Draped in history and culture Oxford is a popular place to visit

For a city of only 150,000 souls, Oxford has little trouble in punching above its weight when it comes to international tourism. Maybe it doesn’t have the mass market appeal of Las Vegas or Dubai, but the City of Dreaming Spires, as it is affectionately known, has a special place in the hearts of all those drawn to it by the history and culture, which ooze from every brick and stone of its famous university, the oldest in the English–speaking world.

Panorama of Oxford from the tower of University Church of St Mary the Virgin
Panorama of Oxford from the tower of University Church of St Mary the Virgin

Although it is also the manufacturing base of the ever popular Mini car, it is still the university and the beautiful buildings that make up the centre of the city which everyone comes to see.

Those who know Oxford well will have their own lists of the must see places and things to do but the following are likely to be on most of them:

Sheldonian Theatre

The first major work of Britain’s greatest architect, Sir Christopher Wren, this classical building was inspired by the Theatre of Marcellus in Rome and is now used for university and public events. Visitors can access the cupola for a fine view of the surrounding area.

Christ Church College

This is still the largest and most popular college to visit, not least because of its use as a location in the Harry Potter films. Founded in 1525 by Cardinal Wolsey, this was where Albert Einstein and no less than 13 British prime ministers studied.

Ashmolean Museum

The oldest public museum in Britain, this is the city’s main museum which houses Elias Ashmole’s extensive collection of French artists such as Monet, Renoir, Cezanne and ancient artefacts including Egyptian mummies.

Balliol College and Martyrs’ Cross

This college dates back to 1263 and counts everyone from Adam Smith to Boris Johnson as alumni. However, it is also well known as the site of the martyrdom of Archbishop Cranmer and Bishops Latimer and Ridley who were all burnt at the stake during Mary Tudor’s reign of terror against leading protestants. A cross in the road outside marks the site of the pyre and some say you can still see burn marks on the nearby doors of the college.

Pitt Rivers Museum + Museum of Natural History

These two attractions are adjacent and should perhaps count as one. Pitt Rivers houses the university’s entire collection of anthropology and archaeology. Admission to both is free.

Bridge of Sighs and Turf Tavern

This crossing connects the two quadrangles of Hertford College but the Hertford Bridge is better known as the Bridge of Sighs as it was modelled on Venice’s famous Rialto Bridge. While there, stop for a refreshing drink at the popular student pub, the Turf Tavern. Oxford is well known for its historical pubs and the Turf is one of the finest having featured heavily in the Inspector Morse series and having played host to celebrity visitors such as Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Bill Clinton.

Punting on the River and Magdalen College

Christ Church may be the grandest of all the Oxford colleges but Magdalen ( pronounced “ Maudlin “ ) is certainly one of the most beautiful. This is where Oscar Wilde studied and, being beside the River Cherwell, it is also where one can hire a punt to take a gentle ride through the city’s waterway in the traditional manner. If you prefer not to risk spilling overboard, it’s best to hire an accomplished punter as well !

Bodleian Library

This building topped by the 18th Century dome, the Radcliffe Camera,  is probably one of the most photographed in Oxford ( again partly because of the Harry Potter connection ) and, although it is closed to the public, visitors can tour the building housing the Divinity School.

University Botanic Gardens

If the weather is fine, garden lovers will appreciate a visit to this fascinating garden which was founded in 1621 for the cultivation and study of herbs and plants for medicinal use. Today there are as many as 7,000 specimens to admire.


This is the joker in the pack which is usually overlooked by most travelogues. The area is adored by real Oxford residents and is full of restaurants, bars and specialist shops. Historically this was where the city’s working class lived but the narrow streets and terraced houses have long since been gentrified and visitors will be able to sample the true flavour of the city here and by the nearby canal.

If you are looking to visit this popular city, then view some of the best hotels in Oxford and plan your stay.

Post by: Becky H

Photo 1: ciao_chao

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