The 10 Most Beautiful Buildings in Oxford

Oxford Spires
Oxford Spires | © Alison Day/Flickr
Sarah Dawson

Oxford is famed for its architectural beauty; everywhere you turn you’re met with grand buildings in the distinctive golden stone that defines the city. From world famous medieval buildings to bold, contemporary design, this compact city centre is home to some of the most outstanding architecture in the world. Here, we round up some of the greatest…

Christ Church

Each of Oxford’s beautiful colleges has their own charm, but it’s Christ Church which really dazzles. Everything from the stately Tom’s Quad to the stunning Tom Tower, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the acclaimed English architect responsible for St Paul’s Cathedral in London, feels drenched in history. If Christ Church looks familiar, that’s because it’s inspired many of the world’s most famous campuses, as well as featuring in and inspiring sets for many of the Harry Potter films.

St Aldate’s, Oxford, UK

Christ Church College, Oxford

1. Radcliffe Camera


Radcliffe Camera, Oxford. Image shot 04/2011. Exact date unknown.
© foto-zone / Alamy Stock Photo
Arguably one of Oxford’s most iconic buildings, the Radcliffe Camera (or Rad Cam as it’s known by the students) dominates the picturesque cobbles of Radcliffe Square, in the heart of the city. Built in the early 1700s in the English Palladian style, Radcliffe Camera is part of the Bodleian Library, and is the earliest example of a circular library in the country.

The Divinity School

Built between 1427 and 1483, the Divinity School is a truly glorious example of European medieval architecture. Attached to the Bodleian Library, it used to serve as a place for lectures, exams and discussions on theology but now is available to hire for weddings and parties – and what a setting it makes! The ceiling, with the lierne vaults creating a delicate star-shaped pattern, is a work of art – definitely worth visiting on one of the library’s guided tours.

Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BG

Divinity School

2. The Sheldonian Theatre

Building, Theatre

This Grade I listed building in the centre of the city is another Oxford gem designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Acting as the official ceremonial hall of the University of Oxford, it’s open to the public to visit when not in use. The building’s unusual D-shape was inspired by an engraving of an ancient Roman theatre, and gives the Sheldonian its own unique character.

3. Ashmolean Museum


UK, Oxford, the Ashmolean Museum
© Carol Carpenter / Alamy Stock Photo
Hands down, Oxford’s finest neoclassical building, The Ashmolean is actually the world’s oldest university museum. The imposing façade, designed by Charles Cockerell dates back to around 1841, provides a grand entrance for the hundreds of beautiful paintings and priceless archaeological specimens that lie inside. No visit to the city would be complete without an afternoon spent exploring the treasures of the Ashmolean.

4. Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History

Museum, University

England, Oxfordshire, Oxford, Museum of Natural History, Interior View
© Steve Vidler / Alamy Stock Photo
This striking example of Gothic Revival style architecture will stop you in your tracks. Here, Oxford’s answer to The Natural History Museum in London, celebrates the natural world through architectural touches including carved columns featuring plants, birds and animals, all under a magnificent glass roof. The museum houses a very impressive collection of zoological and geographical specimens, including the famous Oxfordshire dinosaurs and even the remains of a Dodo.

5. University Church of St Mary the Virgin

Building, Church, University

The University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford. Image shot 12/2011. Exact date unknown.
© David Goodwin / Alamy Stock Photo
Standing between the city’s High Street and the cobbles Radcliffe Square, the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, with its intricately decorated Gothic spire, is a familiar part of the Oxford landscape. The church itself is a very fine building, but perhaps its greatest appeal is the outstanding view of the city from the top of the spire. The 360 degree vista is hard to beat.

6. The Bridge of Sighs


Hertford Bridge, commonly known as the Bridge of Sighs, joins two parts of Hertford College at Oxford University, Oxfordshire, England, GB, UK.
© D. Callcut / Alamy Stock Photo
Although not technically a building, the Bridge of Sighs is a much-loved part of Oxford’s architectural landscape. Linking two parts of Hertford College, the bridge is famed for its similarity to the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. Completed in 1914, Oxford’s offering is a little more ornate and incredibly charming – and is one of the most photographed spots in the city.

7. The Grand Café

Oozing Parisian-chic, The Grand Café on the High Street is a gloriously opulent Oxford institution. From the elegant, gilded exterior to the glamorous mirror-clad interior, The Grand Café is the place to head for a sophisticated afternoon tea or cocktail. The Grade II listed building sits on the site of England’s first coffee house, set up in 1652, and has a real sense of history.

84 High Street, Oxford

8. New Biochemistry Building, University of Oxford

Building, University

Opened in 2008, the University’s new Biochemistry department is a fantastically vibrant example of modern architecture in a city famed for its historic buildings. With a bold glass and steel design, featuring distinctive coloured glass fins along the exterior, it has a contemporary, sculptural feel that reflects the cutting-edge work going on inside.

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