Travels and Tourism

British Museum | A Treasure Trove of Human History

About British Museum

The British Museum is one of the world’s foremost museums of history and anthropology. Based in London, the Museum has some of the largest and most revered collections from around the globe, ranging from Babylonian stonework and Samurai armour to pottery and glass from the Roman Empire.

Address: Great Russell St, London WC1B 3DG, United Kingdom
Hours: Open ⋅ Closes 5 pm
Phone: +44 20 7323 8299
Stories from the collection: Guatemalan Masks, No Salt Please, MORE
Founded: 1753
Director: Hartwig Fischer
Architects: Robert Smirke, John Russell Pope, Spencer de Grey, Sydney Smirke, John James Burnet, John Taylor
Architectural style: Greek Revival architecture

British Museum history

The origins of the British Museum lie with Irish physicist and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753). Sloane was a doctor and scientist working in London, and over the course of his lifetime had built up an impressive collection of curiosities eventually consisting of around 71,000 objects. These included 40,000 books, 7,000 manuscripts, a large collection of natural history specimens, prints, drawings, and antiquities from all over the world.

Desiring his collection to remain together following his death, he bequeathed it to King George II for £20,000, to be enjoyed by the nation. On 7 June, 1753 the British Museum was established with this initial collection, alongside that of the Cottonian and the Harleian Libraries.

Four years later the contents of the ‘Old Royal Library’ were added, collected over the years by a number of British monarchs. This completed the four ‘foundation collections’ of the British Library, which became the world’s first national public museum when it opened on 15 January, 1759.

British Museum today

The British Museum has several permanent collections, including its world-famous Egyptian collection which includes a large number of Egyptian mummies as well as temporary exhibits. One of its most famous residents is the 2nd century BC Rosetta Stone, that became the key to deciphering Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics when it was discovered in the late 18th century.

The British Museum divides its collections by themes and cultures, each of which is displayed in numbered rooms – one of its most popular yet controversial exhibits is the Parthenon Marbles from Ancient Greece, which can be found in Room 18. Visitors are free to amble its many displays at leisure, however the British Museum do also offer a variety of itineraries to steer you in the right direction!

One such consists of an hour-long tour which showcases the Parthenon Marbles, the Egyptian mummies, the Rosetta Stone and Assyrian lion hunt reliefs from 668 BC, as well as several other famous objects like the Lewis Chess Set and medieval Nigerian artwork.

Three-hour long and children’s itineraries are also available on the British Museum’s website and at the museum itself. Alternatively, free audio guides are available or visitors can book a highlights tour in advance for a fee, which take place at 10.30am, 1.00pm and 3.00pm daily. You can book this online or by calling the museum.

British Museum Top Highlights

Egyptian Gallery

Ground floor, Room 4, Upper floor 61-64

Rosetta Stone

The Egyptian Galleries have much to offer from Ancient Egypt, with the ground floor being full of large monuments. The first and probably the most famous object is the Rosetta Stone. Make sure you get close to the glass case so you can examine the fascinating details of three identical scripts in two languages.

The 3 scripts are hieroglyphics (Ancient Egyptian Language), Demotic (a simpler version of hieroglyphics, also Ancient Egyptian), and finally Ancient Greek.

It was a huge breakthrough when Jean Francois Champollion managed to translate Egyptian hieroglyphics by comparing them to the Ancient Greek script. The rosetta stone itself was discovered by French soldiers during Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt.

Rameses II

Not far from the Rosetta Stone is a monumental statue of Rameses II, which gives us an idea of what the pharaoh looked like. It also gives us an insight into his ego. Rameses II was known to erect statues of himself all over his land, just to remind the ancient Egyptian civilization who was in charge!

Upper floor, Rooms 61 – 64

Ancient Egyptian Mummies

Here you can find a collection of both human mummies and animal mummies.

Did you know the Egyptians were known for mummifying animals? This was usually for one of 2 reasons: either as offerings to the gods or to provide the animals with an afterlife. You’ll find cats, crocodiles, snakes, fish, monkeys, and much more on display.

Human mummification was only common practice among Royalty, nobility, and the wealthy, primarily because the whole process was very expensive. There are several mummies on display, along with many sarcophagi, which are beautifully decorated with coloured images and hieroglyphics.

Prior to the lengthy and expensive process of mummification, the Egyptians relied on the hot and dry climate to preserve the dead. The bodies were simply placed in a shallow grave and covered with sand and left to dry.

You can examine how this worked when looking at the human mummy in room 64. This man was previously referred to as “Ginger” or “Gebelein man” you can still see traces of his ginger hair, his nails, and his teeth.

For anybody interested in the human body, there is an interactive screen showing you different layers of the body from the skin to the bones.

Parthenon Gallery

Ground floor, Room 18a, 18b, 18

Parthenon Sculptures

This room transports you to ancient Greek civilization, where you find yourself surrounded by artefacts from the famous Parthenon in Athens. What started as a temple was turned into a Christian church and also a Muslim mosque.

The Parthenon was later badly damaged during a gun powder explosion. The subsequent removal of the statues and frieze from Athens, by Lord Elgin (British Ambassador), is still today surrounded by controversy. Other parts of the Parthenon Sculptures can be seen in the Acropolis Museum in the Ancient City of Athens.

The Goddess Athena

The Parthenon was a simple rectangular structure dedicated to the Greek Goddess Athena. It was built in the 5th Century BC and was beautifully decorated, with the frieze and statues in the pediment. Out of the original structure, the British Museum displays about 75 meters of the frieze, together with 17 statues from the pediment and 15 metopes.

