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Oxford-Best/Must-see Colleges and other buildings to Visit? (for amazing architecture and fascinating history)

Oxford-Best/Must-see Colleges and other buildings to Visit? (for amazing architecture and fascinating history)

Jul 13th, 2008, 03:07 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 221
Oxford-Best/Must-see Colleges and other buildings to Visit? (for amazing architecture and fascinating history)

Hello Fodorites,
Hoping you can share your insight on this. I am going to do a day trip to gorgeous Oxford again (I do so love the architecture and history of it). I only went once before, for a half day, before taking the other half for the rather ghastly Blenheim (okay, I did like the gardens).

I am looking to spend quality time viewing the beautiful architecture and learning the background of some of the amazing colleges there. Also looking to do a 'self-guided' architectural walk around Oxford. There are so many interesting buildings, also with unique histories that I'd love to explore. For example the Eagle and Child Pub as the place the 'Inklings' got together at, and some of the gorgeous Oxford buildings were the backdrops for my Beloved Harry Potter .

I would really appreciate your advice on the must-do's and the do-nots.

So far, I'm thinking...Christ Church, Magdalen College,Bodleian Library Library, possibly New College, maaaayybe Merton....etc.

There's so much, and only one day to do it in. I would really appreciate your feedback on what you recommend. Thank you for taking the time to share. It is greatly appreciated.

LOTRHP is offline  
Jul 13th, 2008, 03:30 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
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We share common interests, as well as a dislike of Blenheim Palace.

In our half day in Oxford, we walked past Christ Church College (the dining hall is the Great Hall of Hogwarts); couldn't go in because commencement was happening. Then we headed around the meadow to Merton College, where Tolkien taught and lived after his wife died. His rooms are at the back of the upper floor overlooking the meadow.

Magdalen College wasn't open for visitors, so we weren't able to go in.

We walked a bit on Addison's Walk, where Tolkien, Lewis, and Charles Williams had some of the conversations that eventually led to Lewis' conversion to Christianity.

Do stop in at the Eagle and Child! It was a highlight of our visit - good food and ale.

Let's see...we didn't take the time to tour the Botanic Garden, but there is a large pine tree known as "Tolkien's tree." He liked to sit under it.

After lunch, we went to Wolvercote Cemetery, where the Tolkiens are buried. Their stone is engraved with the names of Beren and Luthien from The Silmarillion.

You can see our pictures from Oxford at

And here's a link to Tolkien's Oxford:

Hope that helps!

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Jul 13th, 2008, 05:17 PM
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I'd first go to the Tourist Information Center in Broad St. they offer really good, inexpensive daily walking tours which last about 2 hours. Take a morning tour if possible. When colleges are open to the public - it is usually in the afternoons. The walking tours can usually get you inside one or two and then you can try to visit a few more in the afternoon. Also at the TIC they have good walking maps - so after taking the tour, wander around the rest of the city on your own.

Christ Church, Magdalen and New are open most days - w/ an admission charge. Others are more hit and miss.

At the Bodleian, you can usually get inside the quad and then there are guided tours of the rest - cost £5 or £6-ish
janisj is online now  
Jul 13th, 2008, 07:02 PM
Join Date: Feb 2005
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I am partial to my husband's college, Hertford, with the bridge that spans the street. It's worth a look if you find yourself at that end of town. The Museum of Natural History (http://www.oum.ox.ac.uk/index.htm) has a very decorative interior. The columns are carved with all sorts of flora and fauna. I was more interested in the architecture of the building than I was in the collections it housed!
mermaid_ is offline  
Jul 13th, 2008, 09:13 PM
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I found The Amateur Historian's Guide to The Heart of England to be an invaluable aid to my Oxford visit. The authors' specific interest is Medieval and Tudor history, and they have devoted a 50-page chapter to Oxford, including a section on each of the colleges, including opening times and admission charges for each.

We certainly didn't get to see all that I wished to see, but we had a great taste of the colleges, the Ashmolean Museum, the Eagle & Child (had a pint there) and evensong at Christ Church Cathedral.
noe847 is offline  
Jul 14th, 2008, 04:12 AM
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You need to do your planning before leaving home. Colleges etc have erratic opening and tour times, and you need to work out how to squeeze what you want to see into your time.

