After leaving London, we headed to Oxford to let our inner Gryffindor fanatics out to play. Oxford is everything a castle fanatic and a Harry Potter lover could dream of in one city. Unlike London, life in Oxford seems to be very centred around the university and student life. Most of the buildings are associated with the school and the rest are bars that cater to students. I appreciated the sense of humour in the pub culture of Oxford. Many of them had signs outside that read “Alcohol: because no great story ever started with a guy having a salad” or “Morse may not have drank here but Shakespeare did #shakesbeer.”
Oxford was packed with tourists there to visit the school and tour the campus buildings. Many of them were decked out in UofO swag and Harry Potter scarves. If you did not know, Oxford was the setting for many of the Hogwarts scenes in Harry Potter. Oxford is also home to some of the most amazing museums that I have ever visited. The range of topics and strange collections on display is beyond the imagination. Best of all, the museums are all free!
The museum that I most wanted to visit, the Bodlean, was extremely busy so I decided to save it for another time when it would be a more enjoyable experience. I did, however visit the small exhibit on the Bodlean Treasures and the special exhibit next to it. These are always open to the public for free. People tend to go in quickly and leave soon after because they have not paid admission. So, if the actual Bodlean is very crowded, this is a less busy alternative.
One of the other museums that I visited and really enjoyed was the Pitt Rivers Museum, which is attached to the Natural History museum. It is partially a museum of curiosities and partially a cultural museum. Basically, it is full of historical artifacts that the Brits stole from other countries. It is three stories high and every inch of it is packed with interesting and unique things. Fun fact: the Natural History Museum in Oxford was the site where scholars debated Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1860. Oxford is one of the oldest universities in Europe and the city has witnessed many amazing moments in history.
My favourite place in Oxford was the Pret a Manger inside this 600 year old timber building. The sign in the stairwell claims “Built in 1392 in the old ‘Cornmarket,’ rumour suggests this building was once a brothel. Possibly haunted, it’s definitely romantic.” I thought it was so cool that such a contemporary organization would chose to set up building in a historic building like this one.
Oxford is such a beautiful place and there is so much to see that I would love to go back the next time I find myself in England. The one piece of advice I would offer to anyone going there for the first time is to not pay to go in anywhere until you have walked around for a while. There are several parts of the campus and the city that charge an admission fee. However, if you walk around for a while, you will find that you can see most of the city for free. Do not be fooled by the crowds of tourists piling through the gates of the university and paying £10-15 to see one of the colleges. I found this to be a money grab targeted at tourists. Walk around for a while and then go back if there is something you really want to pay to see, such as the Bodlean.