Oxford and Cambridge are renowned as two of the world’s most famous university towns and consequently crowded tourist hotspots in the summer ‘high’ season. With autumn and the start of the new semester upon us, now is the time to visit if you want to soak up the history and heritage of either without jostling with throngs of other tourists. The question is Oxford or Cambridge? You decide... OXFORD Oxford is home to the oldest university in Britain whose high profile past students include William Morris, Oscar Wilde and Lewis Carroll no less. Oxford isn’t a large city and so can easily be explored on foot or by bike.
Culture vulture If you want to witness how Oxford undergraduates live, join a two hour walking tour (www.visitoxford.org) which takes in ultra famous colleges like Christ Church (the largest and grandest of the colleges and the setting for some of the Harry Potter films), pretty Magdalen (pronounced Mawd-len) College said to have inspired CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and Merton College – one of Oxford’s original three colleges.
Pop into the Bodleian Library (www.bodley.ox.ac.uk), one of the oldest public libraries in the world, and the Ashmolean Museum (www.ashmolean.org) where you’ll find a vast collection of art and antiquities on display. In the afternoon, take a stroll along the River Isis to the Trout – the famed watering hole of Inspector Morse.
Shop till you drop Those in the know head to the High Street, a busy street lined with architecturally beautiful buildings and famously described by one American writer as “the finest street in England”. Alternatively head for the Cornmarket or ‘The Corn’ as it is referred to by locals; it’s a place to see and be seen.
Out on the town Thanks largely to the town’s student and tourist population, Oxford has a relatively vibrant and buzzing nightlife and you’ll find bars, cafes and restaurants dotted all over the city. The big name chains are out in full force but if you slip off the main streets and into the delightful courtyards, you will discover something a little different like Turf Tavern – a much loved medieval pub.
Need to know Oxford Express (www.oxford.bus.co.uk) and Oxford Tube (www.oxfordtube.com) buses leave London every 15 minutes with a journey time of approximately 90 minutes. A quicker but more expensive option is to take the train; there are services from London Paddington to Oxford every 30 minutes.
CAMBRIDGE Cambridge University, whose famous former students include William Wordsworth, Charles Darwin, John Cleese, Oliver Cromwell and Lord Byron (the latter of whom is said to have bathed naked with his pet bear in a fountain in the Great Court at Trinity College) was founded in the 13th century. Much like its arch rival, Oxford, Cambridge is a compact city that is easy to navigate.
Culture vulture No visit to this bustling market town is complete without visiting a few of Cambridge’s 31 colleges. Take a stroll through Trinity College where literary greats Dryden and Tennyson studied and you’ll see the 15th century clock tower featured in Chariots of Fire. Don’t miss the Wren Library: its collection includes AA Milne’s Original Winnie the Pooh. Nearby in Neville’s Court is the spot where Sir Isaac Newton first calculated the speed of sound. However, the most impressive building is undoubtedly King’s College; a gothic treasure that took 100 years to build. Colleges out the way, head for the river where you can pile into a punting boat and drift off down the River Cam... a blissful way to end a day.
Shop till you drop Market Square is at the heart of Cambridge’s shopping district, while the Grafton Shopping Centre is just a few minutes’ walk away. Between them lies a wealth of individual and national outlets.
Out on the town Cambridge institution, Clowns (King St), serves cheap, tasty Italian food while at Rainbow Vegetarian Bistro the emphasis is on exotic organic dishes. For a more raucous night out, try Ballare (Heidelberg Gardens). Despite its upmarket name, the DJs play cheesy tunes into the wee small hours.
Need to know Cambridge is best reached by train. There are services every 30 minutes from London’s King’s Cross and Liverpool Street stations with the journey time taking anywhere between 45 minutes to 75 minutes.