Glorious sandstone buildings, a famous university, and streets steeped in history – welcome to Oxford. This beautiful city boasts culture galore, landmarks and museums for you to explore on your trip. The only problem you’ll face is how you can fit it all in!
1. University Buildings
When you think of Oxford, the first thing that will probably come to mind is the renowned University. The history and fame of the city are bound up with that of the University, so much so that a tour of at least some of the buildings should be at the top of your list. Of all of Oxford’s colleges, Christ Church and Magdalen probably tie for the position as the most famous. Christchurch’s Christopher Wren-designed (the architect who designed St Paul’s Cathedral) Tom Tower draws in the crowds, perhaps only eclipsed by its dining hall, which was the basis for the great hall at Hogwarts in Harry Potter. At Magdalen, the beautifully-designed cloisters and deer park make for an idyllic walk and if you happen to be in town around May Day, don’t forget to see the choir singing from the top of Magdalen tower at dawn. For something, a little different, Keble College’s crazy gothic Victorian design won’t fail to impress. The college also features the largest sunken quad in Europe, a stunning chapel and Holman Hunt’s painting, The Light of the World.
2. The Ashmolean
Dive right into history and culture at The Ashmolean, the Oxford University’s Museum for all thing art and archeology. The museum was founded in 1683 and his now home to an extensive collection. The Ashmolean features timeless artifacts and works from ancient Egypt, Asia, and Europe among others – the list goes on. Their diverse collection represents ancient cultures and civilizations from around the world, dating back from 8000 BC to present day. Highlights include the world’s biggest collection of Raphael drawings, Anglo-Saxon displays, important pre-Dynastic Egyptian artifacts and a range of modern Chinese art. The museum also holds a selection of famous works, such as The Hunt in the Forest by Paolo Uccello and Turner’s Transept of Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire. So take your time and stroll through history in this iconic Oxford institution.
3. Oxford Botanic Gardens
Wander through the pastoral beauty of offer at the Oxford Botanic Gardens, which date from 1621. They are the oldest botanic gardens in the UK – get lost exploring the varied flora showcased in the different gardens. The Oxford Botanic Gardens have been pursuing and succeeding in a mission “to promote the furtherance of learning and to glorify nature” for almost four centuries. There are two main sections, The Walled Garden and the Lower Garden; both contain beds that are arranged around different themes, such as the Medicinal Plants bed in The Walled Garden. You shouldn’t miss the Gin Border in the Lower Garden, which is filled with all the botanicals needed to make the perfect tipple. Don’t forget to pop into the huge greenhouses – the grandiose displays of exotic plants and cacti will have you thinking you’re in the tropics.
4. The Museum of Natural History and The Pitt Rivers Museums
Kill two birds with one stone and visit The Museum of Natural History and The Pitt Rivers Museum, both of which are housed in the same building.
Founded in 1860, The Museum of Natural History is now home to the University’s significant collection of significant collections of geological and zoological specimens. You can catch some of its famous features, such as the Oxfordshire dinosaurs and Jan Savery’s Dodo, the very Dodo that is said to have inspired Lewis Carroll for his character in Alice in Wonderland.
The Pitt Rivers Museum is renowned for its extensive collection of archeological and ethnographic objects from around the world. Immerse yourself in the lives of people throughout history in different parts of the world with their weird, wacky and sometimes bizarre collection of displays. The museum features exciting artifacts, such as Hawaiian feather cloaks, Japanese Noh masks, and African pottery, plus many more historical gems.
5. Modern Art Oxford
Modern Art Oxford was founded in 1966. It is one of the UK’s leading contemporary art spaces and should be high on your list when visiting the city. The gallery aims to make art accessible to a wider audience through interaction and presentation. It showcases the importance of contemporary culture through its fresh and innovative exhibitions. They change their exhibitions on a constant basis, guaranteeing that no two visits are ever the same. You can take a gallery tour or simply peruse through one of the exhibitions and explore Oxford’s current cultural scene.
6. Oxford Castle
Oxford wouldn’t be a proper British historical city if it didn’t have a castle. Take the Oxford Castle Unlocked tour, and walk your way through 1000 years of history. History is brought to life through encounters with the castle’s former inhabitants and the iconic stories that they have to tell. You can climb the Saxon St Georges Tower, delve underground into the 900-year old crypt, learn about the Debtor’s’ Tower and Prison D-Wing and check out the Mound of the 11th century motte-and-bailey castle. This lighthearted tour of Oxford Castle shows a different side to the castle buildings and is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
7. Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library is one of the world’s oldest public libraries and is the historic heart of the University of Oxford. Since it opened in 1602, this library has played host to generations of famous scholars, kings, prime ministers and Nobel Prize winners. The Bodleian is really a series of libraries dotted around Oxford, of which the Old Bodleian Library, the Divinity School, and the much-photographed Radcliffe Camera are the most famous. Wander through the central quad and exhibition space, or visit the Divinity School if you want to explore on your own. Alternatively, you can go inside the Old Bodleian and Radcliffe Camera on available to view on a guided tour.
Where to Stay in Oxford, United Kingdom
Best Budget Hotel in Oxford, United Kingdom – Manor House Hotel
Located in the heart of The Fermanagh Lakelands, near Enniskillen town center on the shores of Lower Lough Erne, the award-winning Manor House Country Hotel is one of Northern Irelands leading hotels.
Steeped in history; the origins of the Manor House Country Hotel date back to the 17th century. A family-owned property that combines old world charm with modern hotel luxury and a warm Fermanagh welcome to give the hotel a charming country house ambiance.
Best Mid-Range Hotel in Oxford, United Kingdom – Malmaison Oxford
This converted Victorian prison is now a stunning boutique hotel offering unique luxury accommodation in historic Oxford. Stylish rooms, fabulous original architecture, a divine brasserie and 2 bars come together at Malmaison Oxford.
Spend a night in a converted cell complete with luxurious additions including a power shower, mood lighting, CD and DVD players, and satellite TV. Guests can enjoy a full cooked or continental breakfast in the morning, and make use of wired internet in their hotel rooms.
Beset Luxury Hotel in Oxford, United Kingdom – The Old Parsonage
Beautiful wildlife surrounds this 5-star gold-award Georgian bed and breakfast, which is located on a peaceful country lane. Boscastle’s harbor can be reached after a picturesque 10-minute walk along the coastal path. Homemade jam and bread feature on The Old Parsonage’s breakfast menu.
With original art, each room at The Old Parsonage also has period features and contemporary furnishings. There is also free Wi-Fi access, a flat-screen TV with a DVD player, and a luxury en suite bathroom with free toiletries.
Locally sourced, organic and fair trade produce are used in the full English and continental breakfasts. Freshly squeezed orange juice, a selection of tea and freshly ground coffee are also served at breakfast. A small selection of wines, beers, and spirits is available in the honesty bar.
About the Writer
Julianna Barnaby is a freelance travel writer, food lover and avid photographer. Her blog The Discoveries Of explores the more adventurous side of luxury travel. Since starting out as a travel writer after university (almost a decade ago), she’s traveled to over 50 countries and written for a diverse range of publications including Rough Guides, Business Traveller and The Sunday Times Travel Magazine.
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