What Not to Miss on a Day Trip to Oxford
Even though my time in London would be brief (four nights) AND I hadn’t been since 2005, I knew I still wanted to do a day trip somewhere. Originally I had my heart set on visiting Highclere Castle (aka Downtown Abbey) but was majorly disappointed to learn that the castle is not open to the public during the month of June. So that led me to Oxford, a beautiful and historic university town only a short distance from London. Even though some say Cambridge (another famous university town) is the prettier of the two, Sarah’s stunning photos of sunny Oxford made the decision for me, even though the sun would sadly not be shining when I visited. Although an overnight visit is probably recommended (because there truly is that much to see and do, as my South Asian Cockney taxi driver would attest), a day trip is still perfectly doable and will allow you to see a bevy of beautiful and fascinating things.
And hopefully whenever I make it back across the pond, I can finally see more of the country, perhaps even embarking on an epic road trip through England.
A really cool thing about Oxford? It’s been featured in countless films including most recently Tolkien and The Favourite, so the entire time there it feels as if you are on a Hollywood set. And Harry Potter, can’t remember the least popular film franchise ever to come out of the United Kingdom…
Duke Humfrey’s Library
Naturally as a librarian I had to visit a library on my travels especially one as historically rich and fascinating as the medieval Duke Humfrey’s Library. Located inside the Old Bodleian Library which is one of the oldest in Europe and the second largest library in Britain after the British Library, Duke Humfrey’s Library is the oldest reading room in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford. Its collection includes the original medieval section (dating from 1487), the Arts End (dating from 1612), and the Selden End (dating from 1637). It houses everything from maps, music, and Western manuscripts to theology and arts materials.
On a non-educational level-it was used as the Hogwarts Library in the Harry Potter films.
My only disappointment-photography without a flash was not allowed.
Notes on visiting: You can only visit the Duke Humfrey’s Library as part of a guided tour. 30, 60, and 90 minute tours are available. In addition to Duke Humfrey’s Library you’ll also visit the 15th-century Divinity School, Convocation House, and Chancellor’s Court depending on which tour you choose. You can purchase tickets in advance which I recommend doing as tours are limited to a set number of people and will sell out. Click here to purchase your tickets.
Tower at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin
No matter the city or country, where there’s a tower to climb that offers rewarding views, I will climb it. And the tower inside the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin provided some of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen. Oxford from up above is truly a sight to behold with the best view being of the Radcliffe Camera which houses the Radcliffe Science Library. (Don’t let the word camera mislead you; camera in Latin means “room”). What’s also pretty remarkable? The tower dates from the late 13th century. Ponder that as you climb it.
Notes on visiting: There are 127 steps to the top, and the closer you get to the top, the steeper and narrower they become. Plan accordingly. Children under the age of eight are not permitted to climb the tower. Last admission to the tower is 30 minutes before closing.
The Eagle and Child Pub
While I’ve never read any of the Lord of the Rings books or The Hobbit, I still am very interested in the generation that J.R.R. Tolkien was part of, the group of boys who became men the moment World War I started and their innocence was lost forever. He attended college at Oxford and taught there as well in his later years , and being one of its most famous alums, there are “Tolkien” traces everywhere. One of them is the Eagle and Child Pub, the building itself dating from the 17th century.
The pub also served as an informal meeting spot at lunch for the Inklings, an Oxford writers’ group which included Tolkien and C.S. Lewis; these lasted for over a decade.
Notes on dining: Order at the bar even if you’re getting food too. For my American readers, you won’t find wait staff coming around to take your food order when you go to a pub. If you wait, you’ll be waiting for, well, forever.
Don’t let the name mislead you. In addition to serving as the cathedral of the Oxford diocese, Christ Church is also a constituent college of the University of Oxford. In addition to its historic origins (it was founded in the 16th century by King Henry VIII) and being home to numerous notable alumni including Lewis Carroll, its architecturally stunning buildings have also been featured in numerous Hollywood films, most famously the Harry Potter ones.
Your admissions ticket will include access to the Quads, the Cloister, the Hall Staircase, the Great Dining Hall (aka Hogwarts Dining Hall), and the Cathedral. The Harry Potter films have contributed to Christ Church being the most popular and most visited college at Oxford. And yes, you will see some people dressed in Hogwarts uniforms…(insert eye roll for those adults doing it).
As a result of its popularity, Christ Church will be mobbed, especially when mass tour groups are streaming in. Just let them pass, and don’t let their size make you rush your time here. In the Great Dining Hall, take the time to consider what a historic space you are standing in-during the English Civil War, this was the seat of the Parliament that King Charles I assembled.
Don’t miss the War Memorial Garden. It was created in 1926 to commemorate the First World War.
Notes on visiting: It’s highly advised to purchase your tickets in advance online as they will sell out. The Great Dining Hall is closed each day during lunch hours (yes, it’s still an active dining hall) so plan accordingly. You are able to visit the other areas of the college during this time.
Other places of interest:
-Officially known as Hertford Bridge but colloquially known as the Bridge of Sighs, it is a skyway joining two parts of Hertford College over New College Lane. It opened in 1914. It was a beautiful structure to photograph.
-Sorry, but yes I am plugging a shop here. Alice’s Shop is located right across the street from Christ Church and sells all things Alice in Wonderland related (Lewis Carroll both attended and taught at Christ Church). The building itself dates from the 15th century and was remodeled in the 17th century. It’s absolutely tiny on the inside but is a delight to peruse and is a great place to pick up some unique souvenirs.
-Trains to Oxford from London leave from either Paddington Station or Marylebone Station (both have great access to numerous tube lines). In terms of travel time, they’re roughly the same. Choose the station that works best for you from a scheduling and logistical perspective.
-Most of the sites I listed above are about a 10-15 minute walk from the train station. Taxis are a plenty at the station, but a little harder to hail once on the street in the city center.
-A post office is less than a five minute walk from Christ Church on the high street. Perfect place to purchase stamps and mail your postcards.
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