When the word “Oxford” is mentioned, the first thing that would come to people’s minds will be the prestigious English university. However, like most other prestigious universities around the world, Oxford University has also birthed an entire settlement around it. In this case, an entire city — one that’s a worthy tourist spot in its own right.
One of the first things I realized when I came to Oxford was that it’s not the sort of city that requires a tour guide or even a tourist brochure. The entire city is very walkable, and all sights are within close proximity of each other.
You can head to Oxford from Heathrow on an airline bus, which costs £24 one way. You can go back to the airport via the same route, and the return trip costs £30. It’s a nearly one-hour ride, but since it’s England, you’re sitting in a very comfortable bus with WiFi. I wish I had known this the first time I came there. I made the mistake of booking a cheaper flight from Stansted, which ended up costing me a three-hour ride on a £30 straight coach. Heathrow is much closer.
If you’re coming from London, there’s a train that connects the two cities. The shortest travel time takes a little more than an hour.
The best way to start your Oxford tour is at Christ Church, one of Oxford’s 38 constituent colleges. Established in 1546, Christ Church is famous for its English Gothic Cathedral. Once the smallest cathedral in all of England, it also serves as the College’s chapel. The place is majestic, which belies its ancient roots — it has been a religious site since 1122, when the Priory of St. Frideswide stood on the same grounds.
Of course, if you’re a Harry Potter fan, don’t miss Christ Church’s dining hall. This was the building used for the famous Hogwarts Hall in the movies. The hall is open daily from 10AM to 5PM, but no visitors are allowed from 12 noon to 2PM. It’s best to visit during weekdays, around 10AM. From 11 onward, there are free walking tours going on so bigger crowds tend to gather.
Another famous Oxford spot is the Sheldonian Theatre. Finished in 1669, it stands out for its unmistakably intricate architecture. There’s also the neo-classical Radcliffe Camera, which is a science library. It is open from 10AM to 4PM, and is worth a visit both for its contents and its famous cylindrical structure. In Hertford College, another tourist spot is the famous “Bridge of Sighs”, officially known as the Hertford Bridge. It was said to be similar to its famous Venetian namesake, though it was not meant to be a replica. If you’re into churches, don’t miss the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. This is located on High Street, which is just a stone’s throw away from the other tourist spots.
Speaking of High Street, there are also lots of things to see in that stretch. Oxford buildings are left and right, plus there’s Oxford Castle, too. If you’re looking for a place to eat, try Handle Bar Cafe and Kitchen in Michael’s Street. For £15.50, you can get an avocado-and-feta toast, eggs benedict, and some more. For snacks, try Fudge Kitchen in Broad Street. There was a free taste when I was there, and I completely fell for it! The dark chocolate sea salt fudge was pure heavenly indulgence. It was completely worth it.
For dinner, try The White Rabbit Pizza Co. at Friars Entry. It serves a really good Italian menu, including all sorts of pizza. And for an after-dinner drink, there are two options — The Eagle and Child (also called The Bird and Baby) and Lamb & Flag. Both pubs have been the haunt of such personalities as J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Lamb & Flag is a great place for cheap but great drinks, coupled with a great ambience. They also support scholars — the place is managed by the College of St. John the Baptist, and profits are used to fund graduate scholarships. As for The Eagle and Child, it’s best known for its wonderful pies.
Other places of interest include the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, located in Parks Road. If you’re visiting in spring, you can’t miss the Botanical Gardens in the University’s Rose Lane. It’s one of the oldest in the world, and the oldest in Britain!
And of course, you need a place to stay — there is a Central Backpackers hostel in Park End Street. There’s free unlimited WiFi, free coffee and tea, and even free luggage storage.
Oxford is a wonder. Whether you are in for the academic history of the place, or for its architectural wonders, it’s the perfect stop. My stay in the city was fairly short, though. I mainly came to see a friend after a visit to London, but of course I stayed for the sights. Afterwards, I need to get on the plane to Madrid for a trip with some friends.
Of course, I will be back to tour more of UK and Scotland in June. Oxford was a great entry point, but there will be more. So stay tuned for more of my posts!