If you could only do one, which would you choose for a day trip? I love visiting cathedrals, castles and strolling around quaint old towns if that helps at all. Will also be traveling with my 18 month old, husband, sister, brother-in-law (all in 30's) and mom but they have left all decisions to me as the family trip planner! And would you suggest going with a tour or just going on our own? Thanks!
Had the same choices myself so opted for a tour that covered Oxford and Cambridge on the same day. Small mini bus tour with 8 people. If you are interested pm and I can give you more info.
You don't actually say where the day trip is from, but I assume London. I don't think you need to use an organised tour, all three cities are easy (and fairly quick), to get to by train from London. I'm not sure how to choose between them. If you want to be empirical, then Canterbury and Oxford have cathedrals - the one at Canterbury is more impressive (and older). And whilst Cambridge doesn't have a cathedral, it does have King's College Chapel which is beautiful. All three have castles, but Cambridge's is just the remains of the motte (i.e dull), Canterbury's has a bit more remaining, but is still a ruin, whilst these days Oxford's is a (rather expensive), visitor attraction with guided tours, "events" and suchlike. All three have lots of "quaint old" parts and also some pretty ugly, modern bits too. Of the three, Cambridge built more ugly buildings in the last century, but Oxford wins the prize for the single most hideous building. Canterbury is better in this respect. On the other hand Oxford and Cambridge, unlike Canterbury, have stunning views around the university/college buildings. Sorry all that probably isn't much help really. If I have to decide I'd toss a coin to choose between Cambridge or Oxford. There is more to either of those two than Canterbury.
I think I would do Canterbury if I just had one day. The cathedral is not old, but really important in history. And, I then there's just the notion of Canterbury Tales. I remember really liking the town and enjoying it after spending time in London. It's an easy walk from the Railway Station to the Cathedral. It was a long time ago that I went to Canterbury and have been to Oxford and Cambridge more recently. You'll enjoy whichever you pick.
You asked which to choose for a day trip; however, if there is somewhere else out of town that you would like to see, you could combine trips. For example, if you would like to see the Cotswolds, Oxford is a natural starting point to go see them.
Canterbury Cathedral is the oldest church still in use in England. Its history dates back to the 6th century and the present building was erected in the 11th century. There are also other interesting old buildings in the city centre as well as Roman remains.
I've given this some more thought. If it were me, I would just pick one place to visit. But I do that knowing that it is likely I'll be back. So, if I'm only going to one place, then I choose Canterbury as I would want to spend more than a day in either Oxford or Cambridge, and in fact have done so. :)
I couldn't imagine trying to visit both Oxford and Cambridge on the same day. It must be the type of tour where the coach mainly drives by sites of interest with little time to de-board and actually visit anything. The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford alone deserves a bare minimum of 2-3 hours. I could spend a couple days there, but I'm most at home in museums and libraries. And that's not even mentioning going into Christ Church Cathedral, the Bodleian Libraries, attending at least one Evensong service at one of the Oxford college churches, the excellent pubs, and just generally enjoying the vibrant atmosphere of one of the great university cities in the Western world.
If I could just choose one of these it would be Oxford. The city is very walkable, has lots of nooks and crannies to explore, stupendous atmosphere and character, and lots to do. You have the beautiful Ashmolean Museum, concerts in the Sheldonian Theatre, the beautiful colleges, lots of small lanes and gardens to wander, the Thames river with its beautiful walking paths (if you have a stroller for your little one this would be a nice walk!), and a plethora of cafes, restaurants, and tea rooms. My husband and I stayed there for 7 weeks one summer while he was working on an academic project and I didn't see everything even in that amount of time.
I have been to all 3 places and liked them all, but my prioritization is Canterbury, Cambridge and then Oxford. (The day I spent in Oxford the weather was horrible, and that might have influenced me??) I loved Canterbury cathedral and enjoyed the town - I've only been there once but would love to go again. I too don't think you need a tour for any of these places - just decide what you want to see and go for it.
