Each and every one of Oxford’s 38 colleges has its own special charm and each Oxford student will be biased towards their own. However, there’s no denying that some Oxford colleges are just a notch above the rest in terms of architectural and natural beauty. Here are ten of the most beautiful colleges, which I have chosen based on the college grounds and buildings.
Magdalen College is one of the best Oxford colleges to visit and steals the top spot for me on this list. If I had to pick just one of these as the most beautiful Oxford college it would be this one. Magdalen is one of the biggest Oxford colleges and the grounds are simply enormous. There’s so much to admire from the numerous architecturally impressive buildings, Magdalen Tower, the cloisters, the deer park (yes, a DEER PARK) and the river running through.
Poking out in the middle there is Magdalen Tower, which is one of Oxford’s iconic landmarks. On the 1st May every year, Oxford celebrates something called “May Day”. On this day, the Magdalen college choir sings from the top of the tower at 6am in the morning.
It’s a tradition for Oxford University students to go out partying the night before and stay up all night before gathering in front of Magdalen college in the early hours of the morning. The crowds are usually made up of a mix of Oxford locals, keen tourists and many merry students.
Magdalen College also has its very own deer park, which always reminds me of Richmond Park in London. It’s crazy to think that inside a university you could find a deer park! This part of the college is called The Grove and is home to a herd of fallow deer that have been present in Magdalen College for over 300 years. There are several dozen deer here so if you’re visiting Oxford in the Spring, make sure you pop into Magdalen to see the fawns!
Magdalen College has many notable alumni including Oscar Wilde (author of The Importance of Being Earnest), George Osbourne (previous Chancellor of the Exchequer), Ian Hislop (editor of Private Eye) and Thomas Wolsey (who founded Christ Church below). Additionally, C S Lewis taught at Magdalen College between 1925 and 1954. Check out my literary tour of Oxford for more information about the famous authors who attended Oxford University.
Ah, Christ Church. Christ Church was my home for four years so I am slightly biased towards it but it is objectively one of the most impressive Oxford colleges in terms of architecture. Tom Tower featured below was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who also designed St Paul’s Cathedral in London, and it’s another iconic Oxford landmark.
Each quad you visit at Christ Church is more impressive than the last and your final stop on any tour of Christ Church will be Peckwater Quad (below left). Here you will find the best rooms in Christ Church and thus the ones that many students have squabbled over.
I was fortunate enough to live in one of the “Peck sets” in my second year at Oxford, sharing the set with one of my best friends. My room was where the two windows on the far left in the middle are! I had amazing views of the quad and the library from my room, which is pictured on the right.
Christ Church library is absolutely enormous and is one of the best stocked libraries in Oxford. Unfortunately the library is strictly for students only but you can check out my post on beautiful Oxford libraries here to get an insider’s look!
Here are two alternate views of the library (left) and Peckwater Quad (right).
Of course, one of the things that Christ Church is most famous for and, indeed, the reason that I applied to Christ Church, is the Harry Potter filming locations. This also makes it one of the most popular Oxford colleges for tourists to visit. Below you can see the Harry Potter steps which are used in the first and second Harry Potter films. Check out my Harry Potter tour of Oxford to find out exactly which spots were used and when!
For more posts about Christ Church, check out these:
Worcester College is similar to Magdalen in that it boasts both beautiful buildings and beautiful grounds. It’s another very large Oxford college though visited less frequently by tourists than the two colleges above. Worcester has surprisingly extensive grounds for a college in the centre of Oxford, 26 acres to be precise, but that’s simply because back in the eighteenth century, this college was actually on the outskirts of the city.
The library can be found above the arches of the entrance and I must admit that the beautiful exterior just may be even more beautiful than that of Christ Church library.
The main quad is flanked on one side by medieval cottages which are remnants of “Gloucester College”, which originally stood here. As you can see, the walls are covered with beautiful flowers and Worcester College Gardeners have been named the winners of the Oxford in Bloom competition numerous times.
Further into the college, you’ll find a lake. Yes, an actual lake. It’s an idyllic spot where you’ll feel like you’ve been transported away from Oxford to the Cotswolds beyond. It’s astonishing that such a large private water feature could be in the middle of the centre of Oxford but that’s one of the many charms of Oxford colleges.
Fun fact: The Worcester College gardeners even have their own blog where they post regular updates about what taking care of these extensive grounds entails! Check out the Worcester College Garden Blog here.
All Souls is the most elusive Oxford College and it takes no undergraduate students. In order to get in, graduate and postgraduate students apply for examination fellowships through “the hardest exam in the world”, which is followed up with an interview if you are shortlisted.
If you are granted a place here, you immediately become a fellow. That’s a pretty big deal.
You can visit the college free of charge between 2pm and 4pm on weekdays and Sundays. However, if you want the best views of All Souls, you’d be better off climbing the tower of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, which is opposite the Radcliffe Camera. Not only can you get the best views of the Radcliffe Camera here, but you can also see right into All Souls College.
The Codrington Library is one of the most beautiful libraries in Oxford but you can only gain entry if the tutor at your college refers you. As such, most Oxford University students never step foot inside this library, which is a shame because it’s so damn beautiful!
