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  • Dan


Updated: Feb 13, 2019

More than six million people visit the British Museum every year. It tells the story of mankind from the earliest tools in Africa, through some of the greatest treasures of civilisation from Ancient Egypt, Mesopotomia, Greece and Britain through to the present day.

It can be overwhelming but it needn’t defeat you. A little bit of planning can help you to maximise your time in the world’s greatest collection of treasures.


Decide what you want to see before you go

  • The British Museum is massive, it contains more than eight million objects. To get the most out of your visit you should try and work out what you want to see before you go.

The Parthenon Marbles are one of the must-see sights at the British Museum

A decent guide book to London will explain what the chief attractions in the museum are, or you can buy the official museum guide book from the museum's on-line shop but the British Museum has a brilliant website with which you can search the collection through Google Streetview

  • This will help you identify other things you might want to see, away from the hordes of people who are just ticking off the things their guide book has told them to see.

  • Remember, you are at the museum to enjoy yourself. If you are not enjoying yourself, if it is too hot or too crowded or if actually, it turns out that after all that reading about the Ancient Greeks you are not that interested in looking at their statues after all, then if you roughly plan what you want to see beforehand and have a browse through the museum collection then you will know what other things you want to see and can disappear off for a bit of peace and quiet in the Korean Gallery or learning about the Lycians.

  • Remember, smaller rooms are not always open so check on the website first.

Eat before you go in

  • Although there are a number of places within the museum to get something to eat and to drink, they are really quite expensive and (apart from the Great Court Restaurant) they don’t have the greatest choice in the world. It is a much better idea to make sure you are fed and watered before you arrive. There are plenty of pubs and sandwich shops around the museum, such as the ubiquitous Pret which sells decent salads, sandwiches and pastries at a fair enough price.


Get there early or get there late

The British Museum is open daily between ten in the morning and half past five in the afternoon, every day except New Year’s Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day (the day after Christmas Day).

Because the British Museum is free to enter and because we do not have the best weather in the world, over the Christmas holiday period it does get very busy and you are best advised to arrive either right at the beginning of the day or in the last hour.

  • If you do arrive right at the beginning then you should march straight up the Ancient Egyptian galleries, so that you can see the mummies and coffins before they get too crowded.

  • Arriving there in the last hour will of course limit the amount of time you have to see things, but if you only want to see one or two things then it gives you time enough.

  • Use the secret entrance

  • If the queue to get in through the main entrance on Great Russell Street is snaking all the way around the corner, as it often does, then it might be worth you while walking to the back of the building and using the entrance on Montagu Place which never has a queue.

  • Pick up a map

  • The British Museum is big and the layout can be confusing. When you enter, you can pick up a map for £1, or you can print one off before you arrive


You CAN judge a book by its cover

  • This is true everywhere; if something looks boring, it is boring. Listening to the audio guide for five minutes about some old coin is not going to make that small round dusty piece of metal any more interesting for you. Things catch you eye for a reason.

Be selective with the audio guide

  • Which takes us onto the next point; if you get an audio guide, use it sparingly. If you try and listen to everything, you will just bore yourself and zone out and even if you did listen to everything, would you be able to remember it? No, so why frustrate yourself trying? The whole point about the British Museum is that you can actual look at the object with your own eyes, you are not just reading about it or listening to someone drone on about it. Enjoy looking.

Look at the fake Rosetta Stone first

Look at me! Touching it! (Don't worry you are allowed – it is a much better idea to have a look at the pretend Rosetta Stone in Room 1 before you fight through the crowds to see the real thing in Room 4)

When it comes to looking at the museum’s most popular object, the Rosetta Stone in Room 4, it is a good idea to visit Room 1 and look at the fake version first. Very few people know it is there, you can get right up to it and look at all of the details, you can even touch it. Also, in the cases beside it are letters from the two men who deciphered it (Thomas Young Jean François Champollion)

Ask the gallery assistants

  • The gallery assistants are a lot more than just security guards making sure you don’t touch anything.

  • If you have any questions about how to find something, or even about the objects within the room then ask a gallery assistant. That is what they are there for.

Secret toilets

The toilets in Room 12 are the least used.

The main toilets are in the Great Court.

  • They can get very busy – especially of course the ladies’.

  • There are toilets in Room 12 that are very much under-used, there are also toilets on the East Stairs.

  • It is often worth walking to either of those toilets rather than standing in the queue for the main toilets on Great Court.


Why not book a British Museum tour?

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