Renowned for the architectural beauty and prestige of its ancient colleges and university, the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’ is also noted for the contemporary and cosmopolitan ‘buzz’ that pervades its historic streets. Treasures and attractions which are the oldest, finest or even the only one of their kind, compete for our attention with specialist shops, chic hotels and restaurants, bars and theatres . Many of Oxford’s famous places are accessible to the public – but have differing opening days and times. So, to plan a jam-packed day, you’ll need to check details of opening days and times.
Oxford’s gardens, meadows and riverside walks are the city’s hidden treasures. Here are just a few of them. College opening hours are subject to the needs of colleges themselves and may change at any time. Most colleges have beautiful gardens whose plants include banana trees which flourish within the shelter of quadrangle walls.
The University of Oxford Botanic Garden
Founded in 1621, this is the first botanic garden in Britain. The garden enjoys a delightful setting beside the River Cherwell adjacent to Magdalen Bridge, on the site of the former Jewish cemetery (outside the City walls). With its national reference collection of 7,000 different types of plant concentrated in two hectares, this is the most compact yet diverse collection of plants in the world. There is more biological diversity here than in tropical rain forests and other biodiversity hotspots. Plants are grown here to support the garden’s own teaching programmes, for research scientists at the University and elsewhere and as part of plant conservation projects. Open: all year, daily except 25/12 Check the website for details of family days and other regular events. Admission charge at weekends in winter and all week in the summer months. www.botanic-garden.ox.ac.uk
Christ Church Meadow St Aldate’s
Still grazed in summer by Long Horn cattle, the Meadow is held in trust by Christ Church College as a pocket of green countryside which provides tranquil, rural walkways in the very heart of the city. From the main entrance via the Memorial Garden in St Aldate’s, the scenic Deadman’s Walk (the former coffin route to the Jewish cemetery) skirts the boundaries of Christ Church, Corpus Christi and Merton en route to the Botanic Garden, while other paths follow the banks of the meandering River Cherwell or the Isis – the Oxford section of the River Thames. Open: all year, daily. Admission free.
Magdalen College High Street
Right on the High – opposite the Botanic Garden – is 15th -century Magdalen College, whose extensive grounds include its own deer park and Addison’s Walk – named after the 18-century essayist, poet and fellow of the college, Joseph Addison. A champion of landscape gardening, Addison despised such devices as topiary, which bore “the marks of scissors on every plant and bush” advocating instead that a poet must love to “haunt the spring and meadows” where his head must be “full of the humming of bees, the bleating of flocks and the melody of birds” and where “the verdure of the grass and the embroidery of the flowers … will be painted strong in his imagination.” Addison’s rooms overlooked the Water Walk, which now takes his name. The Walk skirts fields and meadows, noted for displays of snake’s head fritillaries in the spring. Look out for the chance of a riverside cuppa in summer. Admission charge. Open: all year, in the afternoons. www.magd.ox.ac.uk
New College, New College Lane
Founded by William Wykeham in 1379 to ensure a supply of well-educated clerics and statesmen after the scourge of the Black Death, this was the first Oxford college to be built around a defined quadrangle. Its beautiful gardens are dominated by a well-preserved section of Oxford’s 12 century city wall and ornamental Mound, the former formally inspected every 3 years by the Lord Mayor and councillors. The walls remain overgrown with ivy. Admission charge. Open: all year, daily www.new.ox.ac.uk
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