I’ve spent a year living in Oxford (as a teacher) and also visited several times since I left as my Mom and my sister live there, and I am here today to help you to find out how to visit the best colleges in Oxford. There is no doubt that Oxford is one of the most beautiful and historical cities in England. Of course it is mostly famous for being home to one of the oldest and most prestigious Universities in the world. It attracts people from all over, many of them often ask me: What are the best colleges to visit in Oxford?
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Confession – Why I did not Study at Oxford University!
Here’s my confession….I actually was going to apply to study religion and theology at Oxford, and went to the open day. I asked about clubbing and nights out in Oxford and one of the students said to me: ‘If you are going to base you university choice on that then maybe you should be coming here!’ OK, cue Manchester University for me! Manchester actually suited me well as a student (and I actually slipped a grade!), but I still always enjoy visiting the Oxford colleges as a tourist!
There really is something magical about visiting Oxford and the University colleges. I guess that’s why some of the buildings were chosen as a filming destination for Harry Potter!
What Architectural style are the Oxford Colleges Built in?
The Oxford Colleges are mostly built in the English early Gothic and Gothic Revival architectural styles, which was popular from the 12th-16th Centuries. It is the beauty of the gates, turrets and spires of the Oxford colleges that make the city so attractive to visitors.
Are the Oxford Colleges Open to the Public?
The great news is that most Oxford colleges are open to the public, although some are only open to guide tours that are pre-booked. Some colleges (such as All Souls) are free to get in while others you have to pay for. It is advisable that you visit this website for information on specific colleges and links to the individual college websites.
When should I visit the Oxford Colleges?
The best time of year to visit the colleges of Oxford is spring to early summer (April-June) or late summer (September) when it is less busy with tourists, but there are still students around to meet.
The academic year at Oxford University is divided into three terms: Michaelmas term from October to December. Hilary term from January to March. Trinity term from April to June. So don’t go to the Oxford colleges outside of these times if you are hoping to meet students. Also, some colleges are not open to the public on weekends and so if you are coming to Oxford for just two or three days then weekdays may be best.
The weather in the spring and early summer will also be mild to pleasant making it a good time to visit in practical terms. At this time of year the beautiful flowers of Oxford will be in full bloom, making it the time of year for the best photographs!
I would not recommend visiting England between November and February due to the cold and unpredictable weather. Oxford is a walkable city and it will not be so fun doing this in the snow or pouring rain. Also there can be ice in the winter months and not everywhere gets gritted and so you run the risk of slips and falls!
Consider avoiding UK public holidays (check UK bank holidays here) and UK school holidays when you book (Oxford can be packed in half terms). Also you may want to avoid Christmas and Easter when it will be extremely busy and some of the colleges may be closed to visitors due to staff holidays. That is unless you want to visit for one of the festive services, of course! Oxford college chapels are very beautifully decorated during Christmas time.
How many Colleges are in Oxford University?
There are over 30 Oxford Colleges, so when you are visiting the Oxford Colleges, plan your time carefully – you probably won’t have time to visit them all!
How long to spend visiting the Oxford Colleges?
It would be easy to spend a whole week in Oxford visiting the castle, colleges, Churches and Museums. Most people will spend 3 days in Oxford and this should be enough time to visit the best Oxford colleges and other main sites of the city. However, if you are really pushed for time I have put together this intense itinerary on how to spend one day in Oxford which includes two colleges – Christ Church and Magdalen, and also the University Church.
Best Colleges to Visit in Oxford
Some of the Best Colleges to Visit in Oxford include All Souls College, Christ Church College, New College and Magdalen College (pronounced Maudlin). Here’s my top 10 Oxford colleges to visit as a tourist:
#1 All Souls College
The college was founded in 1438 and is located in the heart of Oxford, close to many other colleges and academic departments. It has a small and highly competitive student body, with most students being graduate students who are studying for advanced degrees. All Souls is also home to a number of distinguished academics and researchers, and it has a strong reputation for research and scholarship in a wide range of fields. Some of the college’s notable alumni include several prime ministers and other prominent politicians, as well as numerous scholars and writers.
The best thing about this college is that it is free to visit, so you can just rock up (as long as you avoid Christmas Day and other college holidays). No ticket is needed.
#2 Christ Church College
Christ Church is one of the largest and most prestigious colleges of the University, and is located in the heart of Oxford. Christ Church was founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII, and it has a long and rich history. The college has educated many notable figures over the years, including 13 British prime ministers and numerous other politicians, writers, and scholars.
