Visit Top Oxford Sightseeing Attractions
There are many memorable places to visit in the city of Oxford – buildings and open spaces that have played a central role in the history of England. Many of the most iconic and famous buildings belong to Oxford University, while some belong to the city. For much of the city’s history, these two elements of City and University – ‘Town and Gown’, as they are known locally – were great rivals. This is an important detail, and much of the history of Oxford revolves around this rivalry of ‘Town versus Gown’.
Here are just a few of the great Oxford Sightseeing locations to whet your appetite.
Address: Corner of St. Aldate’s, Cornmarket Street, Queen Street, High Street.
St Martin’s Tower, popularly called Carfax Tower, is situated at the northwest corner of Carfax. ‘Carfax’ means a place where four roads meet, and this is the original, ancient crossroads at the centre of the city. Oxford City Council is now responsible for the maintenance of St Martin’s Tower, which stands tall and proud since the demolition of the former Church of St Martin in 1896.
Carfax Tower enables you to look down on the famous skyline of Oxford and its “dreaming spires”. After ascending the 24m (74 ft) tower staircase, you emerge into daylight with a great birds-eye-view of the city in all directions, including panoramic views across the towers and rooftops of many Oxford Colleges and other iconic buildings.
The Tower still retains its traditional set of six church bells. Five of these were cast by bell-maker Richard Keene of Woodstock in 1676, with the sixth added by Keene two years later. These bells are still rung to mark special occasions, and for many years were used to summon townsfolk if there was an outbreak of trouble between the ‘Town and Gown’ (i.e. the City and University).
Richard Keene’s bells in Carfax Tower clock chime every quarter of an hour throughout the day, after the two small external bells beneath the clock have been struck by the painted wooden ‘Quarter Boys’. The original Quarter Boys were installed in the 16th century, and can now be seen in the Museum of Oxford.
Over the road from Carfax Tower is the site of an old pub, The Swindlestock Tavern (now the site of Santander Bank). This was the scene of the most famous bout of ‘Town versus Gown’ rioting on 10th February 1355. After an argument in the tavern between some students and the Landlord, trouble escalated into all-out war. Thousands of ‘Town’ people were summoned by the Carfax bells and went into battle against the ‘Gown’. 63 students died in what is now known as the St. Scholastica Day riot, and the event was commemorated annually for the next 500 years.
Open from April to October, 10 am to 5.30 pm (4.30 pm in October). Open daily November to March, 10 am to 3 pm (4 pm in March). Adults £2.20 – Seniors £2.20 – Students £2.20 – Children £1.10.
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The easiest way to learn about the rich history of Oxford is to Join a Free Walking Tour of Oxford. The Walking Tour of Oxford University, City and The Bodleian Library explores and explains Oxford’s oldest colleges, dining halls, chapels, examination halls, graduation halls and lecture rooms, all as part of a Free Oxford Walking Tour (click here for more info).
University Church of St. Mary the Virgin
Entrances from High Street and Radcliffe Square
Church open daily 9 am -5 pm (6 am-6 pm in July & August), Sundays the Tower opens at 12:15 pm October – May, 11:15 am June – September.
The tower of St Mary’s offers fantastic views of Oxford, including a breath-taking view of the iconic, cobbled Radcliffe Square. You’ll need to climb 127 steps on a narrow staircase to enjoy the view, and you’ll need a good head for heights when you get out onto the narrow balcony, but it’s well worth it.
The actual origins of Oxford and its University are lost in the mists of time, but is believed that the 13th century St Mary’s was the original site of the University, from which everything else grew and spread. The earliest of the city’s libraries was here, and classes, exams, administrative duties and trials all took place inside the church until the rise of the University College system from the 14th century onwards.
The University Church of St Mary the Virgin is the largest and most impressive of Oxford’s many parish churches, and acts as the University Cathedral. (The City’s own Cathedral, confusingly, is actually the Chapel at Christ Church College!) St Mary’s dominates the north side of The High Street, surrounded by timeless university and college buildings, and with the most idyllic setting imaginable at the rear – the glorious architectural symphony in Cotswold Stone, Radcliffe Square.
