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11 Must-See Oxford Museums

11 Must-See Oxford Museums

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With so much history, it’s no surprise that Oxford boasts so many cool museums. Looking for the best Oxford museums? Here are the ones you shouldn’t miss.

Oxford is not short of a museum or two – this historical British city is filled with things to do, not to mention more than its fair share of cool museums.

Over the years, we’ve spent lots of time in Oxford’s museums so we’re pretty confident about the ones you need to visit. We’ll level with you – some are pretty dull, but others are like stepping into another world.

Whether it’s the internationally-renowned Ashmolean Museum or the rather more offbeat Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, there’s plenty to keep you entertained.

Think of it as a slice of that world-famous education without the stress of exams and the prohibitive costs. Thumbs up to that.

Looking for more ideas for your time in Oxford? Don’t miss our guide to the best places to see in Oxford.

The Ashmolean

The Ashmolean is Oxford’s biggest museum and should be at the top of any Oxford itinerary

Situated on the corner of St Giles’ and Beaumont Street, this gargantuan museum takes you on a journey through the history of international cultures.  

The galleries are organised into five main departments – Western Art, Eastern Art, Coins, Antiquities and the Cast Gallery then subdivided by region.

The thoughtful curation emphasises connections between the arts of different cultures that you would never otherwise have thought of.

The Ashmolean opened in 1683 when Elias Ashmole donated his collection of rarities to the University of Oxford. It’s expanded and expanded over the years, moving to its current location and undergoing a huge renovation that finished in 2009.

Ashmolean Oxford
Inside the Ashmolean

The end result is a fascinating museum – set aside at least a couple of hours to make the most of it.

Finish your visit with a coffee in the stellar cafe – which is one of the best cafes in Oxford.

Free entry – suggested donation £5

The Pitt Rivers Museum

Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford 2

The Pitt Rivers Museum is one of Oxford’s more hidden treasures.

Tucked away in the same building as the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the Pitt Rivers houses a collection of over half a million objects charting the history of man from around the world.

At first glance, it’s a bit overwhelming – cabinet after cabinet filled with all kinds of curiosities stretching from the entrance to the back of the museum.

Don’t worry – take your time to work through the collection, which is spread out over three floors. 

It’s arranged typologically (by type of object rather than by the destination it came from), lending itself to interesting comparisons between the ways in which different cultures create objects to address the same problem.

It’s an immersive walk through the history of man.

In short, you really should visit.

Free entry – suggested donation £5

Read more: One Day in Oxford – The Perfect Itinerary

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History

The best way that we can describe the Oxford University Museum of Natural History is that it’s like the Natural History Museum in London but on a much more accessible scale.

The museum’s collection spans over 7 million objects, only a small proportion of which is on display at any one time. The displays are split into distinct areas – including zoology and mineralogy – but we’ll bet it’s the palaeontology collection that will first catch your eye.

Fossils and replicas of dinosaurs dominate the museum floor, clustered by the museum’s exhibits.

Oxford is inextricably tied with the famous children’s book Alice in Wonderland and the Museum of Natural History is no exception.

The museum holds the last soft-tissue specimen of the now-extinct Dodo. It’s this exhibit that is thought to have inspired Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Dodgson) to create the character in the book.

Free entry – suggested donation £5

Modern Art Oxford

Modern Art Oxford

We love visiting Modern Art Oxford as you’re never sure what you’re going to find. As the name suggests, this gallery is dedicated to showcasing the best contemporary art talents.

In a city that sometimes feels like it has its foot in the past, Modern Art Oxford is refreshingly focused on the present. It’s not a huge space, but it has earnt itself a respected international reputation for challenging exhibitions.

Each exhibition is presented in a different fashion – so much so that it’s sometimes hard to believe it’s the same space.

We’ll be honest, we’re not always a huge fan of the exhibitions and we think they can be a bit hit and miss – but they never fail to make you stop and think.

The gallery opened in 1966 – meaning it’s been pivotal in shaping Oxford’s art scene for over fifty years.

Can’t visit in person? Don’t fret. Lovers of art can join MAO Studio – an online space dedicated to delving into the gallery’s programmes, chatting with like-minded people, and sharing creative projects. It’s pretty wholesome.

Free entry

Christ Church Picture Gallery

Christ Church has it all – a long and illustrious history, its own cathedral – it was even used as a filming location for the famous Harry Potter series.

But we’re not here to talk about that, we’re here to look at Christ Church Picture Gallery. Hidden near the back entrance to Christ Church, the picture gallery showcases the college’s collection of paintings and drawings by the Old Masters.

