When you think of Oxford, you think of the University. Heritage, history, and the dreaming spires of Oxford. Nowhere encapsulates this more than Christ Church College. It is arguably the most famous of Oxford University’s 38 colleges. In addition to all the history, it was one of the filming locations for the Harry Potter films. You can (and should) visit Christ Church College in Oxford to see some of the famous spots.
On our recent visit to Oxford, we stayed at the dorm at Christ Church College which you can book as a Bed and Breakfast. We enjoyed the opportunity to get an insider’s look at the exclusive college.
Let me tell you a bit about the history of Christ Church College and what there is to see. I will share my experience staying at Christ Church College and tell you how you can book a room there too.
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About Christ Church College
Cardinal Wolsey began planning what is now Christ Church College on the site of the St. Frideswide Monastery almost 500 years ago. The College’s purpose was (and still is) to promote the pursuit of learning and the worship of God. After Wolsey failed to get the Pope’s agreement on an annulment for Henry VIII, he and the King fell out. In 1546, after Wolsey’s death, Henry VIII refounded the college.
Christ Church is popular with tourists and has half a million visitors annually, but it is still a working college, arguably the best college at Oxford. Today, there are around 400 undergraduate students and 100 academic staff. Some of Christ Church’s most famous alumni include Lewis Carroll, William Penn, Edward VII, W.H. Auden, Sir Robert Peel, and William Ewart Gladstone.
Harry Potter Filming Locations in Christ Church College
Harry Potter fans need to visit Christ Church College as it is the site of two Harry Potter filming locations.
One is the stairwell that leads to the Hall. In the first film, Ron and Hermione greeted Harry here. The other is the Cloisters next to the Cathedral. The Cloisters are where Harry is shown the trophy his father won during the first film.
The Hall was the inspiration for the dining hall at Hogwarts. Those scenes were filmed in a studio.
If you also plan on visiting London, you can read about the Harry Potter filming locations in London too. In northern England, you can visit Alnwick Castle which was used as Hogwarts in the first two movies.
Note: The films The Golden Compass and Brideshead Revisited also had scenes filmed at Christ Church College.
Highlights of Visiting Christ Church College
Christ Church is popular with tourists because there is so much to see. When you visit, you can use this list of highlights to create your own self-guided Christ Church college tour.
The Tom Quad is the impressive square right behind the Porter’s Lodge. In the center, you will find a pretty fountain with a statue of Mercury. Originally, the pond in the center of the Quad was there as a source of water in case of a fire.
There are also two impressive towers you see in the Tom Quad. Tom Tower is the one located by St. Aldate’s Street over the Tom Gate. It was designed by Christopher Wren, the same architect who designed St. Paul’s Cathedral. For over 300 years, the bell inside Tom Tower, known as Great Tom, has marked the hours and other celebrations.
The other tower is the Bodley Tower which houses the staircases to the Hall. It was named after its architect, G.F. Bodley not Thomas Bodley of the Bodleian Library.
Lewis Carroll lived in rooms in the Quad’s northwest corner from 1862 until his death. He wrote “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” in a ground-floor suite then moved to an upper suite over looking St. Aldate’s.
Christ Church Cathedral
The present cathedral was built in the twelfth century and used to be a pilgrimage site. In medieval times, people would come to the Cathedral to visit the tomb of St. Frideswide. During the Reformation, the tomb was damaged, so only the bottom part of what you see now is original. The body of Frideswide is also thought to be buried under the Cathedral but the exact location is unknown.
You should also check out what is known as the Beckett window. When Henry VIII condemned Thomas Beckett and ordered all images of him to be destroyed, the pane of glass in the window that depicted his face was replaced with a white one. In 1980, they restored the window and changed that pane of glass to a skin tone.
I also loved the wood carvings in the quire and the ceiling. The vivid colors in the stained glass were impressive too.
Christ Church is the only college in Oxford (or Cambridge for that matter) to have its own art collection. Much of the collection is Italian paintings from the 14th to 18th centuries, but they also have some works from Northern artists as well. They also have a collection of drawings from Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Rubens, although these are not always on display.
Unfortunately, they don’t allow photography in the gallery, but they do have a gift shop that sells postcards, prints, etc. Visitors have to pay £4 to visit the Christ Church Picture Gallery.
The Meadow is a rare open space where you can enjoy nature. Students use the area for sport and recreation, but sometimes you will see animals grazing. When we visited, there were cows! There are a few paths you can explore including the Broad Walk, Dead Man’s Walk, or the New Walk.
There are two things to look for when you are in the room with the Staircase that leads to the Hall. First, you can’t help but notice the ceiling with all its intricate detail. I was surprised to learn that it was not original and was added in 1638.
The other thing is not as obvious. If you look at the wooden door at the bottom of the stairs, you will see the words “No Peel” written. This was a protest against the re-election of Prime Minister Robert Peel in 1829. Robert Peel was one of 13 Prime Ministers who attended Christ Church College. Peel’s support for the emancipation of Catholics conflicted with University Policy.
The Great Hall
To me, the Hall was the most impressive part of Christ Church College. As soon as you enter the Hall, you know how significant this college has been. It is filled with oil paintings of famous alumni and other significant figures like Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey. I didn’t recognize many of them (I know I need to work on my English history), but Russell knew many of them from his history books.
