British Museum

Discover historic treasures at the British Museum

The ever-popular British Museum holds millions of fascinating artefacts charting the history of human civilisation, each with their own story to tell and all set within an architecturally stunning building.

Highlights

  • Seek out the famous Rosetta Stone, the key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
  • Look in awe on the iconic Sutton Hoo ship burial helmet, part of one of the most important archaeological sites ever unearthed in Britain.
  • Visit the Elgin Marbles, originally part of the Parthenon in Greece, whose ownership remains a highly controversial issue.

What to See and Do

The Great Court

Situated on the main level of the British Museum the Great Court is a two-acre space which connects all the surrounding galleries. It is the largest covered public square in Europe and houses the famous Reading room at its centre. 

Opened in 2000 by Queen Elizabeth, the courtyard is set beneath a stunning glass roof. Every step around this impressive space allows the visitor a chance to view something new and aptly welcomes you to this culturally important museum.

The Museum Galleries

The focus point of any museum are the galleries and with over 60 free galleries to explore the British Museum provides a great day out. With around 8 million artefacts collected over the years, the museum galleries house some of the most historically important artefacts around, covering all periods of human civilisation. 

There are galleries representing different parts of the world and different civilisations for you to wander through. Each fascinating piece of history you see has its own tale to tell, connecting you to times in history in a very personal manner.

Exhibitions and Events

The British Museum stages various exhibitions and events alongside their galleries, which can further enhance your knowledge and interest in two million years of human history and culture. They run for set periods of time, so it is always worthwhile noting what the museum is staging prior to your visit. 

As with the galleries these exhibitions and events span the whole spectrum of human civilisation and cultural activities, meaning there is always something new to see amid all the permanent treasures housed within the museum.

Take a Tour

The British Museum runs a variety of tours allowing you to get up close with artefacts and pick the brains of the guides on the objects you see. You can select tours of different durations, including the Around the World in 90 minutes tour. Volunteer-run hands-on desks allow you the chance to see objects up close and ask questions about them. The museum also stages regular gallery talks lasting around 45 minutes from guest speakers and curators.

A Day Out for the Whole Family

The British Museum provides a number of ways for you and the whole family to engage with the museum and enjoy a fun day out. Follow the explorer trails to hunt down treasures and find answers to questions as you go round, including the twelve objects to see trail. You can pick up a themed activity backpack for the children to enjoy too. 

Also, make sure you head on over to the digital discovery centre where you can get involved in fun interactive activities. By using technology children can explore the museum collections and learn about the history and different cultures from around the world.

Did you know: (5 interesting facts!)

  1. The British Museum was opened way back in 1759, becoming the world’s first national museum to allow in public visitors to look at items covering all areas of human knowledge.
  1. For 33 years the British Museum had its very own tube station. It was on today’s Central Line, opening in 1900 before closing in 1933. The museum’s tube stop was replaced by the better-connected stop at Holborn just 100 meters away.
  1. Through fear of fire destroying the artefacts, the museum initially relied on natural daylight to view their galleries with all the restrictions this implies. However, in 1879 experimental electric lighting was installed in some areas of the museum, one of the first public buildings to do this in London. Within 10 years this was extended to most areas the public visited, allowing the museum to stay open longer.
  1. Mozart visited the museum with his family: between 1764 and 1765, Mozart visited the British Museum and was so inspired by this building that he dedicated his first composition, God is Our Refuge, to the museum.
  1. After the founding of the museum, a search was on for a suitable location. One address which cropped up was Buckingham House. In the end, Montagu House was decided upon, which was on the museum’s current location. Buckingham House would later become Buckingham Palace.

History

  • 1753 – British Museum founded with its doors opening to the public in 1759
  • 1823 – Work began on demolishing the old building and constructing the core of today’s museum
  • 1827 – King’s Library completed to hold over 65,000 works assembled by George III
  • 1857 – Famed Reading Room is completed
  • 1881 – Natural history collections transferred to the Natural History Museum
  • 1939 – Sutton Hoo finds donated to the museum by landowner Edith Pretty
  • 1939 – Important artefacts moved to securer sites to protect them during the war
  • 2000 – Opening of the Great Court by Queen Elizabeth II

Facilities and Accessibility

Wheelchairs can be borrowed at the museum and most lifts are wheelchair accessible with Braille signs and audio announcements. While the main Great Russell Street entrance has steps there are self-operable lifts either side and accessible toilets are located through the museum. 

An audio descriptive guide and large print guides are available. The audio guide is available in 10 different languages. 

On entry, bags may be searched for security reasons. Free Wi-Fi can be accessed throughout the building while there are a variety of different style food outlets to help keep you refreshed. The British Museum shop offers an extensive range of items, replicas and souvenirs with which to record your visit.