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The first day of Topdeck 7 Day British Isle trip began at Umi Hotel in London. Together with 20 travel mates from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada, we joined Julia-the lovely Canadian trip leader and Scotty-the chatty Australian driver and departed London for the city of Oxford, home to the prestigious Oxford University with a long history that dates back to the 11th century.

It was through STA Travel that I knew about Topdeck. My previous travel experiences only involved backpacking, free & easy and packaged tours from local travel agencies. I wasn’t sure what Topdeck could offer. The helpful STA Travel staff enthusiastically explained that Topdeck does not operate like the conventional kind of tours. Established since 1973, it is specially designed for the 18 to 30-somethings, accompanied by, well, you don’t call them “tour guides”, they are knowledgeable friends who NEVER ask for tips and plonk you at tourist shops where the guide gets a cut of everything you buy. Indeed!

Along the way, Julia thoughtfully tried to break the ice by inviting each one of us to introduce ourselves. Most of our friends on this trip travelled alone; some of them are students on school holidays and many were taking a break from work. Very soon, the bunch mingled well throughout the coach journey.

As we arrived in Oxford, Julia walked us around the city as she shared about Oxford. Topdeck believes in giving lot of free time so that we can explore the city at our own pace. After Julia briefed us with the direction to Oxford University and the meeting place, we had about 3 hours on our own, which means we could do whatever we like! Go shopping, dine in a nice restaurant like a local, and stroll along the charming streets leisurely to the main attractions. It really wasn’t like the guided tours I joined in the past with very tight schedules that rushed us through.

Street performers.

Graffiti art, or whatever you call it.

An open-top City Sightseeing bus in Oxford that tours passengers around the city and they can drop off at various stops such as Oxford University colleges, museums, shops and restaurants.

Oxford city.

Located along Cornmarket Street, the Oxford Covered Market is lined with rows of retail outlets including gift shops, grocery stalls, bakeries and boutiques. You can fuel up with a good variety of cheap and delicious eats in this market.

Handmade sugar figurines of a wedding couple.

The “graduate” sugar figurines.

Ship Street.

Quite amused with the big headlines “Free cash withdrawals” at the ATM machines.

Being one of the leading universities and most beautiful institutions in the world, Oxford University is undoubtedly a well-known tourist magnet in its own right. In fact, the nine-century-old University is the oldest in the English-speaking world.

The historic buildings of Oxford University.

Hertford Bridge is also known as the Bridge of Sighs as it shares similarity with the famous Bridge of Sighs in Venice, which the latter was inspired by the sighs of condemned prisoners as they were led through it to the executioner.

Prominently located in the historic centre of Oxford,  St Mary’s Church is the University Church built in the 13th century. It’s open daily from 9am – 5pm daily and 9am – 6pm in July and August, except Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Within the Church, you can find some souvenirs to bring home.

Don’t miss this! Constructed in 1280, the Church tower is the oldest part of the building. For merely £3, you can climb up the tower for commanding views of Oxford city and its surroundings, as well as close-up views of the intricately crafted sculptures at the facade of the tower.

Be prepared to take on 120 over steps along the narrow spiral stairs to get to the top of the tower.

And there isn’t much room at the top too! So, try not to carry big bags for this tower trip.

Splendid bird’s-eye views from the University Church tower – All Souls College.

The Radcliffe Camera is a classic example of an English circular library built in the 18th century.

The 500-year-old Brasenose College.

The High Street.

Lincoln College – One of its many famous personalities is Lord Florey, the developer of Penicillin.

We continued into the Midlands and stopped by Stratford-Upon-Avon, the hometown of William Shakespeare.

Read previous post on London night out and Cardiff sightseeing.