Exploring the Oxford University Colleges

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From kings and prime ministers to archbishops, saints, and Nobel Prize winners, the list of Oxford University alumni is as diverse as it is extensive. Here are a few of the famed university colleges to check out during your visit to Oxford.

Christ Church College
Christ Church is widely considered the most famous of Oxford University’s colleges. Highlights here include the 16th-century buildings overlooked by Sir Christopher Wren’s Great Tom bell tower and the Great Hall, which featured as the lavish Hogwarts dining room in the Harry Potter movies.

New College
The castle-like New College was founded in 1379, and its full name is the Warden and Scholars of St. Mary’s College of Winchester in Oxford—little surprise the name has been shortened over the years. One of Oxford University’s wealthiest colleges, New College ranks among the most academically successful in the world. One must-see nearby attraction is Oxford’s famous Bridge of Sighs.

St. John’s College
Sir Thomas White founded St. John’s College in 1555. It takes pride of place on St. Giles in central Oxford, and the majority of the college buildings are arranged around bustling squares.

Magdalen College
Nestled on the banks of the River Cherwell to the east of the city center, with a deer park within its extensive grounds, Magdalen College boasts one of the most beautiful settings of all Oxford University’s 38 colleges. Woodland walking routes pass cricket lawns and deer hides, with sweeping views over the pretty Cherwell River.

Merton College
Merton College dates back to the late 13th century, when the bishop Walter de Merton donated funds to establish a center of learning. One of the most famous alumni is acclaimed poet and playwright T. S. Eliot, who studied at Harvard, then Merton College. No visit here is complete without a walk through the gardens, which feature a 17th-century mulberry tree and a pretty summerhouse overlooking the lawns.

All Souls College
With its looming gothic towers, All Souls College is perhaps the most visually striking Oxford colleges. Henry VI of England founded All Souls in 1438, and to this day the college remains one of the university’s wealthiest. One highlight is the beautiful Codrington Library, a Grade I–listed building—meaning, given the official status as an English or Welsh building of exceptional interest—housing over 180,000 items.

Wadham College
Founded in 1610 and situated near the Ashmolean Museum in the heart of the city, Wadham College’s buildings range from Gothic to contemporary. Highlights include the Holywell Music Room and the attractive Wadham Gardens.

Lincoln College
The College of the Blessed Mary and All Saints, Lincoln—better known simply as Lincoln College—dates back to 1427, when the then-Bishop of Lincoln founded it. Famous alumni include author John le Carré and 18th-century physician John Radcliffe, after whom Oxford landmarks including the Radcliffe Camera, the Radcliffe Infirmary, and the Radcliffe Observatory are named.
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