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  • Oxford
  • Take a break by the waterside at Iffley Lock, connecting directly to the River Thames
  • Embrace the past at the Christ Church Cathedral, connected to the Christ Church Oxford campus

Oxford is known as the city of dreaming spires and some of the architecture is masterpieces by such great architects as Sir Christopher Wren. It can be defined by its university colleges but there is much more to the city. There are 38 colleges and many are open to the public. This might make the choice of which ones to visit a little overwhelming. Don’t ignore the smaller ones. The colleges are ranked among the world’s most prestigious academic institutions and some can be traced back to the 11th Century. Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, and JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, responsible for The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia respectively have don (professors) here. Take time to explore the medieval cloisters, quadrangles and chapels at the colleges.

Christ Church College is probably the best-known college with its beautiful architecture which can be seen in a Harry Potter movie. It is one of the largest and the main entrance is Tom Gate with its 17th Century imposing Tom Tower designed mainly by Sir Christopher Wren. You can hear the bell ring 101 times at 9:05 pm to commemorate the once curfew for college students. Visitors can go through the Great Hall dining room with its portraits of past scholars including Lewis Carroll and many former British prime ministers. En route to the Great Hall, visitors cross Tom Quad, Oxford’s largest and most impressive quadrangle. Christ Church has an exceptional art collection displayed in the small Christ Church Picture Gallery which includes paintings and drawings by Tintoretto, Michelangelo and other Renaissance masters.

Another major institution is Magdalen College, situated on an expanse of woodlands, and river walks and even has its own deer park. Founded in 1458, it is Oxford’s wealthiest and most beautiful college with its medieval chapel and 15th Century tower and cloisters. Behind the cloisters is the lovely Addison’s Walk which loops around the Water Meadow, a wedge-shaped island in the River Cherwell. Notable students here were “Lawrence ‘of Arabia” and Cardinal Wolsey.

The city has some fine museums. The best-known is the Ashmolean Museum, Britain’s oldest public museum. It is only surpassed by the British Museum in London. It was established in 1683 when Elias Ashmole presented Oxford University with a collection of rare treasures. These include a dazzling fresco from the palace of Knossos, artwork from Renaissance Italy and artifacts from Japan.

The Bodleian Library is a building where at least five kings, dozens of prime ministers and Nobel Prize winners plus Oscar Wilde, C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien have studied. It is a superb specimen of English Gothic architecture and was founded in 1423. Visitors are not allowed to enter a magnificently decorated medieval room or peruse the ancient tomes that it contains but can admire it from the adjoining extension.

The Pitt Rivers Museum is full of unusual; items from amulets to zithers. It contains an anthropological collection amassed by a Victorian general. You will come across anything from Mesopotamian temple receipts to Japanese Noh-theatre masks. The Oxford University Museum of Natural History showcases specimens from all over the world which include a 150-year-old Japanese spider crab and dinosaurs like the towering T-rex skeleton, the second most complete ever found.

One activity which, in contrast, can be undertaken is a pub crawl. Oxford has a number of irresistible old pubs located down its lanes and alleyways. One such is the charming Turf Tavern which consists of many nooks and crannies. This medieval rabbit-warren dates from 1381. Patrons include Bill Clinton, Oscar Wilde and Stephen Hawking.

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Oxford , England

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