Oxford is famous around the world for its university. One of the oldest establishments of learning in the world, Oxford University has been educating students since before the Aztec Empire was founded. And over the centuries, some of the most famous thinkers, leaders, and artists in history have passed through the doors of Oxford University.
Famous Oxonians include Stephen Hawking, JRR Tolkien, Indira Gandhi, Oscar Wilde, and Edwin Hubble. In fact, more than 30 world leaders have studied at Oxford, not including the 28 British Prime Ministers who went here, along with the 55 Nobel Prize winners the University can claim. So it’s no wonder this historic group of colleges is one of the major tourist attractions in this City of Dreaming Spires.
But once you’ve seen the University and soaked up the academic atmosphere, there’s more to Oxford than colleges and libraries. As a major student city for centuries, Oxford has acquired some very curious attractions and things to see over the years. Leave your bags behind with a convenient luggage storage facility in Oxford and check out some of the lesser-known attractions for yourself.
Oxford has had an impact on the history of Britain and of the entire world that’s completely out of proportion with the size of the city. And any place that has been so important for so long is bound to accumulate more than a few ghost stories over the years. The ancient streets of Oxford are fertile ground for spooky stories, and you can learn more about the darker side of Oxford’s history on one of these entertaining ghost tours.
The tours take place at night, of course, since that provides the best chance of encountering a ghost for yourself. Of course, you’re more likely to see a few drunken students than you are a phantom from the other side, but if you don’t try, you’ll never know. And you don’t have to be a believer in ghosts to get something out of these tours. They offer one of the most entertaining ways to engage with Oxford’s rich history and learn some of the quirkier stories from the city’s past with the help of a knowledgeable guide.
Ghost tours aren’t the only tours with a unique hook you’ll find in Oxford, either. If it’s more to your taste, you can take a Harry Potter tour to see locations used in the filming of the popular series or even an Inspector Morse tour based on the popular British detective show set in Oxford. There’s even a self-guided murder mystery tour so you can try out your own detection skills as you travel the city streets.
The Story Museum
Oxford has been the home of some of the best-loved writers in the UK and throughout the world. Some of the most popular stories ever written were written here or by people who attended the college. This museum explores this connection through interactive exhibits that let you journey through different worlds inspired by the work of local writers.
Join in the Mad Hatter’s tea party as you celebrate the work of Oxford alumnus Lewis Carroll, or encounter a magical world through a wardrobe via the works of CS Lewis. Other fantastical writers like JRR Tolkien and Philip Pullman are also represented. There’s no set route through the museum, so every visit is a voyage of discovery all of its own.
The Bear Inn
Learning is all very well, but sometimes, all you want to do is retreat to a quiet pub and enjoy a pint of local beer and maybe a delicious meal. However, this is Oxford, and so the academic past is never very far away.
Dating back to 1242, this pub is certainly historic, but what sets it apart is its huge collection of cut neckties. This stems from a tradition in the 1950s where the landlord of the pub would give customers half a pint for free if they would cut off their tie – provided the tie belonged to a club organization somewhere in the world.
The result is a collection of thousands of neckties representing clubs and organizations from around the world. So if you want a little bit of quirky history with your lunch, this is a great place to come.
Oxford Museum of the History of Science
Listing all the scientific discoveries that have been made in Oxford over the years would take forever. And thanks to the relentless pursuit of knowledge, Oxford is home to some really incredible museums. However, this one is particularly fascinating, even if it is a little less well-known than some other Oxford cultural institutions.
This museum was first constructed in 1683, which makes it the world’s oldest purpose-built museum. Inside, you’ll find scientific and navigational equipment such as astrolabes and microscopes and learn the stories of the scientists who use them to pull back the curtain and understand the mysteries of the universe.
Don’t miss the seemingly unremarkable chalkboard downstairs. It was used for a lecture delivered by Albert Einstein when he visited Oxford in 1931, and his formulas have never been erased.
Oxford Electric Bell
Located at the university’s Clarendon Laboratory, this bell has been ringing continuously for the last 170 years. The bell was constructed as part of a science experiment and is powered by ancient batteries of unknown composition that are still in perfect working order today. That makes the electric bell one of the world’s oldest continuously-running scientific experiments and a quirky thing to see while you explore this famous city.
Oxford’s unique history as a center of learning has left it with a legacy of many strange artifacts and places to explore. Drop off your bags and check out some of these lesser-known sites to get you off the tourist trail and help you see more of what makes the city so special.