And yes, The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness is indeed named after this Oxford College.
Keble College is an ‘acquired taste’ shall we say as it differs wildly from the other beautiful Oxford colleges on this list. It’s newer than a lot of the others too as it was built in 1870. Its distinctive neo-gothic red brick design has always been somewhat controversial and people either love it or hate it. I am one of those who loves it, though I can’t say I prefer it to the neoclassical and gothic architecture of the other Oxford buildings.
The red brick design was actually so abhorred by the students at St Johns College, that they created a secret society. Entry to said society required you to present a red brick to the society’s elders. If you managed to get either a white or a blue brick, you would be given an even more prestigious position. Their aim was to take Keble down – brick by brick!
Inside Keble’s chapel is a famous painting by William Holman Hunt called The Light of the World. Another version of this painting hangs in St Paul’s Cathedral in London!
Exeter College is on Turl Street, one of the most central streets in Oxford. The reason I love it is because of its numerous literary connections. Fans of Phillip Pullman’s book The Northern Lights will be delighted to know that the fictitious Jordan College is actually based on Exeter College! The film adaptation, The Golden Compass, does actually use some parts of the college as filming locations too.
It’s one of the smaller Oxford colleges but Exeter has some beautiful gardens and the college’s proximity to Radcliffe Square means you can get amazing views of the Radcliffe Camera from the Fellows’ Garden.
Exeter College chapel is another of the college’s highlights. I love it because the architect drew inspiration from Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and you know I love anything to do with Paris.
Famous alumni include writers J R R Tolkien, Phillip Pullman and Martin Amis, as well as Roger Bannister. Find out more in my guide to literary Oxford.
New College is one of the largest and wealthiest colleges in Oxford, which is evident from a walk around its grounds. It’s also one of the oldest colleges in Oxford, despite the name New College!
You might recognise the cloisters you see below as they were used as a Harry Potter filming location in Oxford. The tree you see on the left is the tree under which Mad Eye Moody turns Draco Malfoy into a ferret!
Check out this post for more Harry Potter locations in Oxford.
New College chapel is renowned for its extravagant interior, which dates back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The rows and rows of statues you can see below were added retrospectively in the nineteenth century and make for quite a unique feature of the chapel.
In the grounds, there is a gateway which opens onto the garden that is modelled on the gates of the Palace of Versailles. Did I mention this is one of the richest Oxford colleges?
NB. Many people think the iconic Bridge of Sighs in Oxford is part of New College but that beautiful feature actually connects two parts of Hertford College.
The fact that Pembroke made it onto this list may strike some Oxonians with surprise but hear me out. In the spring time, Pembroke College has some of the most beautiful displays of wisteria hysteria that I have ever witnessed. The beautiful wisteria that covers the walls transforms Pembroke into some sort of flowery oasis that you can’t help but fall in love with.
Pembroke is one of the smallest Oxford colleges but good things come in small packages right? The college chapel may be small but with the extravagant wall and ceiling details, it is absolutely stunning.
A unique feature of Pembroke College is the modern bridge that connects two quads of the college that stand on different sides of a road.
Fun Fact: When J R R Tolkien was a Fellow here, he wrote The Hobbit and the first two books of The Lord of the Rings trilogy! Find out more in my literary tour of Oxford.
Trinity College is another Oxford college with extensive and beautiful grounds in the centre of the city. However, unlike some of the other colleges, Trinity has a pretty small student body compared to the size of the grounds.
The college has four large quadrangles walled in by beautiful buildings but a lawn and gardens too. The back lawns can be seen through the gates opposite Wadham College on Parks Road so you’ll often see tourists stopping there to take photos.
The architecture blew me away every time I came here for a tutorial and I love all the intricate details and statues that make this college look oh so majestic.
Trinity College was used a filming location for the original series of Brideshead Revisited and also Inspector Morse, Lewis and Endeavour.
Queen’s College is the fifth richest Oxford College, which isn’t surprising given its extravagant entrance and front quad. The entrance to Queen’s College is on the High Street at Oxford and it’s very easy to rush on by without noticing the amazing statue surrounded by columns sat atop its entrance. Another reminder to look up from your phone screens because you never know what you might discover!
The college library is one of the most beautiful Oxford libraries and it dates back to the seventeenth century. Students are still allowed to study in the amazing Upper Reading Room, which seems simply incredible given its age!
Check out this post for an insider’s look at eight more beautiful Oxford libraries.
Notable alumni include Tim Berners Lee – only the inventor of the World Wide Web – and Rowan Atkinson!
So there you have ten of the most beautiful Oxford colleges alongside many beautiful pictures to justify my choices! Which do you think is the most beautiful?
The rights to all photographs in this post belong to whatshotblog.com unless otherwise stated.
Pin for later!
If you liked this post, check out:
Most Beautiful Libraries at Oxford University
15 Things You Didn’t Know About Christ Church
A Literary Tour of Oxford
Harry Potter locations at Oxford University
11 Best Places for Brunch in Oxford
10 Reasons to Apply to Christ Church
8 Tips for Choosing an Oxford College