The Bodleian Library

Address: Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BG, United Kingdom
Telephone: 01865 277224

- Mid-range


Historic library that has featured in many films (including Harry Potter).

The Bodleian Library is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. It’s also one of six legal deposit libraries in the United Kingdom, which means it’s entitled to request a copy of each and every book published in this country. I’ve worked in the Bodleian on many a rainy morning and there is a tangible sense of generations of scholars having gone before you. Just as musicians play better in great concert halls and many actors are inspired by the Globe, so the Bod helps you feel more intelligent!

The library occupies five buildings off Broad Street, including the mediaeval Duke Humfrey's Library - the main 17th-century stone building with its austere Schools' Quadrangle and the New Bodleian of the 1930s. These days most of the books are kept in underground tunnels. To obtain a book you request it from your terminal and some time later it appears at the counter of whichever part of the library you are sitting in.

The university’s first collection of books was kept in the parish church of St Mary the Virgin. This collection grew steadily but was augmented dramatically in 1435 when Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester and brother to Henry V, donated his collection of manuscripts. A new building was needed to house all the books and so space was created above the Divinity School (now known as Duke Humfrey’s Library).

In 1598 Thomas Bodley, the English diplomat and fellow of Merton College, offered to support the proper development of a university library which was opened in 1602 as Bodley's Library. From this grew the institution that we know today. Until the establishment of the British Museum in 1753, the Bodleian was effectively the national library of England.

The main building is one of the finest in Oxford and has been used in a number of films and TV series including Brideshead Revisited (1981), Another Country (1984), The Madness of King George III (1994), and the first two Harry Potter films.

Value for money

Price advice

Tours are available Mon-Sat 9am-4.30pm and Sun 11am-4.30pm but times do vary so best to ring in advance to check. Tour group numbers are limited to 13. The longer 60-minute tour costs £6.50 and includes the Divinity School, Convocation House, Chancellor’s Court and Duke Humfrey’s Library. There is also a shorter 30-minute tour costing £4.50. No children under 11 will be admitted. Entry to the Schools' Quadrangle is free.

Expert tips

There are two very good pubs nearby - the King's Head and the White Horse - if you want something to eat after your visit.

There is an excellent book and souvenir shop housed in the Schools' Quadrangle inside the old School of Astronomy and Rhetoric.

Recommended for

  • Culture vultures
  • Seasoned travellers
  • Education
  • Art
  • History
  • Design and architecture