Oxford and Cambridge are sometimes lumped together as Oxbridge, the elite universities where children of the British Establishment and talented young people from overseas study. In fact, the towns where these universities are located are quite different. Both offer the visitor a glimpse of quintessentially British institutions that have been copied all over the world.
Oxford is the better known of the two universities. It vies with the universities of Paris and Bologna for the title of oldest university in the world. In Oxford, the university does not dominate the town to the extent it does in Cambridge, but the major sights, which are all free, are associated with the university.
Visit the colleges for their medieval architecture and “dreaming spires,” and for their associations with history and literature. Christ Church, Merton and Wadham colleges are best known for their architecture, while Magdalene is known for the lovely deer that roam its grounds. The manuscript room of the Bodleian library is worth a visit, as is the Ashmolean Museum. For a view of the city, climb to the top of the Cathedral Church of St. Mary’s.
There is a reasonably wide range of accommodation in Oxford, but with the revaluation of the pound much of it is out of the budget range. However, some of the interesting hotels such as the Old Parsonage are still reasonable. It resembles some of the old colleges, having been built in the thirteenth century and restored in the seventeenth. It has a bar and licenced restaurant, and rates from about $27 single with breakfast to $50 double.
Several guest houses and bed and breakfast places offer simple accommodation for about $13 a person and up. Try Dilkush Guest House near the railway station, Victoria Guest House a little outside the centre of town, or Mrs. Passmore’s Guest House in the centre. These accommodations normally include a large English breakfast, making them quite a bargain.
Because of the large student population, reasonably priced food is readily available in Oxford. A student favorite is St. Michael’s Tavern, which serves pub grub, such as sandwiches and meat pies, and good pizza. Several of the pubs that are frequented by undergraduates are the White Horse, the King’s Arms, known for good food, and the Turf Tavern, an interesting medieval building with low doorways and dark wood. It has a good but somewhat pricey lunch menu. At the other pubs, expect to pay about $1.35 for a pint of good British beer, $4 or so for lunch.
For a lighter and less expensive lunch, try the Wyckham Tea Room in Holywell for excellent sandwiches and strong tea. Brown’s is a hamburger place that is inexpensive and popular with students.
The Trout Inn on the outskirts of Oxford is a pleasant dining spot. It is an old converted mill just on the river, with good, moderately priced food. As a splurge, the Bleu Blanc Rouge offers French cuisine in attractive surroundings. Table d’hote dinner without wine is about $16 a person.
If you’re in the mood to see old American or foreign films, the Penultimate Picture Palace on Cowley Road is a repertory cinema with low admission prices – only about $1.35 at last report.
Cambridge is a considerably smaller and, in the opinion of many, more charming town than Oxford. There is little here except the university, and the major sights are the colleges. Visit King’s College’s beautiful chapel. King’s is one of the richer colleges, partly because the economist J. M. Keynes made a lot of money in the stock market when he was handling the college’s finances. Trinity College is famous for its beautiful quadrangle and the number of famous scientists who have been associated with it, including Sir Isaac Newton.
Reasonably priced accommodations are available in Cambridge at the Arundel House or the Guest House, where rates run between about $22 single and $50 double. Breakfast is included at the Guest House, but is extra at the Arundel.
The Blue Boar Hotel, a seventeenth century inn, is the sort of place where the visiting parents of well-off students stay. It is attractively furnished, centrally heated, very conveniently located and run by the highly regarded Trust House Forte chain. Rates range from about $40 single to $70 double with breakfast. In a lower price range, a number of bed and breakfast houses provide accommodation for about $13 a person; the Ellensleigh Guest House, for example.
Among the reasonably priced restaurants in Cambridge are any of three branches of the Eros for Greek food, the Don Pasquale for Italian food, the Oyster Tavern, and the Peking for Chinese food.
While in Cambridge, don’t miss a chance to punt along the Cam River, which runs behind the colleges. Punts can be hired at the bottom on Mill Lane. A popular journey by punt is up the river to Grantchester to take cream tea at The Orchard, a favorite haunt of the poet Rupert Brooke.