One day in Oxford: Exploring England’s oldest University

One day in Oxford: Exploring England’s oldest University

Oxford is home to the world-renowned University of Oxford, the oldest university in the UK. You might say that its buildings shape the whole city. One day in Oxford is certainly not enough to explore all that Oxford has to offer, but it will give you a good impression of what this university city is like. Furthermore, I have a special connection to Oxford, because I will be starting my Master’s here in a few days. Before applying I did a day trip to Oxford to explore this beautiful city.

Studying a Master’s degree at the University of Oxford

After having studied abroad in the UK at the University of Warwick for one term last year, I knew I wanted to return to the UK for my Master’s degree. I had worked very hard during my undergraduate and was accepted by the University of Oxford to study a MSt in Greek and Latin Languages and Literature starting October 2018! After handing in my thesis and finishing all my exams it was official: I was going to Oxford. It was a dream come true.

Tom Quad, Christ Church College
Tom Quad, Christ Church College

What to see when you’re one day in Oxford

Like I said before, It’s impossible to see everything Oxford has to offer in just one day. Nevertheless, Oxford is not as large as let’s say London, and it’s possible to stroll around the city, enjoy some good food, and visit some of the colleges. However, although most colleges are open for visitors, I would recommend checking the websites of the colleges in advance if to confirm if they are open to visitors.

Radcliffe Camera

You can’t say you’ve been to Oxford if you haven’t seen the Radcliffe Camera. Built between 1737 and 1749, the Radcliffe Camera is the oldest round library of the UK. Contrary to what I thought the first time I heard of this building, camera doesn’t refer to a camera where you can take pictures with. Rather, camera is derived from the Latin word for chamber, which is camera (something I should’ve known as a classicist).

Radcliffe Camera
Radcliffe Camera, one of the most famous landmarks in Oxford

Nowadays, this building is still part of the Bodleian Library (see also below), the library of the University of Oxford. The lower Camera reading room holds books of the History faculty, while the upper reading room holds History and English books. Visiting Radcliffe Camera is only possible with the 90-minute Old Bodleian Library Tour.

Bodleian Library Tour

When you’re one day in Oxford, I would definitely recommend doing a tour of the Old Bodleian Library. (Even my boyfriend, who never reads a book or enters a library, really enjoyed this tour.) We opted for the 60-minute tour.

Divinity School in the Bodleian Library
Divinity School in the Bodleian Library

This 60-minute tour starts in the Divinity School. This building, built between 1427 and 1483, was originally built for lectures, oral exams and discussions on theology. The ceiling of the room is absolutely stunning. Make sure to take a seat on the benches to look up and admire the ceiling.

Harry Potter in Oxford: If you’re a die-hard Harry Potter fan, you might recognise this room as the Hogwarts Infirmary. If you’re short on time, it’s possible to visit the Divinity School without a tour for just one pound.

However, the Divinity School isn’t the only room you’ll be visiting during a tour of the library. The tour also enables you to visit the Chancellor’s Court and Duke Humfrey’s medieval library. The Duke Humfrey’s Library is the oldest reading room in the Bodleian Library. This library is named after Sir Humfrey, who was a patron of literature. When he died in 1447, he donated his collection of 281 manuscripts to the library at Oxford. The university decided to build a new library for these books. You’re not allowed to take pictures in this room. However, I can assure you, it’s certainly worth a visit!

Tip: if you like libraries and books, check out the exhibitions in the Weston Library, which are often free.

Christ Church College

You may wonder: which colleges should I visit in when I’m one day in Oxford? Well, at least you mustn’t miss Christ Church College. In this college, Harry Potter was filmed. Unfortunately, because this college is very beautiful and a filming location for Harry Potter, it can be very busy with tourists.

Christ Church College is one of the largest colleges in Oxford. Famous alumni of Christ Church include Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and philosopher John Locke.

The Great Hall, the inspiration for the Great Hall of Hogwarts

The college was founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII. You can admire his portrait in the Great Hall. The college was built in the 1520s. Since then, the Hall has been in almost constant use since the 16th-century! Make sure to look up too, and admire the wooden ceiling. The Great Hall of Christ Church College formed the inspiration for the Great Hall in Hogwarts.

Check out this Harry Potter Film Locations Tour if you’d like to visit all Harry Potter locations in Oxford.
Dining hall of Christ Church college
Great Hall of Christ Church College, a must-visit when you’re one day in Oxford

Even staircases are worth visiting in Oxford

Before you enter the Great Hall, you need to go up a staircase that’s worth visiting of its own accord. You can find this staircase in the Bodley Tower. Although this part of the college looks the same as other much older parts of the College, it was actually a 19th-century addition. The vaulted ceiling is absolutely stunning. Moreover, you might recognise this staircase from Harry Potter as well. It is featured in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Staircase in Christ Church College
Christ Church Cathedral
Staircase in Christ Church College
Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral

Most Colleges in Oxford have its own chapel. However, Christ Church has its own cathedral! It was built in the 12th century. Originally, it was part of St Frideswide’s Priory. In the 16th-century, it became part of Christ Church College. Entrance is included when you visit Christ Church College. Make sure to make a quick visit and admire the architecture.

