Oxford University attractions bounce back from the pandemic

Oxford University Gardens, Libraries and Museums saw a large increase in visitors in 2022, according to figures released today by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA).  

ALVA’s annual announcement reports an average 120% rise in visitors to the UK’s most popular attractions in 2022. Oxford University Gardens, Libraries and Museums outperformed the UK average, enjoying a 158% increase in visitors overall compared to 2021.

Oxford University Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM) are comprised of four museums (the Ashmolean Museum, History of Science Museum, Pitt Rivers Museum and the Museum of Natural History), the Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum and the Bodleian Libraries. In 2021 the GLAM sites together received just over 1 million (1,063,991) visits. In 2022 total visits rose to 2.7 million (2,746,974).

man and woman looking closely at Ashmolean painting

Three University sites appeared in ALVA’s list of the UK’s top 50 visitor attractions of 2022: the Ashmolean Museum ranked 35th most visited attraction; the Bodleian Libraries ranked 37th; and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History ranked 42nd. Out of 350 visitor attractions, the Pitt Rivers Museum came in at 118th, Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum was 159th and the History of Science Museum was 205th. All the University sites moved up in the rankings from their 2021 positions.

Notably, the Ashmolean Museum saw visitors increase by 243%, from 212,306 in 2021 to 728,006 in 2022. The Bodleian Libraries experienced a 190% increase in visitors from 245,318 in 2021 to 728,006 in 2022.    

In 2022 the University’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums resumed their popular exhibitions and events programmes which had been paused or limited during the pandemic. These included Pre-Raphaelites: Drawings and Watercolours at the Ashmolean Museum, Tutankhamun: Excavating the Archive at the Weston Library, and Biodiversity: Kurt Jackson at the Museum of Natural History.  In December, a new display of props from the BBC adaptation of His Dark Materials, Lyra’s Worlds, brought visitors into the Pitt Rivers and History of Science Museum. The 400th-anniversary celebrations at the Oxford Botanic Garden brought more visitors than ever to the stunning site in central Oxford as well as to the Arboretum in Nuneham Courtney.

Free entry to most sites has also brought visitors through the door. Admission is free to all four University museums as well as the Bodleian’s Weston Library and visitors hit by the cost-of-living crisis have been looking for more things to do that are free or low-cost.  

In 2023 there is a lot to see across the Gardens, Libraries and Museums. The Ashmolean Museum’s latest exhibition, Labyrinth: Knossos, Myth and Reality, has received critical acclaim, with strong ticket sales and sell-out days. The Weston Library has just opened two exhibitions on early photography, A New Power: Photography in Britain 1800-1850 and Bright Sparks: Photography and the Talbot Archive. Lyra’s Worlds has been extended to run until December 2023, giving fans more time to enjoy the displays at the History of Science and Pitt Rivers Museums. A range of events run across all the gardens, libraries and museums, including many free events over Easter and the spring holidays. 

Richard Ovenden, Bodleian’s Librarian and Head of the Gardens, Libraries and Museums, says: ‘The latest ALVA figures are incredibly encouraging. Our mission is to share Oxford’s treasures with as many people as possible. All the University’s attractions have enjoyed a significant rise in visitors in 2022 and we hope this trend will continue over the coming months.’

‘This will be a challenging year for people impacted by the cost-of-living crisis.  Admission to all the University’s museums and the Bodleian’s Weston Library is free; and all the sites offer events and activities for low or no-cost. I hope local visitors, particularly, will see the sites as great resource for great days out in Oxford over 2023.’