England, UK, Wanderlust

Family day out: Oxford museum of natural history

Where can you find dinosaurs, strokeable bears, 450 million-year-old trilobites and ancient rocks? Not to mention shrunken heads? The latter might have given it away – I kick-started the school holidays by heading to Oxford.

Dinosaur head - one of the exhibits at Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Our Oxford University natural history museum day out

I was back in Oxford meeting up with friends from university: it’s rare to get us all together these days, so after catching up a bit over lunch, Minnie and I retraced our steps to two of our previous Oxford haunts – this time as part of a big group.

The Pitt Rivers Museum was one of my first days out with Minnie, then only months old, after I rather nervously drove along the M40 to meet a friend who still lives there. Heading back a couple of years later to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, we were a lot more practised at this solo exploration lark.

And on a fiendishly foggy day, the two museums were one of the best places to be as most of those dreaming spires were entirely lost in atmospheric cloud.

I love the fact that you’re actively encouraged to touch a lot of the exhibits, from the unimaginably ancient rocks to a collection of stuffed animals – the small pony which had greeted us on our last visit had been replaced by a couple of bears, which went down extremely well.

As did the giant spider crab and not one but two puffer fish in the glass cases. The dodo barely got a look in, although the dinosaurs remain ever popular.

Perhaps most unexpected of all was the geology section: not just the strokeable rocks but the chance to go into a blackened mini tent and watch crystals glow in the dark. Or possibly just the chance to sneak into an exciting dark tent.

Either way, this proved hugely exciting for Minnie, especially as this time, she had two older friends to play with. The dinosaur trail and other activities are still there to help yourself, although there was so much to entertain we didn’t get chance, and the museum is free (donations welcome).

And in case you make the mistake I did, the Pitt Rivers museum (attached at the back) closes about half an hour before the main museum so I only got the quickest look at the fascinatingly eclectic collection housed in there.

Then the sun set, the crowds thinned and intricate glass and metal roof cast shadows across the skeletons. It wasn’t hard to imagine A Night at the Museum scenario, with everything coming alive. And on that enjoyably spooky note, we ventured out into the dark and fog once more.

If you’re planning a day out at the Oxford Natural History Museum, check out my other review for more of what we got up to on our last visit, including the mouse spotting trail.


Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers museum - a great family day out, with dinosaurs, touchable museum exhibits, shrunken heads and unexpectedly exciting geology.

Images and video copyright MummyTravels