The most famous part of the building is the ‘Tom Tower’ or Tom Gate, which is the gate to Christ Church College. It is a gothic style tower that was designed by Christopher Wren. The The 7 ton bell in the tower is known as ‘Great Tom’ and it chimes 101 times a night to signify the original scholars of Christ Church.
Christ Church is also home to the Cathedral of Christ Church, which is the seat of the Bishop of Oxford. You can book a tour of Christ Church College through Get Your Guide here.
Cost: Visit is by guided tour only – £12 on the door or £10 if you book online in advance.
#3 Magdelen College
Magdelen College (pronounced Maudlin) is located on the banks of the River Cherwell in the city of Oxford, and is known for its beautiful and historic buildings and grounds. The college was founded in 1458. Magdalen College is also home to a number of important cultural and artistic resources, including the Magdalen College Choir, which is one of the most renowned choirs in the world, and the Magdalen College Library, which contains a large collection of rare and valuable books and manuscripts.
Cost: Adults £9.50 (£8.50 concessions such as students and pensioners) or a family ticket (2 adults and up to 3 children aged 7 or over) is £28.
#4 New College
It is one of the oldest colleges of the University, having been founded in 1379, and it is located in the heart of Oxford. New College was made famous as one of the filming locations of Harry Potter and its majestic hallways and beautiful widow arches make it easy to see why it was chosen for this.
#5 Trinity College
It is located in the heart of Oxford (located on Broad Street), and is known for its beautiful and historic buildings and grounds. The college was founded in 1555, originally as a training ground for Catholic Priests. It has a reputation amongst the students for having the best food in Oxford!
Cost: Adults £4, seniors/children £3.
#6 University College
University College is one of the oldest and most prestigious colleges of the University, having been founded in 1249 by William Durham. To visit University College you need to book a guided tour in advance (maximum of 15 people per tour). There is a VR app which offers a virtual tour of parts of the College (with commentary). It is available from both the Apple App Store (search ‘Univ VR App’) and via Google Play.
Cost: £2 per ticket (free for children under 5 years old)
#7 Merton College
Merton College was founded in 1264 and is worth visiting for its beautiful gardens that are surrounded by the city wall. Merton College has medieval and 17th-century buildings, including a 13th-century chapel. There are guided tours of this college in the summer only for £5, which are worth it if you want to know more about the history of the college.
Cost: Adults £3, concessions £2 and free for children under 13
#8 Balliol College
Balliol (Pronounced Bayley-ul) college was founded in 1263 and is one of the prettiest of the Oxford colleges. It’s Alumni includes the former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Bojo!) The Chapel of Balliol college has beautiful stained glass windows and there are War Memorials displayed at The Chapel Passage. The great hall is another good example of an Oxford College Hall with Harry Potter Vibes!
Cost: £5 for adults, concessions and students £3
#9 Lincoln College
Lincoln is the smallest of the Oxford colleges, but still very beautiful and worth visiting, especially as it is another one of the best Colleges to Visit in Oxford that is free to get in. It’s compact and the buildings seen from the main Quad are covered in Ivy. You can go up the second staircase to see John Wesley’s room which is behind a glass doorway.
Tips for Visiting the Best Colleges in Oxford
- Check on the college websites in advance to make sure that they are open to the public and check the opening times – https://www.ox.ac.uk/visitors/visiting-oxford/visiting-the-colleges.
- Spend at least 3 days in Oxford to visit the best colleges in Oxford.
- Oxford is a walkable city – good walking boots and a raincoat (just incase) are a must!
- Visit Oxford in the early spring or summer when then weather is mild and the flowers are in bloom.
- The best colleges to visit in Oxford are Christ Church College, New College and Magdalen College, so prioritise these and book in advance if you are on a limited time schedule.
- If you are on a budget the following Oxford Colleges are all free to visit: All Souls College, Lincoln College, Keble College, Kellogg College, Brasenose College, Corpus Christi College, Hertford College, Mansfield College, Nuffield College, The Queens College, St Hilda’s, St John’s, St Peter’s and Lady Margaret Hall.
- Exeter College is currently closed to tourists.
- Behave appropriately when visiting the colleges – no shouting or selfie sticks and remember to dress conservatively for visiting the Churches of Oxford.
- If you are a Harry Potter fan then I would highly recommend a Harry Potter guided tour of Oxford and the relevant colleges.
I hope you enjoyed my guide on the Best Colleges to Visit in Oxford! You might also like to book this Walking tour of Oxford and the University Buildings with Get Your Guide.
If you are spending time in this beautiful University city you might also find these Oxford travel guide helpful:
- Visiting the Churches in Oxford
- How to spend one day in Oxford
- Free things to do in Oxford
- Things to do in Oxford