The Colleges of Oxford

The Colleges of Oxford

No visit to Oxford would be complete without exploring a college or two, and as there are 38 of them, you’re spoilt for choice. Each has its own history and charm, but if you’re short on time you may need to pick just a few. Just make sure to check out their individual websites for opening times as they do tend to vary.

Probably top of the list is the very grand Christ Church College, notable for producing thirteen Prime Ministers and for making a star appearance in the Harry Potter films (as the Grand Stairwell). It’s also home to the cathedral, the diocese of Oxford. Whilst there, make sure to have a stroll in the ‘Meadow’ – the glorious, oh-so-romantic park that lines the Thames and where you’re bound to spot rowers, runners and students lazing around if it’s sunny. Beware though, this is a very popular college for tourists due to the Harry Potter connection, so it’s good to go early if you can.

Exeter College, one of the smallest colleges, is bijoux but beautiful and home to stunning medieval architecture. It was also the alma mater for William Morris, J R R Tolkien (check out the bust of him in the chapel) and more recently Philip Pullman whose Jordan College in the trilogy His Dark Materials was based on Exeter. Entrance to this college is free, which is makes it feel even more welcoming. Top tip – try and aim for Evensong on a Sunday, Tuesday and Friday at 6pm to hear the wonderful organ which is said to be the best in Oxford.

For pure opulence, head to St John’s College – the wealthiest of all the colleges and where Tony Blair was an Alumni – lots of the grounds are open so you can get a real feel for university life.

The Bodleian Library may not actually be part of a college, but it is part of the University and is probably my favourite place to visit.  Jam-packed with architectural wonders, dark, atmospheric rooms and hidden delights, it’s no wonder that it has been such as source of inspiration to literary types. Parts of it are free to visit, whilst others can only be seen via the organised tours. Make sure to check out the little shop where you can buy the perfect gift for the bookworm in your life.

Probably the most iconic building in Oxford, the Radcliffe Camera is part of the University and home to reading rooms and an underground library. Head to University Church opposite and climb the tower for fabulous views and great photo opportunities. Afterwards, stop at the church café which on dry days has tables and chairs out amongst the gravestones.

Finally, Magdalen College. Pronounced ‘maudlin’, it’s my favourite college and in my opinion the prettiest, with a deer park which you can walk around, a lovely tower and cloisters. Built in 1458, it lies next to a tributary of the Thames and you can hire a punt right from Magdalene bridge. It was also where Oscar Wilde studied. One of my most memorable experiences was getting up early and being at Magdalen for 6am, when the college choir sing from the top of the tower over Oxford in celebration of May Day – a truly spellbinding moment.

Wherever you decide to go, you’re sure to fall in love with the history, opulence and let’s be frank – magical - feel of these incredible places of learning.

Feeling inspired? Take a look at our retreats near Oxford here.

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