The city of Oxford is located in the county of Oxfordshire in Southern England. It is home to one of the most prestigious and oldest universities in the world– who hasn’t heard of the University of Oxford? The university has over thirty colleges spanning over the entire city… together with age-old museums, theaters, churches, libraries and shops. With all these historical buildings of tall spires and medieval architecture all over the city, there is just so much beauty to admire. No wonder Oxford is called the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’.
I visited Oxford as a 3-year-old and told my parents that I wanted to study here one day. That dream is long gone; but fast forward 20-odd years later, I am back with them again in the same city– to visit for a day.
Oxford was the first stop of my Cotswold Road Trip from London to Manchester. We hired a rental car for the entire league, and the journey from the center of London to the city took us about an hour and a half. Due to time limitations (there was more places to go on the road trip), we only had one day to explore– and we decided to spend it walking along High Street, which is the city’s main street.
Oxford’s High Street
High Street runs from Carfax to the Magdalen Bridge. The street is lined with various shops and several main colleges of the University of Oxford– most of the popular buildings in the city are located here.
We started our exploration at Carfax. It is said that this place is the center of the city, and is where 4 roads meet– High Street (east), Cornmarket Street, Queen Street and St Aldate’s. There is a tower here from the remains of a 12th-century church, Carfax Tower— and at 23 meters tall, no other building in central Oxford is allowed to be higher than it. It is an important building! To enter, it is £2.20 for adults.
We took a short detour into Cornmarket Street (to the north of Carfax) to watch the buskers entertain the crowd with their singing and guitar skills. The place was packed with people as it is a busy shopping street.
University Church of St Mary the Virgin
Leaving Cornmarket Street, we walked east of Carfax into High Street. We passed by the impressive front facade of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, and went into a smaller street that leads to its back entrance. This church is a significant structure in Oxford as it is the University of Oxford‘s first building– and everything else was built around it. It is also the largest parish church in the city.
Walking into the church, I couldn’t help admiring its gorgeous interior, dating back to the 13th century– Gothic pews and galleries, beautifully carved communion rails, colorful stained glass windows, and its beautiful altar. Climbing up the 124 steps to the top of the tower (entrance for adults is £3) provides beautiful sweeping views of Oxford.
Just opposite the University Church of St Mary the Virgin is the Radcliffe Camera. The circular shaped building is a library built in the 16th century in the English Palladian style. It is a part of the Bodlein Library situated just behind it.
The Bodleian Library is the main research library of the University of Oxford and one of the oldest libraries in Europe. I didn’t make a visit into the library (guided tours are available for a fee); but looking at the sheer size of it, and the number of rooms situated on its many floors– I don’t think I can even imagine how many books, manuscripts and literary treasures are kept here!
Well, I actually read that a collective figure would be about 11 million. That’s a lot of books to read!
Bridge of Sighs
Further north from the Bodleian Library is the Hertford College… and we walked over to see its bridge. It links the south and north buildings of the college, and is one of the city’s most famous landmarks. The Hertford Bridge, or more famously called the Bridge of Sighs (after the one in Venice) was built in 1914 and is known for its beautiful design. Yes, it is a very pretty bridge.
Oxford’s Back Lanes
Passing under the Bridge of Sighs, we walked into New College Lane, named the fourth most picturesque street in Britain; and on to Queens Lane, a historic street largely surrounded by stone walls with a few windows.
It was so much fun exploring the tight foot paths that lead to small cafes, peeking through grilled gates to lovely views of lush green gardens, looking up at high bricked walls with peeling paint and spotting several gargoyles! I felt like I was transported back in time.
I just loved walking around in Oxford. There was always something pretty to see at every corner.
Further Along High Street
Walking to the end of Queens Lane brought us back to High Street. We continued our stroll along the street, passing other notable buildings like the Queen’s College, St Edmund Hall and Magdalen College; as well as the Examinations Schools, where most of the Oxford University examinations take place. That, to me, is a very scary place!
Just as you exit Queens Lane, drop by the QL Coffee House for a quick lunch or a cuppa coffee. It is a historic and popular place, known as the oldest established coffee shop in Oxford, since 1654.
The Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens belong to the University of Oxford. It is the oldest botanic garden in Great Britain and is filled with different species and collections of plants; some grown outdoors, and some kept in the many glasshouses in the garden. I especially loved the beautiful and colorful roses on display– I couldn’t stop taking close-up pictures of this perfect flower.
Everything in the garden was so beautiful, blooming in the wonderful summer weather. Drop in and be mesmerized! Tickets cost £4.95 for adults.
Punting on the River
Just next to the Botanic Gardens is the Magdalen Bridge; which passes over the River Cherwell. During summer, punting is a very popular activity along the river. The Magdalene Bridge Boathouse charges about £18-£25 depending on the day, length of time and whether it is chauffeured; so you can either choose to punt yourself or get someone to help you. Wouldn’t it be great if you can just sit and relax and enjoy the scenery?
I glided along the River Cherwell in my punt; passing gardens, parks, meadows and historical buildings– all the while taking as many mental pictures as I could to remember Oxford by… a nice end to the visit, and the day.
Any other interesting places I missed in Oxford?
Share it with me so I know where to go the next time I’m back there!