Oxford is the oldest university in the UK. No one knows for sure when it was founded, but we know that students have been walking the corridors since 1167. It’s been a famous training ground for British prime ministers—27 out of 54 of the country’s leaders studied here—plus other famous alumni including Oscar Wilde, Benazir Bhutto and Rowan Atkinson.
Staying in a College
Student accommodation isn’t always glamorous—but it can be picturesque if you’re staying in a historic college, surrounded by emerald lawns. University Room offers a choice of 12 colleges, which provide bed and breakfast and self-catering for tourists outside term time.
You can stay in a room overlooking the courtyard of Christ Church College—which is considered the birthplace of “Alice in Wonderland.” The Cathedral Garden is where the author, Lewis Carroll, worked as a mathematician and met Alice Liddell, the daughter of the dean and inspiration for his main character. The Alice Tree also sits in the garden, so you can admire its winding branches and imagine spotting a grinning Cheshire cat.
Christ Church isn’t the only idyllic location with legions of history; you might prefer the gothic architecture of Exeter College, particularly if you love “Lord of the Rings” or even British literature—this is where J.R.R Tolkien and William Morris stayed.
Be a Bookworm at the Library
You don’t need a coursework deadline to want to visit the Bodleian Library. It’s a student library but also the second largest library in Britain, after the British Library, and one of the oldest in Europe. In addition to its immense collection of books, it has five reading rooms, and two buildings connected by an underground Gladstone Link. Bookworms can also browse the Norrington Room, in Blackwell’s Bookshop, which is the largest room dedicated to book sales in Europe.
Get on your Bike
In order to blend in, it’s a good idea to cycle. This is a popular mode of transport among students and the city has made it convenient for you. Dockless Bikes are randomly dotted around the city. As the name suggests these bikes don’t have docks. This means that, with the abandon of an irresponsible undergrad, you can leave it wherever you like when you’re finished. An app will show you where the bikes are near you and help you book one out.
You could also take a cycle tour of the town—like Bainton Bikes who guide you around in two hours. Or for something more unusual, try the Alice in Wonderland cycle tour, following her story along the Thames River Path, and enjoying a break with cream teas or a picnic.
No student would turn down the opportunity to have fun for free, so take a walk around the town and admire the architecture. Oxford has been blessed with good fortune; Hitler was intending to use it as his capital if he conquered England, which means the buildings are untouched by air raids.
Dubbed the "City of Dreaming Spires" by Matthew Arnold, Oxford's architecture is mainly gothic, but you can find a building from every major era since the Anglo Saxons. The oldest one is the Anglo Saxon-era Tower of St Michael at the North Gate, where you can climb to the top, as has have many have centuries before you. For a view from the highest point climb the Carfax Tower—there’s a rule that forbids taller buildings being built in the town.
Oxford’s romantic locations have attracted countless film sets. It’s also a haven for Harry Potter fanatics. It’s not just the staircase at Christ Church that features in the movies—the Bodleian Library was the Divinity School, and Oxford’s famous carved grotesques are the same statues that Professor McGonagall awakens to defend Hogwarts in the final film. Other movies, which the town has enhanced include "Saving Private Ryan," "The Italian Job" and "102 Dalmatians."
Every Oxford student will have tried punting at least once. Give it a go and make sure you Instagram yourself holding an oar. Visit the Magdela Bridge Boathouse to hire a boat—a traditional punt, rowing boat or pedalo to drift along the picturesque River Cherwell. If you’ve never punted you can hire a trained punter to take you and, if you’re feeling frivolous, bring a picnic hamper.
To complete your student experience you need to make a trip to the bar. You could try a real ale at the Lamb and Flag where it is believed that Thomas Hardy wrote most of his novel, Jude the Obscure, or visit The Eagle and Child where the Chancellor of the Exchequer lodged during the English Civil war and literary group The Inklings (consisting of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis) would meet over a pint.
If you fancy live music, book a gig at the Bullingdon. This indie bar—not to be confused with the Bullingdon Club, famous for posh Tory MPs—is Oxford’s leading independent live venue.
Only a short train journey from Paddington, this historic town is ideal for a weekend away or even a day trip from London.