Unique Places in Oxford

  • Town Hall exterior
    Town Hall exterior
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    Impressive staircase
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    Mayoral regalia
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Most Viewed Off The Beaten Path in Oxford

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    Pembroke College

    by King_Golo Written Jul 31, 2015

    Hidden in the cul-de-sac opposite the majestic, awe-inspiring main gate to Christ Church, small and unassuming Pembroke College is normally overlooked by tourists. Hardly anybody visits it which is almost a shame as it is such a nice college!

    Founded in 1624 by King James I of England, the college is nowadays home to some 350 students who have the privilege to be able to become members of Oxford's wealthies JCR (Junior Common Room). The JCR scored quite a strike in 1997 when they sold a Francis Bacon painting for £ 400,000 which had cost them a mere £ 150 in the 1950s. Apart from a wealthy JCR, Pembroke is known for its success in sports (mainly rowing), for Samuel Johnson who studied here until he couldn't afford it any longer, for lots of other famous alumni, such as Hungary's current prime minister Viktor Orban or J. William Fulbright who founded the Fulbright Scholarships. J.R.R. Tolkien was a member of Pembroke College as well - he worked on his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy during his time at Pembroke.

    Upon entering the college, visitors will first see the Old Quad, a lovely quad surrounded by typical college buildings built from Cotswolds stone. To their right is the much bigger Chapel Quad with the hall and the chapel. In contrast to quite a few other Oxford colleges you are allowed to step on the grass here. It's a popular place for studying or a round of croquet.

    Pembroke's Chapel Quad
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    Keble College

    by King_Golo Updated Jul 31, 2015

    Keble College is unique among Oxford's colleges in that it is not built from sandstone, but from bricks. Very many bricks, to be specific. This simple fact gives the college a completely different appearance. Unfortunately, the bricks make the college seem rather dirty on the outside - no wonder, with all that traffic on Parks Road... Wait, though, till you see the inside of the college.

    Having passed the porter's lodge - Keble doesn't charge an entrance fee and the grounds are open all through the day -, you will enter Liddon Quad, one of the largest and in my opinion most beautiful quads in the city of Oxford. Grouped around this quad are the majority of neo-gothic buildings for which Keble College is simultaneously famous and infamous. They caused a lot of controversy when William Butterfield built them as no colleges of this style had ever been built before. A critic remarked in 1876 that Butterfield had "imperilled the scholar-like sobriety which belongs to our characteristic collegiate architecture". Well, I suppose it's similar to Marmite - either you love it or you don't.

    Anyway, you should spend some time in this beautiful quad, then have a look at the buildings and see if you can spot yet another major difference in contrast to other colleges (they are not arranged around staircases as in all the other colleges, but around corridors), and don't forget to pop into the college's beautiful and surprisingly spacious chapel.

    Like with many other colleges, Keble also has its enemies. St. John's College, its direct neighbour and former owner of the grounds it was built on, was quick to establish the kind-of-secret "Society for the Destruction of Keble College". Membership could only be obtained by stealing a brick from Keble College with the tacit idea that the more bricks are removed from Keble, the faster it will disappear again. Well, Keble has been around since 1870 and it doesn't look as though it's going to disappear soon.

    Keble is located just opposite the Natural History Museum / Pitt Rivers Museum.

    Keble College - Liddon Quad
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    LMH - Lady Margaret Hall

    by King_Golo Updated Jul 29, 2015

    Lady Margaret Hall, or LMH as everybody abbreviates it, is one of Oxford's best kept secrets. The college, which was founded in 1878 as Oxford's first women-only college, is located a bit outside the city centre on the banks of river Cherwell. This location and its huge green grounds (49,000m²) plus the manor-house-style buildings make it a very enjoyable place to work and study. Imagine strolling through the garden on a spring day between two tutorials! Imagine lying on the lawn amidst flowers, reading a good book, listening to the buzzing bees and watching numerous butterflies! What may sound like a scene from "Downton Abbey" could be true if you were a student here.

    Interestingly, the college was founded by a man - Edward Talbot - who was also employed elsewhere: at Keble College! It was a men-free zone for its first 100 years and only admitted male students in 1979. Among the college's notable graduates are Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan's former Prime Minister) and Nigella Lawson (a famous cookbook author and TV show host).

