Unless you live in Oxford or Cambridge, you may not be aware of the intense rivalry between the two prestigious university towns.
And this is no normal rivalry. It dates back to around 1208 when some Oxford scholars took refuge in Cambridge while fleeing from some irate Oxford towns-folk (probably because they thought they were better than everyone else, even then). These scholars decided to recreate Oxford in their new home by founding a new (and better) college in Cambridge. This heralded the start of an 800-year feud over who is truly superior to everyone else. But more because they are so similar.
But why are they so similar? Well, let’s be honest – they are essentially the same place…
River running through the town which you can spend glorious sunny afternoons punting along? Check, check.
Cute, independent cafes? Check, check.
Gorgeous, old colleges? Check, check.
A world-famous, 800-year-old university? Check, check.
Drunk (usually posh) students to be found on every corner? Check, check, check, check, check.
And with similarity, you often get competition. (Sibiling rivalrys, anyone??)
So as they are identical, you should save yourself some time and only go to Cambridge, right?
It pains me to admit this, but no.
While I am a Cambridge native and completely obsessed with the city, there’s a whole array of amazing things you can do in Oxford which you cannot do in Cambridge…
Harry Potter Tourism
Many of the Oxford colleges were used as the setting for multiple scenes in “Harry Potter“. So of course, I went to Oxford on a pilgrimage to these sites.
However, the Cambridge college of St John’s was the studio’s first choice. However as the producers would have to sell their souls to cover the costs of filming in Cambridge, they to the more affordable Oxford.
In Cambridge, the colleges are just beautiful buildings. But in Oxford, you get a little extra magic.
You’ll get to see the locations of famous scenes, including the frankly ICONIC meeting of Harry and Draco, on their way into the Great Hall for their sorting. This was shot at the stairway in Christ Church College and awoke my 8-year-old fan-girl. I had to hold in the tears of awe. (No, I’m honestly not joking).
As a history nerd, I love a castle.
However, I was expecting something more impressive from the Oxford castle. Althouhg, it is still a castle and something Cambridge lacks.
When you reach the site, you’ll see the tall stone tower, leftover ruins of the Norman castle which has stood there since the 13th Century. The castle also played a significant role in the Anarchy of the same period, buuuut I’ve already written a dissertation on that so I’ll shut away the history nerd before she hijacks this post.
What’s unique about Oxford castle is that you get an impressive view of the city which you’ll struggle to find anywhere else. From the height of the castle hill, you’ll get a fantastic view of the skyline and the old peaks of the college buildings scattered amongst the more modern (ugly) buildings in the city.
The Covered Market
Oxford’s Covered Market is a gorgeous, hidden area, perfect for escaping from the rain and the craziness of the manic high street and shopping center/mall.
I adored exploring through the covered streets, peeking in the shop windows to see a wonderful array of unique businesses. Under the roof of the covered market, you’ll find cafes, cake designers, souvenirs, jewelry, farmers, florists, soaps, clothing, food, food, and MORE FOOD.
All the cake
If Cambridge is known for its famous Chelsea Buns from Fitzbillies, Oxford is known for the glorious cakes at the Barefoot Cafe. The cafe holds two ideally cute locations in Oxford – one in the older (fancier) area of Oxford in Jericho, and a second in the idyllic village of Woodstock, just outside the city.
Aside from the cute aesthetic, the cakes are honestly to die for. Each cake is made from natural ingredients and handmade (as every cake which is worth its sugar is these days). You can taste the love and care that’s gone into them as you sit in the beautiful cafe, watching the world go by.
G & D's Cafes
Sticking with the theme of food, G&D’s are a unique set of cafes based in Oxford, and you won’t find anything like them it Cambridge.
I’m not sure why I love them. Maybe it’s the fact that they serve hand made ice cream and answered my life long desire to find a cafe that serves delicious desserts or baked goods at 11:30pm. There’s no closing at 5:30pm for these guys! And of course, that makes it perfect for students pulling an all-nighter or anyone who’s day doesn’t end at 5pm.
So check out one of their three locations, (or collect them all) and grab yourself a treat at any time of day.
Yes, there are stately homes around Cambridge, but none quite as impressive as the stunning Blenheim Palace. It is a palace after all.
As the birth-place of Winston Churchill and the former residence of the Duke of Marlborough (I won’t bore you with my that’s important), it’s a place steeped in history as well as fine art and furniture.
But the stunning architecture of the house isn’t all there is to see. What is perhaps more impressive are the stunning grounds surrounding the house. The grounds successfully cover all of the popular British gardening fashions – a rose garden, a walled garden, wide-open areas of grass, interspersed with beautiful ancient trees, a perfectly curated Italian garden and of course, a huge lake in the middle of it all. It’s the perfect place to visit with your Grandma or if you’re looking for a quiet stroll through some amazing scenery.
It honestly looks like stepping into a Jane Austen novel. I was half expecting to see the dashing Mr. Darcy stepping out of the lake. And I was kinda disappointed when I didn’t.
While Cambridge and Oxford have their similarities, they also have their differences.
Cambridge is an amazing place, but I do look at it through a few pairs of rose-tinted glasses and the green eyes of envy, coming from the younger, smaller and often second-best university city. Oxford is an equally beautiful and fascinating city to visit.
Plus I can walk in the footsteps of Hermione. That’s definitely the main attraction for me.
But how about you? Do you prefer Oxford or Cambridge? Share your favourite thing about the cities in the comments below!
And if you are looking for some reasons to visit Cambridge, check out my top 10 things to do there here!