Getting to Know Oxford
The origins of Oxford date back to the Saxon Period. The University of Oxford was founded in the late 12th century; it was to be the first university in England and the oldest in the wider English-speaking world.
In February 1355, tension between the academics and local people grew, as the town vs. gown conflicts peaked in the St Scholastica Day Riot. What started out as a casual pub brawl ended in around 90 deaths of both scholars and townsfolk.
The next event worth knowing took place during the English Civil War, when Oxford temporarily served as the country’s capital and King Charles, who had fled from London, held court here from 1642.
Some 260 years later, William Morris started producing his famous tiny green cars in the city’s factories and Oxford proved itself to be invaluable as an industrial city too.
Note: This is not the same William Morris who founded the Kelmscott Press.
Oxford is steeped in history and culture. Some lesser known facts are kept hidden away in the depths of the castle dungeons; below are a few of the more interesting and fun ones that could be dug up...
Great Tom, the famous bell in Christ Church Cathedral, strikes 101 times at 9:05pm each evening. This dates back to when the University of Oxford was founded and had 101 students, and it rang to remind each of them that the gates were about to be locked.
In 1556, three men named Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were burnt at the stake for heresy. A memorial commemorates the event in St Giles however the burning took place on what is currently Broad Street.
The John Radcliffe Hospital is world renowned for its innovative treatments and research. A lesser known fact is that after Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, it was then developed by three Oxford researchers during the early years of the Second World War.
The Headington Shark is one of the most well-known residents of Headington. Bill Heine commissioned it in 1986, and still lives in the house with a headless shark protruding out of his roof. The Council have tried unsuccessfully to have it removed and even offered to re-home it!
Oxford has more published writers per square mile than any other city in the world. Among the most famous are C. S. Lewis, who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis Carroll author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, J. R. R. Tolkien who famously wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and P. D. James, who wrote The Children of Men.
Oxford is also well-known for its famous detective, Morse. Colin Dexter did not reveal the detective's first name, Endeavour, until the 12th novel, keeping fans guessing for over three years.
Every member of the world famous Bodleian Library must swear an oath not to light a fire within its walls!
Scenes from Hollywood blockbuster movies have been filmed in Oxford, including: The Golden Compass, Harry Potter and the upcoming Transformers: The Last Knight
Sights and Places of Interest
University Church of St Mary the Virgin
The largest of Oxford’s parish churches. St, Mary’s tower has 124 steps available for the public to climb and is a prominent feature of the Oxford skyline. The 13th century landmark is situated just off the High Street, where the intricate baroque porch designed by Nicholas Stone meets the street. This beautiful towering architecture cannot be missed.
The church is open daily, from 9am - 5pm (6am - 6pm in July & August), on Sundays the Tower opens at 12:15pm (October - May); 11:15am (June - September).
Admission to the church is free, while tickets to climb the tower are £3 for students.
Largely considered to mark the centre of the city, Carfax Tower is located at the junction between Cornmarket Street, St Aldate’s, Queen Street and the High Street. Carfax is derived from the French word meaning crossroads. The tower is all that remains from the 12th/13th century church that was demolished and moved to the High Street. For spectacular views it is possible to climb to the top and look across the Oxford skyline.
The tower is open daily, from 10am to 5.30pm (4.30pm in October) from April to October, and 10am to 3pm (4pm in March) from November to March.
Admission for students is £2.20.
Oxford Castle Quarter
The castle was initially developed back in 1071 for William the Conqueror but was later demolished during the English Civil war. The prison buildings were later restored and Her Majesty’s Prison Oxford was established in 1878. The prison was officially closed in 1996, although guided tours are available around the historic building and visitors can also climb the Norman Castle Mound for a panoramic view of Oxford. The rest of the buildings have been redeveloped as a complex of modern restaurants, as well as the Malmaison Hotel, which is themed on the old prison and is a perfect way to end your visit.
As one of the largest Oxford colleges with the Cathedral Church for the Diocese of Oxford, Christ Church is one of the most visited places in the city. Founded by Cardinal Wolsey in 1525, the buildings were originally named Cardinal College, but in 1546 they were renamed as Christ Church by King Henry VIII. Known for its many famous alumni, as well as being filmed for scenes, most notably The Great Hall in the Harry Potter films. This is also where Lewis Carroll met Alice Liddell, the daughter of a Dean at Christ Church and his inspiration for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The Cathedral and Gallery are not to be missed.
Open all year round except Christmas Day.
Ticket prices vary throughout the year, but students receive a discount with valid ID. The Hall is often closed between 11:40am and 2:30pm.
One of the most recognisable buildings in Oxford, the Radcliffe Camera was built in 1737-1749. It was originally built to house the Radcliffe Science Library; camera meaning room in Latin. Designed by James Gibbs, the circular, English Palladian styled building creates an iconic landmark. Today, the Camera serves as the main reading room for the University and is open to the public as part of a tour of the Bodleian Library.