St Mary’s oldest surviving feature is the exquisite church tower and spire, erected in the 13th century. It has an eccentric 18th century porch designed by Nicholas Stone facing towards the High Street, featuring coiled pillars that were said to be completely out of keeping with the character of the rest of the church. By the side of the porch is a famous old cherry tree, with one of its ancient boughs supported by an iron crutch. On the east side is Catte Street, named not after a cat, but after St Catherine.
A fee is charged for climbing up St Mary’s tower, but it is well worth it for the fabulous bird’s eye view of Radcliffe Square and the beautiful All Souls College alone!
Holy Place among other Oxford Sightseeing site’s is Martyrs’ Memorial
Intersection of St. Giles’, Magdalen Street, and Beaumont Street
This imposing stone monument commemorates three ‘Oxford Martyrs’ burnt to death at the stake for heresy in 1554 and 1556 at a time of terrible religious upheaval in England. However, it was only completed – after a lot of hard work over two years – in 1843. The Memorial was designed by architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, based on a series of memorial crosses commissioned by King Edward I in the 13th century. It was controversial even before it was unveiled, as it spoke out against the Catholic Church, at a time when some members of the Church of England were trying to bring some of the lost Catholic ritual and mystery back to English church services.
The inscription on the memorial reads: “To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake; this monument was erected by public subscription in the year of our Lord God, MDCCCXLI”.
The actual place where the Oxford Protestant Martyrs were burnt alive is less than two minutes’ walk from the Martyrs Memorial, on Broad Street. The site of the burning is marked by a cross in the middle of the street, and there is a commemorative stone plaque in the wall of Balliol College opposite the site.
The Martyrs Memorial is the object of a famous student joke. When giving tours of the city, students used to trick tourists into believing that the memorial was the spire of a vast underground church. They would claim that people could visit the church via the stairs near the memorial. These stairs actually lead to the public toilets!
Saxon Tower of St Michael at the North Gate
St Michael’s Church stands in Cornmarket Street, at the point where it meets Ship Street, in the centre of Oxford. This is a very pretty corner of the city (in spite of the crowds thronging this popular shopping street), with the old Mediaeval town houses on the corner of Ship Street being particularly photogenic.
St Michael’s Church was once part of the North Gate of the city, at a time when the centre of Oxford was fenced in by a defensive City wall. The church tower is the oldest standing building in Oxford, dating from 1040 and sometimes referred to as the ‘Saxon Tower’. It is, indeed, the only surviving structure in the city from the Anglo-Saxon period of Oxford’s turbulent history.
Only the tower is truly ancient – the architect John Plowman rebuilt the church’s north aisle and transept in 1833. Many prisoners were kept here over the centuries, including the famous Oxford Martyrs, as the church was the former location of the city jail, called the Bocardo Prison. The Oxford Martyrs’ cell door has been preserved and can be seen in the church’s tower for a small fee.
English textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, socialist activist and founder of the ‘Arts and Craft Movement’ William Morris married Jane Burden here on 25 April 1859. Jane was an Oxford girl, and hers is the face you see in countless paintings by the 19th century school of artists known as the Pre-Raphaelites. Morris and Burden’s marriage certificate is exhibited in the Saxon tower.
There are other treasures, including the pulpit used by superstar of the Methodist movement John Wesley; an Elizabethan chalice dated 1562; and a primitive ‘Sheela-na-gig’ fertility carving, dating back to the Saxon or Norman period. You can also see the old church clock and bell mechanism – it controlled six huge bells which, if allowed to ring at full volume now would damage the tower. For this reason they are chimed by hand instead!
St Michael’s is well worth a visit, and with yet another great view of “the city of dreaming spires” from the top of the 97 steps!
Open 10 am – 5 pm Mon-Fri, 12 noon – 5 pm Sunday. Admission £1.50.
Any Oxford Sightseeing is incomplete without a visit to the world-famous Bodleian Library, one of the jewels in the University’s crown. Visitors can marvel at its unrivalled collection of books (it receives a copy of every book printed in the UK) and historic manuscripts by the million, and also lose themselves in the exquisitely beautiful architecture of the Library buildings and the magnificent Old Schools Quad.
