Oxford University England - A Guided Walk

Oxford University is the oldest university in the English speaking world, dating back to the 11th century. This guided walk introduced you the city and the university.

Walk these streets and you will be following in the footsteps of Nobel prize winners, kings, presidents, and prime ministers. The university has produced saints, scientists, explorers, artists, authors and actors. Sir Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the world wide web (which makes reading this tour possible!), graduated from Queens College, Oxford.

This walk will take you around some of Oxford's oldest colleges and most important university buildings. It is planned for a morning to give you plenty of time to explore. Don't start too early -- some of the colleges aren't open to the public until noon or later. The first leg, is an easy, 10 minute stroll.

If you are traveling from London, there are frequent trains from Paddington Station. Off peak, round-trip fare is £25.00. (2016) Use National Rail Enquiries to plan your trip
01 of 09

Oxford Rail Station: The Start of a Half-Day Walk Around the Oxford Colleges

Bikes at Oxford Train Station
© Ferne Arfin
  • Begin at Oxford Rail Station. Turn right out of the station and head for the huge bicycle parking area. Bicycles are everywhere in Oxford.
  • Turn left onto Hythe Bridge Street, past Said College (pronounced Say-eed), Oxford University's newest institution.
  • Continue on over the bridge that crosses the Castle Mill Stream and Oxford Canal.
  • At the first fork, bear left onto Worcester Road. About 50 yards along, reach the entrance to Worcester College, your first stop.
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02 of 09

Worcester College to the Ashmolean Museum

Pump Quad at Worcester College, Oxford
©Ferne Arfin

Worcester College was founded in 1714 on the remains of a medieval institution, Gloucester College. The tiny cottages on the south side of the quad are the surviving parts of it. Today they are student rooms, equipped with what the English call "all mod cons", even high speed Internet connections. The Neoclassical buildings on the north side (top photo, above) date from the 18th century. The library was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor.

Once on the edge of town, Worcester College has extensive grounds, rolling down to the Oxford Canal, with sports fields and lovely gardens.

The Oxford Colleges

But the colleges are more than student residences. Teachers associated with the colleges supervise each student's studies and provide personal guidance through regular "tutorials". The tutorial system is the backbone of an undergraduate education at Oxford and, in fact, Oxford students are not required to attend lectures at all.

Officially, Worcester College is not open to the public until 2 p.m. but the Porter will usually allow one or two people, on their own, to enter the grounds at any time. Ask politely at the Porter's Lodge, just under the arch at the entrance.
  • On leaving Worcester College through its main gate, bear left.
  • Cross at the first set of lights onto the left side of Beaumont Street
  • Continue straight on Beaumont Street, across St. John Street to The Ashmolean Museum on the corner of St. Giles.
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03 of 09

The Ashmolean Museum to Balliol College, Past the Martyrs Memorial

Oxford University's Ashmolean Museum
©Ferne Arfin

The museum may be old but its world famous collection is anything but dusty and boring. It spans ten millennia and covers art and artifacts of eastern and western civilizations.

The Ashmolean is always free and time spent here is bound to be rewarding. Among the treasures:

  • The Jericho Skull - A 10,000 year old representation of the human image, one of the earliest ever found.
  • The Alfred Jewel - An ancient Anglo Saxon object of gold, enamel and rock crystal, that may have belonged to King Alfred the Great.
  • Powhatan's Mantle - The deerskin and wampum cloak of Pocahontas's father.
  • Drawings by Michelangelo and Raphael.
  • 2000 years of ceramics
  • A Stradivarius violin circa 1715.

Opening Hours

Tuesday to Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays, from 10a.m. to 6 p.m. The museum closes for the St. Giles Fair in September. It is always free.

Give yourself plenty of time at the Ashmolean before moving on.

  • Turn left on leaving the museum and cross St. Giles Street to Balliol College.
  • The monument on the traffic island to your right is The Martyr's Memorial, honoring two Protestant bishops burned at the stake in the 16th century.
  • Turn right and continue along St. Giles
  • Turn left into Broad Street. The entrance to Balliol is a short way along, on the left.

It's a 5 minute walk. Arrive no earlier than noon.

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04 of 09

Balliol College to The Sheldonian Theatre

Balliol College, Oxford University
© Ferne Arfin

Because the exact origins of some of Oxford's colleges are lost in the confusion of the University's long history, at least three colleges can lay claim to being Oxford's oldest. Balliol is one of these, dating its foundation to about 1263 when John Balliol, a wealthy Englishman, and father to the Scots King of the same name, set up a house in the Oxford suburbs to maintain poor students. His widow, a Scottish princess named Dervorguilla set up the college on a more permanent basis in 1269.

Among Balliol's many distinguished graduates, was the modern martyr, Adam von Trott, who was executed for his part in the plot to kill Hitler in 1944.

Balliol's grounds open to the public at 1p.m. but if you arrive before then, you have three options:

  • Visit Trinity College - Balliol's smaller, newer (1555), next door neighbour, opens its gates at noon. The college is noted for its gardens. There's a charge of £1 for viewing the grounds {50p for seniors).
  • Take a Guided Tour Tours with registered guides start just outside the gates of Trinity College at noon, 1p.m., 2p.m. and 3p.m. The tours take one and a half hours and the £6 price (£3 for kids) includes admission to many of the colleges and university buildings. There are no reservations, bookings or even phone numbers. Just show up beside the sandwich board on the sidewalk at the appointed time and join the group.

