Our city guide to Oxford

Originally a small town of Saxon England, Oxford grew in size and importance throughout the middle ages and even acted as England’s de facto capital for Charles I during the civil war of the 17th century. It was however as far back as the 12th century that Oxford gained its prestige with the arrival of Parisian religious scholars who established their colleges here. It is these same colleges which evolved over the centuries to create the Oxford that we see today.

Modern Oxford is small and picturesque city, brimming with charm and delighting in an ambience of laid-back academia and thoughtfulness that is hard to find elsewhere in the UK (apart from perhaps in its long term rival, Cambridge). Aesthetically the city is particularly pretty; nestling between the rivers Thames and Cherwell and with a tangle of cobbled streets and squares, surrounded by the historic ivy-clad college quadrangles which overlook perfectly manicured lawns. Much of the architecture and monuments which dot the city date back more than 600 years and the relaxed pace of the city make it all the easier to enjoy. With punting boats bobbing on the Thames and much of the local student population choosing to get around by bicycle you’ll soon slip right in to the peaceful, wistful rhythm.

The main attraction in Oxford is the university itself, a collection of 36 honey-coloured colleges each with their own distinctive architectural features, leaded windows, cloisters, spires, gargoyles and turrets as well as their own chapels and cathedrals. Not to be missed are Christchurch College, Magdalen (pronounced “Maudlen”) college and Merton College though it should be noted that during examination periods public access to the colleges can be limited – after all this is where 13 British Prime Ministers have studied and where the next one may be now. Aside from the colleges there is still much to explore; the Ashmolean Museum offers an excellent collection of antiques, archaeological finds and fine arts whilst Carfax Tower provides the best views over the distinctive skyline of the city and the vibrant student population ensures that there is a healthy shopping and culture and surprisingly varied nightlife in this sleepy city.

When you experience Oxford, however, it remains easy to see how this elegant city helped to inspire some of England’s great works of literature and in particular fantasy tales such as Alice Wonderland, The Lord of the Rings and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, after Lewis Carol, Tolkien and CS Lewis were all former scholars and dons here. Oxford continues to play a role in modern works with Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse mysteries set against the backdrop of the city and with parts of the university appearing as parts of Hogwarts Castle in the hugely popular Harry Potter series (most notably the Bodleian Library and the Tudor Hall in Christchurch College).

Oxford is surrounded by rolling countryside with the scenic Cotswolds region to the West. Around twenty minutes from the city you find the village of Woodstock which is home to the glorious baroque mansion of Blenheim Palace which was Churchill’s childhood and is set within 2000 acres of stunning parkland – well worth a visit. And around forty minutes South West of the city you can see the stunning Uffington White Horse etched in to the chalk hillside.

A medieval city of elegant beauty and a romantic ambience, Oxford remains as significant in England today as it ever has been.

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