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British Museum

  • Museums
  • Bloomsbury
  • price 0 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
  1. Sarcophagus of Nubkheperre © Britta Jaschinski
    Sarcophagus of Nubkheperre © Britta Jaschinski
  2. Egyptian statues © Britta Jaschinski
    Egyptian statues © Britta Jaschinski

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

London’s busy home for ancient finds and cultural treasures from across the centuries, discovered across the world

When the British Museum was opened in 1759 it was the first national museum to be open to the public anywhere in the world. It was free to visit (and still is) so that any ‘studious and curious persons’ could pass through its doors and look upon the strange objects collected from all over the globe.

Centuries before television, this was a chance for anyone to stand in front of specimens and antiquities and connect with other cultures, ancient and contemporary. The first exhibits consisted of the collection of physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane – ancient coins and medals, books and natural remains – and through the centuries since, it has become home to the most significant finds made by British explorers at home and abroad, like the Rosetta Stone from Ancient Egypt and the Parthenon sculpture from the Acropolis in Athens.

In recent years there have been campaigns by other nations who want some of their historic treasures returned. (The issue over who has a legal right to the Elgin Marbles was most recently taken up on behalf of Greece by Amal Clooney.) However, the British Museum remains one of the world’s most popular attractions, with six million visitors a year. And although many of its priceless artefacts are protected by glass cases, the museum is anything but a hushed old resting place.

As soon as you walk into the magnificent glass-roofed Great Court you can hear the buzz of students, tourists and Londoners who have just popped in for lunch among the treasures. The British Museum is a working organisation carrying out research and conservation and that’s reflected in the breadth of the collection and the way in which it’s displayed.

The galleries are divided by location and periods in history – Ancient Iran, Greece, China from 5000BC onwards, Roman Britain and so on – and if you’re overwhelmed by the choice, follow one of the free 20-minute spotlight tours led by the guides every Friday, or check one of the free exhibitions dedicated to a specific theme or works of art. There are daily free activities for kids, too, including crafts, activity trails and digital workshops – perfect when there’s a homework project that needs to be fired by inspiration.

Written by
Laura Lee Davies


44 Great Russell St
Tube: Tottenham Court Rd/Holborn/Russell Square
Free (permanent collection); admission charge applies for some temporary exhibitions
Opening hours:
Open daily 10am–5.30pm, Friday until 8.30pm. Closed Jan 1, Dec 24–
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What’s on

Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt

  • 4 out of 5 stars

200 years ago, a young Frenchman called Jean-Francois Champollion rushed into his brother’s room, shouted 'I’ve got it!', then promptly collapsed. After centuries of failed attempts, Champollion had cracked the code of Hieroglyphics: the mysterious, semi-pictorial ‘language of birds’, of magic, rituals, the Pharoahs and their awesome monuments. The monument that enabled this breakthrough was of course the Rosetta Stone. It resided – still does, despite lukewarm calls for repatriation – at the world’s first free public museum, the British Museum, which has staged this thoughtful and scholarly exhibition in tribute to the eureka moment that’s known in the biz as ‘the decipherment’. The Rosetta Stone is important and momentous: it’s the BM’s most-visited object. But it’s a little dry IRL, being essentially a paragraph of bureaucratic whiffle, writ in stone (specifically, 762kg of granodiorite), in 3 scripts; hieroglyphs, demotic and greek. As rock stars go, it’s more Sheeran than Jagger. So intellectual kudos to the curators of this exhibition, Ilona Regulski and Kelly Accetta Crowe, for using this blockbuster opportunity to tell a thoughtful and accurate story of languages, conquest, and above all scholarship, instead of whacking out the usual richly coffined bodies of the Egyptian super-rich. If you want glamour, guts and glory, skip this and head upstairs to the Mummies gallery instead. This dimly lit and intense exhibition requires and repays close attention. The entrance is

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