While planning my trip to London in the midst of my semester abroad, I thought about adding on a day trip so I could see more of England. I considered a relaxing visit to Bath or a day in Cambridge, but I settled on Oxford, both because it’s one of the most well-known universities in the world, and because I’m a huge Harry Potter nerd who just had to see the more obscure movie sites firsthand.
If you’re visiting London, I highly encourage you to plan a day trip (or two!) to nearby cities. The English countryside is unparalleled in its beauty, and you’ll be able to discover all sorts of new things about the English culture that you might not get to see if you only stay in London.
How to Get to Oxford
I was shocked at how easy it was to get from London to Oxford. There are a number of different bus and train systems that will take you to Oxford, but I used the Oxford Tube. With coaches coming every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day, it will fit perfectly to your schedule. You can buy your tickets online or from the bus driver, and a round-trip ticket costs only 14£.
What to Eat in Oxford
There are plenty of mom and pop restaurants in Oxford, but if you’re looking for inexpensive, delicious food then a visit to the covered market is a must. The covered market is a collection of small stores and cafes, and I found the most amazing meat pie shop while I was there called the Pieminister. My venison pie made for a delightful lunch, and I ate in the Christ Church meadow while watching the cattle grazing… talk about a picturesque English afternoon.
What to Do in Oxford
Oxford is one of the most beautiful towns, and I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time I was there. Although it’s a smaller college town, you’ll still want to stop by the tourist center to pick up a free map. I’d also recommend booking a tour of the Bodleian Library. A standard tour costs only 7£ and lasts about an hour (but go directly to the library to book for a specific tour because they fill up fast).
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even look into what the Bodleian Library tour would cover. All I knew was 1) it’s an old library and 2) I love books. Unfortunately, you can’t take photos inside the library because it’s still used by students, but Duke Humphrey’s reading room alone should be your number one reason for wanting to visit (it inspired the Hogwarts library in Harry Potter).
After touring the library, I started my trip around to all of the colleges. Unlike your typical American university where students from different colleges share various buildings, students at Oxford live and study in the same college building or quad.
Visitors are able to go into the quads of each college and take a peek into the different college chapels and living areas. However, not all colleges are open every day and others have a small fee for visiting (anywhere from 1 to 5£ depending on the college’s size).
My favorite college to visit was Christ Church. If you’ve ever googled “Oxford University,” you’ve probably seen pictures of Christ Church College. One of the oldest colleges of Oxford (originally founded under Cardinal Wosely in 1524), Christ Church is also the most beautiful college. The building itself is stunning, and the park area surrounding it is a great place to have a picnic and enjoy the English sunshine.
For all of you Harry Potter fans out there, the Great Hall was replicated in film studios to be used as the Hogwarts dining hall, and many scenes from the first Harry Potter film were shot in the hallways of Christ Church College.
Oxford has many boutiques and museums to visit as well, and I enjoyed my brief visit to the Museum of Natural History. By the time I got there, I only had one hour until closing, so I wasn’t able to explore it as much as I would have liked. Oxford is also home to the Ashmolean Museum, the oldest museum in the UK, which is also worth a long visit.
The Absolute Must-Sees in Oxford
I just threw a lot of information at you, I know. If you find yourself visiting Oxford with only a handful of hours to spare, here are the spots you absolutely have to visit:
- The Bodleian Library (even if it’s just to stare at the outside)
- Christ Church College and meadow
- The Ashmolean Museum
- The Radcliffe Camera
- The Bridge of Sighs
Once you’ve checked off each item on this woefully short list (you really do need a good few days to fully appreciate Oxford), go out and eat a good meal or grab a pint at one of the local pubs. After all, you are on vacation.