Access through Catte St from High St; Term Time: Mon-Fri 9.00am-10.00pm, Sat 10.00am-4.00pm, Sun 11.00am-5.00pm.
Festivals and Events
Oxford Round Table Firework Display
This annual event is very popular in Oxford. Thousands of people make their way to South Park to watch not only a vast display of fireworks but also a large bonfire, live music, a fun fair and local food stalls.
Held in South Park annually, early November (usually on a Saturday near to November 5th).
For most Oxford residents, May Day marks the coming of spring and is a traditional and festive celebration that brings together the communities of Oxford. The festivities begin at 6am with the choristers of Magdalen College singing the hymn Hymnus Eucharisticus, that was composed in the 17th century, from the Great Tower.
Pedestrians can gather on Magdalen Bridge, which will be closed to traffic. However, for students, May Morning signals the end of a marathon pub crawl, as most bars and clubs stay open through from the night before.
Cowley Road Carnival
A summer party not to be missed, Cowley Road Carnival celebrates the diverse communities within Oxford with a colourful procession, live bands, and dancers with venues along the street and a wide selection of food, drink and other stalls to visit. The next Cowely Road Carnival will take place on 2nd July 2017.
Christmas Light Festival
This three-day festival is a city highlight when it comes to starting off the Christmas events. The Christmas Light Festival takes place at the end of November, beginning on a Friday with a magical lantern parade, followed by a night of music and dance events on Saturday and a day of song on Sunday. Throughout this long weekend there are late night and themed openings at the museums and art centres and a Christmas market and fairground in St Giles.
Oxfringe is an annual festival series of literary, theatrical, artistic and musical events. Officially established in 2007 as two small literary events it has since expanded, attracting thousands of people to over 100 events spread out across different venues. Held in early June the purpose of this event is to promote upcoming artists and a chance for the community of Oxford and other audiences to enjoy a wide variety of shows.
Common People Festival
Common People is an annual festival which gathers a variety of music artist's showcasing both new talent and household favourites. The two-day festival gathers thousands of students and locals to the area to enjoy different styles of music. Common People takes place on May Bank Holiday (27th & 28th May) in the stunning surrounds of Oxford's South Park.
Pitt Rivers and the Museum of Natural History
The Pitt Rivers Museum holds an impressive collection centred mainly around anthropology and archaeology. It is very different from every other museum you might have visited before. In what way? The best way to find out is to visit yourself! Right next door is the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, known for its Neo-Gothic architecture and its inhabitants, one of which is the famous Dodo. And let's not forget their shrunken heads from the Upper Amazon!
Parks Road, OX1 3PW; admission is free.
it is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am - 4:30pm and is open on Monday 12pm - 4:30pm
This amazing building resembles a miniature version of the British Museum in London. The Ashmolean collection embraces cultural artefacts and artworks of all kind and from all over the world. It is known for its interesting Special Exhibitions and the
rooftop Ashmolean Dining Room provides a spectacular view of the heart of the city.
Beaumont St, OX1 2PH; admission is free.
It is open Tuesday to Sunday as well as Bank Holiday Monday, from 10am - 5pm.
Holding over 12 million items, the Bodleian is currently the second largest library worldwide, being one of the oldest in Europe. Though it is the main research library for Oxford University, tours will lead you in and around the magnificent architecture of the significant Oxford landmark. There are also exhibitions on rare and special books, which are usually accompanied by a number of events. Also take the opportunity to visit where a number of popular films have been shot, for example many of the Harry Potter films and The Golden Compass. Oxford University students, employees and academic visitors can use their University cards to access the Bodleian to study.
Broad Street, OX1 3BG Oxford; admission is free, tours £7 (no concessions).
It is open Monday to Friday 9am - 7pm, Saturday 10am - 4pm, and is open on Sunday 11am - 5pm.
History of Science Museum
In the History of Science Museum you can marvel at a unique collection of historical scientific instruments. The Museum also offers a ranch of special exhibitions and workshops in collaboration with leading experts in the history of science. Who would have thought that science could be so beautiful?
Broad St, Oxford OX1 3AZ; admission is free.
It is open Tuesday to Sunday from 12pm - 5pm and is closed on Monday.
Museum of Oxford
The Museum of Oxford is dedicated to the history of the city and its inhabitants. Visitors can listen to stories about local people such as Alice Liddell and William Morris and discover local artists.
St Aldates, OX1 1BX Oxford; admission is free.
It is open Monday to Saturday from 10am - 5pm and is closed on Sunday.