    Lady Margaret Hall's gardens
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    Iffley Meadows and Aston's Eyot

    by King_Golo Written Jul 29, 2015

    One of the main reasons why I love Oxford is the fact that the city is so green. Not only does every college have its quad and garden(s), not only are there several beautiful parks scattered all over the city, but there are also many nature reserves that are just lovely if you are looking for a quiet place to relax and watch the clouds pass by.

    Iffley Meadows is my favourite for this pastime - a huge unkempt meadow dotted with hundreds of thousands of buttercups in spring, surrounded by old windswept willows. Aston's Eyot, on the other side of the Thames just opposite one of the boathouses, is an even wilder strip of nature. Only few paths lead through this wasteland which is a habitat for birds and other animals (even deer!), partly overgrown by shrubs and trees. You can find many a tranquil place here in case Oxford's more touristy parts start to annoy you. I very much enjoy grabbing a good book and finding a place next to the river where I'm not disturbed by anybody.

    Both the meadows and the eyot are within 10 min walking distance from Donnington Bridge. You can also reach Aston's Eyot by walking down Iffley Road and branching off at Jackdaw Lane, and Iffley Meadows by following the Thames Path from Folly Bridge.

    Unspoiled nature: Iffley Meadows
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    Nuffield College

    by King_Golo Written Jul 29, 2015

    Nuffield College is a rather new college (founded in 1937 by Lord Nuffield a.k.a. William Richard Morris) and not often visited by tourists. However, it is quite beautiful and has an interesting background.
    William Morris was earning some extra pence repairing other people's bicycles when he was young. He left school at the age of 15 and opened his own bicycle garage in his parents' house on James Street in Oxford - a little plaque nowadays commemorates this place. As the business soon flourished, he became more and more successful and eventually founded the Morris Motor Company in 1912 to produce cars. Their most popular car was the Morris Minor which you can still see quite often on English roads. Morris was created baronet in 1929, Baron Nuffield in 1934 and eventually 1st Viscount Nuffield in 1938. He didn't have any children and so donated roughly 1,000,000,000 Euro for charitable causes during his life time, among them Nuffield College. He wanted it to be an engineering and economy college, but it became a graduate college for social sciences. Lord Nuffield wasn't too happy about that: Allegedly he called it a "bloody Kremlin" where left-wing scientists conduct research at his expense...
    The college is easily visible from nearly everywhere in Oxford due to its copper-roofed spire which is among the highest in the city and because of its young age the most modernist. Inside the college grounds, visitors first come across one of the largest quads (or rather rectangles) in Oxford, complete with a deep and dark pond in the middle. This pond is the last remaining part of a canal basin where coal boats coming down the Oxford Canal from Staffordshire unloaded their freight. Beautiful Cotswold stone houses surround the quad. The upper quad features a very modern fountain and a sculpture made from a Scandinavian rock shaped by the glacial forces of the ice age. One last interesting fact: Nuffield College was the first Oxford college to accept men and women from its first day on.

    I'm not sure if Nuffield College can be accessed freely, but if you enquire at the porter's lodge, they will be able to provide you with details about that.

    Nuffield College
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    Hot-air ballooning over Oxford

    by King_Golo Written Jul 29, 2015

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    This might not be something that the average Oxford visitor does, but it's definitely worth it: see one of the world's most beautiful cities from above. Really high above - from a hot-air balloon! My wife and I were given a voucher for a flight for our wedding, and it turned out to be one of the best presents ever. Our flight took place in mid-April on a beautiful sunny day. We left the ground in a small village south of Oxford after unfolding the giant balloon, filling it with hot air and being briefed by John, the pilot. Soon the fields and meadows, the villages and church spires, the streets and forests were way beneath us and we enjoyed a marvellous 360° vista. The rape fields were in full bloom, the sun illuminated the south English countryside which I have come to like so much - it really was a dream come true. Some kilometres away we could see Oxford. The "City of Dreaming Spires" looked as lovely from above as it does from ground level - but we could see everything at once. The huge spire of St. Mary the Virgin was easily discernible, around it the numerous college buildings with Christ Church's Tom Tower another well-known sight. Even my own college, Exeter, could be seen. Unfortunately, due to lack of wind we didn't actually move very far. Only 1.5 km away from where we started did we go down again. We landed on a pasture only to find that its gate was locked. The rest of the balloon team started to ask the village inhabitants if they had the key for the lock and eventually were lucky. We folded the balloon together and stuffed it into its box. Incredibly, it did fit in. Back to the meadow we started from, a glass of champagne and a certificate that we had done our balloon flight, and a great day was over.

