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A Day in Oxford

Updated on August 19, 2015
Christ Church College
Christ Church College | Source

Oxford University

Oxford University is the primary draw for most visitors to Oxford, and the institution more than deserves its accolades. The university takes over the town, decorating the streets with overwhelming and impressive architecture, and each building brings its own unique heritage and series of impressive accomplishments to the history of the university. Oxford University offers something for everyone, whether their interests lie in science, history, literature, architecture, movies...the list could go on for pages.

Choosing which colleges or buildings to visit is the most problematic challenge during a visit to Oxford, although making the decision slightly easier is the fact that not all buildings are open to the public.

Christ Church College is arguably the most popularly well-known of Oxford's college, due in part to its appearance in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (fans will instantly recognize that vaulted ceilings in the entrance hall and the Great Hall, which was JK Rowling's inspiration for the Great Hall in the Harry Potter series as well as actually being featured in the first movie). It's also one of Oxford's largest colleges, and was originally established in 1524 as Cardinel's College. Christ Church Cathedral, with its stunning Romanesque architecture, adds to the splendour of the College, and also boasts a world-renowned choir. The bell tower (Great Tom) is the College's most famous feature, and was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who was a former student of Christ Church (and who also designed St. Paul's Cathedral in London). Lewis Carroll, John Locke, and WH Auden all studied at Christ Church College - Carroll later taught there, as a Lecturer in mathematics (not literature!).

Literature enthusiasts should make sure to stand in awe of the literary greatness that has poured from Oxford University, and the best way to revel in the wonder of Oxford's literary legacy is by taking in Oxford University's unbelievable libraries. The Bodleian Library is an excellent choice - although visitors cannot go inside the library, they can get a great view of the building from the Radcliffe Camera (as well as taking in a spectacular bird's eye view of some of the University's other beautiful buildings).

Also, visitors should be sure to check out the Bridge of Sighs - or, to use its proper name, the Hertford Bridge. The Bridge is a distinctive feature of Hertford College and the city of Oxford itself, and is often referred to as the Bridge of Sighs because of its resemblance to the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. It's an excellent picture stop on your day in Oxford - although you'll be lucky to get a photo without accidentally getting one of the many couples taking cutesy photos underneath the Bridge in the background.

Bodleian Library
Bodleian Library | Source
Bridge of Sighs
Bridge of Sighs | Source

Ashmolean Museum

A spectacular museum of art and archaeology, the Ashmolean Museum boasts a collection of art and curiousities that began in the late 1600s, and is claimed to be both the oldest university museum in the world and the oldest museum in the United Kingdom. The exterior facade is similar to that of the British Museum, with impressive columns erected at the main entrance. Unlike the British Museum, however, visitors to the Ashmolean will encounter distinctly less crowds than they would at the British Museum, giving them ample time to take in the history of the incredible objects that the museum houses. Particularly fantastic are the new additions from Egypt, where visitors can gain an up close and personal view of some of the resident mummies. Losing track of time and getting absorbed in the museum for the entire day would not be a difficult feat; the collection has pieces of interest for every visitor.

Ashmolean Museum
Ashmolean Museum | Source

Oxford's Pubs

Of course, with so many scholars, students, writers, and tourists, Oxford boasts an impressive quantity of high-quality pubs. The unique aspect of Oxford's pubs is that many of them are hundreds of years old, and in having a pint or a glass of wine at one of these establishments, you'll be soaking in centuries of history and drinking at the same tables that many famous scientists, actors, writers, and scholars have sat at (so you can tell your parents that drinking in Oxford was an educational experience, of course). On his journeys home to Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare often stopped over in Oxford, and was a frequent patron of The Crown pub (he was also rumoured to have been more than friendly with the owner's wife, who eventually had a son named William who grew up to be a writer, so maybe there is some truth to that rumour...). However, the ultimate Oxford pub for literature enthusiasts has to be the Eagle and Child. JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, and their fellow Inklings frequented the Eagle and Child (affectionately referred to as the Bird and Baby) during their lifetimes in Oxford, discussing religion, translating ancient texts, and reading aloud from their own work for the critique of their friends. The Eagle and Child today is a relaxed, low-key pub with several aptly selected quotations from Tolkien's work adding to the decor.

The Eagle and Child
The Eagle and Child | Source

Famous Literary Spots around Oxford

Well, to be perfectly honest, pretty much every spot in Oxford is connected to something famous and historical, and literary history is definitely no exception. In many instances, it is probably the prime example of Oxford's cultural legacy. From Lewis Carroll to CS Lewis to JRR Tolkien and WH Auden to TS Eliot and Helen Fielding to many, many more, writers of all kinds have studied, lived, and worked in Oxford since the University's origins. Many writers took inspiration from the university itself for their work, and penned their famous words in the colleges and cafes that you will visit on your day in Oxford.

Although choosing a favorite literary spot is a nearly impossible feat, the one that most people are likely to visit is Lewis Carroll's Alice Shop. It's located near many of the other sites that have already been discussed on this article (it's directly across the road from Christ Church College), so it is easy to fit into your day in Oxford, and it is definitely worth a visit. When Lewis Carroll wrote the Alice books in the 1850s, the shop was a candy store, and Carroll often went to the shop with Alice Liddell, the little girl for whom he wrote the Alice books. Alice was the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church College, where Carroll was working at the time. Today, the shop sells unique Alice memorabilia - including the same variety of barley candies that Alice used to buy from the shop in the mid-19th century.

If you are a literary geek, check out the Oxford University Press Bookshop just down the road from the Alice Shop. If you ever took an English course in school - or even if you just like to read as a hobby - you've probably come across one of their publications, and its an oddly nostalgic feeling to browse in this shop.

Also, when walking around Oxford, be sure to pay attention to plaques on buildings. It's very likely that someone famous or influential once lived or worked in that building.

The Alice Shop
The Alice Shop | Source

A final piece of advice that I would offer to travelers on their first time in Oxford: try not to be afraid of getting lost, and elect to walk from site to site! Oxford is small enough that this is possible, and doing so is incredibly rewarding. With the abundance of beautiful buildings, crooked side streets, and marks of history on every brick in Oxford, getting lost might be the best and most surprising part of your day.


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    • Readmikenow profile image

      Readmikenow 2 years ago

      I have always wanted to visit there. My next trip to Europe will include seeing Oxford. Really enjoyed reading this.

    • Megan Solberg profile image

      Megan 2 years ago from Canada

      Wow, thank you so much! I really appreciate that.

    • Vagabond Laborer profile image

      Vagabond Laborer 2 years ago

      Megan, you have an impressive profile. I loved the photo of the Bridge of Sighs--great job. I want to see Oxford one day, and this article makes me want to go even more.