Oxford the historic university town
The Clarendon Building

9 Places to Visit Oxford Historic University Town

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Oxford is one of the most famous cities in England, with the oldest university in the English speaking world.

So spending time in Oxford historic university town offers you an insight into 800 years of university life.

Finding your way around with TravelKiwis Self-Guided City Walk will have you wandering past beautiful old architecture.

You can also climb a variety of medieval towers for views of Oxford.

And when you need a break, Oxford has quaint tea shops or pubs to enjoy.

With London only an hour away by train, you can easily visit these 9 highlights of Oxford Historic University town within a day.

If you love what you see, you can also plan to visit the university city of Cambridge.

Download your Oxford Self-Guided City Walk to plan your day in Oxford.

Oxford Historic University Town

Oxford dates back to the Saxon period, a period between the end of Roman Britain to the Norman Conquest of 1066.

The town at this time held a significant location for its position as a junction of two rivers, the Thames and the Cherwell.

But Oxford was also the oldest university in the English speaking world with teaching dating back as far as 1096.

How many colleges are there in Oxford?

There are 38 colleges in Oxford compared to the 31 colleges of Cambridge.

So, it would be fair to say, the town is secondary to the university for centuries.

Today the university is still the dominant factor in Oxford city of 160,000 people, along with the IT sector which is booming as well.


Places to Visit in Oxford Historic University Town

Having a plan of what to see when you arrive in Oxford will give you more time to explore the best places in Oxford.

Oxford is easily explored on foot and with towers to climb, your day won’t be boring.

So let’s get started …

1. Admire Tom Tower

A tower with a lawn in front
Tom Tower from Tom Courtyard in Christ Church

To find Tom Tower (named for its bell, the 7 ton Great Tom) is within Toms Court of  Christ Church college.

Tom Tower was constructed 1681-82 and designed by Christopher Wren, who also designed St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

However, the 45.75 meters high tower is not accessible to the public.

As Oxford’s loudest bell it rings 101 times at 9:05 pm (which used to be the curfew signal for university students) one ring for each of the original 101 students of Christ Church college.

And, another interesting fact, is ‘Oxford’ time. Oxford is five minutes behind GMT, so dinner at 7.15 pm actually starts at 7.20 pm.


2. Visit Christ Church College and Cathedral

Man and woman in front of an old stone building and gardens
Jess and Dan at Christ Church gardens

Christ Church Cathedral (constructed between 1160–1200 ) and Christ Church College (founded around 1546) are probably the two most notable buildings to visit in Oxford.

What you may not know, is how the college acquired its name.

The college was originally known as Cardinal College, named after its founder Cardinal Wolsey. But when Wolsey refused to support Henry VIII request to remarry, the college was renamed to King Henry VIII College.

When Henry VIII made the decision to split from the Church of Rome to create the Church of England, the college was renamed to Christ College.

The college is also popular as a setting for many films.

The series Brideshead Revisited used the college for parts of its production. But it is now famous for the filming of the Harry Potter series. The Great Hall was replicated as the grand dining hall at Hogwarts school.

To visit the college, there is an entrance fee. And to avoid the long queue, it’s best to buy your tickets online.

Three long tables with lights
The Great Hall of Christ College

 Did they know we were coming?

Two men in front of a sign
The McKenna men outside the McKenna Room


3. Climb the Tower of St Mary’s Church

Church with lawn in front
St Mary’s Church, Oxford University England

There has been a church on this site for a thousand years, standing in the very center of the ancient walled city of Oxford.

The 13th-century tower and its 127 steps are open to the public from 9.30 am and provide good views across the town.

It is best to visit on a sunny morning to see the Radcliffe Camera from the and the town below bathed in sunlight.


4. What’s inside Radcliffe Camera

A round stone building
Radcliffe Camera

Camera means “room” in Latin, and within this building is the Radcliffe Science Library.

This impressive building dates back to 1737–49 and is one of the most photographed buildings in Oxford. It’s easy to see why.

However, access to the Radcliffe Camera is only possible by taking a guided tour.

The tour also includes the Divinity School, Convocation House, Duke Humfrey’s Library, and the Upper Reading Room.


5. View Bodleian Library

Four storey stone building
Bodleian Library

The library is the main research library for Oxford University and is the second-largest library in Britain with over 12million items.

What you may not know, is it’s one of the oldest libraries in Europe, opened in 1602.

Access to the library is only possible by completing and signing a formal declaration which says no books may leave the premises, no books may be marked, and no flames may be lit in the building.


6. Find the Bridge of Sighs

A bridge between two buildings
Bridge of Sighs, Oxford University England

Actually named Hertford Bridge, it joins two parts of Hertford College over New College Lane.

A relatively new bridge built-in 1914, it is said to be a copy of the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. Others say it appears to more closely resemble the Rialto Bridge in Venice.

A bridge between two buildings over a river
Bridge of Sighs, Venice
An arch covered bridge over a river
Rialto Bridge, Venice


7. Reflect at Martyrs’ Memorial


Oxford the historic university town
Martyrs’ Memorial

We found the Martyrs’ Memorial stone to be a very somber place.

This monument commemorates the Oxford Martyrs who were tried for heresy in 1539-1681 and burnt at the stake.

A list of names on a plaque
List of Martyrs in St Marys Church

8. Climb St Michael at the North Gate

A stone tower
St Michael at the Northgate

St Michael’s tower is the oldest building in Oxford and was part of the city wall dating back to 1040.

You can access the tower for great views of the city.

9. Get Views from Carfax Tower

A church square tower with a clock
Carfax Tower

St Martin’s Tower, popularly called “Carfax Tower” is all that remains of the 12th-century St Martin’s Church. It is located at the crossroad of four major roads where Carfax Tower is the symbolic center of Oxford.

And if you love views and are not scared of heights, take time to climb this 23m (74 feet) tall tower for great views of the city.

At this height, no other building in Oxford can be taller.

Download your Oxford Self-Guided City Walk to plan your day in Oxford.

More  Places to Visit in Oxford Historic University Town

If you decide to stay longer in Oxford, then there are more places to explore.

University of Oxford Botanic Garden is the oldest botanic gardens in Great Britain.  Dating back to 1621, it also has one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world.

Clarendon Building was built for the Oxford University Press between 1711 and 1715. It is an early 18th-century neoclassical building.

Sheldonian Theatre is a prestigious building and the official ceremonial hall of the University of Oxford. It was built between 1664 to 1669.

Oxford Town Hall built in 1897 has had a variety of uses. It has doubled as a police station, a hospital in WWI, and frequently used as a film location.

The Kings Arms on the corner of Parks Road and Holywell Street is a good spot for a drink and English pub food.

A square 3 storey building on a corner
Kings Arms Oxford

Spend the Day in Oxford

So, next time you are at a loss for a day’s outing, consider avisit to see the many beautiful aspects of Oxford Historic University Town.

Oxford makes a great day trip from London, especially if you have a love of history and old buildings.

You can find quaint tea shops to enjoy or take a break in a centuries-old pub.

And to help you plan and to make the most of your day in Oxford Historic University Town, we have put together a self-guided city walk you can download here.

Spending time in Oxford is another way to enjoy more of England.




  1. Terry&Maura says:

    Thanks Annie, Oxford is a very pretty place with so much history – certainly worth your time :-). Cheers Terry & Maura

  2. Clem says:

    When I was there, I saw the Radcliffe camera, the Bodlean library and the botanical gardens.

    • TravelKiwis says:

      Aren’t those old English towns incredible, the architecture is stunning

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