Where can you find cobblestone streets, medieval architecture, botanical gardens, and punting? England can boast of having not one, but two University towns which have all of these.
Oxford and Cambridge have an old rivalry, one which has lasted through the centuries. It all began when scholars fled Oxford to escape religious and political conflict. Today, the annual rowing race is a testament to the competition between schools. Also, the status of being the “better” town is a point of contention among many. Indeed, they are very similar. The cities have been the haunts of great scientists, writers, and Nobel prize winners. They have been the site of significant historic events and discoveries. These past two weekends, I have had the privilege of being able to see both. Now, I will try to answer the question, Oxford or Cambridge?
I will start with my journey to Oxford. Both universities have smaller colleges, each with their unique history and notable alumni. Christ Church is one of the most well-known of the colleges at Oxford. This college is surrounded by beautiful green meadows, footpaths, and manicured gardens. As I walked underneath the ivy-clad halls, I could hear the bells of the chapel in the distance. Inside the college, there is a beautiful lawn (don’t walk on it), a church, and a great hall. The great hall of Christ Church was used in filming the Harry Potter films. After seeing this, I went over to the Oxford Botanic Gardens, the oldest botanic garden in the United Kingdom. All the roses were in bloom, clustering and creeping around the stone walls. I enjoyed sitting on a bench surrounded by foxgloves, watching tourists try to maneuver their punts. In the afternoon, I saw the very recognizable Radcliffe Camera and drank tea in an old parsonage.
My weekend in Cambridge was just as delightful. I started my trip with a punting tour along the river Cam. It was a warm, sunny Saturday, perfect for sightseeing. We passed numerous colleges and went under various bridges. My favorite bridge was called the Bridge of Sighs after the one in Venice. The bridge, with its pained windows and gothic façade, is quite romantic. After my tour, I visited some of the colleges. King’s College was magnificent. Walking into the chapel, I was greeted with fan vaulting and stained-glass windows. It took my breath away. I spent this rest of my day wandering through the cobblestone streets lined with shops and visiting the University gardens.
Which one was better? I’m not sure. Oxford and Cambridge are very similar but also distinct. My visits to both were enjoyable, rich in history, and filled with post-card moments. My final verdict: If you want to go punting, shopping, or are interested in the history of science, go to Cambridge. If you are a fan of Harry Potter, C.S. Lewis, or J.R.R Tolkien, go to Oxford. I also thought Oxford was better for walking. Everything, including the train station, is very close together. However, if you have the time and the inclination, visit both!