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As I have mentioned previously, Oxford can be seen in combination with Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick Castle and the Cotswolds on an escorted day trip from London. As you’ll soon find out, there are enough sights in Oxford to warrant a full day there, or more! Why not rent a car and spend 2-3 days exploring the area?
Both being prestigious university towns, Oxford is often compared to Cambridge. Which do I prefer? Quite frankly, I think they’re quite different. With its position right by the river Cam and compact, mostly pedestrianised town centre, I think Cambridge is a more peaceful pleasant place to go for a wander and get yourself purposefully lost. In terms of architecture though, I think the buildings are grander in Oxford. There is also the literary appeal, with Oxford being the stomping grounds of greats such as C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and Lewis Carroll.
There, I’ve said it. Please forgive me if I’ve offended anyone from either town/university. I gather there is some rivalry between the 2!
If you’re short of time as I was (I had 1 day there), here are what I think are the top sights in Oxford:
1. Bodleian Library, Radcliffe Square
The Bodleian was opened by Thomas Bodley in 1602 with a collection of 2000 books. Today, there are 9 million items on 176km of shelving with room for up to 2500 readers. Impressive, but you know what its real claim to fame is? It’s the Divinity School, pictured above. If you recognised it, that’s because this was the room where Harry Potter and the other students were taught how to dance in Goblet of Fire (in my opinion, the best movie instalment of the series). The square is also bordered by the University Church of St Mary the Virgin and the Radcliffe Camera.
2. University Church of St Mary the Virgin
3. Magdalen College
Firstly, it’s pronounced “Mawd-lin” College. Secondly, if you only have time to visit 1 college in Oxford, then I would recommend hightailing it over to Magdalen College. With its own deer park bordered by the river Cherwell and beautiful chapel, Magdalen College is the wealthiest and largely considered the most beautiful college in Oxford. Keep an eye out for the gargoyles on the building facades, which were the inspiration behind the stone statues in C.S. Lewis‘ Chronicles of Narnia. Other famous residents include Oscar Wilde, Andrew Lloyd Weber, and Schrodinger the physicist.
4. Christ Church College
I think most people who have been to Oxford would be surprised to hear me putting Magdalen College on the tip of my list of colleges to visit. Truth be told, I cannot actually give an honest assessment between the 2, simple because I spent so much time looking for fauns and beavers in the grounds of Magdalen College that I did not make it to Christ Church before closing time. I had always planned to return to Oxford at some point during my stay in the UK, but alas, I never made it. Why is it still on my bucket list? Because the Great Hall was the inspiration behind the Hogwarts dining hall AND actual scenes from the Harry Potter movie were filmed there, most notably the grand stairs leading to the Great Hall. What can I say? Whilst I AM a huge Harry Potter fan, I loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe long before J.K. Rowling dreamt up the boy with the lightning scar. Christ Church has housed Alice in Wonderland‘s Lewis Carroll, Albert Einstein and famous English architect Sir Christopher Wren.
5. New College
You can also learn all about spoonerisms here. Named after Reverend Spooner, a warden of the college who was particularly prone to these slips of the tongue, spoonerisms are a play on words where the consonants or vowels of adjacent words are switched, for instance, “It is kisstomary to cuss the bride,” or “We must drink a toast to the queer old Dean.” See if you can work out this legendary speech he once gave to a student: “You have hissed all my mystery lectures, and were caught fighting a liar in the quad. Having tasted two worms, you will leave by the next town drain.”
6. Botanic Gardens
(Source: University of Oxford Botanic Garden official website)
7. Go wandering
Oxford is one of those lovely towns to wander through leisurely, but keep your eyes pealed for signs of famous people who once lived here.
8. Visit a museum
Museums are a very personal thing because what one person finds interesting may not be so to another, so I’ve decided to list them all under the one heading. Oxford is home to several great museums, all of which are FREE to visit! There’s the Ashmolean Museum of art and archaeology, the University Museum of Natural History for those who fancy seeing a stuffed dodo or fossilised trilobites, the Pitt Rivers Museum of anthropology, and, my choice, probably the least popular but (to me) just as fascinating Museum of the History of Science. I know I’m not one to bow to peer pressure, but come on – astrolabes, spheres, Lewis Carroll’s photography kit, Einstein’s blackboard with his equations still chalked on, vintage microscopes… Surely I’m not the only one to find these interesting!
9. Oxford Castle Unlocked
It’s no secret that I love a good castle. At Oxford Castle, the history is brought to life by costumed guides. You can visit the prison, the crypts underground, or climb St George’s Tower for a great view of the colleges.
10. Pub crawl
(Source: Wikipedia, original uploader MPerel)
Head to the Eagle and Child, which was once frequented by literary greats C.S.Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and indeed was where they bounced ideas and shared unpublished manuscripts with each other!
What do you think? Oxford or Cambridge? Magdalen College or Christ Church? Lewis or Rowling? Art or science? Which parts of Oxford appealed most to you? Do you have a spoonerism to share?
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