With its eight million exhibits, the British Museum is one of the most important museums in the world. Founded in 1753, the neoclassical complex retraces the steps of world human history, collecting the relics of European, African, American and Asian civilizations. If you don't have a full day to enjoy all the collections, follow this itinerary that will guide you, map in hand, to the major attractions of the museum.
- What to see and how to visit British Museum
- Egyptian sculptures: Rosetta stone, bust of Ramses II, head of Amenofi III
- Assyrian sculptures, Balawat gates, black obelisk
- Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (monument of the Nereids)
- Parthenon statues
- Moai Hoa Hakananai'a statue of Easter Island
- Mask of the god Tezcatlipoca
- Egyptian mummies and sarcophagi
- Lewis Chess
- Treasure of Oxus
- Samurai armor
- Hours and prices
- Online tickets and guided tours
- User questions and comments
What to see and how to visit British Museum
The museum, housing about 8 million objects, is divided into different sections divided by historical period.
- Ancient Egypt and Sudan section: it is one of the largest Egyptian collections in the world, consisting of over fourteen million finds. The artifacts range from the pre-dynastic period to the Roman period, covering over three millennia of history. In this section we find the Rosetta stone, the sculptures of the pharaohs and a collection of mummies and sarcophagi.
- Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome section: dedicated to the classical age, it collects over one hundred thousand objects for a time span of approximately 3.700 years. These are mostly architectural and sculptural fragments, including finds from the Acropolis of Athens from the Parthenon, the temple of Athena Nike and the temple of Apollo.
- Middle Eastern Section: it is the largest collection of Mesopotamian artifacts existing in Europe, only the Iraqi one in the world. It includes both precious metal and sculptural artifacts, including the winged lions of Nimrud.
- Section prints and drawings: the over fifty thousand drawings and two million prints preserved here start from the fourteenth century and reach the contemporary age. Among these are the most important Italian artists, with preparatory studies by Leonardo Da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli and Michelangelo.
- Prehistory and Europe section: contains African tools from over two million years ago and a collection of watches from different eras.
- Asian Section: containing about 75.000 objects from the Neolithic to today
- Africa, Oceania and Americas section: a huge collection of indigenous artifacts, evidence of over two million years.
- Coins and medals section: one of the largest existing numismatic collections, with pieces from the th century to today.
- Conservation and scientific research section: it is in turn divided into different thematic departments, concerning organic materials, wall paintings and mosaics, stones, metals, ceramics and glass.
- Library and archives: accessible to both occasional visitors and school groups, up to university researchers.
1 - Egyptian sculptures: Rosetta stone, bust of Ramses II, head of Amenhotep III
The British Museum collects the third largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the world, following that of Cairo and Turin. The Egyptian area is divided into several thematic rooms: our tour begins in room 4, dedicated to sculptures.
The first we recommend is the Rosetta Stone, one of the most popular objects in the entire museum. The stele was found during Napoleon Bonaparte's Egyptian campaign, and allowed for the first time to interpret hieroglyphs. At the center of the room stands the second exhibit, a huge one bust of Ramses II, one of the best known pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Finally, the room hosts a colossal one head of Amenhotep III in granite, about three meters high, one of the few finds of the statue of the pharaoh, whose only other fragment consists of an arm.
2 - Assyrian sculptures, Balawat gates, black obelisk
On the main floor, in the room next to the Egyptian sculpture, a visit to room 6 is a must. This houses some Assyrian remains, in particular two enormous winged lion statues from the human faces that frame the remains of the gates of Balawat, archaeological site of the ancient Assyrian city of Imgur-Enlil. In the same room there is also theblack obelisk of Shalmanassar III, which with its bas-reliefs represents the earliest historical depiction of an Israelite ruler, or King Jehu.
3 - Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (monument of the Nereids)
The magnificent tomb of Mausolus in Halicarnassus (Turkey) was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, dating back to about 350 BC. Such was its magnificence that it was thanks to this structure that the mausoleum entered the common language to indicate the monumental tombs. The mausoleum was destroyed in an earthquake, but the British Museum houses a partial reconstruction, the monument to the Nereids, in room 8.
4 - Statues of the Parthenon
Of the 13 rooms dedicated to ancient Greece, room 9 is definitely worth a visit. It houses a sculptural group of Parthenon marbles, the temple symbol of the Acropolis of Athens, dedicated to the goddess from whom the city takes its name. The museum houses fragments of the pediment, without limbs and heads, which are still the subject of controversy today, as Greece is demanding their return to their homeland.