Bridge of Sighs

Don’t confuse this bridge with the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, but Oxford has its own Bridge of Sighs. Actually, the name of this bridge is Hertford Bridge. Some people call this structure the Bridge of Sighs, because of its supposed similarity to the Bridge of Sighs in Venice.

The bridge is a skyway and joins the Old and New Quadrangles of Hertford College, one of Oxford’s many colleges. The bridge was completed in 1914. In my opinion, this city landmark is one of Oxford’s best Instagram opportunities.

Bridge of Sighs
Sheldonian Theatre
Bridge of Sighs
Sheldonian Theatre

Sheldonian Theatre

Opposite the Bodleian library, you can find the Sheldonian Theatre. When you’re one day in Oxford, you’ll likely find yourself near this building at some point.  Built between 1664 to 1669 after a design by Christopher Wren, the Sheldonian Theatre is the official ceremonial hall of the University of Oxford. This is the place where the matriculation and graduation of students of the University of Oxford take place. When the theatre is not in use, you can visit the building. Click here for more information.

More colleges to visit when you’re one day in Oxford

The University of Oxford consists of more than 30 colleges. When you’re one day in Oxford, it’s impossible to visit all of them. However, I would recommend visiting at least 2 colleges to get a feel for the structure of the colleges. Below I’ve suggested some colleges you can visit in Oxford.

Merton College

I couldn’t write this post without including my own college: Merton College. Merton is one of Oxford’s oldest (and most beautiful! colleges). It was founded in 1264. It claims to be the oldest college in Oxford. However, Balliol College and University College claim to be the oldest one as well.

Merton College
Merton College, one of Oxford’s oldest colleges

Merton College Library, dating from 1373, is one of the oldest libraries in England. Furthermore, it’s the oldest academic library in the world still in daily use! From July to September, it’s possible to visit the library. Make sure to visit Mob Quad as well, which some claim is the oldest quadrangle in Oxford. Construction dates to the 13th-14th century.

Magdalen College

Magdalen College was founded in 1458. It’s one of Oxford’s wealthiest colleges. Normally, you can visit the Hall, Chapel, and Old Kitchen Bar. Moreover, you can explore the gardens and grounds. Furthermore, The walk alongside the River Cherwell is lovely.

Grounds of Magdalen College
Grounds of Magdalen College

Alumni include poet Oscar Wilde. Moreover, the grotesques in the 15th-century cloisters of the college may have inspired C.S. Lewis’ stone statues in The Chronicles of Narnia. C.S. Lewis was a fellow of the college.

New College

Actually, New College isn’t very new. It was founded in 1379. Like Magdalen College, New College is very wealthy. Make sure to visit the College’s chapel. The interior of the chapel is beautiful. I especially loved the decoration behind the altar.

The cloisters of New College
The cloisters of New College

They also used New College as a filming location for Harry Potter. You may have seen the cloisters of the college in the scene where Moody turns Malfoy into a ferret (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). You may also remember the giant tree!

Beyond the university

Although this post focuses on the sights that the University of Oxford offers, Oxford is of course not just a university. It’s a city of more than 150,000 citizens. Therefore, you can do many other things in Oxford besides visiting colleges. (However, several of these activities still have a link with the university.) If you’ve some time left on your day trip to Oxford, check out these things to do when you’re one day in Oxford (that aren’t colleges):

  • The University of Oxford Botanic Garden is the first botanic garden in the UK. It was founded in 1621. It contains over 8000 different plants and is beautiful to visit.
  • There are various museums that are worth a visit on a rainy day, such as the Pitt Rivers Museum, which has archaeological and anthropological collections, and the Ashmolean Museum, the museum for art and archaeology.
  • Oxford Castle is a medieval castle of almost 1000 years old. You can climb towers and discover very old crypts.
  • The Covered Market is a historic market, first opened in the 18th-century. It’s the perfect place to grab a quick bite if you’re one day in Oxford.
  • You can find The Carfax Tower in the centre of Oxford. It’s all that remains of a 13th-century church. The tower is 74 feet tall. No building in central Oxford is allowed to be constructed higher than this. You can climb the tower and get a good view of the city.
  • Port Meadow is the place you need to go to if you’re looking to relax. It’s meadow beside the River Thames and a great place to walk.

Pin it!

One Day in Oxford Pin

6 Replies to “One day in Oxford: Exploring England’s oldest University”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.