The city of Oxford, situated about 50 miles west of England’s capital city, London, is known to be the country’s oldest university city. Oxford is located on the river Thames, in the county of Oxfordshire. Along with Cambridge, it represents Great Britain’s ‘elite’ academic establishment, and its university is perhaps the dominating feature of the entire place. This is mainly because the city is largely made up of various university college buildings, meaning that the architecture within the city is largely associated with the university.
Oxford dates back to the time of the Saxons. When it was first occupied, it was known as ‘Oxanforda’ and comprised of the foundations of St Frideswide’s nunnery from the 8th century. Oxford was first mentioned in written records in the year 912, and shortly after was recognised across the country as an important military frontier between the Kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex. The world-renowned university was founded in the 12th century, making it the oldest English-speaking university in the world.
The city is relatively easy to get around. The centre is very compact, and easily walkable, while many areas have been conveniently pedestrianised. Generally speaking, Oxford is more than ideal for pedestrians, with its narrow streets, signposts and beautiful buildings. Getting around by bicycle is very common in the city centre, and is definitely the preferred form of transport. Traffic is minimal, cycle paths are good and most trains into and out of Oxford permit bicycles. It is advised that you avoid driving in the centre of Oxford, due to one way systems, restrictions and high parking costs.
Visitors have the opportunity to immerse themselves in tradition and endeavour, from the many museums open to the public in Oxford to the libraries and colleges scattered around the city. Bodleian library is the main library of the university and, opened in 1602, classifies as one of the oldest libraries in Europe. As the second largest library in Britain, the numerous branches throughout the town are astonishing. If you are a lover of books, you can spend hours just perusing the thousands of books that are held in the building.
For art enthusiasts, the great Ashmolean Museum promises a thoroughly enjoyable experience. As the oldest public museum in the country, opened in 1683, this vast and impressive establishment displays a variety of ancient art from Egypt, the Far East, Ancient Greece and Rome. The Ashmolean houses some of the finest Western and Eastern art in existence today.
For visitors interested in and eager to learn about Oxford University, the Christ Church and Magdalen colleges are of massive value. The Christ Church is an early modern college, founded in 1525 by Cardinal Wolsey. It is so popular due to its size, architecture and association with Brideshead Revisited, Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter. The Magdalen College, founded in 1458, is much loved for its high tower. The college alumni include Seamus Heaney, CS Lewis and Oscar Wilde.
Also enjoyable is the Sheldonian Theatre. Although it has been voted the most uncomfortable theatre in England, it promises a variety of excellent professional and amateur music concerts every night.
Food and Drink
For food and drink, visitors are rather spoilt for choice. For a tasty meal, the Alpha Bar is recommended. It’s a healthy option, serving organic, fair-trade food at a more than reasonable price. Georgina’s is a relaxed and pleasant café on the upper floor of the covered market. It serves delicious sandwiches and wraps in large portions, though the prices are a little steep. The Turf Tavern is a great little pub to enjoy a cold beer after a long day of seeing the city. It’s a well-hidden, traditional pub, known as the best in the city. It has a great range of beers and a lovely beer garden for the summer.