the city’s museums, and Oxford Castle, are also worth a visit. Aside from these sights and the city’s atmosphere, Harry Potter fans will enjoy discovering some of the film sites that make up Hogwarts in the movies!
One of the most beautiful colleges in Oxford, Christ Church has many pretty areas to check out. The main building has an iconic tower which is one of the famous spires that give Oxford its nickname “city of dreaming spires.” Landscaped gardens with wild flower beds within the property are quiet oases of calm, and the halls, hallways and the ornate Christ Church Cathedral, are all very pretty.
The Great Hall of Christ Church, the college’s dining lounge which is open to the public, was the inspiration for the Hogwarts Dining Hall of Hogwarts for the Harry Potter movies. Chris Church college was also the filming location for the scene in which Professor McGonagall welcomes Harry, Hermione and Ron to Hogwarts when they first arrive.
The Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library (est. 1602) is one of the country’s most important libraries: with over 12 million books, it is only second in the country to the British Library in London. Some of the books within its collection are many centuries old, so a visit to the Bodleian Library is definitely a historic experience. The library itself is only accessible by students and teachers of Oxford, although visitors can access a hall that overlooks the library itself. To go in, you must join a guided tour with a librarian; photographs are strictly forbidden inside the building.
In the Harry Potter films, the Bodleian Library was used as the Hogwarts Library, while the downstairs Divinity School was used as the Infirmary of Hogwarts; due to a special event going on at the Divinity School during my visit, I didn’t get the chance to go in; however, the library itself is beautiful!
The Radcliffe Camera
This iconic neo-classical circular building was built in the 1700s as an extension of the main building of the Bodleian Library. It is located just across the street from the Bodleian, and is one of the city’s most famous structures.
The Bridge of Sighs & the Sheldonian Theatre
Other landmarks of Oxford include the beautiful Bridge of Sighs, a bridge which connects two parts of the Hertford College, and the Sheldonian Theatre (1669), an ornately-decorated semi-circular building which hosts music acts, theatre performances, and university events. When not being occupied, visitors can also pay to get a tour of the theatre.
The 11th Century medieval Oxford Castle is quite cool. Part of the castle has now been converted into a luxury hotel and restaurant, while the Oxford Castle: Unlocked attraction has taken over the ruins of the remaining part.
I joined one of the guided tours at Oxford Castle: Unlocked, in which an actor portraying a character from one point of the castle’s history takes visitors through the castle itself, provides tidbits of information and talks about some of the myths and legends surrounding the castle. At the end, visitors get to go to the top of the St. George’s Tower to see pretty views over the city of dreaming spires.
Oxford is close to London, so it is easy to visit on a day trip by train or on the efficient Oxford Tube bus line, or you can stay overnight to get a little longer in the city. I definitely recommend spending a couple of days, as the city has enough to offer to entertain visitors.