The origin of the Library can be traced back to the church of St Mary’s, where the first books and scrolls were kept in the 13th century, and the construction of The Divinity Schools and Duke Humphrey’s Library – the first dedicated library room purpose-built by the University and named after its benefactor Duke Humphrey, Uncle of King Henry VI – which began in 1427 and was completed in 1488.
The Bodleian Library itself opened in 1602 after a donation of money and books from benefactor Sir Thomas Bodley (whose portrait you can see in the Weston Library – formerly known as The New Bodleian – on Broad Street). The Bodleian is known as “the Bod” by Oxford University students. The courtyard through which you enter the buildings is known as the Old School Quads. The old schools were the original University faculties, where lectures were delivered to students in the various subjects, and the doors to these old schools can still be seen in the Quad, complete with their original Latin inscriptions. (See how good your Latin is by trying to work out what each faculty taught!) The buildings are still all in use, even though they no longer teach the subjects written over the doors.
Access to the Bodleian is limited, as it is the primary study area for University students. There are different prices for visiting various sections of The Bodleian complex, such as the University’s teaching and exam room, and the Divinity School, which we highly recommend for its beautiful architecture and Harry Potter links alike! There’s some fascinating history to be discovered here, and some intriguing background information on how this eccentric, wonderful institution works and how it manages to handle more than 11 million books.
There are also some museum treasures to seek out, both here and in the Weston Library on Broad Street, including a copy of the Magna Carta of 1215, Sir Thomas Bodley’s Chest, and a chair that belonged to Sir Francis Drake.
The Bodleian Library also has a shop and free Exhibition Room have free entry, but you will be charged if you want to visit the Divinity School and other
parts of the complex.
For guided tours, exhibitions and general visitor enquiry: 01865 287400
For events and venue hire: 01865 277224
For filming and photography: 01865 277216
Opening hours: Monday – Sunday all year round. Our opening hours are: Monday – Friday 9.00 am – 17.00 pm; Saturday 9.00 am – 16.30 pm ; Sunday 11.00 am -17.00 pm.
The Clarendon Building is a Grade 1 listed architectural gem at the eastern end of Broad Street, close to the Bodleian Library and Sheldonian Theatre. It was built between 1711 and 1715, and designed by the famous English architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. With its grand, pillared entrance, steps and statues, Hawksmoor wanted the building to be the formal gateway to the University.
For over a hundred years The Clarendon Building was the home of The Oxford University Printing Press (OUP), until the institution moved to Walton Street in Oxford’s Jericho suburb in 1832. It is named after Edward Hyde, first Earl of Clarendon, and the money for its construction was raised from the profits earned from Hyde’s book ‘History of the Great Rebellion’, a lengthy history of the English Civil Wars of the previous century. Hyde’s son presented the University with the copyright for the work (one of many copyrights that have been bequeathed to the University, including Kenneth Graham’s famous The Wind in the Willows).
Hyde’s statue can be seen in an alcove on the upper floor of the west side of building, looking rather grimy as a result of centuries of pigeon droppings – in great contract to the pristine stone of the Clarendon and its neighbouring buildings.
A Structure with the Aerial Dome on its top, work of famous architect James Gibbs in 1749.Its construction is done with money bequeathed by ‘John Radciffe’(Famous Physician) thus named after him.
The building contain two reading camera (synonym to room) mainly used by the undergraduates. In 1912 an underground book-store was built linked with a Camera and a channel with Old Library
Public cannot access the building accept for the tour to Bodleian Library.
Radcliffe Camera is also the most pictured building in Oxford University.
The Sheldonian Theatre was the first creation of Sir Christopher Wren (professor of Astronomy) built in 1668.
The structure was accredited by Gilbert Sheldon. With his contribution of £14,500 amount made him Chancellor of University therefore it is named after him. The Sheldonian is called ‘Theatre’ because of its delineation is similar to a Roman theatre .Over here, musical recitals, lectures conferences and other ceremonies of University is conducted. Over 2000 people can be accommodated very comfortably. You will be lured to take up photographs as Memory. The Sheldonian Theatre has a semi-circle design forming a “D”.
Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday 10.00 to 12.30 hrs, 14.00 to 16.30 hrs March to October, 14.00 to 15.30 hrs November to February. Opening hours will be curtailed when the theatre is in use for Oxford University Ceremonies, meetings or concerts. £3.50 per adult, £1.50 concessions, Group rate £1.50 per head parties of 15 and over.