Looking closely at the frieze, you can spot the detailed depictions of animals, like horses and cattle, together with humans and gods all celebrating the goddess Athena’s birthday. The stories that go together with the statues are fascinating, and we love to share them during our British Museum Highlights Tour. These statues also heavily influenced Western art, literature, and culture.

Living and Dying Gallery

Ground floor, Room 24

This gallery deals with life and death and how different cultures deal with staying healthy. Our favourite display is the large glass case in the middle of the room. On closer inspection you’ll recognise many pills and medicines; the display shows how much an average British person will consume during their life!

Easter Island Statues

The next most obvious object is a Moai, which originally stood in the Orongo stone village. The statue was surrounded by its companions, all stood with their backs to the sea, watching over the island and its inhabitants.

Gifted to the museum by Queen Victoria, after being presented to her by a Naval explorer, the presence of the statue again causes controversy. The indigenous people of Easter Island claim that the statue was plundered during colonial times and it should be returned as it forms part of their heritage.

Mexican Gallery

Ground floor, Room 27

This gallery represents the two main cultures, Maya and Aztec, that once occupied the area we now know as Mexico. The gallery is filled with sculptures, mosaics, and ceramics from ancient Mexico, but your eyes will be immediately drawn to a glass case that contains several turquoise figurines.

The Double Headed Serpent

The most famous of these figurines is a double-headed serpent, made from cedar wood and richly decorated with turquoise, coral, and shell. This item is believed to have been ceremonial, it would’ve been worn around the neck as a chest ornament during religious ceremonies.

Serpents symbolised rebirth and fertility; in Aztec culture, serpents were also sacred. One of the main Aztec gods, Quetzalcoatl, was represented by a serpent in art.

The serpent is surrounded by two masks, which are also made from cedar wood and decorated with turquoise and shell. The mask with the large eyes is the God Quetzalcoatl, with the eyebrows taking the shape of two rattles from serpents.

The second mask represents the God of fire, Xiuhtecuhtli, usually depicted by a butterfly. If you look carefully, the cheeks on the mask do indeed represent the wings of a butterfly.

Europe and Britain Gallery

Upper floor, Room 49 and Room 41

Frequently, when we refer to ancient civilisations, we are in awe of how much they accomplished and how artistic they were. Britain and Europe are often overlooked in comparison, but the European continent has much to offer, even if the artefacts are slightly more “modern” than those from the old world.

A great example is the Roman Empire, which at one point stretched all the way to the British Isles. There are various artefacts found across the country linked with the Romans, including jewellery, weapons, tiles, and much more.

The Mildenhall treasure is a prime example of how skilled and artistic the Romans were in the 4th century AD. The treasure consists of about 34 individual pieces, including silver bowls, spoons, and a great dish. The details on the great dish show different Roman Gods, such as Bacchus and Neptune, accompanied by other mythological creatures.

The artefacts were unearthed during WW2 and declared a treasure trove by the British Museum in 1946.

Sutton Hoo Treasure

Another fascinating find occurred in 1939 in Suffolk, when amateur archaeologist Basil Brown uncovered the famous Sutton Hoo treasure.

Under a large mound of earth, he discovered a ship containing many other pieces, including coins, parts of armour, weapons, and more. The Sutton Hoo Ship burial is believed to be the final resting place of Raedwald, an Anglo Saxon King. He died in 624, his body is thought to have been dissolved by the acidic soil.

This treasure helps us understand more about the history of Anglo Saxon England. The helmet and the sword on display are the highlights of the display, however, the case is full of other items from the burial.

The Sutton Hoo treasure was brought to light again in 2024 when a new film called “The Dig” was released. The film follows the struggle of the archaeologist Basil Brown, not only with the excavation itself but also his relationship with the British Museum.

Museum representatives took over the dig after the discovery of the treasure and Basil’s name was nearly forgotten. He received posthumous credit for his brilliant work relatively recently.

Enlightenment Gallery

Ground floor, Room 1

Our final gallery in this British Museum highlights guide takes you back in time, to the 18th century to be precise. It was an age of enlightenment, an era when the British Empire gained wealth mostly from its colonies.

Many scholars tried to learn about human history through various ancient objects. A European perspective affected most of these views, so some ideas are being redeveloped in current times.

This gallery also shows the original organisation of the British Museum when it first opened. The contents were mainly books, many from the King George III library, combined with the original collection of Hans Sloan.

The British Museum and British Library were originally one institution, however, the Library has since moved and occupies a different location.

Getting to the British Museum

The British Museum is located on Great Russell Street in London. A number of bus services run within walking distance of the museum, with the 14 service stopping directly outside the entrance. The closest Underground station is Tottenham Court Road, a 5-minute walk away, while the closest train station is London Euston, a 20-minute walk away.


You can take flash photography, but tripods, monopods, and selfie sticks are not allowed. Watch for signs indicating when photography is prohibited (often in special exhibitions).

For a great snap of the Great Court, head to the viewing platform on Level 3.


There are three restaurants onsite. The Court Cafe is a casual eatery in the Great Court with sandwiches, salads, and soups. There is also a pizzeria and a slightly more formal Great Court Restaurant.

Pro Tips: To avoid long lines, use the back entrance on Montague Street.

Practical Information & Tips For Visiting The British Museum

Address: Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG


The museum is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm. People will typically start lining up for admission at 9:30 am.

On Fridays, the museum is open until 8:30 pm, with the last entry at 7:30 pm. Just book a general admission ticket and drop in.

Entry fee: Admission is free.

The museum also hosts one or two special exhibitions alongside their permanent collection, which you can check out in advance on their website. Most special exhibitions require you to purchase a ticket to enter.

Tube Stations: Russell Square, Tottenham Court Road, Goodge Street, and Holborn