1 st May 2011
"ONE HOUR IN OXFORD IS NOT ENOUGH"
By: Nicholas Newman -
It’s amazing how hard being a tourist is. Take Oxford. Most day trips out of London only allow their paying
customers just an hour to see the sights. That is the city of ‘dreaming spires’, its famous university and the
locations where their favourite films like Harry Potter or Inspector Morse or Lewis where shot. Then they are off
to some other tourist attraction like Stratford to see the Shakespeare.
As a local, one feels sorry for such visitors. Oxford needs more than just one hour to look round its ancient
university, see the sights and have a chance to have a real taste of the Oxford experience.
Often the very first question a tourist asks a local is: ‘Where is the university?’ The answer is that the
University is all around you. This is because Oxford is made up of a number of fiercely independent colleges
located throughout the town, though originally centred within the old city walls. Many of the fine buildings date
from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, but you will also find some of the most modern architecture in the world,
much of it a joy to see.
A good place to see the most famous parts of the city is afforded from atop Carfax Tower in the heart of the city
or nearby from the University Church of St Mary the Virgin on High Street. Here you can see the colleges that line
the High Street or the fine University buildings like the Bodleian which is one of the oldest libraries in the
world. In fact many of the colleges are virtual palaces of artworks, treasures and fine architecture, which have
influenced the development of civilization for centuries.
Visiting the colleges is a good way of following in the steps of famous politicians like Clinton who studied here
as a student, writers like CS Lewis, scientists like Edmund Hailey who discovered the comet that is named after
him, even today, behind these ancient walls discoveries are being made. Though what surprises many visitors is
finding Christ Church Meadow, a vast Thames side meadow in the heart of the city affords you views of rowers on the
river and spectacular views of the city’s medieval walls and colleges.
The only way for visitors to really see this fine city is to come for a weekend at least, when the hotels are
cheaper and the tourists are fewer. Oxford has a good range of places to stay to suit all pockets, from the
standard to the unusual, like the newly opened four star Malmaison hotel, which is located in a former prison wing
of the newly restored Oxford Castle. The food and the facilities are excellent, and for an extra fee it should be
possible to stay in one of the unconverted prison cells kept in its original condition.
As for food, the range available is cosmopolitan, from the latest in gastro pubs to cordon bleu cookery on offer.
If you want to meet the locals while enjoying a good meal, then a pub called Far From the Madding Crowd is worth
the effort to explore. Here you will meet a good local crowd from nearby theatres, shops and businesses often
having lively debates about today’s issues.
For those visitors in search of a spot of culture, the city’s many fine galleries, museums, cinemas and theatres
cater for all tastes. My favourite museum is the Pitt Rivers Museum which has a extensive collection of the
University of Oxford’s fascinating anthropological collections which range from Benin death masks to Polynesian
Others will find the high art of the recently improved Ashmolean Museum more to their taste with its paintings by
Turners and Roman sculpture. On a hot summer’s evening many of Oxford’s college gardens offer open air concerts or
plays for those who wish to spend the evening outside rather than in a club or theatre. While the local river boat
company offers themed cruises where you can watch the countryside go by and enjoy a good meal accompanied by
perhaps a jazz band.
After spending a weekend in this bustling city, you will find you will want to come back for more.
Oxford Tourist Information Centre
Phone: 01865 726871
Fax: 01865 240261
Oxford Information Centre 15-16 Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3AS
University of Oxford
University Offices, Wellington Square, Oxford OX1 2JD. Tel +44 (0)1865 270000
The Tread Wheel 43 Oxford Castle
Oxford OX1 1AY
New Road, Oxford, OX1 1LD
Malmaison Oxford Hotel, Oxford Prison Hotel. Reservations Hot line: 0118 983 1348.
Pitt Rivers Museum
South Parks Road Oxford.
telephone 01865 270927
Beaumont Street Oxford, OX1 2PH
Tel: (01865) 278000
Fax: (01865) 278018
Address: Bodleian Library, Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BG
Phone: 01865 277180
Fax: 01865 277105
Far From The Madding Crowd Pub
Far From the Madding Crowd
10-12 Friars Entry Oxford OX1 2BY
Telephone: 01865 240900 Fax: 01865 792200