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The 9 best museums to visit in Oxford

Don’t head to Oxford without first taking a look at our definitive list to the best museums the city has to offer
OXFORD
OXFORD
By Rosemary Waugh |
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If the city of Oxford is known for anything, it’s providing an education that’s second to none. But you don’t need three years and a student loan to leave Oxford feeling like you’ve learned a thing or two. Spend a few hours in the city’s rich selection of museums and your head will soon be filled with facts on musical instruments, Guy Fawkes’ lantern, shrunken heads and much more.

Located so close to London, Oxford is ideal for a day trip from the Big Smoke, or you can make a weekend of it and stay overnight at one of the city’s best hotels.

 

Best Museums in Oxford

1

Ashmolean Museum

What is it? Oxford’s world-famous museum of art and archeology.

Why go? The Ashmolean Museum is your go-to place for seeing big name art exhibitions that change throughout the year. It’s also your go-to place if you’re a fan of remarkable artifacts from cultures across the globe. Like a smaller version of the British Museum, the Ashmolean is stuffed to the rafters with everything from King Alfred’s jewellery to a small camel used to ward off evil. Free entry.

 

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© Ian Wallman

Pitt Rivers Museum

What is it? Unmissable museum of archaeology and ethnography containing over half a million objects.

Why go? Ask anyone for advice on what to see in Oxford and there’s a good chance they’ll tell you to go to the Pitt Rivers Museum. People LOVE this place. Japanese masks, Tahitian mourning clothes, Inuit parkas, African pottery, Hawaiian feather cloaks… the list goes on. You won’t regret a visit. Free entry.

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Image courtesy of Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

What is it? Fascinating nature-based Oxford museum where visitors can see a dinosaur and a dodo.

Why go? Oxford’s Museum of Natural History started life as the uni’s centre for scientific study. It’s now open to the public, giving visitors the chance to see thousands of rocks, minerals, fossils and zoological specimens. The other reason to visit is to see the splendid neo-Gothic building it uses as a home. Very Oxford, and very grand. Free entry.

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© Ian Wallman

Museum of History of Science

What is it? World’s oldest purpose-built museum building where visitors can marvel at scientific instruments.

Why go? A bad workman blames his tools, or so the saying goes. Maybe so, but it certainly helps to have the best equipment going. See the history of science told through the instruments created for it at the Old Ashmolean, a historic building on Broad Street. Free entry.

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5

Museum of Oxford

What is it? Town Hall-based museum dedicated to the history of Oxford and its people.

Why go? Unlike the jazzy university-run museums filled with ancient international artifacts, the Museum of Oxford has a simple mission: to tell the story of Oxford’s people. The small museum can be found in the Town Hall. From summer 2018 - 2020 it’s undergoing major redevelopment plans, so make sure you check its opening times before visiting. Free entry.

6

Bate Collection of Musical Instruments

What is it? Honking great collection of historical musical instruments.

Why go? Whether you blow it, pluck it, press it or suck on it, if it makes a pleasant noise the Bate Collection probably owns it. Housed in the university’s Faculty of Music, the public is given access to an extensive group of music-making machines, dating from the Middle Ages onwards. Free entry.

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© Andrew Walmsley

The Story Museum

What is it? Child-friendly museum celebrating the gentle art of spinning a good yarn.

Why go? Once upon a time, a ragtag bunch of adults started traveling across the land to bring storytime to schools and town folk. That was in 2003. In 2009, Oxford’s Story Museum opened its doors, providing the city with a quirky, charming museum that’ll make you yearn to hurry home and snuggle up with a good book. The next chapter involves substantial redevelopment from 2018 - 2020, during which they'll be operating on a smaller scale to normal, including making use of their pop-up story tent, The Pumpkin.

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Oxford Uni Press Museum

What is it? Hidden gem of a museum where the printed word is king.

Why? Head over to Dictionary Corner (actually, the Oxford Uni Press offices on Great Clarendon Street) and get geeky about typefaces. This ‘hidden gem’ is so hidden you have to book a time slot in advance to visit it, but the lucky souls who make it through the doors can explore displays on the history of printing, Alice in Wonderland and the Oxford English Dictionary. Free entry.

 

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9

Modern Art Oxford

What is it? Contemporary art gallery with a knack for programming excellent exhibitions.

Why go? OK, so it’s not technically a museum (it's an art gallery) but Modern Art Oxford used to be named the Museum of Modern Art Oxford, therefore granting it honoury museum status. Whatever the name above the door, this is an excellent small exhibition space where visitors can see the top quality art being made right now. Free entry (there is a charge for some events).

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