Jul 282013

This is a free guest post by Angie Picardo.

Oxford, England is a destination that should be on every history-lover’s travel list. The University of Oxford was founded 800 years ago, and travelers and locals alike revel in the history of this quintessential college town. The university is certainly one of the main reasons people visit Oxford every year. And while street traffic makes it seem like a booming metropolis at times, the population is just over 150,000 residents. A lot of the traffic is due to students and tourists who come to Oxford to learn, but locals are proud of the University’s global appeal and appreciate the tourism.

Oxford Unversity, Oxford

Christ Church, Image Source: Christ Church

The University of Oxford: One of the world’s most famous educational institutions, the University of Oxford is made of 38 colleges across the university’s campus. Students come from all over the world to attend Oxford. Some even get really into the history and ambience of the college, dressing up in tweed coats with elbow patches and ordering cask ale at pubs that have been open for hundreds of years. There are too many colleges to highlight individually, but there are three you should definitely take the time to stroll through if you’re visiting. One thing to note: there is usually a fee to tour the college grounds, so make sure you bring money.

Oxford Library at Unveristy of Oxford

Oxford Library, Image Source: Telegraph UK

Christ Church: Some historians would argue this school of the University is hallowed ground, considering giants such as John Locke and more than a dozen British Prime Ministers are alumni. J.K. Rowling fans think this place is pretty great, too, since several Harry Potter films were shot from this location, with Christ Church serving as Hogwarts. It is also the place where Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written so many years ago by a professor who wrote under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. This school has history for everyone from film buffs to academics. You will also want to make sure you see the Christ Church Cathedral.

Magdalen: People love to visit this college because it has the reputation of being the most beautiful part of the campus. There is a bell tower, a deer park, and a field with stone animals that are said to have been one of the inspirations for C.S. Lewis’s famed novel, The Chronicles of Narnia. Inside the college chapel, you will find a famed sculpture of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, not to mention gorgeous, intricate carvings and architecture.

New : Tourists stop at this college to view the historic chapel with beautiful tracery windows, as well as the dining hall, which has remained unchanged since 1379, minus one fireplace. Great care is taken to ensure this old building stays intact. In fact, every three years, the Lord Mayor and councilors ceremoniously inspect the foundation of the buildings. This was the first college of Oxford that met all student needs in one place: residential, dining, and academic.

There are numerous other places to see on the Oxford grounds, including:
Bodleian Library and its history: This is considered the “chief” of the university’s library system and has been in continuous use since the Middle Ages. In the late 16th century, Sir Thomas Bodley is said to have rescued the library from economic disparity. A Fellow of Merton College, Bodley married into a wealthy family and this library became his retirement project. He donated hundreds of books from his own collection and hired a librarian to manage operations. It is a vast structure that has been renovated while being restored since its founding thousands of years ago.

While you stroll through the hallowed halls, make sure you see the Radcliffe Camera, too. John Radcliffe, an English physician who lived from 1650 to 1714, left money in his will to build a new library near the Bodleian, but completely independent. The Radcliffe was eventually taken over by the Bodleian in 1860. It is called “Camera” because that means “room” in Latin. Also, stop by the Divinity School, which is in the same complex as the main library, where you can see the oldest classroom on the campus, as well as famed Gothic architecture. The Oxford University Botanical Garden is another great spot on the vast campus to stop for a few minutes (or an entire day). The gardens cover more than four acres and are the oldest gardens in Great Britain and one of the oldest in the world. You could also visit the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse and rent a punt (small boat) for the afternoon and relax on the water.

English grub : After all of this sightseeing, you will certainly be hungry. Here are a few restaurants you don’t want to miss if you are in Oxford:

The Eagle & Child: Perhaps you will be inspired while you dine on pub food once you learn that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used to spend time in this classic pub as part of their literary and writing group.

The Eagle and Child: A pub in Oxford

The Eagle and Child: A pub in Oxford

There’s also The Turf Tavern, another classic pub that tends to appeal to more college students because it is off the beaten path. The Bear Inn is one of the oldest public houses in England and the oldest in Oxford. If you look around the restaurant, you will see quite a wide variety of ties, a collection that has been in place since the early 1900s.

Oxford is rich with history and good food. There is so much to see, learn, eat (and drink!) that you may want to plan to spend a day or two soaking it all in.

About the Author: Angie Picardo is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance and travel site dedicated to helping people make better decisions with their money, whether it’s budgeting your next weekend getaway or college tuition planning.

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