Poetically named the City of Dreaming Spires, Oxford has been a source of inspiration for academics and creatives throughout the centuries. Steeped in history, it remains a vibrant university town to this day, attracting visitors year-round from across the globe. We take a look at the 10 best places to visit in Oxford, from famous colleges to sprawling libraries and scenic gardens.
Christ Church College
It’s the famous cathedral spire and tower of Christ Church College that defines Oxford’s distinct skyline, but a visit here also affords insight into the university town’s past. Stroll through Christ Church Meadow, see inside the college and cathedral where many great philosophers, poets and prime ministers famously studied, and step into The Hall which, having hosted many extravagant feasts, was the inspiration behind the Harry Potter movie set.
Dating back to the 1400s, this medieval building is the oldest to have been constructed specifically for the University of Oxford. But it’s not just the age of the Divinity School that makes it so impressive; with a distinct vaulted ceiling, which was designed in the 1480s by William Orchard, this elaborate hall is a magnificent sight to behold.
Situated in the same complex as the Divinity School, the Bodleian Library is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and the biggest in Britain after the British Library. Founded in the 14th century, the library has a long history in academia, and remains a breathtaking site for booklovers to this day.
It was Gilbert Sheldon, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who commissioned this Grade I listed theatre in the 1660s. The theatre has long been the setting for musical performances, lectures and university ceremonies, and in recent years, it’s become a venue for the Christ Church Dramatic Society. Visitors can catch a live concert, or simply gaze up at the painted ceiling while finding out about the university’s theatrical history.
This museum of ancient and modern art and archaeology is also a part of the University of Oxford, founded in 1683 to showcase a staggering collection of artefacts including Egyptian mummies and drawings by Raphael, as well as modern Chinese painting. The museum hosts temporary exhibitions and special events such as talks and film screenings, in addition to the permanent exhibitions.
University of Oxford Botanic Garden
Also showing its academic roots, the University of Oxford Botanic Garden was originally founded for medicinal research, and dating back to 1621 it is the oldest scientific garden in the world and the oldest botanic garden in Britain. Even without taking these credentials into consideration, the garden is a wonderful place to simply explore and enjoy some fresh air.
Pitt Rivers Museum
Displaying the anthropological and archaeological collections of the University of Oxford, Pitt Rivers Museum offers a fascinating insight into our global community throughout time, with over half a million objects – many of which have been donated by anthropologists and explorers – from ancient artefacts to photography and film.
Visitors can step even further back in time by visiting the Norman ruins of Oxford Castle, which opened in 1073. In recent years, the Oxford Castle Quarter has been developed to show visitors this lesser known side to Oxford’s history, with restaurants and bars to drop into as well.
Oxford Covered Market
This historic market still thrives to this day with an array of market stalls and small shops all located within the covered market space. Within the 1770s building, vendors showcase Oxford’s abundance of local produce, alongside handmade crafts, clothes and flowers. Events, such as Oxford’s Food and Drink Festival, are hosted throughout the year.
Modern Art Oxford
While most of Oxford’s major sites and landmarks reflect the city’s history, Modern Art Oxford showcases its cutting edge influence through free exhibitions and performance, with a café and shop to enjoy, too.
Image credits: Cover photo © iStock / JayKay57. A view over Oxford © iStock / Andrea Zanchi. Inside Christ Church Cathedral © iStock / Andrea Zanchi. The architecture in Oxford © iStock. Oxford Garden © iStock / Nikada. Christ Church College in Oxford © iStock / Andrea Zanchi.