Introduction to the British Museum
A trip to London is not complete without a visit to one of the UK's most popular attractions: the British Museum. With a breathtaking collection of over 8 million objects showing human history, art and culture across 2 million years, the museum is considered a vital keeper of valuable treasures. The museum attracts around 6 million visitors each year, which is more than the population of some European countries like Denmark and Finland! It has been, in fact, the most visited museum in the UK, a title that the British Museum has held for ten years until Tate Modern overtook its record this year.
Did you know that the British Museum exhibits only 1% of its around 8 million objects which represents approximately 80,000 objects? It is, in fact, quite impossible to display all of these pieces, which are the result of an expanding British colonisation, of loans from other countries or purchases from private collections. The museum displays and documents here the story of humankind from prehistoric to modern times, by examples from around the world. Before immersing yourself in two million years of human history, don't forget to see some of the most precious objects housed in the museum, such as the Rosetta Stone, the Egyptian mummies and the Parthenon sculptures.
Located in the Bloomsbury area of London, the British Museum is not only a building but also a piece of art itself. Before entering the building, look up to the sky and admire the Greek Revival façade facing Great Russell Street with 44 columns, built on the basis of an ancient temple of Athena. As you can see, it is characterised by a triangle, called pediment, depicting the extraordinary development of humankind. Once you are in, just linger a bit on the beauty of the Great Hall, the largest covered square in Europe and the real core of the Museum. Before starting the visit, walk around it, and you will see some examples of the type of things you will see in the collections, like a Roman statue.
Not a common history
The British Museum is the first national public museum in the world. It was founded in 1753 and opened its doors in 1759. At the time of its constitution, it granted free entrance to all "studious and curious persons"and it is quite the same nowadays.
A bequest of over 71,000 objects is the beginning of the history of the museum. Physician and collector Sir Hans Sloane has left to the nation his vast collection of antique sculptures, coins and medals, books and natural history specimens. Initially, the principal problem was bringing them together in a suitable site, though. The location chosen by the British government was Montagu House, a mansion in the core of the city. On this site, a new building was built later, designed by the Neoclassical architect Sir Robert Smirke in 1823. Like the collection, the Museum has expanded and altered throughout the ages. The most important modifications were the transfer of the natural history collection to South Kensington (known as Natural History Museum) and, similarly, the relocation of the library collection in a separate institution at St. Pancras, called later British Library. In addition, a glass-roofed structure was added at the centre of the museum in 2000. It's the Great Court, designed by Lord Norman Foster. It's a real marvel surrounding the original Reading Room.
Planning your visit
The best time to visit the museum is at opening or closing times, particularly at weekends. Get to the Museum early, and start soon your exploration through the collections, in order to have the best experience. Otherwise, be prepared to queue to enter it because of the strict security measures in place.
PS: Don't be tempted to go to the museum on a rainy day; it is at its busiest when it's bad weather.
How to get there?
Visiting the British Museum is easy. It can be found in the Bloomsbury district of central London, at Great Russell Street, London WC1B 2DG. Have a look at the map (link).
The best way to travel in London is by using a contactless or an Oyster card. Oyster, which can be purchased online or from a ticket machine at any Underground station, permits you to get on the Underground, DLR, Overground, some riverboats and the iconic red London buses.
· By tube:
The most common way to get to the museum is by tube.So plan your trip and have a look at the tube map. Now jump on the London Underground, and get yourself to Holborn, which is a station located on the red Central line. Once you have passed through the ticket turnstile, follow the signs telling you exactly which exit to take and you'll find yourself on High Holborn Road. Now walk in High Holborn Road for a few minutes until the slight bend to the right. Keep walking and turn right onto Museum Street, and then turn right once more onto Great Russel Street. The Museum should be in front of you. You can also use Tottenham Court Road, Russel Square and Goodge Street stations to reach it.
· By bus:
If you feel comfortable with the use of London buses, you can reach the proximity to the British Museum via routes 1, 8, 19, 25, 38, 55, 98, 242 (New Oxford Street), 14, 24, 29, 73, 134, 390 (Tottenham Court Road/Gower Street) and 59, 68, X68, 91, 168 and 188 (Southampton Row).
· By bike:
If you have a bike or you prefer to rent a bike, you can find bike racks inside the gates of the Main Entrance on Great Russell Street. But be careful! Folding bikes are not allowed at the museum!
· By train:
If you prefer to get to the British Museum by train, you'll probably need to use the tube. The nearest stations are Euston and Charing Cross, which are 15 or 20 minutes' walk away.
· By car:
If you have your own car and you are planning to get there by using this mean of transportation, be aware that driving and parking in the centre of London is complicated. To avoid unwanted encounters with traffic wardens, park your car at Shaftesbury car park which is only 4 minutes' walk away. Don't forget to check parking restrictions often apply in these areas, though!
