In this article, we take you through the biggest, best and most mind-boggling museums of Oxford. Whilst it’s impossible to mention every single one of the city’s attractions, here’s a list of our favourites and what’s going on over the next few months. When you’ve absorbed all the culture you possibly can, then why not browse in some independent bookshops too?
The Ashmolean Museum
Open every day from 10am-5pm, with free admission for all, the Ashmolean is the University of Oxford’s museum of art and archaeology. It is one of the most prominent of the museums of Oxford. With free daily gallery tours and members-only access to curators, the museum hosts an array of exhibits. There’s an exploration of Chinese works of art which emerged after the Republic was founded in 1949, and May Chamberlain’s display which celebrates 21st Century Oxford whilst challenging the 18th Century elites who controlled the slave trade. And you can buy merch based off the exhibits there too! If you’re not sure where to start, then have a listen to the Ashmolean’s podcasts, or take a virtual tour.
The Ashmolean Museum, by Benjamin Elliott on Unsplash.
History of Science Museum
Located in the heart of Oxford, next to the iconic Sheldonian Theatre, the History of Science Museum boasts hands-on “family friendly weekends” which are perfect to keep kids entertained over August. Only about one-fifth of the HSM’s collection is on permanent public display, but you can search through their archives online. Collections include: astronomy, science in the Islamic world, chemistry, medicine and portraits. In case that’s not enough, you can watch prior events on YouTube. If you enjoyed the BBC HBO series “His Dark Materials”, then you can check out props and costumes from the show until December 2023.
The Story Museum
The Story Museum is another place that’s perfect for entertaining restless kids. Your journey will start in the Portal, where Story Guides help you to plan your visit. The Whispering Wood, with its secret-spilling trees, reveals more information and from there you can venture into the enchanted library, small worlds and studio theatre. The space hosts comic book workshops, a lego club and puppet-making sessions too. With its location opposite Pembroke College, the Story Museum promises a world of immersive adventure and excitement. Schools are welcome.
Museum of Natural History (Natural History Museum)
Anyone can enjoy this museum, with its grand interiors, displays of taxidermy animals and eco-conscious exhibitions. The Connected Planet exhibition – which can also be viewed online – takes visitors on a journey from the seas, to the skies and the land. You’ll learn just how important the tiniest of organisms are for our survival, and you can even handle the specimens related to the exhibition. Entry to the museum is free, and they even host evening events, such as the recent late night Connected Worlds exhibition. This offered people the chance to have behind-the-scenes tours, participate in crafts and insect handling, and even listen to live music performances. And if you’re keen… you can hire the space for private parties too!
The Oxford Museum of Natural History, by Benjamin Elliott on Unsplash.
University Church Oxford
Not technically a museum, but the stunning surroundings of the University Church (it’s located next to the Radcliffe Camera and All Souls College!) make it a tourist destination that’s hard to miss. As well as Sunday services, free lunchtime piano recitals and online worship, the church boasts a 13th Century tower which provides amazing panoramic views of the city. The church was actually the first ever building of the university, and its beautiful stained glass windows, organ and architecture make it the perfect place for a serene moment in what can be a bustling city!
Again, I’m stretching the definition of a museum, but if you want a museum on legs then this is just the thing! Uncomfortable Oxford was founded as a social enterprise in 2018, following the emergence of the Rhodes Must Fall movement in South Africa and a global awareness of anti-colonialism. Everyone from academics, tourists, locals, students and institutions can join, and you will visit spots around the city to understand how they are connected to colonialism, slavery, misogyny and exploitation. Alongside the original there’s a history of medicine walking tour, a tour about Oxford’s “dirty” money and museum tours too. The group even offer bespoke tours and provide engaging talks and presentations.
C.S. Lewis’ House
Situated out of the city centre in the suburb of Headington, this house still functions primarily as a personal residence for those engaging in creative work and study (Scholars-in-Residence). However, if you book a tour two weeks in advance, then you can look around the place where the author lived and worked from 1930 until his death. Down the road from The Kilns is Holy Trinity Church, where C.S. Lewis worshipped and is buried. Inside the church you can peer at the Narnia Window. Stop by at the Eagle and Child pub when you’re done, for a look at Lewis and Tolkein memorabilia and a cheeky drink.
A copy of C.S. Lewis’s defining work, by Tim Alex on Unsplash.
Modern Art Oxford
This hidden gem is currently hosting a collaboration with artists and communities, named Boundary Encounters. Running until 29th October 2023, the gallery encourages visitors to participate in art, by listening to and touching sonic sculptures, capturing their thoughts through digital drawings and immersing themselves in pools of coloured light. There’s a gift shop, Make Play sessions for children between 6 months and 5 years old and a drag club-night takeover with live performances. You can also sign up to the MAO studio for free and put your creativity to good use.
And there’s even more options available free of charge during the annual Oxfordshire Artweeks festival, which runs every May across the county.