Oxford is a destination not to be missed on any tour of the Cotswolds or Britain at large. The county town’s fame extends far beyond its region; it is one of the most renowned cities in all of Europe. Known as the “city of dreaming spires,” it is a magical place with gorgeous architecture which showcases every period in British history from the Saxons onward. Transected by the rivers Cherwell and Thames and containing the oldest English-speaking university, it has become a cultural and academic crossroads.
Oxford was settled by the Saxons but it wasn’t chartered until 1191 when Henry II gave Oxford citizens the same rights enjoyed by the inhabitants of England’s capital. A number of important religious houses were constructed by a variety of orders in Oxford at this time including the Cistercians, Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Augustinians and Trinitarians. Parliaments were frequently conducted in Oxford in the Middle Ages and it was there that the Provisions of Oxford were drafted. These documents were a turning point in political history and are considered the first written constitution in the country.
Oxford is best known for its prestigious medieval university. The University of Oxford is one of the most celebrated schools in the world and contains 38 colleges. The University has more than 100 libraries including the recognizable Radcliffe Camera. There are many museums on the campus which you can visit including the oldest museum in the UK, the Ashmolean Museum. Also noteworthy is the Museum of Natural History which houses the unearthed prehistoric remains of dinosaurs and other creatures. The adjacent Pitt Rivers Museum houses over 500,000 archaeological finds.
Oxford’s city centre is another very popular destination. Shopping opportunities abound in both retail and independent forms. Blackwell’s Bookshop boasts the largest room book store room in all of Europe known as the Norrington Room.
There are so many landmarks in Oxford that you could probably spend months in town and not see everything. Other places to visit include gorgeous gothic churches like the St. Mary The Virgin Church and the Christ Church Cathedral. Oxford has its own 1.8 hectares Botanical Garden containing over 8,000 species of plants. More destinations to enjoy include the Sheldonian Theater, the Museum of the History of Science, and Modern Art Oxford. 28 nature reserves within and surrounding the city of Oxford offer peaceful, green walks for those wanting to enjoy the fresh air and some quiet. On the west edge of town, you can visit Oxford Castle, a 14th century motte and bailey fortress with an accompanying hotel (developed from a former 18th century prison!).
Oxford has sparked the imagination of so many that it figures hugely into literature and film. Some films you may have seen filmed in Oxford include all the Harry Potter films, Children of Men, Tomorrow Never Dies and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Numerous writers lived in Oxford or attended the university including Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, T.E. Lawrence, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and Philip Pullman (whose Dark Materials books, favourites in Britain, are set partly in Oxford). If you choose to include Oxford on your Cotswold tour, the “City of Dreaming Spires” will surely inspire you as much as it inspired these writers and filmmakers!