Oriental Museum Durham Review (A FREE Day Out)

Thanks to our writer Gaia for this post which was based on a visit in November 2023. Please check with venue direct for the most up-to-date info. Over to Gaia..... 

Oriental Museum Durham Review (A FREE Day Out) - entrance

If you’re looking for something to do in Durham that’s free, fun and educational then I can highly recommend the Oriental Museum.

We spent 3 hours there and the kids loved the fact that there are toys, colouring in, crafts and a trail to complete while you go round the museum.

I'm pretty sure they absorbed some knowledge, even if it was only that the Egyptians mummified their cats!

Oriental Museum Durham Review (A FREE Day Out)

Oriental Museum Highlights: 

  • Lots of activities to keep kids of all ages happy including colouring, toys, books & games 
  • Egyptian Playmobil area with interactive pyramid, pharaohs, mummies etc 
  • Several levels focused on different regions 
  • Free kids trail around the museum with sticker for completing it
  • Free craft activities and free weekly under 5 toddler group
  • Basic cafe with hot and cold drinks and snack
  • Packed lunch can be eaten in cafe area or on picnic tables outside
  • Free lockers to store valuables

Opening Hours




10am - 5pm 


10am - 5pm 


10am - 5pm 


10am - 5pm 


12pm - 5pm 


12pm - 5pm 

Bank Holidays (except Christmas Day and Boxing Day) 

12pm - 5pm 

Getting there

Elvet Hill Rd, South Rd, Durham DH1 3TH

We parked in the free museum car park as it was quiet, but there aren't many spaces (watch out as some are for permit holders only). 

Oriental Museum Durham Review (A FREE Day Out)  - map

There is also limited payable roadside parking available close to the Museum on Elvet Hill Road and Potters Bank. 

On a weekend visitors can use the Elvet Hill Car Park which is a University Staff Car Park located close to the museum. 

Durham has a Park and Ride system, which operates Monday to Saturday 7am to 7pm.  

The Oriental Museum is just outside Durham City Centre close to the Botanic Garden and is easy to reach by public transport. From Durham Bus Station, catch the 6 or 6a to Bishop Auckland and get off at the stop for the Botanic Garden. You can walk from the Bus/train station within 30 mins but its quite hilly. 

Prices & Booking

Durham Oriental Museum is free entry and no booking is required. https://www.dur.ac.uk/things-to-do/venues/oriental-museum/


Durham Oriental Museum is all about the art and archaeology of the great cultures of Northern Africa and Asia, with sections focused on everything from Ancient Egypt to modern China and Japan. 

The museum galleries are laid out over four floors. There is plenty of seating and lots of activities for all the family. We easily spent around 3 pleasant hours in the museum.

There are toilets with unisex baby change facilities and free lockers to store your valuables as you enter, near the reception desk. Accessibility is covered further down this blog.

The first thing we were given was a floor plan and a free trail with things to spot around the museum on a clipboard with a pencil. The volunteers working in this museum are super friendly and helpful, taking time to chat with my kids and answer any questions we had. 

Free craft activities

One of the great things is that they hold regular FREE craft sessions on different themes. When we visited we were able to make Egyptian collar necklaces which both of my kids aged 5 & 8 enjoyed and it tied in nicely with their favourite part of the museum - the Egyptian Playmobil pyramid!

They also have a weekly FREE toddler group for under 5’s where kids get to explore the museum galleries, take part in fun craft activities, singing, games and stories. Find out more about whats on here (includes other Durham University venues): What's On including FREE craft activities 

Upcoming events: 

  • 11 Nov - FREE Mask Making (1-3pm) 
  • 18 Nov - FREE Celebrating Faith Crafts (1-3pm) 
  • 25 Nov - FREE Protest Poster Making (1-3pm) 
  • 2 December - FREE Red Colour Art (1-3pm) 
  • 9 December - FREE Mandala Making (1-3pm) 
  • 16 December - FREE Countdown to Christmas Crafts (1-3pm) 
  • 13 January - FREE Mini Spice Bag Making (1-3pm) 
  • 20 January - FREE Winter Wonderland Art (1-3pm) 
  • 27 January - FREE Make a Cool Camel (1-3pm) 
These events are subject to change so do check the link above for the most up to date info before heading out. 

Oriental Museum Durham Review (A FREE Day Out)  - playmobil area

The museum is on 4 floors but isn’t very large, but the great thing we found was that every section of the museum had themed kids areas with books, toys, colouring in and games to keep them entertained. There even a baby and toddler area with soft mats and baby toys, colouring in and books. 

Cafe and Packed Lunch

There is a small cafe area near the entrance, with a tea/coffee machine, snacks & cold drinks. They have a variety of instant noodle pots which I thought was a nice touch. 

We had drinks and chocolate bars (the tea/coffee machine wasn’t working when we visited but the kind volunteers made me a tea and gave it to me for free!). 

They don’t offer any sandwiches or anything more substantial  but Durham Botanic garden is close by and they have a cafe serving sandwiches etc, which you could pop to for lunch.

I asked about bringing in packed lunch and where you can eat it and the volunteers said its fine to eat it in the cafe area, and they also have picnic tables outside. You can’t eat or drink in the museum itself for reasons that you might damage the exhibits. 


There are a few free accessible parking spaces less than 50 metres from the main entrance. There is also a drop-off point at the main entrance. 

The entrance to the museum is via a very shallow ramp from the museum carpark and is wheelchair/pushchair friendly. A wheelchair is also available for loan in the museum. Guide and hearing dogs are welcome to accompany their owners around the museum. 

Two accessible lifts provide access to all levels of the museum. The controls are push button and at wheelchair height. Seating is available in many of the galleries and in the reception area. They also have ‘walk and rest’ stools available to use on every level in the museum.

There is an accessible toilet on the ground floor near the entrance and baby changing facilities. 

Autism and dementia friendly 


Many of the staff have received training in autism awareness and they have sensory bags available at the Visitor Services Desk. They host a regular series of autism-friendly craft activities during the school holidays. Check the What's On page for more information.  

Many staff have also received dementia awareness training and have become Dementia Friends.

Visually impaired and blind visitors

Their website says: Light levels – high light levels cause damage to many fragile objects. For this reason, the lights in some areas of the museum are kept low. If you require additional assistance, please speak to a member of staff.  

Large print guides are available in all of our permanent galleries and for our special exhibitions.  You can also download these guides in advance. Magnifying glasses are available from the museum reception desk for visitors to use during their visit.   

Why not enjoy an audio description of our famous servant-girl statuette? She is one of 25 audio-described sculptures from around the UK created by Art UK.  

Access for D/deaf visitors

Their website says: We are working to improve access for D/deaf visitors.

There is a portable hearing loop at the museum reception desk.

In some galleries, we use video displays, most of which have subtitles in English. Written transcripts of the videos are also available in the galleries. Currently, the videos are not available with British Sign Language interpretation.

Why it is called the Oriental Museum?

I thought it was important to mention why they call it an Oriental Museum. Here is the reasoning from their website:

‘The Orient’ is not an area with defined geographical boundaries. The term can mean widely differing things to different people. In the case of the Oriental Museum, the definition is a wide one indeed, with the collections covering a huge area from North Africa to South East Asia. This is the legacy of the origins of the Oriental Museum in the teaching of oriental languages at Durham University.

We had a great time at this museum, I liked how interactive it was, meaning my kids didn't get bored and could learn through play. It's great that it's free and easy to find. We'll definitely be back!

Looking to spend the day in Durham? You can easily combine a trip here with Durham Botanic Gardens across the road. 

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