- a thematic guide to Britain
and Cambridge - cities like no others
The universities of
Oxford and Cambridge
are among the four oldest universities in the world. Since
founding in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, they have
remained without a break among the greatest and most prestigious
universities in Britain, and today in the world.
many centuries, Oxford and Cambridge were the only
in England. Located in two small market towns some fifty miles from
London, these historic universities were able to grow and develop over
the centuries, with the founding of new "colleges" to cater fro growing
numbers of students.
Oxford and Cambridge colleges have
always been autonomous or independent institutions, within the
framework of their university. The collegiate structure of these
universities allowed them to grow organically over the centuries, by
the addition of new colleges, set up by kings, princes and other
benefactors. The system still continues today, though today's
benefactors are more likely to be successful corporations or their
founders, rather than kings or queens.
small towns in the heart of rural England, far from the turmoil of any
great cities, and well endowed by their benefactors, the colleges had
room to develop. While some buildings were obviously demolished over
the centuries to make room for more modern or larger developments, both
Oxford and Cambridge have preserved an amazing heritage of prestigious
secular and religious buildings from Mediaeval times onwards. Many of
the colleges, and their grounds, are open to visitors.
Both Oxford and Cambridge are easily accessible from London.
Getting to Oxford :
lies north-west of London. The easiest way to get from London to Oxford
is to take the train from London's Paddington station. The fastest
trains reach Oxford in 1 hour and 5 minutes.
For train tickets at cheapest rates, see ► Raileasy
there are regular fast buses from Buckingham Palace road, London, to
Oxford: the "Oxford Tube" bus service takes 1 hour and 40 minutes, with
up to five departures an hour.
Getting to Cambridge
lies due north of London. The easiest way to get to Cambridge is to
take the train from London's Kings Cross or Liverpool Street stations.
The fastest trains reach Cambridge in 46 minutes from King's Cross, and
1 hour 20 minutes from Liverpool Street. see ► Raileasy
Buses run from Victoria Coach Station to Cambridge, but the journey,
though normally cheaper, takes about two and a half hours.
colleges of Oxford are clustered round the the city centre and its main
artery, the Broad. Most colleges admit visitors to their public areas,
including historic quadrangles and chapels. Some Oxford colleges charge
an admission fee, others do not.
Most colleges have stunning gardens, at their best
in Spring. Among the finest are the gardens of Brasenose
and those of St. Hugh'
college.... and the Oxford
, near Madgalen Bridge.
Oxford's colleges have many plaques and memorials to great
eminent people who have studied there. Among the former students of Christ Church
college, for instance, are William Penn, John Locke, W.H.Auden, and
Lewis Carroll - as well as 13 British Prime Ministers. The college's
chapel has the unusual feature of being also the cathedral church for
the city of Oxford; and Christ Church's great refectory was the model
for the refectory at Hogwarts, in the Harry Potter films.
In addition to the colleges themselves, Oxford has
other notable monuments, the most interesting of which are the Ashmolean
one of the best art galleries and museums in England, and the Bodleian
Library, the largest university library in Britain with over 9 million
works, and a treasure trove of historic books and manuscripts.
Part of the Bodleian, the circular neo-classical
18th century Radcliffe
is probably the most photographed building in
Oxford, and the most distinctive Palladian-style building in Britain.
There are a number of other historic monuments in
Oxford, such as the nineteenth-century Martyr's Memoria
close to Brasenose college; but no visit to Oxford can be complete
without a trip in a punt (a flat bottomed boat), on the river Cherwell.
Punts can be hired - either with a punter or on a self-punt basis, from
two points, the most accessible of which being at Magdalen Bridge
the foot of the High Street. Note that Magdalen, in Oxford, is
The official Oxford
Tourist Information centre
is located at 15 - 16 Broad Street, opposite Balliol college. This is
one of the departure points for the Oxford hop-on hop-off city tour buses
, and for
other tours of the city on foot or by bike.
For things to see near Oxford, see Central southern England
on the Cam at
colleges, like those of Oxford university, are clustered found the city
centre. But in Cambridge, the most emblematic group of colleges are
those along "The Backs
those that are built along the banks of the river Cam –
mostly on the
Among these colleges are Trinity
College, founded by King Henry VIII. The largest of the Cambridge
colleges, and with its 31 Nobel prizewinners in the 20th century,
Trinity is reputedly the most successful of Cambridge colleges in
Academic terms. Among Trinity's most famous alumni were Sir Isaac
Newton, Stanley Baldwin, and Nehru. Trinity's Great Court is an early
17th century building, and its famous Wren library
designed by Sir Christopher Wren, is Cambridge University's largest.
Next door to Trinity stands perhaps the most
famous of Cambridge colleges in terms of tourism, King's College
top of the page). KIng's college was founded by King Henry VI in the
year 1441; its famous chapel, essentially built between 1446 and 1515,
is reputed to be the finest example of English perpendicular gothic
architecture. The King's College chapel annual Carol Service is
broadcast on radio and television all over the world, just before
Among other colleges that are interesting to visit
are Peterhouse, Clare
college and Emmanuel
About 500 metres down Trumpington street from the
main entrance to King's college is the Fitzwilliam
with its impressive collection of paintings including four works by
Titian and four by Monet.
is a popular tourist activity at Cambridge, just as it is at Oxford.
The main punt hire location is at the foot of Mill Lane / Silver
Street, which is between King's college and the Fitzwilliam. The most
popular punting route is northwards along the "Backs", passing by
King's college and Trinity, and under the famous "Bridge of Sighs
College. Alternatively, punters can go in the other direction, along
the river Cam towards Grantchester.
is located about 100 yards from King's college. The centre organises
walking tours of Cambridge, and sells tickets for the Cambridge hop-on
hop-off tour buses
You may also like this ► 4-hour
(audio guide for walking tours).
For a selection of some of the best
visit near Cambridge, see the East