Oxford is the oldest university city in the United Kingdom, some 50 miles (80 km) to the west of the capital London in its own county of Oxfordshire, on the river Thames (the section of the Thames in Oxford is known as "The Isis") and Cherwell. Together with Cambridge (the second oldest university city and Oxford's great rival), Oxford has long represented the English academic establishment and elite ("Oxbridge"), a haven of tradition and endeavour. Oxford's famous "Dreaming Spires" refer to the medieval churches and colleges that dominate the bustling modern town in all their Gothic splendour. Picturesque architecture and a vibrant modern life (driven by students, light industry and technology) set in the rolling countryside of Oxfordshire make this a great destination.
Oxford was first occupied in Saxon times, and was initially known as "Oxanforda". The settlement began with the foundations of St Frideswide's nunnery in the 8th century, and was first mentioned in written records in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 912. By the 10th century Oxford had become an important military frontier town between the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex and was on several occasions raided by the Danes.
The University of Oxford was founded in the 12th century and therefore constitutes the oldest English-speaking university. Oxford, like Cambridge, differs from many other universities in that there is no 'campus' as such, and no central university building. Instead, the University consists of approximately 40 colleges and associated buildings, such as the Exam Schools (on the High Street: closed to the public), the world-famous Bodleian Library (main buildings in Radcliffe Square, off the High Street: limited access to the public), and several world-class museums. Each college has its own individual character, some date from the 13th century, others are merely a few decades old. Many of the colleges are closed to the public, particularly during term times, but some are open at different times. For example: Christ Church (the college of "Brideshead" fame) is mostly open, and has the added bonus of having a (small) cathedral attached, where excellent music is performed at Evensong everyday; it also has an excellent art gallery. Some of Christ Church's buildings are used in films such as Harry Potter. Other colleges of note are Magdalen (pronounced 'maudlin'), which has a deer park, and those along the High Street, all of which have an impressive list of alumni. Shelley fans should visit University College. Former women-only colleges such as the pretty Somerville (Woodstock Rd) further to the north of the centre are interesting to get a feel for the range of colleges in Oxford. Read more