Exploring books at Bodleian Library Oxford - Bubbablue and me

Mums lunch and Bodleian library tour

It’s not often as a mum we get to take time off to relax away from our children. Actually I don’t do too badly, mainly because I work, but also unless I organise for us to go out, N just wants to spend all day out on the farm. But to actually spend the day out with a friend doesn’t happen much.  But I had a flexi day recently and arranged to meet up with a friend and go to Oxford for the day and a Bodleian Library tour.

Exploring books at Bodleian Library Oxford - Bubbablue and me

We were very laidback about it all.  We had no specific plans other than to go out, have some lunch and chat.  But going to Oxford there’s so much to see that we had to do something other than just amble.  Needing to be back for school pick up did limit us to what we might want to do, but on the park and ride in, we decided that a tour round the Bodleian Library might be an interesting option.

Neither of us had been before, and with a love of books (and me liking Harry Potter), it was always going to be a place not to miss.

Oxford is beautiful to walk around, but without my big camera, I felt a bit lost, unable to snap away.  But there’s still plenty to snap with my phone.

bridge of Sighs Oxford
Sheldonian Theatre Oxford

Bodleian Library

We wandered down Broad Street to the Sheldonian and wandered where to go for the Bodleian. The buildings all just look old, and when we spotted the sign we came across a tent, being prepared for the literary festival which started the next day.  After a round-about walk through the courtyard, we found the ticket booth and managed to get tickets for the tour starting not long after.  Tours run at various times through the day, and during holidays and the summer, I’d recommend booking in advance. There are also mini tours and self tours, although we booked on a standard tour for around £10 each.

bodleian library panorama

Because it’s a working library you wear radio head phones so the guide doesn’t have to speak loudly.  And at one point we had to all lock our bags in a storage area because they couldn’t be taken into certain areas.

Like many of the buildings in Oxford, the Bodleian library is something special. It really is a beautiful place, very calm and peaceful.  And with so much interesting history – from being built to house books donated by Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester in the 15th Century.  Thomas Bodley was key to saving the library with scholars being accepted in 1602.  He built the collection, ensuring that a copy of every book was placed in the Bodleian.  During the hour tour, we heard so much information.  The guide was really good, able to answer all the questions, and anticipate them.

Divinity School ceiling Bodleian
inside of locked chest in Bodleian

Once we’d heard the history of the Divinity School, we discovered the other rooms including Convocation House and the Chancellor’s Court. It was great to hear the details of the conflicts between town and gown. While I’ve heard the phrase before it was interesting to hear the anecdotes and stories about what actually went on and how it changed the rulings and laws of the city.

Then it was upstairs to see Duke Humfrey’s library.  If you love books, then the Bodleian makes a great tour. There’s something magical about an old traditional library, with the old books (some traditionally chained to the shelves).  No books can be lent out of the library, readers must use the books there.  This library was where all fans of Harry Potter wants to see. Unfortunately you can’t take photos and can only see from outside the entrance.  How amazing would you feel if you were a reader and could use it yourself?! Any student can request to become a reader – I wish I’d done that when I was studying like I’d debated at the time.

The tour lasted an hour and once finished we ended up in the quadrangle again – able to see all the university school doors off it. A really beautiful place to stand and just look.

quandrangle buildings at Bodleian library

If you’re debating going, there are different tour choices. Under 11s can’t go into the Bodleian and it’s really not a tour for young children anyway.  We did the hour long standard tour at £9 (bought online), but there’s a half hour mini one, or extended one tours at 90 minutes depending on the day.

Oxford streets

After our tour, we wandered past the Radcliffe Camera, down the back streets of Oxford to get something to eat in the covered market.  The streets of Oxford are pretty anyway, but in the spring sunshine, they’re really beautiful.

magnolia in Oxford
pretty coloured buildings in Oxford
hyacinths in Covered Market Oxford

With a quick lunch and then a walk back to the bus, we felt like we’d chatted enough, and had plenty of ‘me time’ exploration.

If you’ve never been to Oxford, I say it’s a must for a city break. There are some bits that are great for kids (the parks, Christchurch Meadows, Botanic Gardens, Story Museum, and the Castle for older children. but there’s more for adults with the universities and history).  And in that list, the Bodleian library tour is up there to visit.

Have you visited Oxford before? Where are your favourite places to visit there?


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  1. It looks beautiful! I’ve visited Oxford once but didn’t get to spend much time there, I’d love to visit again and see some more

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