The details in the Hall make it special. If you look closely at the stained glass of the center window on the left side (looking into the Hall), you will find some Alice in Wonderland characters as a nod to Lewis Carroll. Look up and admire the woodwork in the ceilings, which have almost 600 heraldic devices, many of which celebrate Cardinal Wolsey.
The Hall was also the temporary home of Parliament during the English Civil War. When Charles I was forced out of London, he stayed at Christ Church College for four years.
The Buttery is a bar right outside the Hall. They serve beer, wine, and whiskey to students and guests. It is built where Cardinal Wolsey originally had the staircase. I got a sneak peek inside the bar right after breakfast, but unfortunately, the bar is only open from 6 pm – 8 pm. If I were a student at Christ Church College, I am sure I would have spent a lot of time there.
Staying in the Dorm at Christ Church College
We stayed in the Blue Boar Quad, which is just north of the main square called the Tom Quad. The Oxford University dorm room was much bigger than the one I had back at the University of Texas. I loved that this room had two huge windows.
My dorm room had a bed, desk with chair, bench, and another chair. The bedding, towels, and toiletries were all provided. There was plenty of storage space in the closets, a small safe, and a mini-fridge. It also had a kettle with tea and coffee.
There are “Scouts” who look after the rooms. They will make your bed and replenish the tea and coffee daily. They also have laundry facilities that you can use. When the school is not in session, you have access to the common area where you can watch TV.
Remembering back to my dorm experience at Texas, I hated the bathroom situation. We had a sink in our room but for toilets or a shower, you had to go down the hall to the community bathroom. The room I stayed in Christ Church had its own full bathroom. I was impressed that the shower was one of the most powerful I have ever had. You can adjust it to your own preferences.
Perks of Staying at the Bed and Breakfast at Christ Church College
I was so excited to stay at such a historical place, but there are perks that make it even more special.
Full English Breakfast in the Hall
I love an English Breakfast! When you stay at Christ Church College, you get to have your breakfast in the Hall under the gaze of famous prime ministers, government ministers, novelists, and monarchs. You will immediately recognize it from the Harry Potter films. It was the inspiration behind the dining hall in Hogwarts, although those scenes were filmed in a studio.
The breakfast is served buffet style and was delicious. I was a little disappointed that there was no black pudding, but I know a lot of people don’t like it. If you prefer a continental breakfast, they have that too. I was especially impressed with the croissants they had.
Access to Places Where Visitors are Not Allowed
The general public can visit Christ Church, but there is a charge which ranges from £8-£10 depending on the season. That still doesn’t get you access everywhere in Christ College. However, when you stay at this Oxford College Bed and Breakfast you are considered a resident. That sign that says no visitor access does not apply to you!
Free Access to the Picture Gallery
Christ Church College is the only Oxford College with its own art collection. If you are staying at Christ Church, you can visit the art gallery for free.
Location, Location, Location!
You can’t beat the location of Christ Church College. It’s right in the city center so you can easily walk to other colleges, museums, and points of interest. For some inspiration on what to see, check out this guide on how to spend a rainy day in Oxford.
How to Book Your Room at Christ Church College
You can book rooms at Christ Church College through University Rooms. They also offer rooms at other colleges too. I think you will find the rates very reasonable. Click here to see prices and colleges available.
They have single and double rooms. All rooms have their own bathroom. Perfect for solo travelers, friends, or couples. We even met a couple at breakfast that was celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.
How To Get To Oxford
Oxford is located about 50 miles north of London. The easiest way to get there from London is to take the train from Paddington Station, it takes less than an hour. Be sure to book in advance to get the best price. Check schedule and pricing here.
If you are driving, it’s best to use the park and ride system. Parking in the Oxford city center is limited and expensive. You have five parking locations to choose from. Since we were coming from the east we used Thornhill. Be sure to pay for the parking when you arrive and then you can purchase your bus tickets on the bus. They accept contactless payments or cash. Take the bus to St. Aldate’s Street.
Checking in at the Christ Church College Bed and Breakfast
The directions said to check in at the Lodge just inside the main entrance. We went to the visitor’s entrance, walked inside and couldn’t find anything. Russell knew we must have used the wrong entrance. We walked a little further north on St. Aldate’s and found the main entrance where there was a guard. We told the guard we were there for the Bed and Breakfast and then saw the Porter’s Lodge just to the left.
The Lodge is open 24 hours a day, but you cannot check in until 3 pm. We arrived early so we stored our luggage until it was time to check in. When we checked in, we received badges, a key fob, and a map. The gate to the college locks at 7:30 pm. Your key fob will let you back in. If you arrive after 7:30, use the bell to speak with the Lodge and you will be let in
Note: Depending on the day, you may not be able to explore Christ Church college until you check in and receive your pass.
Staying at Christ Church College was a special experience. No hotel can match the character or history of the college. Where else do you get to live in the same place as 13 prime ministers – even if it’s just for one night! I think it’s the best college to visit in Oxford. It was fun to pretend to be an Oxford student.
Would you like to stay in the dorms at Christ Church College?
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Disclosure: We were guests of University Rooms. As always, opinions are mine.
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Last Updated on February 24, 2021