Oxford – a city of dreaming spires
Oxford today is not so much a city, as a city-sized work of art.
Long-known for its world-class university, its gothic pinnacles have been reaching for the skies since the 11th Century. Intrigue oozes from the cobbled streets and winding alleyways which lead students, locals and visitors alike past some of Great Britain’s most renowned churches, museums, pubs, shops and restaurants.
Perhaps you’ll start by heading to Christ Church College? While just one of 38 colleges that make up the university, this is without question its grandest building. Start by heading through the gateway beneath Christopher Wren’s Tom Tower into the Great Quadrangle – or Tom Quad, as the students call it. Take a moment to admire the fountain with its statue of Mercury, before popping your head into the Great Hall, the Old Library and of course, Christ Church Cathedral.
If you’ve only got a day to get around campus, why not hire one of Oxford’s many professional guides? While it’s easy to experience the magic on your own, these professionals know all the little nooks and crannies that will help you paint a far richer picture.
If walking’s not your thing, there are plenty of other ways to absorb the sights, sounds and culture of Oxford – perhaps you’d prefer to try punting on the Isis (or “taking a boat down the Thames”, as non-locals would say). This is the ideal way to capture views of the Folly Bridge and Christ Church Meadow – just keep an eye out for fast-moving rowing teams.
Maybe you’d prefer to get around by bus – in which case, you’ll find plenty of hop on, hop off open-top tours.
You’ll never need to worry about getting thirsty in Oxford. Being a nearly thousand-year-old student town, you’ll find the streets well-stocked with pubs of every variety, with atmospheres ranging from comfy Tudor to working-class Victorian to quirky modern boho. And that’s not forgetting the food. Unlike modern cities, Oxford stays trues to its roots, preferring to perfect the art of Great British cuisine rather than jumping on the latest trend. For that reason, you’ll find restaurants serving sumptuous shepherd’s pies, mouth-watering seafood and great big chunks of roast beef – all among some of the best in the country.
The streets of Oxford are the city’s own living museum, but beyond these well-trodden paths you’ll be spoiled for cultural choice. As well as the thousand-year-old Oxford Castle, you can explore the collections in the University Museum, the Pitt Rivers Museum, the History of Science Museum (containing Einstein’s blackboard from his teaching days at Oxford), Modern Art Oxford, the Museum of Oxford, Oxford Bus Museum, The Story Museum… and of course, the Ashmolean.
Prefer to be out and about in the fresh air? Stop by Britain’s oldest Botanic garden to discover nearly 6,000 different types of plant, and see why this beautiful lung in the middle of Oxford has inspired so many writers, from Lewis Carroll to Philip Pullman.
Oxford is a city for the dreamers and imaginers, a place to discover history and ideas that have shaped our modern world. Embrace everything this ancient college town has to offer by booking your stay in Best Western’s Lintern Lodge Hotel. This delightfully authentic English row of red-fired bricks and stucco plays its part in Oxford’s architectural legacy, while on the inside you’ll find pleasingly modern rooms including the Spires restaurant.
Channel Hogwarts at Bodleian Library
The origins of the Bodleian Library date to a time when books were still written by hand. Today, the Bodleian is housed across five buildings – looking much more like a castle than a library – and many of these manuscripts are still part of its collection (now 12-million items strong).
Visiting the library is not as easy as you might imagine, as new readers are required to first recite an oath promising never to remove, mark or deface any of the contents of the library, and especially not to set fire to them. But once inside, a treasure trove of the world’s rarest and most extraordinary knowledge unfurls before you, housed beneath some of the grandest oak and stone ever to be sculpted by human hands.
While it may seem rather lazy drawing comparisons to Hogwarts, there really is no better alternative. Everything from the hand-carved, pitched ceilings, to the framed murals of old Oxford Dons on the walls smacks of traditions you might have thought only existed in fairy tales.
While pacing the corridors or sitting at the tables, let your mind imagine the many kings, prime ministers, famous authors and leading academics who have strolled those halls before you.
Add the Bridge of Sighs to your Insta feed
When Thomas Graham Jackson was asked to find a way to connect the old and new quadrangles of Hertford College, he could have come up with anything. What he devised has fascinated visitors to Oxford for over a hundred years.
Completed in 1914, most people assume the bridge is so called because of a resemblance to its counterpart in Venice. But the parallels were never intended (and, ironically, the bridge in Oxford bears a much closer resemblance to the Rialto Bridge in the same city). Its true name is Hertford Bridge though, thankfully, the nickname that became popular amongst students stuck.
While making your way around the ancient streets on one of Oxford’s sharable bicycles, be sure to divert down New College Lane, stopping for the mandatory Instagram snap along the way. Depending on the time of day, you may just be able to find your way to its interior via the labyrinthine Hertford College.
This bridge is of course just one small part of a campus full of intrigue. Once you’ve taken in the Bridge of Sighs from all angles, you’ll find yourself within walking distance of the Radcliff Camera, All Souls College, Wadham College and Trinity College.
Stand in awe of Blenheim Palace
Words hardly do justice to the majesty of this exquisite building and its enormous grounds. Blenheim Palace simply demands to be visited, and at just 30 minutes’ drive from Oxford, it ought to feature on your list.
It’s no wonder the spectacular building has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Since 1722, it’s played home to well-heeled Dukes and Duchesses, Lords and Ladies including, most notably, Sir Winston Churchill.
Murals, frescoes, gilded corridors and a priceless collection of treasures await you inside. The State Rooms house the famous Marlborough Tapestries, while the Long Library stores more than 10,000 books, many dating from centuries ago and of great historical significance.
But it’s in the blissful grounds where Blenheim Palace truly comes to life. These gardens stretch to the horizon in all directions, interrupted only by bronze and marble statues, ancient oaks and the Grand Bridge which spans the Great Lake with its cascade.
Don’t expect to ‘pop by’ – Blenheim Palace is an entire day’s worth of exploring in itself. But it’s well worth your time.
Ready to visit Oxford? Start planning your adventure today with one of our Best Western Oxford hotels.
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