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Oxford Museums and Galleries

Daily Info's recommendations on where to get your fill of culture in Oxford

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Even for a city with such scholarly and artistic pedigree, Oxford punches above its weight when it comes to museums and galleries. To start with, we have the oldest public museum in Britain - and one of the oldest in the world - in the form of the University’s main collection of art and archaeology, The Ashmolean. Its magnificent, diverse holdings date back to a 17th-century father & son pair of travelling collectors - both named John Tradescant - who assembled a cabinet of curiosities consisting of objects from all over the world at their home in Lambeth. Unusually for the time, the Tradescants made their collection open to anyone who could afford the small fee, rather than on the basis of status. It later passed into the hands of the antiquary Elias Ashmole, who donated it to Oxford University on the condition that it would remain publicly accessible. The building constructed to hold the objects, sometimes attributed to Sir Christopher Wren and universally agreed to be the first purpose-built museum building in the world, opened on Broad Street in 1683.

Many of the objects from the Tradescant collection, including the deerskin, cowry shell-adorned mantle of the Native American chief Powhatan (father of Pocahontas), survive in the museum today (though sadly the mummified remains of the last ever dodo to appear in Europe are too fragile to be displayed in public and are currently in storage at the Natural History Museum). The holdings have, of course, since been expanded and now include the Alfred Jewel, a number of pre-Raphaelite paintings and some of the finest collections of Egyptian and Minoan antiquities in the world. Since it reopened its doors after a renovation by the architect Rick Mather in 2011, the museum has been able to double the number of artefacts on display and present them in beautiful, light-filled new galleries connected by glass tunnels. The permanent exhibits remain entirely free and should be the first port of call for any culture buff upon arrival in Oxford.

Although the Ashmolean has long since outgrown its original Broad Street premises, the building is still put to good use as the Museum of the History of Science. This smallish collection, whose astronomy holdings are particularly strong, can be easily visited in an afternoon. Be sure to take a look at the gorgeous medieval astrolabes.

To the mind of this (undoubtedly a bit nostalgic) author, there are few better ways to spend a day in Oxford than a visit to the University Museum of Natural History. Its holdings - which run into millions of specimens - include a gigantic Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton and a stuffed imitation dodo which provided some of the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. Just as striking as the collection is the building itself: a 19th century neo-Gothic masterpiece featuring a vaulted glass roof (renovated in 2014) supported by soaring cast iron pillars. John Ruskin was apparently so taken with the design that he used to make a daily trip just to admire it.

Venture through the back of the museum and visitors will find themselves in another world entirely. The Pitt Rivers Museum is a wonderful, ramshackle anthropology collection that arranges its holdings higgledy-piggledy by type, rather than by chronology or by culture. This approach is apparently unfashionable in the anthropology world, but in this context it works very well, allowing for easy comparisons across space and time. Want to see thousands of musical instruments in a case, spanning thousands of years and multiple continents, or hundreds of types of spear lined up in a row? No problem! While you’re at it, check out the grizzly collection of shrunken heads on the ground floor.

Modern Art Oxford - one of the UK's leading contemporary art spaces, in the centre of Oxford

Although Oxford is rightly best known for its historic charms, there are also a couple of modern galleries which bear mentioning. The city’s foremost contemporary art space is Modern Art Oxford, an excellent but inconspicuous kind of venue housed in a converted brewery on Pembroke Street. They regularly host performances, film screenings, talks and live music and, perhaps surprisingly, all their exhibitions are completely free. The café is highly recommended. One-upping MAO in the building conversion stakes is the O3 Gallery, a contemporary art space located inside the 18th-century Oxford Prison building. Its emphasis is on promoting and selling the work of local artists.

The best time for contemporary art fans to be in Oxford is May, when hundreds of local artists in the city and across Oxfordshire open their doors to the public for Oxfordshire Artweeks. All of the exhibitions - and there are more than any one person could possibly see - are free.

