Top 10 Surprisingly Easy Colleges To Visit In Oxford
A visit to Oxford would never be complete without seeing one or even several of its university colleges. Many might think that these colleges are just for the students that attend them but many of them are actually open to the public between certain times throughout the day both in term time and outside of it.
Over 30 colleges make up Oxford University and it can often be confusing to know which ones are worth visiting and how easy they are to access. Whilst all the colleges in Oxford are rather beautiful with their ornate decor and manicured lawns, not all are open to the public. Many can look closed as you walk past but you’ll be surprised to know that they are in fact open to the public.
To make things easier for you, we’ve put together a guide of 10 colleges to visit in Oxford that are surprisingly easy to access whether you’re in Oxford just for the day, for a week or you’re here for the foreseeable future.
1. Christ Church College
Entry: £16.00 for adults, £15 concession
Opening Times: Monday to Saturday 10 am to 5 pm, Sunday 2 pm to 5 pm
One of the most recognisable colleges to visit in Oxford is Christ Church. It’s one of the grandest colleges in Oxford, encases Christ Church Cathedral and one of Oxford’s most beautiful parks, Christ Church Meadow. Famed for its influence on literature and being the location for the Grand Staircase in the Harry Potter movie franchise, Christ Church has many ties with notable alumni throughout its history.
Along the walls of the Dining Room, you’ll find photographs of these famous alumni including William Pitt, John Locke, and Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carrol). The college has so much going for it, although the entry fee is higher than other Oxford Colleges, it is well worth the price. Once you’ve explored the inside of the college take a walk through the gardens to the War Memorial and Rose Garden or stroll along the grassy paths and admire the cattle that graze nearby.
Advanced booking is required and tickets can be ordered through the Christ Church College website.
2. Magdalen College
Entry: £8.00 for adults, £7.00 for children, students, and over 65s
Opening Times: 10 am to dusk or 7 pm whichever is earlier
Founded in 1458, Magdalen College is one of the oldest, largest, and most beautiful colleges to visit in Oxford. It’s well known for its academic excellence, incredible architecture, most notably the Great Tower, and its extensive grounds which include a deer park, water meadow, and Addison’s walk. All of these areas are open to the public year-round and are included in your ticket.
Former students of Magdalen College include Sir John Betjeman, Erwin Schrödinger, Oscar Wild, King Edward VIII, and former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser. When visiting Magdalen College, you’ll be able to get a sneak peek into life at the college today with a tour around the Chapel and Old Kitchen Bar. Once you’ve finished exploring the inside of the college, head to the deer park where you’ll catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures, and follow it up with a leisurely stroll along the River Cherwell.
For more information regarding your visit, please take a look at the Magdalen College website.
3. Balliol College
Entry: £3 for adults, £1 for students and concessions
Opening Times: Monday to Sunday 10 am to 5 pm or dusk (whichever comes first)
Dating back to the 13th Century, Balliol College is one of the oldest colleges to visit in Oxford. Its central location makes it easy to get to and has been a great place of learning for hundreds of years. Many alumni have come from this college, most notably Boris Johnson, Harold MacMillan, Edward Heath, and H. H. Asquith.
The college is home to two quadrangles and is often seen by many as a medieval oasis of peace and quiet in the heart of a bustling city. Whilst visiting the college you’ll also want to take a look around its huge dining hall and its magnificent gardens which covered the majority of the college grounds. Be on the lookout too for the college’s prized tortoises.
Take a look at the Balliol College website for more information regarding your visit
4. Keble College
Opening times: Monday to Sunday 2 pm to 5 pm.
Keble College may not be as well known as some of the other Oxford Colleges however it has a fascinating history dating back to its opening in 1870. The college was founded in memory of John Keble, who was well-known for his best-selling Christian verse and for being a key member of the so-called Oxford Movement.
When it was founded, the aim of Keble College was to make Oxford more accessible to people who had less affluent backgrounds. While the architecture of the building might not be to everyone’s taste, it is still remarkable with its Victorian Gothic redbrick contrasting so powerfully with the Cotsworld sandstone you see everywhere else.
So if you like a little bit of controversy, want to see something different, and want a free attraction, then Keble College is a definite must.
Check out the Keble College website for an in-depth view of its history, grounds, and its stunning architecture.
5. New College
Entry: £8 for adults and seniors, £7 for under 16s and students
Opening times: October to Easter 2 pm to 4 pm, Easter to October 11 am to 5 pm
One of the most intriguing colleges to visit in Oxford is New College. This college is the ultimate place to find out all of Oxford’s highlights in one place. The college has a stunning garden which uses the original city wall giving it a castle-like appearance and for those that love choral music, New College is the best place for it. The choir here are known around the world and has even won two grammy awards.
