Bodleian Library

Bodleian Library information

Oxford , England
Catte St
+44 1865 287400
More information
tours £5-13
Opening hours
9am-5pm Mon-Sat, 11am-5pm Sun
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Oxford's Bodleian Library is one of the oldest public libraries in the world and quite possibly the most impressive one you'll ever see. Casual visitors are welcome to wander around the central quad and visit the exhibition space in the foyer. For £1 you can also access the Divinity School, but the rest of the complex can only be visited on guided tours (check online or at the information desk for times; it pays to book ahead).

The Bodleian has its roots in a 15th-century collection of books and its present state is largely due to the efforts of Sir Thomas Bodley, a 16th-century fellow of Merton College. He came to the agreement with the Stationers' Company of London that the library would receive a copy of every single book published in the UK – an agreement that still stands today. It currently holds more than 11 million items, contains 117 miles of shelving and has seating space for up to 2500 readers. A staggering 4000 books and articles arrive every week, all of which need to be catalogued and stored.

The oldest part of the library surrounds the Jacobean Gothic Old Schools Quadrangle , which dates from the early 17th century and sports some of Oxford's odder architectural gems. On the eastern side of the quad is the Tower of Five Orders , an ornate building depicting the five classical orders of architecture. On the west side is the Divinity School , the university's first teaching room. It is renowned as a masterpiece of 15th-century English Gothic architecture and has a superb fan-vaulted ceiling; it featured as the Hogwarts hospital wing in the Harry Potter films.

Half-hour mini tours (£5) include the Divinity School and the medieval Duke Humfrey's library , where no fewer than five kings, 40 Nobel Prize winners, 25 British prime ministers, and writers such as Oscar Wilde, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien studied amid rows filled with grand ancient tomes chained to the shelves. Those wishing to read here (the books may not be borrowed) still have to swear Bodley's Oath, which involves vowing 'not to bring into the Library or kindle therein any fire or flame'.

Hour-long standard tours (£7) also visit the 17th-century Convocation House , where parliament was held during the Civil War, and the Chancellor's Court . Extended tours (£13) run for 90 minutes and include the Radcliffe Camera and either the Upper Reading Room or underground Gladstone Link.