The Bodleian's two major old buildings - the Old Library and the Radcliffe Camera - are jolly pretty from outside, and clocking that bit (free, all day every day) will take at most 10 mins. But they're also working libraries, and the best bits inside (Duke Humfrey's Library and the Radcliffe interior) are practically inaccessible for visitors, except on prebooked tours during a few summer Saturdays. Look at the things you can pay to see at http://shop.bodley.ox.ac.uk/acatalog/Tours.html. Our experience is that visitors are generally disappointed by what they're able to see.

If you want to see an old library, the one at Merton is more accessible and a great deal older than Thomas Bodley's relatively recent upstart. Arguably, indeed, older than any other library in the world. Limited visiting times (www.merton.ox.ac.uk/aboutmerton/library7.shtml).

I'd say the city's most architecturally impressive buildings are those that form All Souls. Pretty well the only way you can see them (All Souls Fellows don't like visitors, don't like undergraduates, don't like women and don't like each other) is to climb the tower of St Mary's church (www.university-church.ox.ac.uk/info/index.html), 10 yds south of the Radcliffe Camera.

In the main historic core of the city, don't miss a proper look at the cathedral inside Christ Church, which is pretty much the only Norman building of quality in the centre. Oxford was a place of pilgrimage before it got all intellectual: the cathedral was the chapel dedicated to the cult of St Frideswide, and her tomb (in the NE of the cathedral), though heavily restored, is one of the few examples of hardcore medieval sculpture in Britain.

With a bit of advance planning, you can easily fit Christ Church, New College, Magdalen, Merton and a good root round the St Mary's-Radcliffe-Bodleian-Clarendon-Sheldonian complex into well under a day.

Some people rave over the food in the St Mary's coffee shop, though I think it's girlie. One odd alternative lunch venue if architecture's your thing (I've never had a decent meal in an Oxford pub, and the Eagle and Child gets very crowded, though it seems to look after its beer reasonably well) is the Pizza Express in the Golden Cross arcade that links the pleasant covered market (where the food in the Alpha Bar gets rave reviews by addicts of girlie salads) with hideous Cornmarket (possibly Britain's most repulsive shopping street, though it's got a lot of competition).

In medieval and Tudor times, many moderately well off people decorated their houses and pubs with wall paintings. Very, very few survive: the first floor (ie the one above the ground floor) in the Pizza Express has several of them - and its 15th century woodwork and brickwork make it close to the oldest building in the city that's not a church or college. If you're not lunching there, the staff are very welcoming to visitors who come just for the paintings - as long as you do your gawping when they're not busy.

BUT the city's architectural gem is out of town. Iffley Church (www.iffley.co.uk) is just amazing: the best Romanesque building in Britain, On a fine day, it's a pleasant 2 milesish walk along the river from Christ Church meadows.
flanneruk is online now  
Jul 14th, 2008, 06:31 AM
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Excellent advice from flanneruk.

I agree with his opinion of St. Mary's cafe. Not sure about calling it 'girlie'; fairly ordinary,at best, I'd say. My favorite place for lunch is the News Cafe on Ship Street.

I also strongly recommend a visit to Iffley Church. The walk along the river on a nice day makes for an excellent outing.
historytraveler is offline  
Jul 14th, 2008, 11:37 AM
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Many thanks for mentioning Iffley Church, it's on the list of my next trip to England.
JudyC is offline  
Jul 14th, 2008, 02:29 PM
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The only advice I can add to the good info you've gotten so far:

1. be prepared for any or all of the colleges to be closed with no advance notice at any time. Only Magdalen and Christ Church were open the day I went (New and Merton, two others that are supposed to be worth a look, were closed). Though as I understand it, the two I visited were arguably the two best ones to see.

2. definitely take the tour of the Old Bodleian Library, as you'll see much more of the place and the tour is informative. You have to reserve a time to do so, though, and they have a limit on the number of people per time slot.

3. the Ashmolean Museum, even in its present throes of renovation, is well worth a visit. Very good Egyptian relics and porcelain collection especially.
bachslunch is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2008, 06:55 PM
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Posts: 221
What great replies! Thanks for all the helpful tips. And I notice that some of the wonderfully helpful and amusing (what I like to call) long standing Fodorite Celebrities have weighed in as well. You know who you are . And I'm not being facetious (sp?), I am truly beaming.

I appreciate everyone taking the time to respond. This info will be very helpful as I try to figure out how best to approach 'Oxford in a day', and what's best to visit, purchase tickets at, and eat at.

If anyone would care to share some more, it's always welcome.

Oh and btw, sorry I haven't responded sooner, I've been away on business in California (fortunately I tried to sneak in some fun with all the meetings).
LOTRHP is offline  
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