Oxford’s best historical sightseeing locations

Given that it was first settled in Saxon times, it should be little surprise that Oxford is home to some awe-inspiring historical sightseeing locations. A stroll around Oxford will reveal beautiful buildings and sights that date back from the Saxon period and on throughout history which give a glimpse back through time at Oxford gone by.

Because there are so many places to see it can be difficult to know where to start. Follow this list to make sure you get to see Oxford’s best historical sightseeing locations.

Saxon Tower Of St. Michael At The North GateSaxon Tower

Image courtesy of Tracey & Doug

This is the oldest existing building in Oxford, and is first recorded in 1040 AD. Climb to the top of the tower to get a sweeping view over the roofs of Oxford. A visit to the church also offers many historical points of interest. It is home to the 15th century pulpit from which John Wesley, founder of Methodism, delivered a sermon in 1726, a stained glass window from the 13th century, and a 14th century font. You can also see the original door from the prison cell that held the Oxford Martyrs before they were burned at the steak. The door was salvaged from the Bocardo Prison before it was demolished in 1771.

The Sheldonian Theatresheldonian theatre

Image courtesy of David E. Smith

This Grade I listed building is Oxford University’s official ceremonial hall, where students attend their matriculation and graduation ceremonies. The theatre was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and construction was finished in 1669. When not in use the public are welcome to visit and learn about the building’s history as well as enjoy its remarkable painted ceiling, completed during the reign of King Charles II.

Blackwell’s Bookstore

Blackwell’s is an Oxford institution which dates back to 1879. The original bookstore on Broad Street is home to the single biggest room dedicated to selling books, the Norrington Room. Covering 10,000 square feet and containing more than 160,000 books this is a bibliophile’s paradise. The room was created by tunnelling out under the grounds of Trinity College.

Oxford CastleOxford Castle

Image courtesy of Tejvan Pettinger

Originally built by the Norman’s to control Oxford and the surrounding areas, Oxford Castle was used as a prison right up until 1996. Only an earthen mound remains of the original motte and bailey castle, but some of the stonework dates from the 11th century, particularly St. George’s Tower and its crypt. There are guided tours around the castle, with ‘in character’ guides who will let you in on the often gruesome history of the castle. You’ll also find an art gallery, café and gift shop on site.

Martyr’s Memorial

This impressive example of Victorian Gothic design commemorates the 16th century Oxford Martyrs, and sits just outside Balliol College. In 1555 and 1556 Anglican bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, and Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer were burnt at the stake for heresy relating to their religious beliefs and practices.

There are too many historical sites in Oxford to list here, but make sure you also see the Ashmolean museum, Bodleian library and the various university buildings, all of which have varied and interesting histories. Spend some time exploring Oxford and you’ll learn a lot about its past as well as its present.

For more information about things to do in Oxford, check out the wealth of great articles on the Four Pillars hotel blog.

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