If you only have time to visit one museum in London, then make it the British Museum. Not only is it one of the oldest museums in the world, it's also one of the largest museums in England, and attracts more than 6 million visitors each year,

The museum was officially opened to the public on January 15th, 1759, (although it was first housed in the 17th century Montagu House before moving to its present location in Bloomsbury). The museum was founded thanks to the personal collections of Sir Hans Sloane, (a famous physician, naturalist and collector), who collected more than 71,000 different objects during his lifetime.

Originally the British Museum's collection consisted of manuscripts, books, ethnographic material and various natural specimens and antiques (like coins, medals, prints and drawings); but over time the museum expanded, and today it contains more than seven million objects which cover over two million years of history and culture.

Its departmental library has been around since 1860 and consists of 24,000 different items (with the oldest item dating all the way back to 1636); and its Assyrian collections even helped researchers decipher the Cuneiform script (an ancient script from the Middle East).

The British Museum, Egypt mummies. By Mario Sanchez Prada The British Museum, Lewis Chess Pieces. By Chris Devers
The British Museum, courtyard. By Ruth The British Museum, exterior. By Martin Pettitt The British Museum, interior. By Lorna R.

British Museum Highlights

The museum is separated into different galleries which are organized by periods of time in history or specific locations or countries in the world (such as Roman Britain, Ancient Iran and Greece, just to name a few).

Some of the many must-see items that shouldn't be missed by any first-time visitor to the British Museum include:

  • The Rosetta Stone (an item which helped decipher various Egyptian hieroglyphics after they were discovered in 1799).
  • The Parthenon Sculptures (taken from the Parthenon in Athens).
  • Egyptian mummies and coffins (which are said to be one of the most comprehensive collections of Egyptian antiquities in the world).
  • The Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo ship burial relics (which date back to the 6th and early 7th centuries, and are considered to be some of the most important discoveries in British archaeology).
  • A human-headed winged bull monument (which was taken from a gateway in the citadel wall at Khorsabad).
  • Lindow Man (the preserved body of a man from the Iron Age or Romano-British period which was discovered in a bog near Cheshire in 1984).
  • The Lewis chessmen (a group of 12th century chess pieces which were made from walrus ivory).
  • Figures from The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.

Special Tips

  • The museum can get incredibly busy during the afternoon, so try to arrive as early as possible.
  • If you want to enjoy exclusive benefits at the museum, you can become a British Museum member for £60 (or £42 if you're under 26) and get entry into special events as well as unlimited free entry into exhibitions.
  • To get a picture of the magnificent staircase, walk up to the second level of the European section for the best view.