The essential starting point to discover the fascinating history of the City and University
Free time in Oxford: Places To Visit
For many first-time visitors, Oxford means the university. The atmospheric, golden-stone colleges, clustered around medieval streets is charming. Yet each Oxford college when seen inside has its own special character, from the grandeur of Christ Church and Magdalen to the cosy intimacy of Corpus Christi. Most colleges are open to visitors at varying hours and charges. However, Oxford is not just the university. If you have some free time in Oxford, here are seven suggested places to visit:
Christ Church College
If you can only visit one college, choose Christ Church, or “the House”, as it is known. It is more like a country house than an educational establishment, with the porters (or “bulldogs”) still sporting bowler hats. Scenes from Brideshead Revisited and Harry Potter were filmed here, and it is also where Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, taught mathematics. Its chapel is the city’s cathedral, which opens to residents and visitors for evensong at 6pm every evening. Admission charges vary, though the chapel is free for visitors to evensong.
A cobbled square at the heart of the cjty, Radcliffe Square is formed by the medieval University Church of St Mary the Virgin, the 15th-century Bodleian Library and the Palladian-style Radcliffe Camera. You can visit the ground floor of the Bodleian (known as the Divinity School), with its intricate rib vaulting and catch the magnificent view of Oxford’s spires from St Mary’s tower.
Just off the High Street, down Rose Lane is Britain’s oldest botanic garden. A haven of stone-walled peace in the heart of the busy city centre. The emphasis in the formal gardens is on traditional herbal remedies and their use in modern medicine, while the heated greenhouses are a refuge on cooler days.
The best way to see Oxford is on foot. If you don’t have much time to find your own way round, join one of the many guided tours. Several organisations offer this service, from professional outfits to student guides who will also give you an insight into university life. Oxbridge Tours is a social enterprise run by students with its guides all Oxford undergraduates or postgraduates. Daily tours depart from outside Balliol College on Broad Street. Oxford Official Guided Walking Tours include an Inspector Morse tour.
Hire a punt from one of the three punt stations on the Rivers Thames (or Isis) and Cherwell, and float serenely past the college gardens and through the university meadows to the countryside beyond. If you don’t know how to punt then hire a professional, or you may waste some of your time going round in circles and bumping into other punters.
Holywell Music Room
Said to be the oldest custom-built concert hall in Europe, this music room in Holywell Street has been hosting recitals for more than two hundred and fifty years. The acoustics are excellent for chamber music, with events throughout the year performed by individuals and ensembles from around the world. Particularly delightful are the Oxford Coffee Concerts held at 11.15am every Sunday.
Oxford’s one thousand year old castle and former prison were recently redeveloped to create one of the city’s busiest and liveliest quarters. Part of the old prison was transformed into the Malmaison Hotel and the remainder, plus the original castle, has reopened as a museum telling the story of the castle from 1071 until 1996, when the prison closed. Tours guided by “characters” from the prison’s history dressed in period costume entertain both adults and children.