Christ Church

Address: St Aldate's, Oxford, OX1 1DP, United Kingdom
Telephone: 01865 276150

- Mid-range


Oxford's historic cathedral with a Harry Potter connection.

It used to be said that Christ Church was the college for empty-headed public school boys. Evidence for this included the fact that while most Oxford colleges raided their rivals, traditionally trashing rooms and throwing beds out of windows, Christ Church students would throw out their own beds. But this is unfair. Neither Lewis Carrol nor WH Auden coud be counted as "Hooray Henrys".

In recent years Christ Church has proved adept at tapping into the tourist market. Whereas most colleges are open to visitors for free but at curious hours of their own choosing (look out for a freestanding sign at the porter's lodge), Christ Church operates as a tourist attraction with fixed hours and an admission charge. 

There's a lot to be seen as Christ Church has enjoyed a long and dramatic history. It was founded in 1524 by Henry VIII's right hand man, Cardinal Wolsey. The college was built on the site of of St Frideswide's Monastery, which Wolsey suppressed during the long period of Tudor religious reform. Wolsey used the monastery's wealth to fund what was then known as the Cardinal's College. When Wolsey fell spectacularly from power in 1529 the college became the personal property of Henry VIII. Henry re-founded it in 1546 as King Henry College. He later designated the old monastery church - which was still intact - as the Cathedral of the new diocese of Oxford. This new double institution of cathedral and college was re-named Aedes Christi (Christ Church).

Christ Church continued close links with the monarchy during the English Civil War (1642-1646) when King Charles I took up residence at Christ Church. He held his parliament in the Great Hall and attended services in the cathedral. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Charles II rewarded Christ Church for its loyalty to his father by enabling enough money to be raised to complete the huge main quadrangle. In 1682 a former student, Sir Christopher Wren, was commissioned to design a new bell tower which housed the doom-laden bell known as Great Tom. The tower, its gate and the giant quadrangle all take their name from this bell. 

In more recent times Christ Church was associated with the early Harry Potter films. The staircase leading to the Great Hall featured as part of Hogwarts (the hall itself was replicated inside a film studio) and the cloisters (which predate the founding of the college) were the location for various scenes including one where Harry was shown the trophy his father won at quidditch.

Children may love this aspect of the tour but the rest is pretty adult stuff. Nevertheless, the whiff of history hangs satisfying over the whole place.

Value for money

Price advice

Adult are charged £7.50. However, if either the cathedral or Great Hall are closed this drops to £6 (Christ Church is liable to vary opening times and close off parts of the college if they are needed for academic - or filming - purposes), should both be closed the price goes down to £3. Family ticket prices vary between £15 and £6, depending on closures, and there are also student reductions.

Expert tips

Visitors who want to look around the college as a tourist should follow the signs to the Meadow Gate (further down the hill). However, if you only want to see the Picture Gallery, apply to the custodian at Tom Gate (this means speaking to one of the men in bowler hats).

If you are going in to worship you are admitted for free through Tom Gate (the big tower on St Aldate's) so time your visit well and you won't have to pay to see the cathedral.

Recommended for

  • Culture vultures
  • Mature travellers
  • History
  • Design and architecture