The walk continues

Turn left from out of Balliol's gate and continue past Trinity College gates to Blackwell's, a famous Oxford bookstore. Cross Broad Street. The curved building across the street is the Sheldonian Theatre.

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05 of 09

The Sheldonian Theatre to Radcliffe Square and the Radcliffe Camera

The Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford University
©Ferne Arfin

The Sheldonian Theatre, built between 1664 and 1668, was Christopher Wren's first design and one of Oxford's most architecturally important buildings. It isn't actually a theatre at all. Its original purpose was as a secular venue for University ceremonies, such as graduations and matriculations. It is still used for that purpose but is also used for concerts of serious music.

The façade of the Sheldonian that faces Broad Street and fascinates most visitors is actually the back of the building. It was designed to face a courtyard with more important University buildings including the Bodleian Library and the chapel of Exeter College. The twelve grotesque stone heads on pillars (see insets above) are sometimes identified as the Twelve Caesars or the Twelve Apostles, but they are simply decorative. They were replaced in the 1970s after pollution destroyed the originals. When not in use for University functions, or concerts, the Sheldonian is open to the public Monday to Saturday from 10a.m. to 12:30p.m. and 2p.m. to 4:30p.m. (3:30p.m. closing, November to February). Admission is £2.50 (£1.50 for concessions).

After visiting the Sheldonian Theatre:

  • From the Broad Street side of the Sheldonian, turn right around the building, and go through the narrow passage, between the Sheldonian and the Clarendon Building, into Old Schools Quad.
  • In the courtyard, you will be facing the north side of the Bodleian Library.
  • Turn left and exit the courtyard through an arched gateway, turning right onto Parks Road.
  • Continue on Parks Road to Radcliffe Square and the Radcliffe Camera.
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06 of 09

Radcliffe Square to the Radcliffe Camera

The Bodleian Library at Oxford University
© Ferne Arfin

To enter Radcliffe Square, unmistakeable because of the completely round Radcliffe Camera in the centre, you must first pass the Old Bodleian Library.

The Bodleian is actually made up of several libraries and reading rooms, including the English Gothic Hall of the Divinity School, built in 1488 and the oldest teaching room at the University.

Because the Bodleian is a scholarly working library, its reading rooms are only open to the public during specific, timed and guided tours. To find out more about touring the reading rooms email the library shop. Find out more about visiting hours and admission fees on the official website.

Even if you don't go insider, spend a few minutes admiring the building in Radcliffe Square.

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07 of 09

Radcliffe Camera to Turl Street

The Radcliffe Camera at Oxford University
©Ferne Arfin

The word "camera" means room in Latin and the distinctive dome and drum shape of the Radcliffe Camera holds the main reading room of the Bodleian Library. This is one of the most famous buildings in Oxford. It was built in the mid-18th century by architect James Gibbs. Enjoy the outside of the building because it can only be visited by authorised scholars using its facilities.

The Radcliffe Camera, at the center of Radcliffe Square, is surrounded by impressive University and college buildings.

  • On the north, it faces the Old Bodleian Library
  • On the south, see the impressive, circa 1280 tower of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. The decorative spire was added between 1315 and 1325. The church is open between 9a.m. and 5p.m. throughout the year. Admission to the tower costs £2.50.
  • East of the Radcliffe Camera, on Catte Street, are the fortress like, Medieval walls and Gothic windows of All Souls College, founded in the 15th century by King Henry VI.
  • To the west is Brasenose College which gets its name from a wonderfully silly story. The school is named for the bronze nose (brazen nose) of a beast on a door knocker that once graced the door of Brazen Nose Hall, a building that predated the foundation of the college by several hundred years. The original door knocker, which was stolen during riots in 1334 and was missing for more than 500 years, is now in the college dining hall.After soaking up the atmosphere in Radcliffe Square, turn into the pedestrian alley called Brasenose Lane, passing between Brasenose, Exeter and Lincoln colleges to Turl Street.
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08 of 09

Turl Street to Oxford Covered Market

Turl Street, Oxford
©Ferne Arfin

Turl Street, lined with colorful shops, is one of Oxford center's original medieval streets. The early 18th century All Saints Church, at the end of Turl Street, where it meets Oxford's High Street, is now Lincoln College Library.

Turl Street was named for a twirling gate that used to exist in the city wall.

Have a look around this original lane, then cross it into Market Street. Jesus College is on the right and, midway between Turl Street and Cornmarket Street, you'll find the entrances to The Oxford Covered Market on the left.

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09 of 09

Oxford Covered Market to Lunch and Retail Therapy

Oxford Covered Market
©Ferne Arfin

If you haven't raced along, but have stopped to enjoy all the key points of this tour, it's probably time to stop for lunch or a drink. You will find a choice of restaurants and cafes inside Oxford's very colorful, Victorian Covered Market.

The market also has plenty of shops to satisfy that acquisitive urge most travelers get, sooner or later. You can buy flowers, clothing, loads of shoes, jewelry, cheeses and wines and all sorts of interesting things in this warren of shops.

Take a break for some retail therapy before tackling Oxford south of the High Street on another Oxford walk.

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