By now you may be wishing you hadn't asked, since you're getting so many well-thought-out opposite recommendations. But, to add to the confusion, my pick would be Cambridge. You get the cathedral-like Kings College Chapel, which may be the best example of late-Gothic "Perpendicular" architecture in the UK if not Europe (another is the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey). You get the various colleges, historic and walkable. You get the Backs, meadows with the river running through them. You get the Scott Polar Research Institute and its museum (OK, that's an interest of mine, maybe not yours). You get a fast easy train ride from King's Cross, including a glimpse of East Anglia which is topographically different from most other parts of England. Canterbury Cathedral is historically and architecturally fascinating, set in a medieval town center the way it might have looked to Chaucer and his friends. Oxford is a relatively big city with a great university, museum, etc., worthy of perhaps more than a day trip, therefore perhaps better left for the future when you can combine it with the Cotswolds, Blenheim, Bath, and other remarkable places nearby. So you really can't go wrong, but my money would be on Cambridge if you have to choose one. I wouldn't spring for a tour, you can get to and around these places easily. And I wouldn't try to combine both universities in one day, or even two. It's not that "you see one, you see them all," it's that they have enough in common that your extra time might be better spent elsewhere. So now you have another tuppence worth to consider or ignore. ;)
Sorry Nigel. I'm not sure why I said that. I know it's old! All I can say is that I must have been tired. I actually spent quite a bit of time before posting trying to use google street view to re-do the walk that my sister and I did from the Railway station to the Cathedral and the little man would not walk down some streets. I could never get to the cathedral. I think that google warped my mind. I have good memories of the trip, but it was a long time ago. The print that my sister picked up representing all the Canterbury Tales is still hanging on her wall. BTW if you take the train you can give all those parking issues a miss. Pam
Used Roman bricks are incorporated into the walls, that's some kind of clue about the age.
I love Oxford for the magnificent easily accessable archietecture. I hate, despise, and abhor Oxford's parking policies. I love the Backs and Kings College Chapel in Cambridge. I hate and abhor Cambridges's parking, but not as much as Oxfords, and hate the speed averaging cameras on the approaches. I hate parking in Canterbury. I really dislike the extortionate entry price to Canterbury Cathedral. So much so that I have only been there once.
Keith Oxford wins the prize for the single most hideous building Which one, Keith? The shopping centre? The bus station? Or Tom Tower?
Canterbury if I just had one day. The cathedral is not old, I've got to disagree slightly. Having been started in 597 and rebuilt by the Normans in 1070, I grant you it is not the oldest church in Europe. But its not what I would call " not old". If not old, what is it?
Thank you everyone - I really appreciate all of the advice and opinions! I've tallied up the votes and made notes from all of your comments so hope to make a decision soon! ;) Thanks again!!
Nigel - I don't think Tom Tower is hideous, it is ludicrous certainly, but not hideous. And whilst the bus station is nothing to write home about, I've seen a lot worse. The shopping centre is indeed horrid - I assume you mean the Westgate, but the others in Oxford are mostly grim too. Fortunately, they are about to start redeveloping Westgate. But the building I was referring to was the Tinbergen Building. A building so utterly grotesque that it should have been built in Slough or Paris.
When I read Pamela's post I guessed that the word "only" had been missed out ie between "not" and "old".
the Tinbergen Building Point taken. Absolutely right. An absolutely unredeemed monstrosity of a disaster.
Thank you Linda! That was probably it!
I have been thinking about this and decided to cast a vote for Cambridge as a very sight preference over Oxford. I went to Cambridge must more recently, which may be why, but the chance to see King's College Chapel is what would tip the scales in my mind. Also, I did a lovely walking tour done by their tourist office. I believe the tour includes going into King's College Chapel, which is how I saw it. Canterbury Cathedral is lovely, but unless you can fill up the rest of the day in that area, it may not be worth it.