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Brief Guide to Oxford

Updated: Feb 3, 2020

Oxford is, without doubt, one of the UK’s most popular cities with an estimated six million tourists visiting in 2018. This increase in popularity is a near 10% increase on the figures for 2015. This growth makes Oxford one of England’s most visited cities. Oxford is also within a short journey of London, making it easy to visit both when travelling to the United Kingdom.

Oxford boasts one of the oldest universities in the world, as well as a growing international student body. It is no surprise the city of dreaming spires is so appealing. With an array of offerings from colleges to cuisine to culture, there is something for everyone here.


The colleges of Oxford University are self-governing academic communities that can trace their history to the 1200s, with the university established in 1096. There are over 30 undergraduate colleges. The most famous are among the grandest of the university. King Henry VIII founded Christ Church in 1546. The college is among the most striking of Oxford’s educational offerings. The chapel serves as Oxford’s cathedral in addition to functioning as a place of worship for the college. Don’t miss Christ Church college, with its expansive quadrangles (Tom Quad and Peckwater Quad); the college is worth seeing on any Oxford excursion.

Among the oldest establishments in Oxford, Merton College can trace its establishment to 1264, with the door to its dining hall older than the Aztecs. The college is most famous as the alumni of Sir Winston Churchill’s father, Randolph. The college is among the most academic, regularly achieving the highest proportion of 1st class degrees, as well as the oldest. The oldest university library in the world located within the college and Mob Quadrangle is among the most ancient enclosed spaces in the world. The college also boasts commanding views of Christ Church Meadow and beyond.

There are countless other colleges of course, and Worcester also offers verdant vistas. The college, just off the tourist trail near the train station, is a secluded spot compared to the central colleges. Just watch out for the Worcester wisteria.

Trinity too might take your fancy, if sweeping, sun-kissed lawns appeal to you. Truly, Oxford is a treasure trove.

All of Oxford’s colleges have their own offerings, with a range of colleges from the 13th to the 20th centuries. Each of these has its voice and student body and is worth seeing for the casual visitor.

Films and Books

Oxford has also played host to numerous classic British films, including Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. The Great Gatsby is also allegedly based on Oxford University’s Trinity College. Every few weeks you might catch yourself accidentally walking into a film set that’s working on big hits like the latest Marvel blockbuster.

For most newcomers, Oxford is also world-famous as the setting of Inspector Morse and the inspiration for similar such series as Endeavour. No visit to Oxford would be complete without taking in all these areas.

Harry Potter

Next to the rich, scholarly history and stunning architecture, Harry Potter is one of the top reasons for tourists to choose Oxford as their vacation destination. If your Hogwarts acceptance letter got lost in the mail, fear not, you can still enter its magical world within the walls of Oxford.

The colleges of Oxford University are similar to the houses of Hogwarts, only there’s more than just four. Each has its own personality, history, attractions, and rivalries. Another similarity is Sub Fusc, the traditional academic dress consisting of a black gown worn with a white shirt and bowties for men or a black ribbon for women. In the spring and early summer you’ll find the High Street filled with students dressed in sub fusc for their exams, making the whole town feel like a scene out of Harry Potter.

If you only visit one college, I recommend Christ Church—home to the famous dining hall that served as inspiration for the film set replica. On your way you’ll see the instantly recognizable Hall Staircase that was used for filming and makes for an excellent photo opportunity. On your way through the college’s visitor route you’ll have a chance to see the stunning cloisters that serve as the Hogwarts’ hallways.

Oxford’s Bodleian Library has two Harry Potter filming locations. First is the Divinity School which doubles as the Hogwarts Infirmary in the first film, to name one of the many scenes set here. The Divinity School can be seen for only £1, making it the cheapest Muggle destination. If you’re interested in seeing the restricted section that Harry visits with his Cloak of Invisibility, you’ll need a guided 30-minute tour of the Bodleian Library where you’ll see Duke Humphrey’s Library for only £6

Alice in Wonderland

Have a peek through the looking glass during your visit to Christ Church College, which is also famous for mathematician Charles Dodgson, who is better known as Lewis Carroll. His story begins here as a student, where he spent many years with the college, later becoming a lecturer. The inspiration for Alice in Wonderland came from the one of the college Dean’s daughters, Alice Liddell, with whom he formed a fast friendship. Lewis Carroll is said to have thought of the idea while having a picnic with her at the river in Christ Church Meadow.

Before you rush off to have a riverside meal and discover a story of your own, visit the many gardens to be found in and around the walls of Christ Church. Not all of them are public but it’s worth poking your nose through one of the intricate iron gates to get a better look. The films were not shot in Oxford but you can still indulge in the literary legacy that can be found here. For something to take home with you, visit the Alice Shop on St. Aldates located next to the college and meadow.


Oxford has an enviable shopping experience, with both independent shops and chain stores represented. Westgate ensures significant chains exist in Oxford.

Also, the Covered Market plays host to a range of independent shops and restaurants, adding to the authentic Oxford experience.

A combination of high street names and independent shops add to the Oxford appeal, with a diverse shopping experience sure to be had by all.

For those of you who venture to North Oxford, with the appeal of Port Meadow and beyond, Brew on North Parade is a plentiful place for respite.

However, wherever you are visiting in Oxford, Barefoot and Jericho Coffee Traders, as well as Missing Bean, are all worth a visit. All are unique to Oxford and wholly part of the experience of living there.

For those with more cultural curiosities, the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers museums are the right places to start. The Ashmolean offers an array of artwork, while the Pitt Rivers focuses on the more turbulent times in British, and world history. Both of these museums offer an insight into the cultural history of Oxford and the world. No visit to Oxford would be complete without a visit to these world-class institutions.

Oxford also boasts the world-famous Bodleian Library, with the historic Divinity Schools and other such ancient reading rooms at its heart. All Souls College, with an entry exam reputed to be the hardest in the world, sits inconspicuously opposite the old library.

Food and Restaurants

For those with more enormous appetites, Oxford does not disappoint when it comes to food. Wherever you are from in the world, the city of Oxford can cater to your tastes.

In central Oxford, Edamame and Quod offer culinary voyages of exploration. Edamame’s menu will conciliate culinary curiosities when it comes to noodle or rice dishes.

If you’re looking for a hearty meal, Gee’s (located in North Oxford) and Quod will not disappoint. Old Parsonage and Pierre Victoire both combine a classy atmosphere and a sophisticated menu.

Within Oxford’s historic covered market in the centre of the city, Sasi’s Thai offers quick and convenient food for the visitor.

For those booking in advance, Oli’s Thai is worth a visit. It pays to book ahead of time, but this gem is worth the wait.

Elle Styler / Maxim Parr-Reid / Chris Yang


No trip would be complete without a coffee shop. Oxford offers abundant opportunities when it comes to coffee. Wherever you are in the city, a coffee shop is never far away.

The delights of Colombia Coffee Roasters and Jericho Coffee Traders excite. Both are situated centrally and scintillate the senses with their array of offerings. With freshly ground coffee for those fresh of the coach, each has its charm.

Nestled near the historic Radcliffe Camera, Missing Bean and Turl Street Kitchen offer a welcome respite from whatever walking tour you choose to pursue. All of these establishments allow for plenty of people watching and a chance to reflect on the experience.


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