48-51 Broad Street
“Books are the greatest treasure of wisdom and knowledge for mankind.” Blackwell is an Oxford landmark and institution located opposite Museum of History of Science.
One of the biggest bookstores in Oxford is known as ‘Blackwell’s bookstore’. Blackwell’s bookshop is comprised of four old shops in Broad Street: Nos. 48, 49, 50, and 51 . Blackwell’s bookstore traded in books all over UK and have its branches in the university campus as well as places specialized on Music and Art.
In order to have huge space for accommodating large number of books, Blackwell’s has a basement which goes under Trinity collage’s garden and it has a “the Norrington Room” which is the largest single room in Europe devoted to keep books.
Selling new books is regular activity of any bookstore, but of old books makes it an exceptional feature in accordance with other bookstores. Blackwell’s has its café as well.
A series of ‘walking tours’ is also conducted and themed tours such as “The Inkling tour” and “The Historic Oxford Tour”. The tours can be joined from bookstore itself and the tour lasts for about one and half or so.
Opening Hours: Mon, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat 9:00 – 18:00, Tue 9:30 – 18:00, Sun 11:00 – 17:00. Tel: 01865 792792
Tour Prices: Adults £7/Concessions £6.50. For booking and enquiries please contact our bookshop located at 48-51 Broad St. Tel: 01865 333606, e-mail: email@example.com.
Oxford University Press
Walton Street, Jericho, 01865 353527
Oxford University Press (OUP).prints many resources related to professional as well academic fields and one of its famous work is Oxford English Dictionary that created a history in publication houses .It is used and known by every person irrespective of their age group.
The OUP Evolve as the World’s most significant Press after getting the rights to print the ‘King James’ edition of The Holy Bible. Through this press, every year more than 4500 copies of new books are published.
High Street. Open 9 am – 5 pm daily.
A Combination of Nature and Science can be referred as ‘Botanic Gardens’.
One of the oldest Botanic Garden situated on the banks of Cherwell River. In 1621 grown out as physics Gardens as they were used for the study of Varieties of Medicinal Plants. It is also said that the University administration was so excited about the Botanic Garden that they spend lavishly on the Walls of the botanic garden that very less money was left to buy plants. Beside of beautiful outdoor gardens, there are Greenhouses as well that breeds number of plants and flowers of different categories. Adjacent to the gardens, there are Rose gardens as well where roses blossom in the month of July. The Botanic Garden always welcome school groups and young students for a visit in Oxford Sightseeing.
Most of the tourist also has Botanic Garden as on the top list in things to do in Oxford. Botanic garden also stands over a Jewish Cemetery.
New College Lane
Factually similar to very famous bridge of Venice thus even referred as ‘bridge of sighs’.
The bridge links together the Old and New Quadrangles of Hertford College (to the south and the north respectively).its architecture was formed by Sir Thomas Jackson and was completed in 1914.
However,the southern part of bridge is meant for administrative offices where as the northern part of it is accommodated by the students. The bridge is always open for the members of the university which are often seen as passer by.
This bridge is a famous landmark among Oxford Sightseeing and perfect place to take some memorable pictures.
Church of St. Mary Magdalen
You will this chapel at the junction of Magdalen street, Board street ,George street and Cornmarket street. Earlier here a wooden church prevail that got burnt in 1074 and later on the Norman constable of Oxford city ‘Robert d’ Oilli’ constructed single alley church on the place of wooden one. In 1194,the Bishop of Lincoln refurbish the cathedral.
Oxford Castle Quarter
This castle was constructed in 1071 for ‘William the Conqueror’ and this also one of the top sights in Oxford Sightseeing. This was a way for Norman to control the area. Oxford Castle was a prison used till 1996.
Christ church owned it and sublet to Prison keepers from 1613 till 1785.The prison was closed in 1996 and later on it was redeveloped into prison and a place of incarceration with a spire where Public executions were held.
While wandering around the site you will come across several restaurants , an art gallery and Malmaison Hotel .Moreover, there are outdoor theatre performances which are conducted at the regular basis.