Oxford, located in central southern England, is focused primarily around its prestigious university which lies in the city’s medieval center. The architecture of the university’s 38 colleges led poet Matthew Arnold to nickname it the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’.
Legends claim that Oxford University was founded by a beautiful young princess named Frideswide. When her dreams of becoming a nun were threatened by a king who wanted her hand in marriage, Frideswide ran away to Oxford only to be followed by the king. But when he reached the town border, he was struck blind. Once he agreed to release her from marrying him, and begging her forgiveness, his sight was restored. Frideswide then founded a nunnery on the site of what is now Christ Church cathedral. The earliest of the Oxford colleges were set up around the nunnery as learning places for monastic scholars.
The numerous colleges make for an amazing place to just wander all day, lost among the historic buildings still clamoring with students. There are numerous guided and self-led walking tours to be found such as University tours, ghost tours, literary tours, and (of course) Harry Potter film location tours.
Guided or not, however, be aware that many buildings have a fee to enter them, and tickets sell out well in advance. So plan your day carefully if there are specific places you want to visit, or make sure the tour company covers entry tickets. That said, it is common understanding that if a gate or door is open, passersby should feel free to wander inside.
And what tour of Oxford would be complete without a visit to the gravesite of J.R.R. Tolkien? Wolvercote Cemetery in north Oxford is easy to reach by bus from Oxford City Centre. It does have a small parking lot and public restrooms. There are signs and maps to get you to Tolkien’s grave readily available.
Finally, when you are ready for a break from the scholarly and more scholastic life, the Oxford Pub Tour is not to be missed. Take some time to enjoy some tea or a pint while looking out over the Thames.
A visit to Oxford is a convenient day trip from London, and many tour companies will start and end your tours there, allowing you to forego the tricky prospect of finding parking. A parking violation in the city is quite the expensive souvenir.
The relationship between the City and the University wasn’t always grand, however. After one of a series of “Town versus Gown” riots, several scholars departed Oxford and founded the University now known as Cambridge in 1209.
Not quite as large as her sister university, Cambridge is made up of 31 Colleges, and is the top-ranked university in the United Kingdom, and second-best in the world (according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings). But much LIKE her sister university, Cambridge is an architectural marvel, and fans of historic buildings will not be disappointed. A walk through the numerous courtyards in the town and throughout the university is a must.
Sitting along the River Cam, the town of Cambridge is host to a bevy of riverside restaurants serving up delicious meals. And those feeling especially adventurous can splurge on a punt ride, where a boatman will push your boat along with a pole while you wonder at the sights along the riverbank. Some of the best boat guides are former students who share their love of their city and campus with you as you drift up and down the river.
With literary, historical, and contemporary cultural sights to visit, a trip to Oxford and Cambridge is something the entire family can enjoy. Let Endless Travel help you plan that perfect “Oxbridge” getaway!
- The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
- The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
- The Notion Club Papers, J.R.R. Tolkien