5 - Moai Hoa Hakananai'a statue of Easter Island
It is one of the famous Easter Island statues, a monolith depicting a human bust with very pronounced facial features. It was brought to Great Britain by Royal Navy captain Richard Powell, and donated to the museum by the will of Queen Victoria. This is also located on the main floor, in room 24. The Moai it was claimed by Chile for cult reasons in 2018, as it would contain the soul of an important warrior protector of the community of which he is a native.
6 - Mask of the god Tezcatlipoca
Tezcatlipoca is the Aztec god of the night. His mask preserved in the British Museum is a rare peculiarity since the mosaic of turquoise, lignite and mother-of-pearl was not applied on a wooden base as usual, but on a real human skull. It is the last attraction on the entrance level of the itinerary, and is located in the section dedicated to Mexico (room 27).
7 - Egyptian mummies and sarcophagi
From room 61 to 64 on the first floor it is possible to admire the Egyptian collection concerning the tradition of mummification and the cult of life after death. In room 64 in particular it is preserved Ginger, the oldest Egyptian mummy ever found, dating back to the pre-dynastic period. It is recognizable by the red color from which it takes its name and by the fetal position.
8 - Lewis Chess
Composed of 93 pieces, that of Isle of Lewis Chess it is the oldest medieval chessboard that has reached the present day. They are carved in walrus ivory and still today the dynamics of the game are not perfectly known. The British Museum collects most of the set in room 40, on the first floor, while the remaining pieces are kept in the National Museum of Scotland.
9 - Treasure of Oxus
The Oxus treasure is a collection of about 180 gold and silver objects, which takes its name from the river where it was found. It is a testimony of the Persian Achaemenid Empire formed by different artifacts, among which statuettes, brooches and golden votive plaques stand out. It is located in room 52 on the first floor.
10 - Samurai armor
We conclude the visit in the section dedicated to the Far East. The British museum has the most complete Japanese collection in Europe, which can be visited on the first floor in room 93. The most peculiar of these relics is a group of medieval samurai armor dating back to the 2018th century, acquired by the museum only in following the restructuring of the Japan area.
Hours and prices
- open every day from 10:00 to 17:30, except January 1st, December 24th, 25th and 26th
- Best time to avoid queues: it is advisable to visit the museum in the afternoon, after lunch until closing.
- admission to the museum is free all year round for visitors of all ages, with the exception of temporary exhibitions, the price of which varies from time to time.
Online tickets and guided tours
Useful tips for visiting the attraction
- Get up early: the ideal would be to reach the entrance by 10:00
- Buy the city card: If you are interested in visiting other museums or attractions in the city, you can purchase the London Pass for 1, 2, 3 or 6 days
- Watch out for restrictions: It is allowed to take pictures in almost all galleries, however the use of tripods is prohibited
- Minimum time: we advise you to consider a minimum of two hours for the visit. The ideal would be to be able to dedicate four hours to the visit, but considering it is free, you can divide the visit into two days.
Where is it and how to get there
- On foot: from central London it can be reached in just 18 minutes (approx. 1 km) along St Martin's LN - Get directions
- By bus: from central London take the Trafalgar Square stop (stop D) and you will arrive at your destination in about 18 minutes. The lines that stop near the museum are lines 1, 8, 19, 25, 38, 55, 98, 242 New Oxford Street stop.
- By metro: from the center reach Charing Cross Station which will take you in 3 minutes to Tottenham Court Road from there continue on foot for about 15 minutes to arrive at your destination. The closest stops to the museum are Tottenham Court Road (500m), Holborn (500m), Russell Square (800m), Goodge Street (800m).
Historical notes and curiosities: what to know in brief
The museum was founded in 1753 by private collection of Sir Hans Sloane, which before his death had managed to collect up to 71.000 objects which were then sold to King George II at the price of 20.000,00 pounds, who by combining two libraries (the Cottonian Library and the Harleiana library) containing precious books, now kept at the British Library, gave birth to the first national museum free to the public since 1810. The museum has grown over the centuries as a result of donations and archaeological expeditions. The latter have been the subject of debate over the years: it is believed that some of the exhibited pieces were unjustly taken away from their original countries, and that the acquisition process was not always lawful.