Our final recommendation - especially suitable for families - is the city’s most unusual museum. The Story Museum is a relatively new space (founded in 2009) dedicated to promoting children’s literature, creative writing and the power of the imagination. They have a bustling programme of workshops, readings and other events as well as story-related permanent exhibits. To find them, go down St Aldate’s away from the centre of town and turn right onto Pembroke Street. When you see the multicoloured bunting, you will know you’re in the right place.

A full list of museums and galleries in Oxford and surrounding areas is below. If you think we've missed something important, please get in touch! Email us at museum@dailyinfo.co.uk and let us know how we can fix it.

Museums

Ashmolean Museum Beaumont Street Oxford OX1 2PH Website Tel: 01865 278000
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm Wheelchair friendly.

The Ashmolean is owned by the University of Oxford and celebrated its 300th anniversary in 1983. It is undoubtedly one of the finest museums in the country. The nucleus of the original collection (the first of its kind in Britain) was the Cabinet of Rarities of John Tradescant, which was inherited by Elias Ashmole and donated to the University on condition that they provided somewhere ...read more

Bate Collection of Musical Instruments Music Faculty St Aldates Oxford OX1 1DB Website Tel: 01865 276139
Opening Hours: Mon - Fri 2pm - 5pm (apart from Easter and Christmas); also open Saturdays 10am - 12pm during University term. Wheelchair friendly.

A fabulous place for anyone interested in musical instruments to while away an afternoon. More than 1000 instruments (renaissance through to modern times) are on display.

Museum of Oxford Oxford Town Hall St Aldates Oxford OX1 1BX Website Tel: 01865 252334
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, closed Sundays. Last admission 30 minutes before closing.

FREE museum telling the story of Oxford and its people from foundation in 810 to the present day.

Museum of the History of Science Old Ashmolean Building Broad Street Oxford OX1 3AZ Website Tel: 01865 277280
Opening Hours: 12-5pm Tue-Fri, 10am-5pm Sat, 2-5pm Sun.

Small but perfectly-formed museum full of instruments and curiosities from 500 years of scientific investigations in Oxford. Hosts regular high-quality temporary exhibitions and special events. Remarkable collection of astrolabes. Einstein's blackboard can be viewed in the basement. They also have an excellent website wherein you can search for more information on over 18000 items ...read more

Museum on the Streets Various locations around the city centre Website

Oxfordexplore.com is a free, multimedia ‘museum on the streets’ accessible all over Oxford on your smartphone. Access archives, find forgotten footage, view vintage photos, hear contemporary interviews and see Oxford art. Check out the new street signs for site-specific QR codes and URLs.

Oxford Bus Museum/Morris Motors Experience Station Yard Long Hanborough Witney Oxfordshire OX29 8LA Website Tel: 01993 883617 (Museum opening hours only) or 01296 337622 (at other times)
Opening Hours: Sun, Wed and Bank Holidays: 10.30am - 4.30pm. Last admission is at 3.30pm. Also open Saturdays between Easter and October Wheelchair friendly.

Buses and other vehicles of the past - rides, exhibits and information on how vehicles were produced at the Cowley works. Entry: £4 Ad, £2 Child, £9 Fam, £3 Sen

Oxford University Museum of Natural History Parks Road Oxford OX1 3PW Website Tel: 01865 272950
Opening Hours: 10am - 5pm daily. Free entry. Wheelchair friendly.

The museum is housed in a purpose-built Victorian Gothic building inspired by Ruskin and recently restored. The principal collections, including skeletons of dinosaurs and skulls of our ancestors, are housed in a courtyard with a glass roof supported by columns of cast iron wrought to resemble the branches of trees, cleaned in 2013. A collection of rocks, selected to represent the ...read more

Pitt Rivers Museum South Parks Road Oxford OX1 3PP Website Tel: 01865 270927
Opening Hours: Mon 12-4.30pm, Tue-Sun & BH 10am-4.30pm. Wheelchair friendly.

One of the UK's foremost anthropological collections, bringing together extraordinary items from all over the world. Full of fascinating artefacts, from totem poles to lace-making equipment to rare instruments, weapons and various miracles of craftsmanship. One of our favourites is a series of intricately-carved, unbroken ivory spheres, nestling inside each other like Russian dolls, ...read more

Randolph Sculpture Gallery (Gallery 1), Ashmolean Museum Beaumont Street Oxford OX1 2PH Website Wheelchair friendly.


