Jun 292018
Visiting Oxford – a virtual tour with me!

This week was Open Days at the University of Oxford, with an estimated 14,000 visitors; I calculate that my College had at least 2,000 over the two days. I was more of a “behind the scenes” helper, printing and folding thousands of brochures. Nonetheless, it was nice to see prospective students enjoying the College. It’s also peak tourist season, which means I have to walk down the middle of the street to avoid the hordes. It’s definitely a popular city to visit, and for good reason!

I’ve been wanting to make a virtual tour of Oxford for some time, and I’ve finally organised myself to take the photos and collect my thoughts. Perhaps you can only wish of visiting the so-called “city of dreaming spires”, maybe you’re planning a trip, possibly you’re thinking of applying to study here, or it could be that you’re interested in the history. In any case, here are my top places to see, interesting facts, and things to do when visiting Oxford!

I’ve lived here nearly 7 years as a student (gown), a member of the public (town), and an employee of the University — I like to think that I offer an educated, international, and local perspective of Oxford’s attractions. I’ve also played “tour guide” to friends and family members dozens of times, so I’ve got my tour route down to a fine art. If you’re ever visiting and you’re looking for more suggestions, just let me know!

Walk the back lanes

My top tip is to walk the back lanes as much as possible. I do this on a daily basis because it’s faster than weaving through crowds, but you can really get a sense of the history of Oxford when you wander down the cobblestones.

  • My favourites are Merton Street (the back of Exam Schools) and Queen’s Lane.
Walking Queen's Lane with Friends
Walking Queen’s Lane with Friends

Stop and appreciate the History of Science

I’m a little biased since I have a PhD in the history of early modern/18th C science and medicine in England BUT there are lots of great historic sites to visit.DSCN2887

  • The Museum of the History of Science is on Broad Street and can be a quick 30 min. visit. The building was the original Ashmolean museum and the basement was the laboratory for several members of the Royal Society—this is my favouirte part as it houses the distillation and chemical apparatuses.
  • Wandering around Oxford, you can see from blue plaques (which indicate someone famous resided there) that many scientific innovations took place here.

Hidden Food Gems

There are loads of great places to eat in Oxford, and lots of terrible places too… Here are some of my favs.

  • The Nosebag (lunch place that has salads, cold dishes, drinks, and snacks)
  • Combibos (great coffee and breakfast)
  • The Turf (best pub for garden seating, plus a cool alley entrance)
  • The Grand Café (touristy, but they have a good selection of French press coffees)DSCN2880
  • 20171112_115524
    Happy at Comptoir

    The Covered Market – loads of options from pies, to salads, to paninis

  • I’ve also had some great meals at St Aldates Tavern, Chaing Mai Kitchen (Thai), Quod, and The Royal Oak.
  • Comptoir Libanais – our favouite restaurant (Lebanese cuisine)

Museums worth a visit

As mentioned above, be sure to stop in at the History of Science Museum. The Ashmolean is lovely, but not my favourite. I prefer the Natural History Museum and most of all the Pitt Rivers Museum. Be sure to check out the columns in the Natural History Museum, which are different stone types, and the shrunken heads in the Pitt Rivers!

The Bodleian Library

If you’re into the history of Oxford at all, make time to take a tour of the Bodleian. The Duke Humphreys room is beautiful and there is an impressive collection of chained books at the entrance. The Bodleian is a legal deposit library, which means that it theoretically has a copy of every book published in the UK – most of these are stored off site in old chalk mines.IMG0015A

  • The Radcliffe Camera is the iconic domed building, built in the 18th C, and it houses the History Faculty Library. A beautiful building, but very stuffy to read in.

Fun facts: The original library was in the vault on the side of University Church (St Mary’s). The Bodelian Tower of the Five Orders is named as such because it has all the types (orders) of architecture.

Spectacular Views

  • Firstly, I always recommend that you look UP! Much of Oxford’s history and charm lies in its architecture – just don’t block the pavement when you’re enjoying the view please. 🙂
  • You can pay a small fee to go up the top of St Mary’s Church (which I’ve never done), or good views can be found from South Park, and from the roof of the Westgate.
  • Alternatively, take a walk to Port Meadow for distant views of the spires, or hire a punt and cruise down the river.


Check out the Chapels

All Souls Chapel

I’m not a religious person in any sense, but I do love a chapel. The one at All Souls is lovely, as are Christ Church’s and Wadham’s. I’ve also heard good things about New College’s, and St Michael at the North Gate has the Saxon Tower, which is the oldest building in Oxford.


  • Blackwells Bookshop (particularly the Norrington Room, and the poster shop across the street)
  • The Bodleian Shop (there are two locations: one in the Weston library [which has excellent toilets FYI, and one in the Bod quadrangle)
  • The Westgate is worth a visit if you are actually here to shop.

Tranquil Gardens

Tolkien’s Tree – which has sadly been cut down

If you get a chance, walk down High Street until you get to Rose Lane. Here you can visit the Botanic Gardens, which are Britain’s oldest. Otherwise, I suggest walking down the lane, and along Dead Man’s Walk round the back of Merton College and into Christ Church’s grounds (where you can peer through the gates at the croquet lawn and Fellows’ Garden)

  • Oxford University Parks is well worth a visit.
  • My favourite garden is at Worcester College. It’s open to the public most afternoons.

Go Futher Afield

Some of the best bits of Oxford are not in the city centre. I spent 4 years in Summertown, which is posh and has a lovely main street and quiet residental areas (noted for the cemetary where Tolkien is buried, and the setting of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. You can visit the vibrant and ethnically-diverse Cowley Road for tasty global cuisines. Jericho is a trendy neighbourhood with lots of pubs and then you can walk through to Port Meadow.

Finally, here are some photos of Christ Church, since everyone and their cat wants to visit the “Harry Potter” College (I don’t blame them). I hope you come and visit soon and that you fall in love with the quirks and beauty of this historic city as much as I have!

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