Top Five Museums and Galleries in Oxford
How to Choose Which Ones to Visit
Oxford is consistently ranked as one of the best universities in the world, but did you know that it is also the home of some of the oldest and most respected museums around? Museums are a great way to quickly absorb the culture of a place, and there’s no better way to get to know Oxford than to visit its collections.
The university runs seven museums and the city runs another five – with so many museums in one town, which should you prioritise visiting? Here’s our top five recommendations for which to see.
The Ashmolean Museum
The Ashmolean, the world’s first university museum, reopened in 2009 after a major redevelopment. It houses galleries dedicated to Ancient Egypt and Nubia, Roman and Greek artefacts, and art spanning from the ancient era to the present day.
Make sure to check out the major exhibitions that change every few months: past headliners include exhibitions on Raphael, Sicilian shipwrecks, and the discovery of Tutankhamun.
Highlights include: Drawings by Michelangelo, Raphael and da Vinci, a death mask of Oliver Cromwell, and the largest collection of Minoan artefacts outside of Crete.
The Pitt Rivers Museum
The Pitt Rivers was founded in 1884 after Lt-General Augustus Pitt Rivers donated his collection of 22,000 archaeological and anthropological artefacts to the University of Oxford. The collection has subsequently grown to over 300,000 items including samurai swords, artefacts collected by Captain Cook, and even a totem pole.
The unique feature of the Pitt Rivers is that it is also a museum of a museum. The objects are displayed in a very similar way to how they would have originally been displayed when the museum was founded. This means that by visiting the museum, you are able to not just view its collection, but you can learn about how the way in which we display objects has changed over the past 130 years.
The Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Located next door to the Pitt Rivers, the Museum of Natural History was established in 1850 to bring together the University’s collections of anatomical and natural history specimens under one roof. The museum attracts over 670,000 visitors a year and houses Oxford’s collections of dinosaur fossils, gemstones, and meteorites.
The most famous part of the museum’s collection is the dodo. The head and foot of the dodo in the museum are the most complete remains of a single dodo anywhere in the world. Lewis Carroll regularly visited this museum, and it is likely that this dodo influenced the character of the Dodo in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Christ Church Picture Gallery
The art museum within Christ Church College is one of the most important private collections in the country, comprising 300 old master paintings and 2,000 drawings. Don’t miss the works by van Dyck, Veronese, Rubens, and the drawings from da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo.
If you’ve been before, make sure you come back, because the exhibition of the drawings collection changes every three months, making sure that there’s always something new for you to see!
Modern Art Oxford
Modern Art Oxford, although not affiliated with the university, has a strong international reputation and over 100,000 visitors a year. This free gallery houses cutting-edge exhibitions of modern and contemporary art, temporary exhibitions from artists from all over the world, and a host of workshops and activities that you can take part in.
The museum is no stranger to blockbuster exhibitions, and has previously hosted the works of Tracey Emin, Jake and Dinos Chapman, and Yoko Ono. Make sure you pay the museum a visit to check out works from the great artists of tomorrow!
With a free hour for lunch every day, it’s possible to visit all of these museums and more on our summer school. Widen your horizons by getting to know one of the most historic and cultural cities in the world – spend either two or four weeks on a summer school course with us.