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Oxford Travel Tips

Posted: 2009-06-19

Oxford Travel Tips

Oxford is one of my favourite historic cities in the UK. I visit often (it helps that I live nearby!) and always enjoy myself. I thought it might be useful to others to share my top tips for the best places to visit and things to do in Oxford.

University Church of St Mary the Virgin - the best place to get an overview (literally) of the city of dreaming spires is to climb the tower of St Mary's. Its quite inexpensive, and the view is superb. History is everywhere you look in St Mary the Virgin; in the nave look for the pillar with a notch cut out of its side. This was cut to support a platform put in place for the trial of the Bishops Latimer and Ridley during the religous turmoil of the Reformation. The trial itself was held in the choir, from whence the unfortunate bishops were taken to be burnt at the stake. A cross set into the pavement on Broad Street marks the spot where the execution occurred.

Carfax Tower - an Oxford landmark, the Tower is the only remnant of a 13th century church. Climb the 74 feet to the top of the tower for excellent views.

St Edmund's Hall - an undiscovered gem, tucked away on Queen's Lane, north of High Street. St Edmunds is one of the smallest colleges, but the hall is a medieval delight.

Bear Inn - tucked away at the corner of Alfred Street and Blue Boar Street, in the maze of alleys near Christs Church, is this miniscule Oxford treasure. The Bear Inn dates to 1242, but its major claim to fame is the curious collection of over 4500 necktie tips, on display behind the bar. The collection began in the 1950s, when customers, some famous, exchanged the tip of a necktie for a pint of beer. This could only happen in England!

Saxon Tower of St Michael - the crowds rushing along busy Cornmarket almost obscure this delightful historic building, which dates to the 11th century, and may be Oxford's oldest building.

Sheldonian Theatre, Broad Street - built by Sir Christopher Wren, then a young professor of Astronomy at the University. Wren's building has a superbly decorated ceiling, and you can climb to the cupola level for superb views.

Punting - One of the joys of visiting Oxford is taking a punting expedition along the Cherwell, as the Thames is known during its passage through the city. Everyone should try punting at least once! Punts can be hired at Magdalen Bridge at the end of High Street, and at Bardwell Road.

All of the old colleges are worth viewing. The college chapels are among the best examples of period architecture. My favourites are New College Chapel and Worcester College Chapel.

Note that colleges are open erratically due to the needs of students and faculty, but you may be able to access colleges that are closed to normal visitors by taking one of the excellent walking tours that can be booked through the Tourist Information Centre at 15-16 Broad Street. These walking tours are run by registered guides from the Oxford Guild of Guides, and are probably the best way to get an introduction to the city. They frequently can arrange behind-the-scenes access to the colleges and will give you an insight into the wonderful and eccentric history of Oxford.

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Oxford Travel Guide


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