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Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 07 February, 2024
Expert travel writer: Annabelle Thorpe

Oxford is a city dominated by its world-famous university, with 38 spectacular colleges dotted around the city centre. Founded between the 12th and 15th centuries, these bastions of world-class education offer visitors the opportunity to stroll through centuries of British history, where a litany of impressive historical figures – from prime ministers and presidents to famous scientists – once lived and studied.

The architecture is equally impressive, from the wonderful, 15th-century Gothic towers of Magdalen College to the beautiful gardens and quads at 13th-century New College.

It’s worth doing research beforehand, as each college offers something different. Art-lovers should head to Christchurch, which has a spectacular art collection, including works by Rubens and Michelangelo, while University College is famous for its stained glass.

Recommendations

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Bridge of Sighs

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)

The bridge runs between two buildings above a cobblestone street underneath which people are walking. The bridge is arched sandstone with rectangular glass windows.

One of the city’s iconic Insta shots, this raised bridge, linking two sections of Hertford College is notable for its similarity to the Bridge of Sighs in Venice.

Best for ages 18+

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Christ Church College

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)

Students and families stand and walk in front of Christ Church College's sandstone building.

Dating back to 1539, this grand college is now most famous for its dining room, the model for Hogwarts’ Great Hall in the Harry Potter films. The chapel is also worth a visit. It opens to the public for evensong every evening.

Adult price: £15

Best for ages 18+

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Magdalen College

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)

The inner yard and campus buildings of Magdalen College. A long pale grey sandstone building, with three chimneys rising at regular intervals. The building is low to the ground with many square windows with pale wood window frames. There is green foliage in rough rectangle shapes climbing the façade at regular intervals. An arched doorway leads inside the building, and there is a pathway leading past the building with grass on either side.

Founded in 1458, Magdalen is regarded as one of the most beautiful Oxbridge colleges. The Great Tower, built circa 1500, is an Oxford landmark. Famous alumni include Oscar Wilde, Andrew Lloyd Webber and King Edward VIII.

Best for ages 18+

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Merton College Chapel

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)

A continuous sandstone building in a rectangular shape with a court in the centre (not pictured). Seen from outside, a low sandstone wall runs along the outside, and an elaborate turret can be seen rising from the centre of the building, with intricate spires crowning it. There is closely-cut green grass outside, and a few trees.

Dating back to the 13th century, the chapel is famous for its original stained-glass windows and the imposing Dobson Organ – one of the finest in the UK.

Adult price: £3

Best for ages 18+

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New College Cloisters

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)

The outside of the cloisters at New College - where scenes from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire were filmed. The cloisters are low-lying sandstone buildings with bright pale green lichen climbing up the walls. The buildings have a line of large arched windows, and there is a bench in front of the building. In the foreground of the image to the right is a large and leaning old tree with dark green leaves.

Instantly recognisable to Harry Potter fans, these 14th-century cloisters are where Malfoy was turned into a ferret in Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire.

Adult price: £8

Best for ages 10+

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Trinity College Oxford

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)

The front quadrangle of Trinity College. The sandstone building in the centre of the image has an archway, tall arched windows, and a small turret with a flag flying in the breeze atop it. The sandstone building to the left has a pattern of faded dark red bricks in stripes along it, and there is neatly trimmed green grass with stripes bordering a path. Green foliage climbs the red-brick patterned building to the left, and a large tree stands on the right of the image.

Built in 1555 outside the old city walls, Trinity is one of the largest colleges in Oxford with extensive gardens and a small woodland. Plays are sometimes held on the lawn on summer afternoons.

Adult price: £3

Best for ages 18+

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University College

Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)

University College gatehouse. An archway sits in the centre, underneath a square turret atop which a flag is flying. The building is long and narrow with triangular peaks in the roof and lines of rectangular windows beneath each small peak. At the bottom of the building, round topiary bushes hang from the walls at regular intervals between the windows.

The oldest Oxbridge college, founded in 1249, University College boasts alumni including CS Lewis, Stephen Hawking, Harold Wilson and Bill Clinton. Look out for stunning stained-glass windows, installed just before the English Civil War.

Best for ages 18+

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Logistics

Price from: £3
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

The colleges are all clustered in the city centre, so you can easily visit several in one afternoon. Some charge admission fees while others are free. See the website for a printable map of individual college locations.

