Oxford attracts so many people and for so many reasons. One of those tends to be the literary history there – you have the greats from Lewis Carroll and CS Lewis through to more modern writers like Phillip Pullman. The one that recently brought me to the city (for the first time!) was JRR Tolkien, a huge inspiration of mine and Oxford was his home and life for many years.
Tolkien was an academic and so almost all his adult life was spent in the city of Oxford amongst many other inspiring minds. First he studied there and then, after the First World War, he also worked and taught there.
Did you know that his most famous works, The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, were written in Oxford? So what can you see in the city that ties to this great writer? Let’s take a look…
This article probably contains affiliate links.
This means that if you buy or book after clicking, I may get a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks!
A walking tour like this one focuses on Tolkien and his good friend CS Lewis – we had planned to do this one but it wasn’t running on the day we visited. It’s a good option if you want all the backstory and details!
A note from the writer: Hey! I’m Kirsty and I’m a UK travel expert. Although I live here I still travel around England as a tourist every year – there’s so much to see! Shout (or comment below) if you have any questions about your trip and I’ll get back to you ASAP.
Join our Free FB community here to plan your UK trip!
Tolkien sites in Oxford
Oxford is a dream to visit and you’ll certainly not be bored, especially if you like literary history, gorgeous buildings and filming locations (a lot of Harry Potter was filmed here). This list contains some of the sites that are linked to Tolkien from his time in Oxford.
If you’re looking for some sites where Lord of the Rings was inspired and you have time then definitely explore the Tolkien Trail in Birmingham where he grew up or the Cotswolds which is where he often escaped Oxford to and there’s a lot to see there.
Map of Tolkien things to see in Oxford
Table of Contents
Colleges around Oxford linked to Tolkien
Oxford University is made up of a number of different colleges that are located around the city. Each one is different but still part of the overall ‘Oxford University’
This is the college that JRR Tolkien began his academic studies as an undergraduate in 1911 after leaving Birmingham where he spent most of his childhood. He first studied Classics but changed to English Language and graduated with First-Class Honours.
Once he had graduated in 1915 he then went to fight in the First World War and wouldn’t return to live in Oxford for another 10 years.
Visiting Exeter College: This is one of the colleges that you can’t explore much as a visitor so we only glimpsed it from the outside. It is very central though and easy to get to if you’re looking round any of the shops!
Tolkien returned to Oxford in 1925 after the First World War and a spell working at the University of Leeds in northern England. He was a Professor of Anglo Saxon (the full title was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon!) at this Oxford college for around 20 years and this is where he was when the Hobbit and (much of) The Lord of the Rings were written.
Visiting Pembroke: You are allowed to visit Pembroke college although there are no official tours of it. We just asked at the porter’s office and they let us explore the gardens and courtyards inside.
Pembroke College is located a short way from the centre of Oxford and near Christ Church College.
Tolkien would spend his last years of academia working at Merton College which is one of the oldest colleges in Oxford and home to the oldest academic library in the world. From 1945, after WW2, until his retirement he was a professor of English Language and Literature.
On my research I found that some people say that Tolkien’s ghost is at Merton college and sometimes you can smell his pipe and tweed jacket as he wanders the corridors!
One place to look out for if you do visit is a stone table where Tolkien often sat – it definitely has a look of a certain place in Rivendell where some of Middle Earth’s residents talked about the fate of a ring! Apparently he’d spend time with CS Lewis here and it may be where he even got the idea for the stone table in Narnia. Crossover?!?
Visiting Merton: You are able to visit Merton and the costs (in 2023) are £5 per adult. Unfortunately we were a little late in the day to visit and only saw the outside but will add it on to the next time!
In the summer months they also do guided tours for £10 per person – they should be booked in advance as they only have a small number on each tour. You can see more here.
Where Tolkien spent his time in Oxford
Eagle & Child pub
The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford is one of the places where it’s often linked to Tolkien and other members of the Inklings – an ‘informal literary discussion’ group. CS Lewis, who wrote the Narnia series, is also one of the other members of this.
Unfortunately the pub is closed and awaiting repairs so you cannot visit inside at the moment. We managed to get a snap through the window to one of the old fashioned looking nooks!
Lamb & Flag pub
Dierectly across the road from the Eagle and Child is another pub that was frequented by the Inklings- the Lamb & Flag.
This pub has been serving since the 1600s and has just been renovated so if you’re after a bit of refreshment and were disappointed that the Eagle and Child is closed then look no further!
Old Ashmolean / History of Science Museum
The Old Ashmolean was where Tolkien spent 2 years working on the Oxford English Dictionary early on in his career but it’s now a museum about the History of Science.
It’s located directly across from the Blackwell’s Book shop and shouldn’t be confused with the Ashmolean museum that’s a bit closer to the Eagle and Child Pub.
Oxford’s Botanical Gardens was, until 2014, home to one of Tolkien’s favourite trees which was known as the ‘Tolkien Tree’. Unfortunately it needed to be felled due to some branches falling off so it’s no longer there as Tolkien saw it – a sapling was replanted in 2021 from that original tree though.
