What's the Oldest Building in Oxford and Can You Visit It?

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Should I Visit Oxford Or Cambridge? And Which University Is Better?

What's the Oldest Building in Oxford and Can You Visit It?

If you’re considering applying to Oxford or Cambridge (Oxbridge), or want to visit the cities but are not sure which one to pick, you can use this guide to compare and contrast the two. Both places have incredible places to see, and both universities are amongst the world’s most prestigious higher education institutions. So… Oxford or Cambridge? Let us help. 

What is Oxford University Like?

Oxford University is one of the world’s most prestigious higher education institutions – and it’s a unique destination with a lot to see. Oxford ranks fifth in both US News’ Best Global Universities and the Center for World University Rankings’ Global 2000 (CWUR). It’s no surprise that some American students apply to Oxford.

The University of Oxford is the oldest English-speaking university and the world’s second-oldest university still in operation. While the exact date of its establishment is unknown, evidence suggests that education began as early as 1096.

The university, which is located in and around Oxford’s mediaeval city centre, has 44 colleges and halls as well as over 100 libraries, making it the UK’s largest library system. Students number approximately 22,000; slightly more than half are students, and more than 40 percent are foreign, representing 140 nations.

Oxford University - Brasenose College. Image courtesy of Billy Wilson.
Oxford University - Brasenose College. Image courtesy of Billy Wilson.

What is Cambridge University Like?

Cambridge is renowned for its university, which was founded in 1209, making it the second-oldest university in England and the fourth-oldest university in the world. Cambridge is the classic university town, with a large student and academic population and over 31 colleges. Cambridge is also a key site for scientific research, hosting the first successful organ transplants in the United Kingdom. In addition, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Stephen Hawking are all alumni.

Moreover, Cambridge is renowned for its punting. You have the option of rowing alone in a punt boat or having a chauffeur take you along the riverbanks.

Cambridge is ranked sixth in the worldwide university rankings for 2021 and second in the United Kingdom, making it one of the greatest universities in the world. It ranks very highly in all academic areas, but is particularly outstanding for biological sciences, anthropology, and engineering and technology.

Cambridge and the River Cam - Image courtesy of Anton Ruiter via Flickr Commons.
Cambridge and the River Cam - Image courtesy of Anton Ruiter via Flickr Commons.

So... Should You Pick Oxford Or Cambridge?

At first glance, Oxford and Cambridge appear to be comparable institutions: both are globally renowned, extremely old, and selective. In addition, they are both organised according to the college system and employ tutorial-style instruction.

The cities are distinguished by their historic and beautiful architecture and the rivers that pass through their centres. But, as an Oxbridge graduate will tell you, the two are vastly different in other ways, including the courses they offer, the topics for which they are most renowned, and their locations. Due to the fact that it is just not possible to apply to both Cambridge and Oxford in the same year, you will have to choose only one of them.

What are the Various Courses Offered at Oxford and Cambridge?

The courses available at Oxford and Cambridge reflect this distinction.

Oxford’s PPE (Politics, Philosophy, and Economics) programme is one of the most renowned degrees in the country, and many prominent politicians have studied it.

In contrast, Cambridge has a rather unique and much valued Natural Sciences degree; a three-year course in which students initially begin by taking a variety of science disciplines (almost like an extension of A-level in which you take multiple subjects) before focusing and specialising in later years.

This is in contrast to the way science is taught at Oxford, where students choose from the start which discipline they choose to specialise in (Biology, Physics, Chemistry, etc.) and complete a three (or in some cases four) year degree in that specific field.

Oxford and Cambridge provide a wide range of conventional subjects, such as Biological and Physical Sciences, Mathematics, Medicine, Geography, History, English, Classics, Linguistics, Law, and Engineering. However, Oxford offers some degrees that Cambridge does not, and vice versa. Cambridge is the only institution to provide Architecture and Veterinary Medicine, whereas Oxford is the only institution to offer Design and Art.

Which School Is Better – Oxford or Cambridge?

The question of whether Oxford or Cambridge is the superior university is tough and subjective. Both institutions are extremely selective, highly competitive, famous internationally, and endowed with enormous resources.

The correct inquiry is which school is best for the applicant. Depending on the field of study, one institution may have superior programmes, research possibilities, facilities, instructors, and experiential learning chances.

In addition, Oxford requires students to choose their specialisation upon application, but Cambridge allows students to make this decision later.


Things to See Near Oxford: Waterperry Gardens. Image courtesy of Ukgardenphotos via Flickr Commons.
Waterperry Gardens. The herbaceous borders in late summer. Image courtesy of Ukgardenphotos via Flickr Commons.

I would definitely recommend visiting Oxford rather than Cambridge for a number of specific reasons. The most important factor is whether you wish to visit multiple locations, for example, during your day excursion from London. Cambridge is not on the way to wherever a normal visitor may be headed, and there is not much there.

In contrast, Oxford is nearby and on the road to a number of popular destinations. Tour firms frequently combine a quick break in Oxford with Bath, the Cotswolds, Stonehenge, or Stratford-upon-Avon. Oxford is a great option for Harry Potter fans and Alice in Wonderland enthusiasts. Followers of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and C. S. Lewis will also find the city incomparable in terms of its links to the authors. Not to mention, Oxford is a gem of a place for architecture nerds!


Cambridge is a university surrounded by a city, but Oxford is a city containing a university.

Oxford and Cambridge are both excellent college towns, depending on your preferences. Cambridge is for you if you wish to live in a quaint, student-run city. Oxford is for you if you want to see a bustling, large city where the university does not feel like its entire existence. Oxford also has innumerable cultural activities, cinemas, theatres, and holds regular concerts and workshops. 

Explore new and familiar locations, visit the parks, step into a college, or drop by one of the many quirky shops Oxford has to offer. Browse All >

Our collection of articles with ideas for things to do and see, the history of this incredible city, the University, its museums, literature and movie inspirations, filming locations, and much more.