The helpful tourist information centre on Broad Street also has maps and is the meeting point for free walking tours of the colleges. You don’t need to book – just turn up and join the next one that’s leaving.

When to do it

Most colleges are open to visitors in the afternoons, but times vary between colleges, so check the website for specific schedules.

Who to go with: organised tours

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this attraction or activity

Oxford University Walking Tour With University Alumni Guide

Oxford

Oxford University Walking Tour With University Alumni Guide
See inside Oxford University, Harry Potter film site and the Bodleian Library on this authentic 2-hour Oxford student led tour. The tour gives you an insight into student life in this prestigious university and offers you in-depth history of many of the famous colleges and sights such All Souls College, Trinity College, Oriel College, Hertford College, Merton College, Radcliffe Camera, University Church of St Mary and many more.

Price: £25

Min age: 0

Rating 4.87 / 5 [5056 ratings]

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1.5-hour Oxford University and Colleges Walking Tour

Oxford

1.5-hour Oxford University and Colleges Walking Tour
Explore Oxford University and city on this 90-minute walking tour for up to 25 people. Learn about the history and architecture from an experienced, local guide. Stop inside the University Library as well as some of the oldest college dining halls, chapels, cloisters, and quads.

Price: £20

Min age: 0

Rating 4.60 / 5 [1136 ratings]

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Oxford Official University & City Tour

Oxford

Oxford Official University & City Tour
An Oxford Official Walking Tour is the best way to explore the "City of dreaming spires". Led by one of our knowledgeable guides this award-winning University & City Tour is 2hours. You'll be able to walk by Oxford’s most popular sights, including its colleges*, the Bodleian Library, the Sheldonian Theatre, the Bridge of Sighs and many more! This University & City Tour is the best way to learn about the traditions and secrets of Oxford, the University and its colleges. Be led down hidden lanes and alleyways, and let years of history unfold before you. Your guide will lead you past Oxford’s famous movie locations, including Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland and the Morse, Lewis & Endeavour TV series. You'll hear stories of the great academics and scientists who've studied here in our beautiful heritage city. *Many Oxford University colleges remain closed therefore you will often only be able to see them from outside. The 1pm Tour includes a college visit (subject to availability)

Price: £22

Min age: 0

Rating 4.78 / 5 [645 ratings]

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Oxford Harry Potter Insights entry to Divinity School PUBLIC Tour

Oxford

Oxford Harry Potter Insights entry to Divinity School PUBLIC Tour
How does studying at Oxford University compare with studying at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry? Fun tour for Muggles of all ages. Guide will cater tour according to everyone's interests, introducing also Oxford heritage. Join tour to find out why we have over 1,000 reviews recommending this tour online! Calling all fans of the world’s favourite wizard, this Oxford walking tour takes you to recognizable locations of the Harry Potter films. During this family-friendly tour, see the grand buildings of Oxford University and see inside the Divinity School—which featured as the infirmary & classroom space in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Learn of other literary legends that attended Oxford University. Tour includes entry worth £3 per person inside the Divinity school at the Bodleian Library. Tour lasts average 90-120 minutes. Notice: on dates when Divinity school is closed - see closures notices under What's not Included section- we instead visit New college.

Price: £39

Min age: 0

Rating 4.69 / 5 [349 ratings]

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Harry Potter Walking Tour of Oxford Including New College

Oxford

Harry Potter Walking Tour of Oxford Including New College
Muggles welcome! Go inside New College and the Bodleian Library on a magical adventure into the medieval buildings of Oxford University. With a fun Oxford student guide, complete with a quiz, the odd prop, and terrible jokes and puns! Suitable for devout Harry Potter fans, along with those publicly unwilling to admit their devotion, and those with no prior interest but looking for a fun way to explore! The tour includes other famous books such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings - along with the history of Oxford University.

Price: £25

Min age: 2

Rating 4.68 / 5 [319 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Destination guides

2

Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

Oxford

Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)

External view of the beautiful round building, in golden stone, with domed roof

One of Britain’s most beautiful and historic cities, graced by heartstopping architecture and home to the world’s second-oldest university.

The Cotswolds

The Cotswolds, United Kingdom (UK)

Silhouettes of cottages on a misty day. Winters morning in the Cotswold village of Ebrington, Gloucestershire

One of England’s most beautiful regions – a patchwork landscape of idyllic countryside, postcard-perfect villages and cosy historic boutique hotels.