Some people think that the tree was inspiration for Tree Beard or the Ents in general – Tolkien certainly loved trees!
Want something a bit special as a souvenir? The Botanical Garden teamed up with a local whisky producer to make a special edition ‘Black Pine’ whisky which comes with a coaster made from the original, felled pine that was so loved by Tolkien! You can see it here.
Mercure Oxford Eastgate Hotel
Another place that was often visited by Tolkien and not far from Merton College is the Eastgate Hotel. If you’re looking to stay somewhere connected to Tolkien then this could be a good option for you.
20 Northmoor Road – Tolkien’s House in Oxford
This is where Tolkien lived and it’s about half way between the centre of town and the cemetery where he’s buried (see below) so it’s a good one to include with that. We took a bus to the grave and walked back via the house.
Outside is a blue plaque which commemorates Tolkien living there between 1930 and 1947 so it would have been the place where both The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings would have been written, wondered about and put together. (The Lord of The Rings was published much later but would have definitely been mostly written here)
It’s a private house so it stands to reason that you shouldn’t be intrusive if you’re going to visit and be respectful. When we visited there was a lot of construction work going on so the house was hardly visible anyway – but we could see the plaque!
Tolkien’s Books around Oxford
Blackwell’s is a chain of bookshops that specialise in academic books and you’ll find them by Universities all over the UK. They have a lot to offer non academics as well and you’ll not feel out of place wandering around – it’s very much like a normal bookshop.
The Blackwell’s in Oxford is the original shop and was founded in 1879. The building is beautiful with gorgeous windows enticing you inside.
For Tolkien fans you’ll want to check out the upstairs where there is a whole section dedicated to the man and his works! They also have a cabinet with some of rare books and items. I could have spent hours in there!!
A lot of Tolkien’s work, manuscripts and paintings are kept in the Bodleian Library’s archive. They did have an exhibition a few years ago now and I am hoping that one day they might have another one on. As far as I am aware, there isn’t anywhere you can see the items on display at the moment.
The gift shop for the library (both the one at Weston Library site and at the Bodleian itself do have quite a lot of nice Tolkien items to buy though so it’s well worth exploring there. We picked up some gorgeous notecards and some Christmas cards featuring some of the drawings he did for his kids and which are featured in his Letters from Father Christmas book.
Memorials to JRR Tolkien around Oxford
At the north of the city is the Wolvercote Cemetery which is where you’ll find the grave of JRR Tolkien. It’s a little bit further away from the centre so if you’re wanting to visit you might like to take a taxi or a bus.
We took the bus (S5 by Stagecoach) to the cemetery and walked back via his house and the bench in the park but it was quite a decent walk – you’ll want to make sure the weather in on your side if you do this!
Once you arrive at the cemetery you’ll see small markers by the edge of the paths which will lead you to where the Tolkien grave is. He was buried with his wife Edith and you’ll see on the headstone that he called her Luthien and himself Beren – the elf and human in one of his tales from Middle Earth.
It’s a lovely small site, and when we visited it was full of people’s pens, rings and coins that they’d left as a tribute.
Just across the path you’ll also see the grave for a couple of his children as well.
JRR Tolkien’s Bench
In the University Parks by the river there are a number of benches dedicated to scholars and there is also one for JRR Tolkien too. The inscription on the bench states that two of the trees nearby were planted and represent Telperion and Laurelin, the Two Trees of Valinor, which are written about in The Silmarilion and also featured in the new Rings Of Power tv series.
On a nice day it would be a lovely place to watch the world go by – I’m sure he’d agree!
Where to stay in Oxford to see Tolkien sites
Our original choice of hotel was the Mercure Eastgate Oxford hotel which was where Tolkien would often go, I guess since it was so close to Merton college. It’s a good choice, not too far from the centre of town.
Since our option was booked up for our dates (which can be a problem – even out of season so book early if you can!) we ended up with a room at The Buttery which is directly across from the Balliol College and was a great, more budget option that still kept us close to all the sights.
You might also like my posts on:
🏴 England Travel FAQ 🏴
Do I need insurance for traveling to England?
YES! I always recommend people take travel insurance when exploring the world!
Check Travel Insurance Master for quote comparisons from different providers.
Do I need a car for visiting England?
YES – If you’re wanting to explore England fully then a car is worthwhile. It will get you to all the small villages, countryside sights and all on your own timetable
I recommend DiscoverCars to compare car rental prices in England
How to book accommodation in England?
For hotels I recommend Booking.com
For apartments and cottages check out VRBO
Will my phone work in England?
Perhaps – it depends if you have roaming enabled and beware this can be an expensive way to use your phone.
If you need a SIM for use in the UK I recommend GiffGaff which you can get and set up before traveling.
What’s the best guidebook for England?
I really like the Lonely Planet Guidebooks
Where to get flights for England
Skyscanner is my first port of call for finding cheap flights to England.
Do I need a visa for England?
Many countries don’t need a visa for visiting England as tourists (USA, Canada, Aus, NZ and Europe) – it’s always best to check first though.