Alice in Wonderland Sites Around Oxford
Depending on when you go to Oxford, creating an Alice in Wonderland-themed day will vary from super-easy to easy. On the super-easy end is when the town itself is celebrating its ties to Lewis Carroll (otherwise known by his real name, Charles Dodgson) and displaying the original copy of the books in the Bodleian Library or holding a Mad Hatter’s tea party. On the easy end is when you show up in Oxford right after the museum closes its 150th anniversary Alice-themed exhibit and the next tea party is a month away — there are STILL too many Alice things to do in Oxford to fit them all into one day.
From London, take the bus to Oxford. That was the advice we were given. Not sure where the train station is but the bus drops you off right in the heart of the city. The city itself is very walkable — we never took public transportation once we were there, and we walked from the bus depot all the way towards the entrance to town without any problem.
Begin at Christ Church College, part of Oxford. It’s where Carroll worked as well as Dean Liddell, father to the original Alice. You can easily imagine Wonderland when you walk through the gates and see the lush campus:
The first thing you walk past are the gardens:
Of which there are many:
Look in the background of these gardens. I loved all the little wooden doors set into the stone. They looked like the doors that led into Wonderland.
And it’s easy to see what inspired the opening to Alice:
If nothing else, just go to Christ Church to see the beauty:
Right across from the main entrance, there is a field filled with cows. We ended up having a conversation with one, asking it to nod or shake its head to all of our “yes” or “no” questions. The twins found this hysterical, but it also drove home that idea of speaking animals from the book. Thank you, flies, for bothering the cow in order to get his head moving.
Now you’re ready to go inside the main hall…
…and begin exploring Carroll’s world by peeking through spaces in the stone architecture and catching glimpses of what Carroll saw daily that influenced his writing.
Your first stop is the cathedral at Christ Church which has a lot of ties to Alice but is also interesting in and of itself.
The cloisters are also gorgeous too, especially with the olive tree.
When you go inside, even if you don’t have children, take the children’s guide. I found it better than the adult one. There are a few Alice details in the church as well as a lot of information on St. Frideswide, the patron saint of Oxford.
There is also a window that has a stain glass version of the Binsey well, which is right outside Oxford. The Binsey well became the dormouse’s treacle well in the book.
The window was down for repair, but in the front right corner of the church is the Edith window, a picture of Edith Liddell, Alice’s little sister (in the picture, she is holding a feather).
There are other fun details in the church, such as the dog on the tombstone who has been patted so many times his stone ears have worn off.
And there are plenty of cool wooden doors leading to unknown places that will spark your imagination.
One thing not advertised at all that we only got to see because of a bit of random luck is the “Alice” door — the door that Alice Liddell ran through to get to her play garden — as well as the Cheshire Cat tree. Both are accessed via the church, but you need to know to ask an employee of the church to see it. The door that leads to the garden is to the left just as you enter the church. If you ask someone to see the Alice door, they will unlock it and allow you to see the gardens. The tree on the right is the Cheshire Cat tree.
After the cathedral, you can go into the Great Hall, which I told you about in the Harry Potter post.
The portrait of Carroll is immediately to your right when you walk inside.
There are other small details such as windows and brass characters by the fireplace. Look around and see how many you can spot. Apparently as you exit the hall, there is a portrait of a man in a red robe whose eyes are supposed to move? We missed this, but perhaps you’ll remember to look for him.
We lucked out and got to see the 12 Salvadore Dali paintings of Alice in Wonderland, but that is one of those things that come and go. Still, there is almost always something going on in town related to Alice in Wonderland. We took a break and had our own tea party at Cafe Valerie in town and then headed diagonally across the street to Simms, another Honeydukes-like candy store.
There are many other colleges to explore in Oxford including Magdalen College with the deer park where Alice saw the fawn.
And pretty churches.
At the Museum of Oxford, you can see Carroll’s pocket watch (“I’m late, I’m late!”) or at the Museum of Natural History you can see part of a taxidermied Dodo bird. You can go on a Hunting of the Snark geocache. We took Dead Man’s Walk to the Botanical Gardens and found — once again — curious little wooden doors in the stone walls. Peeking through the keyhole, we saw a garden: JUST LIKE ALICE!
We finished our day of looking for white rabbits with a visit to the Sheep Shop, across the road from the entrance to Christ Church. It is the store that appears in the chapter Wool and Water. You can now buy Alice-themed gifts inside.
Just a heads up — it takes about two hours by bus to get to Oxford. But it’s definitely worth the trip.