The most noteworthy place within New College is the Chapel which is home to some incredible art. You may even recognise this college as one of the filming locations for Harry Potter, so if you want your fix of Potter without the high price tag, New College is definitely the one to go for.
If you’re visiting for reasons other than Harry Potter, then you’ll want to check out the impressive dining hall with its huge oak beams across the ceiling as well as take a walk around its stunning grounds where a large mound provides a great viewing platform over the city wall.
To stay up to date with opening times and to check for any planned closures during your stay in Oxford, please visit the New College website.
6. Merton College
Entry: £5 for everyone (brochure with map included)
Opening times: Monday to Friday 2 pm to 5 pm, Saturday 10 am to 5 pm, Sunday 12 pm to 5 pm
Entry to Merton College is £5 per person which is far cheaper than some of the more well-known colleges in Oxford. The college itself is gorgeous and during its 750-year history has hosted many famous alumni including the American poet, T.S Elliot, as well as the ‘Long of the Rings’ author, J.R.R Tolkein. As you immerse yourself in the college’s ancient atmosphere you’ll almost be able to imagine the ideas and characters these famous writers came up with. Lovers of ‘Lord of the Rings’ will enjoy following in the footsteps of J.R.R Tolkein as he became a professor of English Language and Literature from 1945 to 1959.
Whilst visiting the college you’ll want to make a visit to the 13th-century Chapel which took more than 150 years to build and has the second best acoustics in all of Europe. With its strong history steeped in literature, a visit to Merton College would not be complete without walking between the isles of books in the college’s library, which is one of the earliest libraries in England and the oldest academic library in the world still in continuous daily use.
The Merton College website has more information regarding its history as well as information that will help you plan your visit.
7. Trinity College
Entry: £4 for adults, £3 for concessions, free for under 12s
Opening times: Currently only open on weekends from 10 am to 5 pm*
Although physically it’s one of the largest colleges to visit in Oxford there are only around 400 students studying here at one time. For hundreds of years, Trinity College was a men’s college and only become coeducational in 1979. The most recognisable feature of this college is its beautiful iron front gates which have been used in many films and TV programmes.
If you’re looking to visit this stunning college you’ll want to take a look at Trinity Chapel. The chapel itself is one of the most stunning aspects of this college and is still the one Oxford Chapel to contain the tomb of the college founder. Interestingly Sir Thomas Pope is also buried here alongside his wife Elizabeth.
Check out the Trinity College website for more information regarding opening times, the college’s history, and planning your visit.
*The college is currently having work done so is only open to the public on weekends (correct at the time of publishing in October 2022)
8. Oriel College
Entry: £2 for adults, £1 for concessions
Opening times: Monday to Sunday 2 pm to 4 pm
Tucked away in a quiet corner in the centre of Oxford, Oriel College is a definite must-visit if you like medieval history. As your wander through the college, you’ll spot plenty of medieval trinkets and gems such as the coconut cup (one of only 6 in Oxford) and part of the Magna Carta which is under strict lock and key.
The college also houses four medieval halls; Bedel Hall, St Martin Hall, St Mary Hall, and Tackley’s Inn. Oriel was also the last of the Oxford’s Men’s colleges to admit women in 1985 and you’ll be happy to know that nowadays the gender split is pretty equal. Oriel college has the reputation for being the oldest Royal Foundation in Oxford, this title was formerly claimed by University College however, this is no longer the case.
Be sure to check the Oriel College website for details on planned closures, group booking information, and parking information.
9. Lincoln College
Opening times: Monday to Sunday 2 pm to 5 pm
One of the few Oxford Colleges to charge no admission fee, Lincoln College is worth visiting if you’re looking to discover some of Oxford’s history for very little money. The college can be found on Turl Street and is considered to be the smallest and cosiest college in Oxford. Over its 600-year history, Lincoln college has refurbished and developed its historic buildings and established itself as a place of cutting-edge research.
Due to the colleges’ small size, they are unable to accommodate groups larger than 6 people.
Visit the Lincoln College website for more information regarding the college’s history, and visiting hours, and to arrange small group tours.
10. St John’s College
Opening times: Monday to Sunday 1 pm to 5 pm
One of the top colleges to visit in Oxford is St John’s College, this college is the wealthiest and arguably the most spectacular college in Oxford. No matter the season you’ll want to stop in the courtyard and soak up its spellbinding architecture. St Jonn’s college really has everything you could ask for from its surprising Italian renaissance architecture and beautiful chapel to its peaceful gardens and breathtaking courtyard.
The college initially had a strong focus on the creation of an educated priesthood but has since gained a reputation for both law and medicine and has proximately 390 undergraduates, 250 postgraduates and over 100 academic staff. The college has its own wine cellar, tennis courts, and auditorium and it also owns the Oxford Playhouse Building along with two of the most famous pubs; The Lamb and Flag and The Eagle and Child.
For more information regarding the college’s history, take a look at the St John’s College website.