Oxford University, arguably the most prestigious in the United Kingdom, is actually made up of over 30 distinct colleges with their own emphases and history. They’re spread out all over town and are the spaces where the students learn, eat and live. Classes are held within each college, so it forms a tight-knit community.
Each college has its own residence halls, dining hall, chapel, library, bar and accommodations for faculty. They can be made up of buildings in a circular fashion with a central green space. The oldest of these colleges were formed as monastic orders in the 1200s. And each college is also known for something different.
But if you’re not a student, you can’t just walk up to the buildings and explore on your own. Some only offer visitors on certain days and others not at all. Some are known for specific histories and some charge entry to visit. Not all colleges have points of interest, but are beautiful to explore on their own. Here are just a few of the landmarks you might want to visit on the Oxford University campus.
Known as the wealthiest of Oxford’s colleges and where Sir Christopher Wren studied, the crown jewels of All Souls College are the Codrington Library, which is only open to students and staff. Visitors can see the chapel and grounds, including the quadrangles. It’s only open to visitors from 2 to 4 pm on days when the college is open, typically Monday to Friday. Free.
Perhaps the most well known of the Oxford colleges, Christ Church has seen 13 prime ministers as alumni over the years. Its hall served as inspiration for scenes in the Harry Potter series and the Divinity School was used as a filming location. In the Christ Church Cathedral, you’ll find the burial site of John Locke and the Picture Gallery boasts works by Da Vinci and other European greats. The college is open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 4:15 pm and Sunday from 2 to 4:15 pm. Admission is £9 during the high season.
Famous alumni of Exeter College include author J.R.R. Tolkien, which dates back to the 1300s. Here you can admire the Victorian architecture of the many buildings, especially the chapel. Much of this college’s campus was used in filming for The Golden Compass. It’s open daily from 2 to 5 pm. Free.
This college that opens onto Broad Street has one of the few Baroque style chapels on campus. This is where my sister studied during her summer program, so I got a little VIP tour of sorts. It has the traditional dining hall and college bar with a porter’s lodge to oversee the comings and goings of students and visitors. Hours for visitors vary by the day depending on class schedules, but are typically before and after lunch. Admission is £2.
For the extensive guide to visiting each college and its hours and costs, visit the official Oxford University website.
Elsewhere on Campus
The Bodleian Library is among the most prestigious on campus, with the most, and oldest, volumes in the university. Access is only allowed for those with reader’s cards and visitors on a guided tour. The library first opened in 1602 and now receives a copy of every book published. Inside is Duke Humfrey’s Library, which holds the oldest volumes. Students are not allowed to have their phones inside or check out these books, as they’re just for research. No photos are allowed inside. Entry includes the Bodleian, Divinity School and Duke Humfrey’s Library. The facility is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, Saturday from 9 am to 4:30 pm and Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm. Tours run every hour. Admission is £7.
Across the street is known as the Weston Library or the New Bodleian Library, where you’ll find more modern research facilities. There’s also an exhibition space where you’ll find one of the Gutenberg Bibles, an early scroll of the Bhagavadgita, telegrams from the Titanic, the first published folio of Shakespeare’s works and one of Audubon’s illustrations from Birds of America.