The Story Museum
Whilst this seems an un-usual choice for a student guide, The Story Museum is a charming place with great opportunities for students to volunteer. Founded in 2003 and beginning to convert a run-down building into their permanent home in 2009, the museum is not only a place for children to laugh, play and imagine. They have a selection of adult events that at present include a quiz evening, a book club for adults with an interest in children's literature and a mixology workshop.
42 Pembroke Street, Oxford, OX1 1BP; admission is £7.50, students £5
It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am - 5pm and on Sunday from 11am - 4pm
Christ Church Picture Gallery
Should you ever feel like seeing some real art then visit Christ Church Picture Gallery. Its famous drawing collection includes works by Michelangelo, Raphael and Dürer, and it is definitely worth paying the Old Masters a visit. Enter through Canterbury Gate at Oriel Square.
Oriel Square, Oxford OX1 4EP; admission is £3.20, students free.
It is open Monday to Saturday from 10:30am - 4:30pm and on Sunday from 2pm - 4:30pm, but is closed on Tuesday.
Modern Art Oxford
The Modern Art oxford is designated to modern and contemporary art. It has gained an international reputation for its exhibitions and its role in art education. Apart from exhibitions, it also hosts a range of interesting evening events, such as talks and contemporary music and film nights.
30 Pembroke Street, Oxford OX1 1BP; admission is free.
It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am - 5pm and Sunday from 12pm - 5pm, but is closed on Monday.
Old Fire Station
The Old Fire Station is only a gallery in the widest sense. It is devoted to modern and contemporary arts, but is unique due to a great number of art events taking place there every month, ranging from dance, music and drama to vintage fairs.
40 George St, Oxford OX1 2AQ; admission is free.
It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 11am - 6pm, but is closed on Monday and Sunday.
Outside of Oxford
Although there are hundreds of iconic things to see in Oxford, if you crave travel and new experiences then here's a few ideas of attractions outside of Oxford.
Woodstock is 8 miles away but seems like a different world. The quaint village boasts the Oxford Museum and old-fashioned tearooms, coffee shops and pubs. If you're looking for something a bit grander then look no further than the birthplace of Winston Churchill, Blenheim Palace. Set in 2,000 acres of beautiful parkland, walking around is a day out in itself but the house is open to visitors too. To end your day, you could take a stroll round to St Martin's Church in Bladon, and visit Churchill's grave; it's about half an hour walk away.
The town of Henley dates back to the 12th Century and is based in South Oxfordshire. It is more of a trek at 24 miles away, but worth the visit. It is most famous for the Henley Regatta, first held 1839, and now annually in June; the atmosphere encompasses the whole town. You can watch the boat races or visit pop-up bars, restaurants and shops. Henley also offers boat trips down the Thames, and tours of the River and Rowing Museum. Just three miles out of Henley is Greys Court: a beautiful sixteenth century mansion and gardens. This is a must-see if you are visiting Henley.
Chipping Norton is at the gateway to the Cotswolds and is a highly popular tourist town. It is worth spending the whole day wandering around and taking in the scenery. There is a vast array of antique, ceramic and glass shops, and Wednesday is market day! If you're looking for a bit of culture then the theatre hosts a variety of shows from the contemporary to classics.
Stratford-upon-Avon is an essential visit. The birthplace of Shakespeare offers a multitude of things to do. You can take in a play at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre or do a brass rubbing at the local centre; but if you would like a more weird yet wonderful place to visit then try The MAD museum (The Museum of Mechanical Art and Design). Later on in the day, ghost walks take place in the city with tales of local witches, murders and mysteries.
Student Alert!: The Royal Shakespeare Company runs a scheme for those aged 16-25 , called The RSC Key, which is completely free to join and entitles you to a range of benefits, including £5 theatre tickets. If you are a student, but not aged 16-25, the company still offers benefits including cheap coach trips to see a selection of productions. In Oxford, these trips leave from the Taylorian Institute.
RSC Key: https://www.rsc.org.uk/support/rsc-key/
Student section: https://www.rsc.org.uk/students-and-young-people/students
Milton Keynes is a big contrast to the other four must-visit places. It was founded in 1987 and is famous for being the home to over 200 roundabouts! If it's adventure and adrenaline you are looking for, then this is for you. As well as home to the Milton Keynes shopping centre with over 200 stores and an open market, the city boasts Xscape. Here you can go to the snow-dome, do some rock-climbing, or for something a bit more relaxed there is the cinema and a bowling alley!
Bicecster Village is an outlet shopping centre located in 20 minutes from Oxford. It ofeers theTop designer brands at discounted prices, as well as great restaurnats and eateries. It also offers part time job for students also.! If you want to visit it you can just catch the X5 bus, which stops in the city centre or go by the train.
50 Pingle Dr, Bicester OX26 6WD
Its open 7 days a week. Monday - Wednesday 9am-8pm, Thursday - Saturday 9am-9pm and Sunday 10am-7pm.