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Oxford Museum of Natural History

Home > Oxford > Family | Free | Fun for Children | Museums | Rainy Day
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published June 28th 2014
More than a dodo
Please touch... How often do you see that at a museum?

Oxford's Museum of Natural History is wonderful for parents and children alike. Shut in 2013 for refurbishment, it's reopened even more glorious and engaging, for all visitors.

As soon as you enter there's a stuffed Shetland pony for children to stroke, which sets the tone for this hands-on, family friendly museum.

shetland, pony, oxford, museum, natural, history
Please touch the Shetland pony


As children rush around, the joy of sharp intakes of breath can be heard, marking each new fabulous thing they've spotted. The dinosaur skeletons are obviously a big hit. Reconstructed heads give you a chance to get a sense of how large and scary these animals were.

dinosaur, head, oxford, museum, natural, history
Big dinosaur heads...


A whole parade of skeletons marches down one aisle, giving you the chance to experience the natural world in a new way, comparing and contrasting species.

skeletons, museum, natural, history, oxford
A parade of skeletons


Elsewhere they have whole tables of objects for the children to encounter, including dragon eggs, fossils, desert rose, an owl and a wallaby.

oxford, museum, natural, history
Come and touch us!


In one area, a curtain covers the entrance to a small booth. If you enter into its darkness and draw the curtain behind you, you find yourself in front of a set of rocks which glow in the dark. Naturally glow in the dark, they're guaranteed to fascinate you, glowing magically in a variety of shades.

rocks, oxford, museum, natural, history
Glow in the dark rocks


Kept within the confines of one main hall, it's a safe space to let children run around in. The aisles are wide, and the cases are either low or reach right to the ground. In the newly-refurbished space, there are good toilet and baby changing facilities, as well as a café upstairs.

fossil, oxford, museum, natural, history
The Selenopeltis slab


The staff are extremely friendly. They're knowledgeable, and happy to help you make the most of the visit. They can provide worksheets for children to attempt as they go round, but the engagement goes far further, and a whole range of workshops run throughout the year. Some of these are specialist events, but every Sunday afternoon the museum also bursts into family-friendly activity.

butterflies, oxford, museum, natural, history
Butterflies on display


The interactivity remains key throughout the museum. Near the entrance are boxes for children to stick their hands into, in order to guess what might be in there. Opposite these a series of drawers marked A-Z give a challenge for visitors - can they guess what's in each? Answers are provided in the last drawer. As you can imagine, opening and closing lots of drawers is great fun, and the gasps of 'that's awesome' from the children make the revealing of more treasures even more exciting.

crocodile, oxford, museum, natural, history
Crocodiles in the museum


Around the sides are yet more things to discover. The locked rooms can seem disappointing, but reading out the names of the different disciplines they once housed can fire the imagination, and describing them as secret rooms offers endless possibilities for considering what goes on in there. The colonnade running round the outside gives children a chance to weave in and out and feel like they have freedom while staying safely in the same room.

oxford, museum, natural, history
Inside the main hall


The building fills with families at the weekend. Despite the mass of children, it remains at an acceptable noise level, given the height of the ceilings, although it can get quite hot. During the week, school groups abound, but do need to be booked in. The building itself is amazing. Its Neo-Gothic architecture is worth a visit in its own right, and daily tours are taken.

roof, oxford, museum, natural, history
Neo-Gothic glass ceiling


Access is up a set of stone steps, although buggies and wheelchairs do have a separate entrance. You're welcome to take the buggy up, and there's plenty of room to wheel it around with you if needed. Their website is excellent with advice and resources for planning a visit.
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Why? The natural world on display for adults & children alike
When: 10-5 every day
Phone: 44 1865 272 950
Where: Parks Road, Oxford
Cost: free
Your Comment
I just went to the Natural History Museum in London, and that had lots of 'please touch' signs too.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|11807) 1426 days ago
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