Which Are the Best Oxford Colleges to Visit?

Oxford University is one of the most prestigious universities in the Western world. This world-renowned school has educated global leaders including Theresa May, Margaret Thatcher, and Bill Clinton; literary geniuses such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Oscar Wilde, and Vera Brittain; celebrated scientists including Stephen Hawking, Dorothy Hodgkin, and Erwin Schrodinger; and famous actors Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Grant, and Kate Beckinsale.

With such an impressive roster of alumni, it is not surprising that some records show education was taking place at Oxford back in 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world. This unique University contains over 30 individual colleges in place of a central campus location. Each college provides students with a more personal, intimate college experience despite the university’s large size.

If you’re visiting Oxford on a trip throughout the United Kingdom, here are the best five colleges to visit.

1. New College

New College is known for its music and art. The college choir is world-renowned and has even won a couple Grammy awards! In the chapel, there is an impressive collection of famous art including an original El Greco.

Fans of the Harry Potter films will likely recognise a few parts of New College, since it was used as one of the exterior locations in the earlier movies. The gothic architecture at New College helped create the imagined Hogwarts University. You can see more of the filming locations here.

Open: Easter through October – 11 am to 5 pm. October to Easter – 2 pm to 4 pm.

2. Balliol College

Balliol College was founded in 1263, making it one of the oldest colleges at Oxford University. In addition to its old age, Balliol College offers a huge dining room, a stunning chapel, and a beautiful garden. However, the college’s collection tortoise is what really makes it stand out! Each year a student is assigned the role of ‘Comrade Tortoise’ to tend to the college’s shared pet.

Open: Monday through Sunday 10 am to 5 pm, or dusk.

balliol college

3. Exeter College

Exeter College is one of the smaller Oxford Colleges, though it is well worth mentioning for its impressive organ alone. The organ is said to be the best in all of Oxford and is regularly played for Evensong. Plan your visit on Sunday, Tuesday, or Friday at 6 pm to witness the organ’s impressive roar.

Open: Monday through Sunday 2 pm to 5pm.

4. Christ Church College

Christ Church College is by far the most recognisable college at Oxford due to the remarkable number of famous alumni and the wide range of works that Christ Church College architecture has inspired. Walking through Christ Church will elicit familiar feelings to anyone who has seen the Harry Potter movies. The great dining hall not only inspired the dining hall for Hogwarts, but also inspired the dining hall at America’s prestigious Harvard University.

Open: Monday through Saturday 10 am to 5 pm, Sunday 2 pm to 5 pm.


5. St. John’s College

St. John’s College contains a large open lawn that’s open to the public many afternoons. As the wealthiest college at Oxford, it’s a wonderful place to visit to understand the current happenings throughout the entire University. With their enormous endowment, St. John’s holds many formal dinners, balls, and student festivals throughout the year.

Open: Monday through Sunday 1 pm to 5 pm, or dusk. 

If you are interested in learning more about this scholarly location, you can go on the day trip out of London which covers Warwick Castle, Stratford, Oxford & the Cotswolds. This tour includes a walking tour of Oxford so you will be able to see plenty of the Oxford landmarks, including the Oxford colleges. 

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