River & Rowing Museum Mill Meadows, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire RG9 1BF Website Tel: 01491 415600
Opening Hours: 10am to 5pm 7 days a week Wheelchair friendly.


The Oxfordshire Museum Fletcher's House Park Street Woodstock OX20 1SN Website Tel: 01993 811456
Opening Hours: Tue-Sat: 10am-5pm. Sun: 2-5pm. Mon: Closed Wheelchair friendly.


The Roald Dahl Museum 81-83 High Street Great Missenden Buckinghamshire HP16 0AL Website Tel: 01494 892192


The Story Museum Pembroke Street Oxford OX1 1BP Website Tel: 01865 790050
Opening Hours: Museum opening hours vary - check website. Shop and Cafe open Tue - Sat 10am - 5pm, Sun 11am - 4pm.

The Story Museum celebrates story in all forms and explores their enduring power to teach and delight. It offers a rolling programme of events (including talks, storytelling, courses, workshops, author appearances and events for the whole family) and interactive family-friendly exhibitions.

Vale and Downland Museum Church Street Wantage Website Tel: 01235 771447
Opening Hours: Open 10am - 4.30pm Mon - Sat. Closed Sun and Bank Holidays Wheelchair friendly.


Galleries

Ashmolean Museum Beaumont Street Oxford OX1 2PH Website Tel: 01865 278000
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm Wheelchair friendly.

The Ashmolean is owned by the University of Oxford and celebrated its 300th anniversary in 1983. It is undoubtedly one of the finest museums in the country. The nucleus of the original collection (the first of its kind in Britain) was the Cabinet of Rarities of John Tradescant, which was inherited by Elias Ashmole and donated to the University on condition that they provided somewhere ...read more

Bate Collection of Musical Instruments Music Faculty St Aldates Oxford OX1 1DB Website Tel: 01865 276139
Opening Hours: Mon - Fri 2pm - 5pm (apart from Easter and Christmas); also open Saturdays 10am - 12pm during University term. Wheelchair friendly.

A fabulous place for anyone interested in musical instruments to while away an afternoon. More than 1000 instruments (renaissance through to modern times) are on display.

Compton Verney Warwickshire CV35 9HZ Website Tel: 01926 645500
Opening Hours: Tuesday - Sunday: 11am - 5pm. Closed Mondays (except Bank Holiday Mondays). Last entry to the galleries is 30 mins before closing. Wheelchair friendly.

Art gallery housed in a Grade I listed mansion and surrounded by 120 acres of stunning Capability Brown parkland.

High House Gallery Main Street Clanfield Oxon OX18 2SH Website Tel: 01367 810 126
Opening Hours: Thu – Sun, 11am – 5pm

New Oxfordshire gallery dedicated to promoting the best in contemporary art. Situated within a grade II listed Victorian mansion and recently-restored formal gardens located in the Oxfordshire village of Clanfield.

Modern Art Oxford 30 Pembroke Street Oxford OX1 1BP Website Tel: 01865 722733
Opening Hours: Tues-Sat: 11am-6pm. Sun: 12-5pm. Closed Monday Wheelchair friendly.

Oxford's main modern art gallery. Exhibitions, talks and tours, live music, performance and film screenings. Free admission to exhibitions. Rooms, including the Lower Gallery, Basement, and Yard, can be hired outside of the gallery's public opening hours.

O3 Gallery Oxford Castle New Road Oxford OX1 1AY Website Tel: 01865 246131
Opening Hours: Tue - Fri 12-5pm, Sat & Sun 11am-4pm. Closed Mondays

Selling exhibitions by regional artists working in the media of contemporary visual and applied arts. Also live events. The O3 Gallery can host private or corporate functions and events. The combination of contemporary design with the heritage of Oxford Castle makes O3 a distinctive venue for entertaining. Available for hire throughout the year, within short walking distance of ...read more