My trip to Oxford was very kindly gifted to me by Experience Oxfordshire, however all of my impressions and the views expressed below are my own
Harry Potter nerds, rejoice! You may not be able to find your way to Hogwarts (because of the charms, y’all), but you can feel pretty close to it with a trip to the stunning Oxford University for a Harry Potter tour.
As the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford is a unique and historic institution. There is no clear date of foundation, but teaching existed at Oxford in some form in 1096 and developed rapidly from 1167, when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. Not only is it chock-full of English history, Oxford is nestled in rolling green hills that makes the whole area painfully beautiful. Right from the start, Oxford captured my heart.
As Yeats said -““I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful.”
From Paddington station (yes, that Paddington Bear station), it takes just under an hour to be whisked through the English countryside to this historic university town. It’s a good idea to pack a book, but make sure to glance up from time to time to soak in the countryside as it goes whizzing by.
I hadn’t originally planned to travel outside of London but when I heard about the amazing walking tours that Experience Oxfordshire have organised, I knew I had to make the time. After much internal debating (and checking travel schedules), I settled on the Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland Tour. This tour only runs on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and covers the main Harry Potter filming locations, as well as key points of interest for Alice in Wonderland fans.
All of the walking tours depart from the Experience Oxfordshire office (except for the pub tour – on my list for next time!). It’s an easy 15 minute walk from the train station, but if you’re anything like me, it would be best to allow a little extra time to explore the sights along your way (and to walk past the shop front three times before you finally find it).
From the start, it was clear that the Harry Potter nerds were in the majority on this tour. Whatever magic JK Rowling has snuck into her books, it still has a strong hold on her fans (…and me. Totally me). I felt a little sorry for our guide, who was clearly a passionate fan of Lewis Caroll and his work, and was now having to diversify to accommodate this Harry Potter craze. But I’m glad she did! While none of her Harry Potter info was new to me (and I had to educate the group that the mascot of the Ravenclaw house is NOT a raven – I will fight anyone on this!), the Alice in Wonderland sections of the tour were so much more delightful than I could have ever expected. Oxford has had over 150 years to take ownership of Alice, so there are delightful hidden nods to Caroll’s work around every corner, and I wouldn’t have noticed any of them without our wonderful guide. Even Tweedledum and Tweedledee have made an appearance!
Can you spot Alice and her White Rabbit?
One of the most magical (see what I did there?) parts of the tour is being able to take a peak inside the incredible colleges. We looked at two of the dining halls that are still used by students every day. Can you even imagine rolling up to a hungover brunch in this incredible space?!
While the smaller (and older) Christ Church College dining hall wasn’t actually used as a filming location by Warner Bros, it’s easy to see that it was the inspiration for the Great Hall of Hogwarts.
Pumpkin Pasty, anyone?
Outside of the Great Hall, there are a few locations scattered around Oxford that were used as shooting locations in the Harry Potter films. While we weren’t able to see inside the famous Bodleian Library (the set for both the infirmary and the Hogwarts Library in Philosopher’s Stone and also heavily featured in the His Dark Materials books), we did get to see this magnificent staircase. I could have stayed for hours, trying to capture every angle of it.
A chocolate frog for anyone who recognises this iconic stairwell…
Normally I’m a tour-guide’s pet, but this was definitely a tour where around every corner, they were stopping to say ‘wait…where’s Abbie gone?’. But with so much history crammed into such a small area, how could you blame me?
I even snuck back to capture more shots of the beautiful New College Cloisters (although at over 600 years old, New College is hardly new anymore). I was lucky to come back at a time when the area was deserted, and it was a beautiful corner to sit and read a chapter or two.
In hindsight, I definitely didn’t allow enough time to explore Oxford, let alone the Oxfordshire region. There’s such a wealth of nooks and crannies to explore (and when I was there, a teeny tiny exhibition with original drafts of The Hobbit!).
So farewell for now Oxford, but I’ll be back! There’s a 13th century pub that apparently bears a striking resemblance to the Three Broomsticks and it’s calling my name…