Opening times and closures
You can visit the galleries every day from 10 a.m. until 5.30 p.m., but you may also consider going there on Fridays night when they are open until 8.30 p.m. It is a different way to spend a night out in London! Please note that the Great Court is open from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. instead. Guests are asked to prepare to clear galleries 10 minutes before they close. You will find the museum closed only on 24th, 25th, 26th December and on 1st January.
The British Museum is free. This means that you can visit it whenever you prefer and can pop in for just having a look at your favourite object if you are around the Holborn area. However, you may need to pay to view some special exhibitions that generally need to book in advance. Tickets may cost from £20 to £22, but some discounts are available. If you are over 16 but under 18, a student, a job seeker or if you are in a group of at least 10 people, you will pay around £17. Under 16s go free to all exhibitions, only when accompanied by an adult. Don't forget that tickets may raise on Saturday and Sunday.
The Museum aims to be accessible to all visitors and to ensure that the largest number of people can enjoy the visit to its collections and its exhibitions. It offers the British Sign Language guide for deaf or hard-of-hearing visitors and the descriptive audio guide for blind or partially sighted visitors. It is also available a free touch tour in the Egyptian sculpture gallery - called Object Handling -, consisting of nine highlight objects that can be explored by touch. If you are interested in, you need to book it in advance. If required, it is possible to borrow manual wheelchairs at both entrances, but the museum does not provide staff assistance. In addition, a piece of good news is that assistance dogs are welcome at the Museum. You just need to bring with you the dog's Assistance Dogs identification book to show when requested.
Exploring the Collection
The British Museum is incredibly huge. It has over seventy galleries and a vast range of incredible pieces from all over the world. You could really spend days or weeks here. But don't worry, we'll guide you through its exploration. To make the most of your visit at the Museum, you shouldn't miss these 10 must-see objects: the Turquoise mosaic of a double-headed serpent from Mexico, the unmissable Rosetta Stone, the impressive Mummy of Katebet, the enormous statue of Ramesses II, the beautiful Parthenon sculptures, the incredible Japanese Samurai Armour, the great collection of Lewis Chessmen, the extraordinary Sutton Hoo Helmet, the monumental winged bulls of Assyria and the Basalt Statue known as Hoa Hakananai'a.
The recommended visiting time is around four or five hours, or probably more. However, if you have a short time, and you don't want to miss the opportunity to discover all of the fundamental pieces, have a look at our essential tours. British Museum: Express Tour is perfect for all of the visitors that can spend a limited time at the museum, If you only have one hour is designed to give you a general idea of the collections and British Museum: The Ultimate Tour is thought to guide you through the principal pieces housed in the Museum.
For those interested in a particular category - like the materials of the objects - or in discovering the top pieces of the collections by any theme, see and listen to our several, helpful themed routes, such as Ancient World Mythology, Coping with Death, Marbled to perfection: The Parthenon, The Bon Vivant,Origins of Writing, Medieval Treasures and Women of the British Museum.
The British Museum is divided into 7 main Collections - Africa, Americas, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Rome, Asia, Europe and Middle East; each of them is dedicated to a particular geographical area. If you see our app, you can find a tour that will give you a hint of what each collection contains, that is Collection Introduction.
Aura's special tips
· You can enter the Museum by two entrances. The main one is on Great Russell Street, while the other one is on Montague Place. Please note that, due to temporary maintenance works, level access is available via the Great Russell Street entrance only.
· If you like drawing, you are allowed to sketch with a pencil in the galleries.
· Don't forget that large luggage (including rucksacks and wheeled suitcases) are not permitted within the Museum.
· You can leave a fold-up buggy free of charge in the cloakroom during your visit.
· Are there any activities for kids? Absolutely. The museum offers many activities and trails to discover the collection and inspire children of all ages. The most interesting ones are the activity backpacks that take kids on a fun historical journey throughout the museum. Besides, families with kids may bring their own food to eat in specific places or may enjoy fantastic meals at the restaurants, with menus thought for children.
· Enjoy dinner and live music performances on Fridays from 5.30 p.m.
· National Art Pass is a great and clever way for Londoners to save money and experience the new exhibitions. You can visit over 240 museums, galleries and historic places for free and 50% off entry to several exhibitions, including British Museum. It only costs £73 for 12-month membership and £45 if you are under 30. For further information, visit the website https://www.artfund.org/national-art-pass.
Check the Map of the Gallery on our App.
After your visit to the Museum, you can drop in
on Sir John Soane Museum, a national
museum that houses a number of impressive objects amassed by a renowned British
architect. It is only 11 minutes away by walking from the British Museum, it is
free and its collection is unique, so why not to give it a try? 10 minutes'
walk from the Museum is the Petrie
Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, a small museum located within the
university that displays one of the greatest collections of Egyptian
archaeology. It is also a short walk
away from the most known shopping street in London, Oxford Street, but also from important theatres located in Shaftesbury Avenue and Soho. If you are a bit hungry, you might
try several eateries nearby, including the amazing brunch spot Lantana in Fitzrovia, and the rotisserie
restaurant Chicken Shop in Holborn,
with its delicious apple pie.