A walking tour of Oxford’s Colleges

Oxford College Walking Tour

There are thirty-eight colleges in the University of Oxford, not all are open to the public. So last Easter with family visiting, we did our best walking tour of Oxford. If you’ve got an afternoon to spend in Oxford, this route takes you from Covered Market, Christchurch ending up at Radcliffe Camera – covering several Oxford Colleges.

Start at the Covered Market…

Oxford College Walking Tour

Oxford’s Covered Market is a warren of independent traders ranging from Moo Moos Milkshakes, who will whip you up any flavour you could possibly imagine to the traditional milliners, The Hat Box, and the Market Barber, where the city’s hipsters get all their hair grooming needs. Tom is also quite partial to a wet shave and at £15 a go – it’s a good bargain!

The market has been at the centre of Oxford since 1774 and was intended to clear the ‘untidy, messy and unsavoury stalls’ which littered the main streets of Oxford. The market was originally designed by John Gwyn, the architect of Oxford’s Magdalen Bridge, to eventually include 40 butchers stalls which sold meat, dairy products, garden produce and fish.

A new discovery for us in the Covered Market – the Colombia Coffee Roasters, the team freshly roast their coffee on site every day and the aroma simply wafted through the market. The team are part of a generation of independent coffee farmers and roasters in Colombia. The 100 per cent arabica beans ground in-store are from the family’s farm as well as neighbouring coffee farms – meaning they can trace the origin of every bean.  With a full roasted, aromatic and plum flavour, our coffee was worthy of the #baristaart title.

Oxford College Walking Tour

Next stop Christchurch College…

Oxford College Walking Tour

Not far from the Covered Market is Christchurch College. Not all of Oxford’s Colleges are open to the public and some are only open on particular days. Christchurch, on the other hand, is generally open most weekends. Here are a few interesting facts about the college…

  • It was originally founded by Cardinal Wolsey as Cardinal’s College in 1525.
  • Once Wolsey fell from the King’s grace, the college became the property of Henry VIII who appointed the old monastery church as a cathedral of the new diocese of Oxford. Originally named Aedes Christi, in English it means Christ Church. Henry VIII’s portrait hangs in the Great Hall.
  • During the English Civil War, Charles I lived at Christchurch holding his parliament in the Great Hall.
  • Former student, Sir Christopher Wren, who designed St Paul’s Cathedral, was commissioned to design a new bell tower in 1682, housing the bell, Great Tom.
  • The Great Hall is adorned with portraits of its famous alumni including Lewis Carroll, Albert Einstein and some 13 prime ministers, including William Gladstone, who was in office four times during the 19th century.   
  • Latterly, Christchurch’s Great Hall was the setting for the Hogwart’s Grand Dining Hall, whilst its architecturally magnificent staircase featured in a Voldemort flashback in ‘Chamber of Secrets.’

If you’ve only got an afternoon to visit an Oxford College, Christchurch is a good bet, it gives a great feel of student life.

Oxford College Walking Tour

Glimpses into Oxford Colleges…

From here, we went for a walk round some of the other colleges but with these, you can really only poke your head in the door. But not far from Christchurch they make a good walk.

We first went to Oriel College (below). Over 700 years old, it is the fifth oldest of the University of Oxford’s Colleges.  Home to 300 undergrads and 200 postgrads, its buildings date from the 17th century.

Oxford College Walking Tour

Corpus Christi was founded in 1517 and overlooks the Oxford’s Bodleian Library and was founded by Richard Fox, bishop of Winchester, trusted advisor of Henry VII. Originally meant for the training of monks, the college probably would not have survived the reformation, instead of the college specialised in learning for young men in humanities and science.  Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII first wife, was one of the college’s first visitors.

A short walk from Corpus Christi is Merton College, whose alumni includes TS Eliot and JRR Tolkien. The college was founded in 1264 and its Mob Library is the oldest continuously functional library for university academics and students in the world.

Oxford’s Examination School (below) was built in 1876 and designed by Sir Thomas Jackson. It was created to house the University of Oxford’s examinations. As a member of the University of Oxford’s Parks department, Tom often has to rush over in the morning to get the lawns mown by 9 am before the exams get started.

Oxford College Walking Tour

The Queen’s College was named in honour of Queen Philippa by its founder Robert de Eglesfield in 1341 and he envisaged a college for scholars from Cumberland and Westmorland, creating a community of North Westerners. Although admissions are now open to everyone, the college still upholds its special links with the North West. Queen’s is also the only Oxford college to be house entirely Baroque buildings, influenced by Nicholas Hawksmoor.

Oxford College Walking Tour

All Soul’s College (above) has never taken undergraduates and it’s a fierce process to become a Fellow. Up until a few years ago, prospective Fellows had to sit a frightening exam paper that contained no questions and just one word – known as the ‘Essay’.  Although this has now been dropped, since 1878, anyone who has achieved an undergrad First in their final exams has been invited to the All Souls Prize Fellowship Examination – a three day ritual with six 3 hour exams, one exam each morning and afternoon.

Of the 500 undergrads who score a First at Oxford each year, only 30 undertake to go for one of the two Prize fellowships. Those who pass the papers, get invited for ‘knife and fork’ test, one last, romantic trial – cherry pie is served as pudding to see what the candidates do with the stones.

Our final stop – Radcliffe Camera, one of Oxford’s most distinctive buildings, was designed by James Gibbs to house the Radcliffe Science Library. Its building was funded by John Radcliffe, a notable doctor, who left £40,000 upon his death in 1714. You’ll often see the Camera as the backdrop in Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis and Endeavour!

Oxford College Walking Tour




  1. May 8, 2017 / 6:38 am

    I really enjoyed reading this. I haven’t been to Oxford for a while, but you’ve reminded me I should arrange another visit. I love the Covered Market and having a peek at the colleges.

    • May 8, 2017 / 8:40 am

      Thanks Sara! I’d love to hear any more tips for great places to visit?!

  2. May 8, 2017 / 8:51 am

    Lovely Post! Oxford has some truly amazing architecture and that coffee looks devine!!

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