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A Day In The City of Dreaming Spires - Oxford

Oxford is famously known for its prestigious university, with one building said to have been built in the 12th century. Have you heard how the name of The City of Dreaming Spires came about or wondered how many spires the city has and where the best places to see them are? The city is a marvel of architecture, history, and beauty. Here is why you should visit Oxford.

Lush colourful gardens with ancient buildings located by Oxford University.
The City of Dreaming Spires - Oxford ©M D Harding Travel Photography

A Day In The City of Dreaming Spires - Oxford

Victorian poet Matthew Arnold gave the city of Oxford the nickname The City of Spires in his poem 'Thyrsis'. With over 40 spires across the skyline, the best places to see them are from the symbolic centre of Oxford - Carfax Tour, what remains of the 12th century St Martin's Church, the official city church of Oxford from 1122. Centuries-old University regulation requires an undergraduate student of the University to "reside" within 6 miles, and a graduate student within 25 miles as the crow flies from the Carfax tower! It costs only £3.00 and the 360-degree views are incredible, well worth the climb up the 99 spiral stairs. You might also like to visit the Saxon Tower of St Michael's, St Mary's Church Tower, or enjoy a nice cup of tea and cake from the rooftop terrace at The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology.

Carfax Tower in the heart of Oxford city centre.
Enjoy Skyline Views From Carfax Tower, Oxford ©M D Harding Travel Photography

Oxford is also home to some talented writers including C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, and J.R.R Tolkien. Did you know it has also been the filming location for many great TV series including Inspector Morse, Lewis, and also movies such as Young Sherlock Holmes, A Fish Called Wanda, and of course Harry Potter? One of the more recent TV series filmed in Oxford is His Dark Materials.

The outside of Alice's Shop.
Alice's Shop, Oxford ©M D Harding Travel Photography

Christ Church

Christ Church was founded in 1546, by King Henry VIII, and made the college a generous grant of land and other property.

Intrigued to see some of the filming locations in Harry Potter, X-Men, The Golden Compass, and the TV detective series Inspector Morse, Lewis, and Endeavour. Christ Church is a must-visit!

A multi-media tour of Christ Church includes Meadow Quad, Hall Staircase, Great Hall, Tom Quad, Peck Quad, Cathedral, and Cloisters. You might recognise the Great Hall from Harry Potter, said to have been replicated in the Warner Bros Studios in London. The Renaissance Hall was built alongside the kitchens in the 1520s. It is still used today, serving members three daily meals including a formal dinner, where all must wear gowns.

While visiting the Great Hall don't forget to look up and witness the incredible wooden beamed ceiling and admire the beautiful stained glass windows. One window celebrates the fantastical work of Charles Dodgson more famously known as Lewis Carroll - and the inspiration for his works, Alice Liddell, who was the daughter of Henry Liddell (Dean of Christ Church between 1855-1891). Some of the features of the Hall helped to inspire the Hatter’s famous tea party. The elegant Bodley Staircase might also be familiar from Harry Potter.

Do book in advance to secure your ticket and plan your visit around the Great Hall mealtime closures.

The Great Hall as filmed in Harry Potter with long wooden tables, lamps and the walls covered in large painted portraits.
Christ Church College Hall. Oxford ©M D Harding Travel Photography

The Story Museum

The Story Museum is one of the most fun museums I have ever visited! After discovering His Dark Materials (by Philip Pullman) Exhibition, currently taking place across Oxford with the dress worn by the witch Serafina Pekkala, the iconic Subtle Knife, and props at The Story Museum. I was looking forward to visiting. I was not disappointed, there is so much more!

You begin your interactive adventure at the portal, an information bureau for travellers between story worlds. Here a friendly story guide will help you plan your journey through the fictional universe. Visit whispering woods where the trees tell stories, step into Narnia through an actual wardrobe with hanging clothes, and Alice's Room. Then explore the many curious objects relating to stories through the library from famous writers who have studied or live in Oxford. Highly recommend a visit to The Story Museum!

Snow on the ground, a warmly light traditional standing street lamp with snow covered trees.
Step Into Narnia at The Story Museum, Oxford ©M D Harding Travel Photography

The Covered Market

The Covered Market is said to be one of the oldest continually operating markets in the UK dating back to the 1770s. Located right in the heart of the city centre and is home to over 50 specialist independent traders, from food, gifts, home, and the beautiful Garden florist. Many of these are family-owned businesses that have been passed down the generations. With a variety of places to eat, why not sit, relax, and enjoy the unique market atmosphere?

Inside looking at the garden - an independent florist shop with a huge variety of dried and fresh flowers.
The Covered Market, Oxford ©M D Harding Travel Photography

The University of Oxford Botanic Garden

The UK's oldest botanic garden with over 400 years of history - The University of Oxford Botanic Garden is home to 5,000 types of plants from South Africa to Japan, including the world's largest waterlilies to the smallest alpine flowers. It is so much more than a garden, combining world-class science and natural beauty linking to medicine and even gin!

Don't miss a visit into the glasshouses, walled garden, and seeing the literary landmarks, Lyra's bench, daemon sculpture (His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman), Tolkien's tree, and cheshire cat.

Are you ready to discover what fascinated many scientists including Charles Darwin? The evolution of flowering plants, which Darwin is said to have called "An Abominable Mystery".

The gardens are beautiful, please allow enough time to explore and enjoy them. Why not take a garden tour to make the most of your visit?

Looking down a sand gravel path with a large round waterlily pond, beyond, the garden wall with a section carved out. Each side of the wall with grand decorative floral stone ornaments, then through one of the large selections of trees and out onto one of the many church towers.
The University of Oxford Botanic Garden ©M D Harding Travel Photography

Oxford New College

Despite the name, New College is one of the oldest of the many colleges that form part of Oxford University, with almost 650 years of history. Set against the medieval city walls, the New College was an innovation of the time, the first Oxford college to have a quadrangle (finished 1386). It became one of the defining features across all colleges in Oxford!

Don't miss a walk around the chapel with 18th-century stained glass windows, a statue of Lazarus by Jacob Epstein, the beautiful walled garden, contemplative cloisters, and courtyard with its Holm Oak filmed in Harry Potter.

Inside the cloisters at the New College, with red padded seats by the arched windows and ribbed arched ceilings.
New College Cloisters, Oxford ©M D Harding Travel Photography

This was a full day's itinerary in Oxford arriving at 11am and sadly leaving a 4pm. There is so much more to see including the Bodleian Library, History of Science Museum, Pitt Rivers Museum and I can't wait to revisit! I visited in August and although it was busy, it didn't feel overly crowded. Christ Church was fully booked on the particular day I visited, highly recommend booking in advance.

I hope you have enjoyed reading, as much as I have enjoyed sharing with you. As always, I love to hear from you with any questions, comments, and recommendations that you have. You can get in touch with me via email, Facebook, Instagram, and X (previously Twitter).

Thanks to Christ Church, New College, and Oxford Botanic Garden for allowing me to visit.


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