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Top Oxford museums

From cultural curios to literary landmarks, you’ll be floored by Oxford’s museums

City of spires, quaint pubs and super smart students - Oxford oozes charm and energy. And being home to one of the world’s top universities, it’s no wonder Oxford museums are world class too.

  1. Ashmolean Museum
  2. Pitt Rivers Museum
  3. Oxford University Museum of Natural History
  4. Oxford Botanic Garden and Abortorium
  5. History of Science Museum
  6. Bodleian Library

After a few days exploring Oxford’s museums, you’ll come away a whole lot wiser, but without the student debt.

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

1. Ashmolean Museum

Founded in 1683, not only is the Ashmolean Britain’s oldest museum, but it’s also one of the finest museums in the world. With exhibits ranging from Egyptian mummies, Michelangelo’s sketches for the Sistine Chapel, Guy Fawkes’s lantern and Oliver Cromwell’s death mask, the Ashmolean is a genuine treasure trove – half a million years’ worth displayed over five floors, to be precise - and a must-visit for your Oxford holidays.

Where and when: Beaumont Street. Open 10am-5pm.

Don't miss: the Alfred Jewel, regarded as the finest piece of Saxon art ever discovered.

2. Pitt Rivers Museum

If you ever fantasised about being an intrepid explorer when you grew up, then prepare for that dream to be reignited. Shrunken heads, Hawaiian feather cloaks, Mexican caricature masks, ancient Peruvian embroidery - the Pitt Rivers Museum houses one of the world’s best collections of anthropological and archaeological artefacts. Think cabinet after cabinet after cabinet of curiosities representing every culture and corner of the globe. Philip Pullman fans - this is where Lyra gets the lowdown on trepanned skulls in The Subtle Knife.

Where and when: Parks Road (enter via the Oxford University Museum of Natural History). Open: Tue-Sun and Bank Holiday Mondays: 10.00-16.30; Mon 12.00-16.30.

Don't miss: South American shrunken heads and Easter Island Moai figures.

3. Oxford University Museum of Natural History

With 4.5 million (yep, you read that right) zoological, palaeontological, mineral and entomological specimens, the Oxford University Museum of Natural HistoryOxford University Museum of Natural History is one of the best museums in Oxford for kids. The site itself is quite something: an imposing neo-Gothic building well-suited to its larger residents - dinosaurs, whales, dromedaries and elephants (in skeletal form, of course). At the other end of the scale - but just as awe-inspiring - the 450-million-year-old Trilobite Wall displays amazingly preserved arthropods. Be sure to look out for the stunning starfish ancestors.

Where and when: Parks Road. Open 10am-5pm daily.

Don't miss: the iconic Oxford Dodo.

4. Oxford Botanic Garden and Abortorium

Oxford’s Botanic Garden is a year-round haven in the heart of the city, and the oldest of its kind in the world. Founded in 1621 it includes a walled garden, several glasshouses packed with plants from around the world, a Gin Border and medicinal garden (Harry Potter fans – look out for the mandrakes). While we’re on the subject of books, these gardens inspired the likes of Lewis Carroll, Tolkien, Evelyn Waugh and Philip Pullman. Follow the enchanting Literary Woodland trail to explore how plants are represented in literature and maybe find inspiration yourself. As museums in Oxford go, this is best for bibliophiles, and for finding a bit of quiet bliss in the centre of town.

Where and when: High Street. Open: 9am daily with seasonal closing times. Check website.

Don't miss:Spotting sculptures in the Literary Woodland.

5. History of Science Museum

Lewis Carroll’s photographic equipment. Albert Einstein’s blackboard. A Roman sundial. Oxford, you’ve done it again – the History of Science Museum is yet another den of academic delights. Yet another “oldest of its kind in the world”. Housing a matchless collection of historic scientific instruments in the fields of chemistry, maths, astronomy and medicine in the world’s oldest surviving purpose-built museum (it dates back to 1683), this is as quirky as it is informative, and sure to spark a lifelong passion for science in young visitors.

Where and when: Broad Street. Open Tuesday-Sunday 12-5pm.

Don't miss: holes made by corpse dissection tables in a basement gallery.

6. Bodleian Library

Home to the Gutenberg Bible and Shakespeare’s First Folio. Where Tolkien read the medieval manuscripts that inspired his Lord of the Rings world. Site of Philip Pullman’s fictional Bodleian alethiometer. The Bodleian Library’s literary credentials couldn’t be more impressive. Oh hang, they can. It’s also one of the oldest libraries in Europe and, with a whopping 12 million items, it’s the second-largest library in Britain after the British Library. Being the university’s main research library (lucky students), certain areas are off-limits to visitors, but tours take in the 15th-century Divinity School, a medieval duke’s book nook and a secret royal reading room. You can even see where Parliament sat several times in the 17th century.

Where and when: Broad Street. Open: check website.

Don't miss: touring the iconic Radcliffe Camera building.

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