Visit Oxford University, England

Oxford University's Radcliffe Camera panorama, England, UK

The Radcliffe Camera, a reading room annexe of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, Oxfordshire county. Photo by Laemq

Oxford’s main attractions

The focus of Oxford tourism is, of course, on the grand university area in the centre, the oldest English-speaking educational establishment in the world.
Oxford’s magnificent, tranquil colleges are, in a similar way to Cambridge but more so, surrounded by the unfortunate trappings of modern life – traffic, hideous concrete office structures, monotonous suburban housing and light industry.

Still, once you battle through the encircling modern mess the ancient university core – ‘the city of dreaming spires’ – is delightful, easily walkable and rewarding with magnificent variety of ancient architecture and open green spaces offered by Christ Church Meadow, adjacent to Christ Church and Merton colleges and providing very pleasant walks along the Cherwell or Thames (known as the Isis in Oxford) rivers.

Oxford University gargoyle, England

Delicate though decrepit carvings of the university’s early royal sponsors and other quirky artefacts are in abundance around Oxford’s upper and lower walls. Photo by Chris Creagh.

How to visit Oxford University

The Bodleian Library entrance, Oxford University, England

The Bodleian Library entrance, appropriately inscrutable and academic. Photo by Arnaud Malon.

• Carfax crossroads and its tower on the High Street is a common starting point for a walking tour.

• Merton college, separated from Christ Church Meadow by the hardly tragic Dead Man’s Walk, is one of the University’s most attractive.

• up Rose Lane to Magdalene College and punt rental is available on the River Cherwell.

• north of High Street is Oxford’s best known sight, the circular Radcliffe Camera building.

• another Christopher Wren contribution, the Sheldonian Theatre.

• the magnificent Ashmolean Museum, home to sensational ethnic antiquities of Egyptian, Chinese and Islamic origins, as well as fine European paintings.

• the renowned Bodleian Library (guide tours only).

Christ Church College

• just south of High Street, Christ Church college is the university’s biggest college, built in 16th century and partly designed by Christopher Wren (architect of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral), with several spectacular buildings including a Norman cathedral.

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, England

Christ Church Cathedral, the chapel of Christ Church college as well as serving the diocese of Oxford. Photo by Decan.

Christ Church college dining hall, Oxford, England

Christ Church college dining hall. Photo by chensiyuan.

A little history

Keble College Chapel, Oxford University, England

Keble College Chapel. And there’s me thinking a chapel is a little family prayer place. Photo by Diliff.

It’s not known exactly when Oxford University was founded but it was definitely a centre for teaching and learning around 1100 AD and expanded considerably in 1167 when many English scholars were expelled from the University of Paris.
Much of the land around Oxford is owned by varied colleges, including the free-to-enter University Parks in the north of the city, the huge Harcourt Arboretum in the south and the Botanic Garden in the centre, the third oldest scientific garden in the world. Christ Church Meadow is a public space that is popular for walks and canoodling.

Oxford’s best season

Like much of central England the most sunshine and warmth is to be expected from May – August, with average highs of about 20C (68F) and lows of about 10C (50F). However, this is not statistically the driest time which is February – April, so if you want to avoid high season tourist crowds and don’t mind some cloudy skies and lowish temperatures then this would be a decent time to visit the city. Highs of 7C – 12C (45F-54F) and lows of 1C-4C (32F-39F) can be expected at this time.

Getting there

Oxford’s main rail station is about ten minutes walk from the city centre, streets are a maze, and parking is difficult and/or expensive so let the train take the strain if you’re interested in visiting Oxford as a tourist.
Bicycles are an excellent way to travel around the university colleges and parks and easily rentable.

The Bridge of Sighs in New College Lane, Oxford, England

The Bridge of Sighs in New College Lane. Photo by Tom Murphy VII.

Magdalen College and the River Cherwell, Oxford University, England

Magdalen College and the River Cherwell. Photo by Decan.

Fancy a walk?

A fine, long but not too strenuous walk runs beside Oxford’s rivers and fields before returning past some of the city’s finest buildings. At 9 miles (15km) long, this can take up to 5 hours:

Start from Oxford Railway Station and walk north beside the River Isis (otherwise known as the Thames) until you leave the city. Cross Port Meadow and return via the Oxford Canal, Wolfson Nature Reserve, Magdalen College, Christ Church and the Bodleian Library.

Merton College seen from across Christ Church Meadow, Oxford, England

Merton College seen from across Christ Church Meadow. Photo by Ozeye.

Oxford High Street and Queens College, England

Oxford High Street and Queens College. Photo by Doc Searls.

Oxford town centre, Cornmarket Street, England

Oxford town centre, such as Cornmarket Street, is partially commercial, partially academic and mostly medieval though its outer suburbs are not attractive. Photo by Grue.