Appreciating Oxford’s architectural gems needn’t cost much

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Posted by Sarah

When I was at school, I was never one for dreaming of going to Oxford or Cambridge – I don’t think I could have withstood the pressure! But a friend of mine was lucky enough to get in to Oxford and the first time I went to visit her, I suddenly realised what a beautiful place it was. It’s definitely a city best characterised by the dazzling architectural brilliance of all the Oxford colleges. As a poor student, I loved it because I could see all of its most spectacular sights just by walking around, without having to spend a penny. So it’s only natural that I’ve been thinking about it more recently, as travellers continue to seek inexpensive but entertaining short breaks in the UK during the recession.

Hotels in Oxford city centre can be expensive – in fact, in peak seasons, they’re not much cheaper than hotels in London. But if you book well in advance, it’s definitely possible to find accommodation on a lower budget. And if you’ve got friends or family that live there or nearby, it won’t hurt to ask if you can kip on their sofa for free! But whatever you end up paying for Oxford hotels or B&Bs, it’s unlikely that you’ll spend much on actually seeing the attractions around you. Its buildings are really something to behold, ranging from ancient colleges dating back to the twelfth century and relatively ‘newer’ additions from the nineteenth century.

It’s not an especially original choice but my favourite college to gaze at is Christ Church, not just because of its beautiful grounds but also its literary connections. The early part of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (one of my favourite books) is set here, as is parts of Alice in Wonderland. Some of the Harry Potter films were also filmed here, so it’s definitely one to put on your viewing list. I’d also suggest a walk around the Bodleian Library and the Radcliffe Camera – though you probably won’t be able to get in, both of these majestic buildings are definitely worth a look.

If you’re into your history, the Ashmolean museum – one of my top UK museums – is an essential stop on your Oxford break, but remember, it’s closed for refurbishments until later this year. Moreover, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History is another wondrous sight, with loads of fascinating exhibits. And since both these attractions offer free entry, there’s no excuse not to visit.

If Oxford’s multitude of scenic walks seems as though it could be a little overwhelming, you’ll find plenty of tour guides happy to take you around. A budget option would be download Oxford walking tours from Tourist Tracks, a company that offers handy audio tours that you can just download onto your MP3 player. For £5, the Oxford tour offers highlights within and outside the Medieval City, as well as a Christ Church and river tour. I’d suggest getting one of these before you go – and don’t forget your walking boots either!

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