    Several balloon companies operate around Oxford, but we chose Oxford Balloon. They use a balloon for 6 people which ensures that it's not as crowded as in larger balloons that can transport up to 16 people. Prices range from £125 to £145 per person, depending on how many people book at the same time. The way the balloon takes is entirely dependent on the wind strength and direction. Despite our wish to "really" see Oxford from above, we could only see it from some kilometres away (which, thanks to my 420mm zoom, was not so much of a problem). But the flight was nonetheless one of the best experiences in my life!

    See more pictures in my travelogue!

    Shortly before the start Oxford in the distance
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    • Hot Air Ballooning
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    Town Hall

    by leics Written Mar 10, 2013

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    Oxford's Town Hall is such a prime example of late-Victorian pomp, pride and grandeur that it is a 'listed' building (that means only approved changes an be made).

    It's the third Town Hall on the site in St Aldgate's, and dates from 1893. It cost £94000+ to build...a massive sum in those days!

    Inside the building the rooms are decor as just as impressively twiddly as one might expect from the exterior. It's now a popular venue for weddings, conferences and events of all types: you can see a 'what's on' list on the website below.

    There's also a giftshop, a display of mayorial regalia, a gallery and a small museum about the city. There are guided tours of the building available at 11am every Wednesday and Saturday. I think it would be worth taking one of these, for they go into areas not normally accessible to the general public.

    I didn't explore the Town Hall as i might otherwise have done...I had no time. But I did enjoy their sparklingly-clean toilets, which is why I went inside in the first place. And, once there, I realised I'd definitely have to make a return visit to explore more of this rather lovely building. :-)

    Town Hall exterior Impressive staircase Mayoral regalia Museum entrance
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    Cycling in Oxford (I) - General tips

    by King_Golo Updated Apr 22, 2011

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    Oxford is a bicycle town which nobody would deny who has been there. With so many students having to go from college to college between their tutorials, a bike is definitely the main means of transportation. Oxford's traffic is not really bike-friendly, however. If there is a bike path, it is almost always way to narrow and car drivers don't give a damn if they block the whole path or not. Moreover, they seem to compete with each other who can pass a bike as close as possible. If you are daring enough and have time, cycling is a great way to get to know this town.
    Bike shops are found all along Cowley Road, but if you only want to rent a bike try Bikezone in the city centre - it's as central as possible.

    Me and my bike on the way to Wolvercote
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    Cycling in Oxford (II) - Sandford and Wolvercote

    by King_Golo Updated May 29, 2010

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    For a nice little bike trip along the Thames I would recommend either going up the river to Wolvercote or down to Sandford. The former tour is a little longer (ca. 12km), the latter not as long (ca. 8km). Both tours start at Folly Bridge.

    For Wolvercote cycle upstream. You will first pass a nice Oxford neighbourhood with many houses just next to the river (which are probably incredibly expensive). Later you will pass Osney Mill Marina where you can check out the yachts of rich Oxonians. Cross Botley Road and soon after you will find yourself in a tranquil inner-city river landscape. You can listen to the birds singing or watch the hippies living on some of the house boats. After 1km you'll have to cross another bridge and now Oxford gives way to nature completely. Along the river banks anglers sit silently while across the river, on Port Meadow, dogs chase birds or children chase dogs... This scenery goes on for the next 4km until you reach Godstow Nunnery, the remains of a monastery. There's not much to see, though, only some walls. Follow the little road behind it to the right, and you will reach a very popular pub (Trout Inn) which is great for a quick drink and a break. Just behind the pub is Wolvercote, from where you can go back to Oxford along the Oxford Canal. There are even more house boats here, swaying softly on its shores. Behind the boats are the gardens of Summertown and Jericho - it must be great to own one of them. The path along the canal will take you back to central Oxford.

