The Pitt Rivers Museum is a traditional Victorian-era museum that is home to the United Kingdom’s largest collection of archaeological and anthropological artefacts.
The museum was founded when Augustus Pitt Rivers donated his sizable collection to the University of Oxford in 1884.
What to see at the Pitt Rivers Museum
The museum has a collection of around half a million objects and unlike many other museums with similarly large collections, a sizable portion of its collection is on display. With so many objects on display, the Pitt Rivers Museum can appear a tad cluttered although this is part of its charm as it reinforces the Victorian-era idea of a museum.
While most other museums organise their collections according to a particular historical period or geographic region, the Pitt Rivers Museum is arranged according to type so baskets, musical instruments, textiles or weapons will be displayed together. This unique approach means that the museum offers a fascinating way to better acquaint yourself with a bizarre and eclectic range of topics and discover how they have evolved over time and how they vary from one culture to another.
The largest exhibit is an 11.36m- (37¼ ft)-high Haida totem pole from the Queen Charlotte Islands in Canada but the most popular exhibit is the museum’s morbidly-fascinating collection of shrunken heads.
Visiting the Pitt Rivers Museum
The Pitt Rivers Museum is located immediately to the east of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and you need to access the Pitt Rivers through the ground floor of that museum. Both museums are around a 10-minute walk north of the city centre.
Admission to the museum is free of charge.
There are free audio guides online that you can stream using your phone and the museum’s free Wi-Fi connection.
Even though the Pitt Rivers Museum is often cited as an example of the kind of stuffy old-fashioned museum that newer modern museums are trying to distance themselves from, it is surprisingly family friendly.
The museum is wheelchair accessible and visitors in wheelchairs should access the museum via the south door on Robinson Close.
A pop-up cafe operates in the museum between March and June and there is another cafe (open year-round) in the adjoining Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
There are a lot of interesting things to see here and you can easily spend a few hours exploring the museum.