The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford was founded in 1683 and is considered to Britain’s first public museum. It originally contained artefacts presented to the University by a very wealthy man called Ashmole and hence, the name.
Over the years, the collections have evolved. It remains home to the University of Oxford’s world class collections of art and archaeology and has a wide variety of exhibits, from ancient Egyptian mummies to samurai warriors to modern art. I was interested to see if it will capture my son’s attention.. or not!
Well, it did.. to an extent !
The sculptures in the “cast room” are mostly naked and caused interesting conversation. Some of the sculptures had parts missing, so Ay used his imagination to tell me what may have happened e.g. a lion attacked him and chopped off his hand. He also really loved looking at and learning about the mummies in Ancient Egypt. Various religious exhibits (from Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism) also held his interest. There are really remarkable artefacts from across the globe, with notable objects including an Arab ceremonial dress belonging to Lawrence of Arabia, the lantern carried by Guy Fawkes during the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, the most famous violin in the world and the death mask of Oliver Cromwell.
There are some hands on opportunities for kids like trying out how hard grinding flour is, or rolling cylinder seal to get a feel for how picture images are created with it, or writing in “Cuneiform”, or hearing an extract being read in ancient Sumerian, or rolling the wheel of Destiny. There is also a small reading corner in the Lower Ground Floor. Although there are not that many books but you can sit and relax here for a little bit.
I had read about “the Ashmolean adventure”. Families are given tablets with a fun interactive digital guide, featuring 10 objects and paintings around the museum. You can play games and quizzes, enjoy sounds and stories and try out your design and drawing skills while exploring around the museum. It sounded so much fun and I was so looking forward to using it, but, unfortunately, I was told that these are available only on weekends and school holidays. It costs 10£ for family of 2 (1adult and 1 child), 12£ for family of three and 14£ for family of four, but sounds worth it from what I saw. Pre-booking your tickets and devices is recommended to avoid disappointment, though walk-up tickets are often available at the Museum. We will have to go back to try it.
You can download a free family trail in advance or pick one up one at the Information Desk. At the moment, they have an ancient Egypt trail, Top 10 treasure trail, dog trail and Sam Snail’s art trail. They were good but to be honest, we stopped using the trail sheets after a few tries, as they were distracting us from having spontaneous fun. You can also get free sketching materials, Ashventure Packs and Explore Kits, as well as the borrow magnifiers in some of the galleries.
Ashmolean is one of the few places I have been to where there is a Family Lunch Room, located on the Lower Ground Floor, near the Learning Studio, where you can bring your own food for lunch. I wished more places encouraged this rather than selling food at exorbitant prices. Open 12–2pm each day every weekend and during school Holidays (check here for more information). There is a cafe and restaurant also, in case, you were wondering.
There are special events and activities going on for families throughout the year. Check out their upcoming events for families, including Baby Ashmole sessions.
I would say Ashmolean museum is a place, which is best visited without young kids, mainly because you can savour in the exhibits on display and give them the attention they deserve. It can be a brilliant lesson in history for older children, but if you go with young children, then be mentally prepared you will not be able to explore it all. You may get through the ground floor galleries or perhaps one more, before they start getting twitchy! Mine certainly did, though, overall, he liked it (as you can tell by the review he left without me asking him to).
We spent about one hour here. I will go back one weekend and try the Digital Ashmolean adventure!
Address: Ashmolean Museum, Beaumont St, Oxford OX1 2PH
Admission is free although there are sometimes visiting exhibitions that have an entrance fee.
No dedicated parking but you can park in central oxford or Westfield, which is always a nightmare. We took the bus, which added to the adventure, and If you are able to, that is what I would recommend (to save the cost of expensive oxford parking and hassle of having to constantly look at the watch to avoid overstaying). You can use park and ride (Find the one closest to you HERE) but If you do want to drive in, the best and cheapest option (in my opinion) is to park in the West gate car park, which is an easy walk to the town centre, instead of at and around St. Giles street. Visit the Westgate Oxford website for uptodate prices.
Toilets and baby facilities on site (breast feeding friendly)
Restaurant and Café on site but there are plenty of options in the town centre too
You can take picnic at Christ Church meadow is just a five-minute walk away. Alternatively, you can enjoy the Westgate’s mini-meadow: it’s free and undercover. University Parks is also close
Buggy friendly. The Museum is accessible by ramp from Beaumont Street. Pushchairs are welcome in the galleries or can be stored on the ground floor by the Museum entrance.
Dogs not allowed.
You will spend around 1-2 hours here, depending on how quickly your kids start getting bored. You can enjoy a stroll in the university parks or a picnic near the Christ Church meadow afterwards, or just walk along Oxford’s historic streets. It costs nothing to do just that but if you wanted to make it fun and go hunting for treasures such as statues, carvings, quirky signs and street decorations around the city centre, you can get a treasure trail map (for 6.99£ including delivery but you can use my affiliate link for 10% off HERE or simply by using the coupon code OXFMUM).
There are a number of museums within walking distance of each other. Museum of Oxford is a small one but has interactive features for kids, so can be a good time filler. If your little one loves dinosaurs or fossils, then Oxford university museum of Natural History is a must, with its full length Dino skeletons, huge triceratops skull, other animal skeletons such as giraffe and elephants, giant ammonite, an actual meteorite etc etc. Children love it. Oxford History of Science museum is also close by, though I don’t think it is suitable for small children. If you can spare some money, then the Story Museum is well worth it.If you think something needs updating on this post, please contact us HERE