Oxford is one of the most prestigious university towns in the world, started 1249, with its ‘dreaming spires’ mixes with commerce in this city, with lots to see and do and is always busy ! Tour buses and guides ply the streets with the tourists so best to go out of season to avoid the crowds.
Oxford has two shopping centers( and cafes, theatres and cinemas, sports facilities and clubs are all to be found. Live music of most types, often in historic settings. But the history is why most people come, to wander around the college quads, although the oldest buildings are those of the city itself, and we have to mention the effect of the car industry on the town.
Old buildings reflect every English architectural period since the Saxons, including the mid-18th century Radcliffe Camera, the hub of the city. You can get into most of the colleges, mostly in the afternoon, or take a guided walking tour, note that admission fees now apply to some colleges. The colleges have built new buildings and surprisingly they tend to blend in with the older styles extremely well, even new colleges such as St Catherine’s and Wolfson have achieved this.
Oxford conjures up images of students riding their bicycles furiously to their next lecture, elegant university buildings and the terribly English pastime of spending a leisurely afternoon punting on the Thames. However, there is more to Oxford than the university, from museums to peaceful parks, to its lively social life.
The origins of the city of Oxford are lost in the mists of time. The remains of a priory were discovered close to the present day site of Christ Church Cathedral. Most of the colleges are open to the public, All Souls founded in 1437, Balliol founded in the 13th century, Christ Church which was founded by Cardinal Wolsey. Other places to see in Oxford are the Ashmolean Museum with its collection of oriental treasures, the Bodleian library one of the oldest and most famous in the world with an unrivalled collection of rare manuscripts and books, the Museum of the History of Science in the original Ashmolean buildings, the Museum of Modern Art – 20th century works of art, Sheldonian Theatre with its views over the city from the Cupola – the first building to be designed by Christopher Wren, and the Radcliffe Camera a classical domed building.
The Oxford Castle was built in 1071, but all that remains of the original castle is the Castle Mound, or Motte, with a 13th century well chamber. You get a great view form the top. Outside you can stil see St Georgešs Tower, built in 1074. Queen Matilda escaped from here across the frozen Thames in 1142, dressed only in a white nightdress so she would not be noticed. She was the cousin of Stephen, who was besieging the castle after taking Henry I’s throne. The tower became part of St George’s Chapel and the crypt is still there.
In the 13th century the castle became a prison and by 1611 was run by Christ Church College. It was destroyed after teh English Civil war, but the prison buildings were kept and extened in the 18th century, and by the 19th century the prison became Her Majestys Prison Oxford until it closed in 1996. Purchaed by the local council, it was popular with film and TV programme makers, Spy Game, Bad Girls, and Lucky Break were filmed here.
Today the whole area has been developed using the prison buildings, with a hotel, gallery and restaurants. It’s well worth a visit and there are organised daily castle tours that will take you into the areas of the prison that have been preserved, details on their website. The site is very popular with ghost-hunters.
Oxford Covered Market was built in the 18th century to stop people trading in the streets and is right in the centre of Oxford. Today it continues to have a wide range of small, mostly independent, shops selling everything from vegetables to home furnishings, as well as places to eat. A good place to pick up quality produce.
Oxford Botanic Garden And Arboretum
You can take a boat on the river, even a punt if you want to try your hand!