I do love a day out in Oxford. Just being there makes you feel clever. It has museums to rival London and its compact city centre means it is much easier to get around and see the sights. In the sprit of this, the University of Oxford have given an absolute gift to parents in the form of their Mindgrowing Passport, a child friendly trail around the gardens, libraries and museums of Oxford University with opportunities to collect stickers and prizes in each place. We spent a day visiting four museums on the list and it was fantastic! I’ve also included some other activities that we’ve enjoyed over the last year or so, so there’s enough here for two days really.
First on our list was the Bodleian Treasures exhibition at the Bodleian library. This has some incredible stuff, from Handel’s hand writing to Shelley’s guitar. There is a communication log from the sinking Titanic and a handwritten letter from Tolkien to his children. Kids will love the life sized Birds of America and the First Folio of Shakespeare, an early collected works, without which Macbeth and Julius Caeser would have been lost. It’s stunning. There is also an interactive display in the neighbouring room that allows you to explore the variety of causes of the deaths in Shakespeare’s plays. There are worse ways to go than being drowned in a barrel of wine I suppose.
Across the road is the Museum of the History of Science. There’s less to entertain smaller children here. Older kids will find the Scientific instruments interesting as well as the collection of objects relating to the discovery of Penicillin, but the real jewel in the crown is Einsteins’s blackboard – a preserved blackboard from a lecture at Oxford in 1931. God knows what it means, but it’s Einstein’s actual handwriting on a wall, in a museum in Oxford. I find that incredible.
From here you can walk to the Natural History Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum. Both are housed in the same building, the Pitt Rivers is located to the rear of the Natural History Museum. The highlights of the Pitt Rivers include shrunken heads (used in the Harry Potter films), a preserved mummy in a sarcophagus, a cloak made out of feathers from Hawaii and a totem pole. There are trails for children to follow and you can get a small torch to seek out some of the more secret treasures in this fascinating museum.
The Natural History Museum has a good display of skeletons including dinosaur skeletons and the usual displays of cabinets crammed with stuffed creatures. It’s a very family friendly museum with touchable specimens, trails and there’s usually some craft related activities going on too.
Behind the museum is University Parks, a beautiful green space where the river Cherwell winds along the north side of the park. This is a particularly picturesque spot, perfect for a picnic in the summer where you can just watch the boats and punts come and go. If you want to, you can hire punts at the Cherwell Boathouse or at Magdelen Bridge and I would advise paying extra to get a professional Punter or Puntess as it’s more difficult than it looks.
If you aren’t exhausted from the museums and punting and you’ve got some spare cash you want to spend on something that the kids will love, Oxford Castle Unlocked is a tour around an ancient castle that became a prison and is now a museum. You’ll be taken round with a guide in character, encouraged to get in some stocks and told some gruesome stories about inmates past. Great fun for kids. Bit pricey though when there’s so much you can do in Oxford for free.
Shopping is also great in Oxford and for some unique buys, visit the Oxford Covered Market, a lovely place for a wander round the aisles with some cool places to shop and eat.
Parking in the centre of Oxford costs a lot of money – its much easier to use one of the Park and Rides, pay next to nothing and take a 10 minute bus journey into town. The only alternative to this is to go on a Sunday and park for free in a Residential area.