Botanic Garden and Arboretum proves popular destination in 2020 as visitor figures are announced

The Botanic Garden and Arboretum proved to be a popular destination in 2020, according to the latest figures released today from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA). Overall Oxford University’s gardens, libraries and museums saw 887,516 visits in 2020.

Two young visitors wearing masks in Ashmolean gallery

2020 was an unusual year as sites closed to visitors in March in response to the Covid pandemic. Most sites then briefly opened between August to October, then closed for the second lockdown and reopened again in early December. This means most sites in the University’s gardens, libraries and museums were closed to visitors for over half the year, and when they were open, visitor numbers were limited to accommodate social distancing. Despite this, the Ashmolean Museum, Bodleian Libraries and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History all featured in the UK’s top 100 visitor attractions and the top 50 visitor attractions in England. The Pitt Rivers Museum ranked 129th, and the History of Science Museum ranked 213th in visits to UK visitor attractions in 2020.  

View of trees at Harcourt Arboretum

Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum was able to remain open for most of the year, having closed in mid-March but reopened from mid-June 2020 onwards. The Garden and the Arboretum benefited from the support of the local community as visitors looked to enjoy nearby outdoor spaces for respite and relaxation. The Arboretum proved particularly popular with a 19% increase in visits from 2019. Together the sites had 122,071 visits across the two locations, ranking 120 in UK attractions in 2020. Previously the Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum enjoyed its best year ever in 2019 when visits were up 23% from 2018.

The ALVA figures show that UK attractions saw an average decline in visits of 70% from 2019 to 2020. Oxford University’s gardens, libraries and museums are in line with this as it saw an overall drop in visits in 2020 of 73% (from 3,311,764 visits in 2019 to 887,516 visits in 2020).

Over this closure period the gardens, libraries and museums developed a range of online resources that proved hugely popular with visitors. These online resources included: virtual tours and lectures; live online events like the Mystery of the Museum with wildlife presenter Steve Backshall; podcasts on Museum Secrets at the Ashmolean; activities to create your own Zodiac signs at the History of Science Museum; or DIY activities on how to build a terrarium with the Botanic Garden and Arboretum. Find out more about digital resources for visitors here.

Looking ahead, the Ashmolean Museum, Bodleian Libraries, History of Science Museum, Pitt Rivers Museum and Museum of Natural History anticipate reopening to the public from 17 May in line with the government’s roadmap. The Ashmolean Museum will be opening with an exhibition on the Pre-Raphaelites while the Museum of Natural History will reopen with its newest exhibition, Meat the Future, a joint exhibition with Oxford University’s Livestock Environment and People (LEAP) that considers how food production and consumption of animal products affect people and planet. Pitt Rivers Museum will be opening the exhibition, Beyond the Binary, in June and the History of Science Museum will be running a number of new exhibitions over the summer.    

Oxford Botanic Garden is celebrating its 400th anniversary throughout 2021 with a programme of events and activities during the anniversary week in July. The Weston Library (Bodleian Libraries) will be reopening with its newest exhibition that celebrates the Garden’s anniversary, Roots to Seeds: 400 years of the Botanic Garden.   

Prebooking is required for all visitors, and social distancing will be in place at all sites. Opening times/details and further guidance on visiting is available at