    The tour to Sandford takes you downstream along the Thames. To your left you will see Christchurch Meadow and the boat houses of the college's rowing teams. To your right you will pass Iffley Meadow, a nice place for a picknick or a little break. The meadows are a nature protection area, so refrain from picking flowers even if they grow in abundance. A little further on there is Iffley Lock (see another tip), but instead of ending your tour here, you just follow the Thames. After the huge bridge where the Ring Road crosses the Thames, you'll find yourself in peaceful nature: meadows, anglers, boats swaying on the river, many birds of all kinds. Go on for another 2km or so and you will reach Sandford Lock where there is a very nice pub (The King's Arms) which is the end of your tour. Unlike in the first tour you will have to go the same way back.

    For more pictures see my Thames travelogue.

    The King's Arms in Sandford
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    Spend time along the Thames in Abingdon

    by marinarena Written Aug 27, 2007

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    Abingdon is one of the little charming towns of Oxfordshire, just due south of the centre of Oxford. If you want to leave the fast pace of Oxford streets, walk about 10 minutes from the centre and you'll find tranquility. Scenery is lovely especially in the main town park where one can catch a glimpse of the train and simply count the different birds swimming in the pond and roaming all about.

    pretty scene of nature, England (Abingdon) Abingdon, Oxfordshire Abingdon, England Abingdon, UK Abingdon Road, near Oxford, UK
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    Don't miss Marston

    by marinarena Written Aug 16, 2007

    I love to drift into a big town's surroundings residential areas and I did so finding my way to Marston, just east of Oxford's centre. Marston is beautiful with charming brownish brick homes, quiet and very much of a place to raise a family. Just walking distance from the sometimes frantic atmosphere of Oxford streets is the tranquility of Marston.

    horses in Marston (near Oxford), England
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    Woodstock

    by Etoile2B Updated Feb 7, 2007

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    When I was studying in Oxford the majority of our classes were taught on a small farm in a neighboring community called Woodstock. It was just a beautiful place filled with so many great memories I had to mention it. Woodstock is definitely a small town. Farms pepper the landscape. During our time spent out here we got to see the hay being harvested and used our free time to take long walks and enjoy the countryside.

    Hay Fields in Woodstock.
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    Great Jewry in medieval Oxford

    by evaanna Updated Jan 2, 2007

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    You will find this plaque commemorating the presence of the Jewish community in medieval Oxford right in front of the East Gate, now leading to the Botanic Garden. In the 12th century and even earlier Oxford had a large Jewish population inhabiting the area between Carfax Tower and Folly Bridge with the Synagogue in the middle, on the site of the present Christ Church. The whole area was known as Great Jewry and the names of some of the remaining houses, like Jacob's or Moyses' Halls suggest that they may have been owned by Jews who would keep students in lodgings. The path from Merton College to the Botanic Garden along the old city wall still bears the name of the Dead Man's Walk, as it was the route funeral processions took from the Synagogue to the Jewish burial ground.
    Sadly, already in the 13th century persecutions of Jews started in Oxford together with the foundation of a number of monasteries and lasted until 1290 when Edward III expelled the Jews from England. The only traces of their presence there are some names of places and this plaque outside the Botanic Garden.

    Plaque marking the site of the Jewish Cemetery
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    Gargoyles

    by nickandchris Updated Nov 1, 2005

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    Whilst walking around the fantastic buildings of Magdalen College you can't help but notice the amazingly detailed figures and especially gargoyles on the walls of various buildings. They really intrigued us and some of them were quite grotesque. Almost as if we'd stepped into a horror film!!

    Gothic Magdalen Magdalen gargoyles Magdalen
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    Town Centre Businesses

    by nickandchris Updated Oct 20, 2005

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    We were quite amused to find very different businesses named together on plaques down the little alleyways. in central Oxford.
    Psychology, pregnancy and dental services all rolled into one? Not to mention the Thai. restaurant!!!

    Mixed business... Mixed business...
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