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Visit Oxford

City of dreaming spires, where international eggheads solve tricky problems and collect doctorates by the armful; home of Inspector Morse’s dark mysteries; and the oldest University City in Britain… Oxford’s reputation as the most cultured city in the UK is hard to argue with: and when you get under the city’s skin its intellectual atmosphere permeates everything. Yes, there’s plenty of real life going on behind the ancient walls of the city centre, but the sheer weight of braininess conquers all. Oxford is different.

It’s the Bodleian Library, and the Eagle and Child pub (where J.R.R.Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to discuss literature), and the imposing courtyards of the University colleges. It’s also the hippie-filled streets of Jericho, and the towpaths of the canal, and the hundreds of organic cafes and funky bars lining the roads in its Gothic sandstone districts. From Woodstock to the Bridge of Sighs, setting foot in Oxford is like wandering into another world.

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Top Attractions in Oxford

Oxford Castle Unlocked

One of Oxford’s oldest buildings (St George’s Tower dates from Saxon times) is brought vividly to life...

Oxford Castle Unlocked

Harry Potter locations

There are dozens of Harry Potter locations in the city – mainly in University buildings. The Bodleian Library...

Harry Potter locations

University of Oxford

The University of Oxford is composed of more than 35 colleges, whose buildings are some of the most...

University of Oxford

Botanic Garden

The Botanic Garden is run by the University, both as a museum and a living collection. Taken together with...

Botanic Garden
Oxford University by Adam Hopkinson
Oxford University by Adam Hopkinson
https://flic.kr/p/7GCTZ6
Oxford Brookes Headington Hill by Ji-Ho Park

Student life dominates the city centre, and spills good-naturedly into the hundreds of pubs whose healthy bar takings the undergraduates support.

Cycling

Out of town drivers in the city centre can feel like second class citizens thanks to the hundreds of bikes whizzing from road to road: some of the thoroughfares in the very heart of town, near to the venerable Granta publishing houses, are sprawled with epic bike parking facilities apparently filled at random with an assortment of machines from every era of two wheeled transport. To an Oxford student, a bike is a bike is a bike – you get from A to B on it while thinking about a pint.

Colleges

Inside the colleges, the illusion of stepping back in time is complete. Masters rush importantly hither and yon in flapping black gowns, porters pop from well-maintained boxes and the extraordinary facades of the buildings beam down on their generations of inhabitants with the ageless benevolence of rock formations. This is a city where the life of the mind is everything, and the modern world with all its trappings of speed and convenience barely penetrates. No wonder so many of its buildings popped up in the Harry Potter movies!

Eating and Drinking

Thanks to a combination of international tourism, technology companies and specialised industries, Oxford is extremely well heeled. Its restaurants are high toned and plentiful, its drinking establishments cater for the cutting edge. Even its fish and chip shops are a cut above the norm, as the lobster and chips served in the chippie on the edge of Jericho will attest.

Architecture

For such a small city centre, Oxford’s architectural variety is astonishing. Starting with Saxon structures and finishing with the modern glass and steel structures of the Oxford Science Park, there’s a street or building for every period. Many of Oxford’s buildings are world famous, like the magnificent Radcliffe Camera (completed in the mid 18th century). Oxford’s a town that keeps on pushing the envelope, despite the weight of all that history – which may be why (though the urbane students of its ancient colleges would never countenance the thought) upstart “other” uni Oxford Brookes is consistently voted the best new learning establishment in Britain.

Cycling in Oxford
Cycling in Oxford

Oxford is close enough to London’s major airports, particularly Heathrow, for long range air travel – indeed, travelling to and from Heathrow is preferable to using Oxford’s local airport (Kidlington), which only really operates charter planes and private aircraft. There are some scheduled flights here, but not enough to get excited about.

By road

The M40 runs past Oxford, and the M4 is not far distant. Vehicular access to Oxford to and from both London and the Midlands is easy: getting around the city in a car (see below) is quite another story. National bus routes run frequently through Oxford, including super cheap bus services connecting the city with London Liverpool Street.

By train

Oxford’s train station is just west of the centre. The line is from London Paddington.

Internal travel

Internal travel in Oxford is best done on foot, by bike, or (at a push) using the local bus service. Foot travel is easy in such a small and pleasant city, though there are the twin hazards of unruly cyclists and tourists to contend with: on a busy summer’s day, the pavements can become quite impassable.

By cycle

Cycling in central Oxford is a bag of mixed delights: picturesque, well served by cycle paths but quite frightening for non-locals, unused to the one way systems and the traffic – both foot and motorised. When you get used to the roads, getting around like a student is a joy.

By bus

If you do catch a bus, make sure you purchase a day pass to make the most of your fare. Single and return bus fares in the city centre are at a flat rate, and more than two journeys in the same day make a pass much cheaper.

Rewarding travel

If you’re here on a visit, travelling on foot or by bike will reward you with a much more complete picture of a city whose every street has marvellously preserved historic buildings to offer. All tourist attractions are excellently signposted and can be reached by walking from one to the next.

Oxford is history – from the Saxon settlement of the area through to the present day.

City Centre

The city centre in particular is fantastically ancient, with golden stone buildings abutting meandering streets that have been here since the incorporation of the University between the 12th and 14th centuries. Some of the oldest colleges (Balliol, Merton, University) have been virtually unchanged since the mid 13th century.

20th Century Oxford

20th century Oxford is full of houses from the late modern historical period, particularly imposing Victorian and Edwardian town houses and mansions. There are also wide Georgian streets filled with characteristic sandstone houses. Many central buildings are listed, and the domestic parts of the city are equally well preserved.

Second World War

Unlike many key British cities, Oxford was left alone by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. There are two schools of thought to account for this: the first states that there was nothing of strategic importance in the area, though the Baedeker raids (which specifically targeted cultural cities) ought to have zeroed in on Oxford. The second theory is that Hitler was so enamoured of the city’s Gothic architecture that he wanted it as his capital in Britain. Either way, historic Oxford escaped the Blitz and remains one of the only cities in Britain to have a full architectural record, from the Middle Ages through to the present day.

Sporting History

Sporting enthusiasts should visit the Iffley Road running track, where Roger Bannister ran the first officially recognised four minute mile in 1954. Other key landmarks include the Radcliffe Camera and the Town Hall on St Aldate’s Street.

Fictional History

Oxford plays a huge role in fictional history too. Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy is set in and around alternative versions of Oxford (Jericho appears in the novels several times); the Inspector Morse mysteries take place amid the dreaming spires; and Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure includes references to suburbs of the city.

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