The world’s oldest museum has no fewer than 6 million items spanning 1.8 million years of world civilization. The collection was started with the bequest of a physician and antiquarian, Sir Hans Sloane, in 1753. In the 18th and 19th centuries travellers and emissaries, such as Captain James Cook, Lord Elgin, Lord Curzon and Charles Townley, added treasures from around the world. The present, Classical style building was completed around 1850. In 2000 the central courtyard was opened as a new public space the Great Court.
  • Great Russell Street WC1

  • 020 7323 8000

  • www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk

  • Open 10am–5:30pm daily (selected galleries 10am–8:30pm Thu & Fri)

  • Great Court: Open 9am–6pm Sun–Wed, 9am–11pm Thu–Sat

  • Guided tours at 10:30am, 1pm & 3pm daily

Museum Guide

Visitor guides with full maps are on sale at the information desk in the Great Court and shops. Otherwise start to the left of the main entrance with the Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman galleries. The North Wing ethnography and Asian galleries provide a change from Classical material, as do the early British, medieval and Renaissance collections on the east side.

The British Museum Facade

There are three cafés and one restaurant.

Picnics can be eaten in the forecourt by the main entrance.

Highlights’ tours give an introduction to the collection.

The British Museum shop sells reproduction artifacts.

Top 10 Exhibits
  1. Parthenon Sculptures

    This spectacular 5th-century BC frieze from the Parthenon was made under Pericles and shows a procession in honour of the goddess Athena. It was obtained in 1779 by Lord Elgin, Ambassador to Constantinople.

  2. Mummified Cat

    Cats and sacred cows were mummified in Ancient Egypt. This cat comes from Abydos and dates from around 30 BC. Many Egyptian deities took on animal shapes, as seen on wall paintings and other artifacts.

  3. Ram in a Thicket

    Decorated with shells and gold leaf, this priceless ornament comes from Ur in Sumer, one of the world’s earliest civilizations. Games and musical instruments are also displayed.

  4. Mildenhall Treasure

    Some of the greatest early English treasures are 34 silver plates from the 4th century, found at Mildenhall in Suffolk. Their lively decorations include sea nymphs, satyrs and Hercules.

  5. Rosetta Stone

    In 196 BC Egyptian priests wrote a decree on this tablet in both Greek and in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Found in 1799, it proved crucial in deciphering Egyptian pictorial writing.

  6. Portland Vase

    Sold by Britain’s ambassador to Naples, Sir William Hamilton, to the Duchess of Portland, this exquisite 1st-century blue-and-opaque glass vase comes from a tomb in Rome, and was probably made by a Greek craftsman.

  7. Rameses II

    This is all that remains of the colossal granite statue of Rameses II (c1275 BC) from his memorial temple at Thebes. The statue was acquired in the late 18th century by Charles Townley, British ambassador to Rome.

  8. Mixtec-Aztec Mosaic Mask

    Made by Mixtec artisans for the Aztec royal court in Mexico, this mosaic mask is believed to be of the god Quetzal­coatl, and dates from the 15th century.

  9. Kwakwaka’wakw

    The large, carved and painted wood thunder­bird from North America was used as an anvil for breaking coppers (a form of currency) at potlatches (ceremonies of Pacific Coast peoples in which chiefs destroyed their worldly goods).

  10. Amitabha Buddha

    This impressive stoneware Buddha dates from around AD 585, during the Chinese Sui Dynasty, when Buddhism became the state religion.

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