What to do in Oxford: 5 Museums

In preparation for my new book What to do in Oxford: An Imagination Tour. I have decided to show you what Oxford has to offer with her bevvy of museums. In fact, there are 12 museums in total around Oxford, and I will have to do a part two as I am yet to visit some of them.

Gone are the days that museums were stuffy, quiet places where people were seen and not heard. With every passing decade, the cobwebs have been lifted and the dust cleared and museums in the U.K. have become places of entertainment. With government cuts to museum budgets, they have increasingly been forced to change their strategy and come up with ways to bring in revenue.

Much to Bill Bryson’s distaste, the museums in Oxford have designed their buildings to have café’s and making them into food courts. I disagree, I think they have found a balance and will discuss later. The old and the new have been blended superbly in these buildings, especially the Ashmolean, who have created an innovative mixture of the old and new with their recent upgrade and renovation.


We will be visiting the first five on the list.

  1. Ashmolean Museum
  2. Pitt Rivers Museum
  3. Oxford University Museum of Natural History
  4. Museum of the History of Science
  5. The Story Museum


These are also worth a visit and will be discussed in a later piece.

  1. Bate Collection of Musical Instruments
  2. Science Oxford
  3. Christ Church Picture Gallery
  4. Modern Art Oxford
  5. Museum of Oxford
  6. Oxford University Press Museum
  7. Oxford Castle


I have selected museums that I have visited recently and are open to the public.

Ashmolean Museum


With over 1 million artefacts on show, a recent renovation in 2009 and it is the U. K’s and the world’s oldest public museum, 383 years ago in 1683.

If you want to become happily lost for several hours come inside this grand building. This is the second location for the museum, it was originally on Broad Street, where the current Science Museum resides.

The collection was given to the University in 1677 by the owner Elias Ashmole, who originally started showing his collection as a cabinet of curiosities in 1678 – 1683.

The current building looks like something out of Ancient Greece, yet the entrance is modern and neatly inserted into the old front entrance is a revolving door.

The building opens beautifully at the opening with tall ceilings and long corridors in front and to the left. In front, the help desk, with your first and very ancient piece of civilisation. A Huge stone tablet from ancient Sumerian. To the left, the corridor has statues and busts from ancient Greece and Rome flanking either side. The rest of the museum has a bevvy of artefacts, outside of Cairo it hosts the largest collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities. It has the largest collection of Raphael drawings in the world. There is one of the few items that can be linked to Alfred the Great. There is even a Van Gogh painting.

The cafe is on the roof, accessible from either several flights of stairs of lift, which is hidden in the far right corner of the museum. The cafe is excellent, airy, light, and a nice view, with indoor and outdoor seating. There is something great about the separation of the cafe from the museum, it gets rid of the food court mentality, and yet you feel part of the museum. You can look through the glass on the north side of the cafe and down into the depths taking in various exhibits and statues from a distance.


Beaumont St, Oxford OX1 2PH

Phone: +44 (0) 1865 278000

Opening Hours:

10:00 am – 5:00 pm



Oxford University Museum of Natural History


The Pitt Rivers Museum

Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Interior of Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford
Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford


Two museums for the price of still nothing.

As you come to the front entrance to this museum take note of two things. The dinosaur footprints that were taken from a nearby quarry. It is from a Megalosaurus and has been replicated outside the front of the museum and the if you look at the entrance you can see how some of the faces on the front entrance have been defaced. This was down to the museum running out of money and not being able to pay its workers. So, the workers came back and disfigured the faces of the University men who had not paid them.  The Oxford University Museum of Natural History is exactly what its name suggests. I believe that are over 5 million items, but you will only see 5% of those items on display. The crowning jewel is for me the dinosaurs. The first dinosaurs to be scientifically described are here. They were found a stone’s throw away from the city in 1818 at a town called Stonesfield. It was a jaw of a megalosaurus and at the time people were completely baffled by what they had discovered but eventually agreed it was a giant lizard and thus the name mega = giant, saurus = lizard. When you enter the main hall, you are greeted by Neo-gothic design, with a glass roof supported by tall, thin, tree-like iron pillars stretching up to support the roof. As you enter you a shown an open maze of wooden, glass cabinets full of animals from across the world. When looking around the room, take note of all the statues of scientists from around the world, including Darwin and Aristotle.

If you go to the back of the room to the left, you will find the entrance to the Pitt Rivers Museum. This is a museum of anthropology, that is the museum of you and me. This has half a million items hidden away, the room is dimly lit to help preserve the artefacts, and the place is stuffed so full that even the rafters have oars and rafts wedged into them. Items range from across the world, from masks, a totem pole from North America to the shrunken heads of South America.


The Pitt Rivers Museum

S Parks Rd, Oxford OX1 3PP

Phone: +44 (0)1865 613 000

Opening Hours:

Monday 12pm – 4.30pm

Tuesday to Sunday 10am – 4.30pm



Oxford University Museum of Natural History

S Parks Rd, Oxford OX1 3PP

Phone: +44 (0)1865 613 000

Opening Hours:

Monday to Sunday 10am – 5 pm




The Story Museum

Story Museum 2016 Oxford
The Story Museum

Oxford has produced more writers per square mile than any other city on the planet it is claimed. This Museum does it some justice. They support and help to educate children in reading children’s books and even co-ordinate Alice day. This is the first Saturday of July, which celebrates the day where Alice Liddle was told the tale of Alice in Wonderland, July 4th. Their exhibitions have included collaboration with Michael Morpurgo (War Horse), Terry Pratchett (Discworld), Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials), Jacqueline Wilson (Tracey Beaker) and Quentin Blake (Roald Dahl and Ben’s Cookies).

Rochester House, 42 Pembroke St, Oxford OX1 1BP

Opening Hours:

Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 5pm

Sundays to Monday closed



The Science Museum


The building has been linked to Christopher Wren (St Paul’s Cathedral and the Sheldonian Theatre.) and was the location of the first Ashmolean museum. This is more multi-storey than most museums that I have visited. It is full to the brim with science gadgets and gizmos from the past and present, (Although there is not too much from the 20th Century.) There are huge telescopes, and smaller replicas of Galileo’s telescopes, which you can use for looking out into the stars, to watches for making sure you are not late, to a blackboard that has the writing of Albert Einstein which he used on a visit to Oxford in 1931.

Broad St, Oxford OX1 3AZ

Phone: +44 (0) 1865 794154

Opening Hours:

Monday Closed

Tue-Sun: 12:00 – 17:00



If you would like to know more about the imagination tour please look at my previous blogs.



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