The collection started in the 18th century when General John Guise gifted over 200 artworks to the college to ensure that students could study great works without having to travel to Italy on the grand tour, as was the norm. 

It has expanded over the years before being moved to its current location in the 1960s.

With 300 artworks and over 2,000 drawings, we were surprised by the scope of the collection. Highlights include Filippino Lippi’s ‘The Wounded Centaur’ and Jacopo Tintoretto’s ‘Martyrdom of St. Lawrence’.

Entrance £4

Read more: Finding Oxford’s Harry Potter Filming Locations

Museum of Oxford

The Museum of Oxford charts the city’s own history. It’s recently undergone a huge renovation, and it’s now ready for the public to explore Oxford’s fascinating past.

The museum throws up more than a few interesting facts – did you know that Christ Church is built on the site of an old priory that was dedicated to Oxford’s patron saint, St Frideswide? 

Or that Oxford was put under siege three times during the English Civil War as it was the seat of King Charles I’s Oxford Parliament?

Recent exhibitions include The Queer Geography of Oxford, a collection that delved into past and present queer spaces in Oxford, as well as Of Ordinary Things, a multi-media exhibition featuring work by Iraqi women in Oxford.

The MOX also runs tours of Oxford’s Town Hall, during which you’ll be able to have a nosey around the Court Room, Council Chamber, and the Lord Mayor’s parlour.

Free to enter.

The History of Science Museum

Another of the University of Oxford’s museums, The History of Science Museum occupies what long ago used to be the premises of the Ashmolean Museum.

The museum was founded in 1924 in order to preserve scientific objects from being destroyed and to help chart the development of science throughout the years. 

Initially built around Lewis Evans’ collection of scientific instruments, it has evolved throughout the years to become one of the biggest collections of scientific pieces in Europe.

Don’t think this is a dry gathering of dusty old objects, the Museum’s curators have done a brilliant job of drawing you into the world of science.

Peek at the blackboard Einstein used during one of his Oxford lectures, examine the original Penicillin culture, chart the early days of telecommunications and learn about the riveting history of science.

This is a fascinating museum that all the family will enjoy.

Free entry – suggested donation £5

The Oxford University Bate Collection

The Bate Collection might not be everyone’s cup of tea – a collection of musical instruments does not, on the face of it, sound very exciting at all. But if you give it a try, The Bate Collection may just surprise you.

The collection displays over 2,000 musical instruments from the Renaissance period to the present day. 

The instruments are mainly those used in Western traditions – but there’s the odd outlier thrown in for good measure – Javanese gamelan anyone?

Wandering around the museum is an interesting enough way to spend an hour, but if you really want to bring it to life, we recommend booking a tour. Be warned, they must be booked in advance.

Free entry – suggested donation £5

Story Museum

Recognise the quotation?

Another Oxford museum that has recently been under reconstruction, The Story Museum celebrates stories and delves into their transformative effects on people’s lives.

Head through the likes of the Whispering Wood and the Enchanted Library, as Oxford’s stories are told in an immersive and engaging way.

Make sure you check out the City of Stories exhibition, which sees you board a magical Story Craft and fly through a thousand years of Oxford’s history, from ancient myths to classic children’s literature. Adults will find themselves enjoying this just as much as the little ones.

Weston Library

The Weston Library is a part of Oxford University’s world-famous Bodleian Library

While much of the Bodleian is off-limits unless you book onto a tour, the Weston Library hosts an ever-changing roster of exhibitions.

The exhibitions are pretty diverse. 2022’s offerings include The ‘Asian Mystery’: Benjamin Disraeli and the Disraeli Papers and Tutankhamun: Excavating the Archive.

Very eclectic and insightful.

Free entry

The Oxford University Press Museum

Oxford University Press

From 17th-century printing press’ to information on Oxford’s literary classics, this is one of the top museums in Oxford.

Be warned: you have to book ahead to visit the museum, which is a bit of a killjoy – but it does mean that it’s never overcrowded and you have plenty of space to explore the museum at your leisure.

Free entry

Oxford Museums – Map


Practical Information for Visiting Oxford’s Museums

  • The Ashmolean is the biggest of the museums – We advise spending a full morning or afternoon there to do it justice.
  • Most of the other Oxford museums can be visited in an hour or two.
  • We love the Pitt Rivers Museum – it’s highly under-rated – and could easily spend a day looking at the exhibits. Don’t be surprised if you end up spending more time than you expected.

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