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.
|Venue name:||British Museum||Contact:|
44 Great Russell St
|Opening hours:||Open daily 10am–5.30pm, Friday until 8.30pm. Closed Jan 1, Dec 24–26|
|Transport:||Tube: Tottenham Court Rd/Holborn/Russell Square|
|Price:||Free (permanent collection); admission charge applies for some temporary exhibitions|
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The American Dream: Pop to The Present
This show takes a look the Land of Opportunity through the prism of its artists and their printed works. There'll be many familiar pop faces here. Ed Ruscha's slick images both chronicle and celebrate everyday Americana; Andy Warhol peeks into the darker...Thursday March 9 2017 - Sunday June 18 2017
Things to do
Epic Sundays: Myths Retold for Grown-Ups at the British Museum
The Crick Crack Club ressurects its storytelling evenings at The British Museum for a new season named 'Myths Retold', a journey into a world of legends, fairy tales and history designed for adults looking to learn and be entertained all at once. The...Literary events Sunday March 12 2017 - Sunday June 11 2017
Beyond the Great Wave
Four years on from displaying his iconic work 'The Great Wave', the BM are once again turning their attention to master ukiyo-e painter and printmaker Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). This time, the focus will be on the last three decades of his life and...Thursday May 25 2017 - Sunday August 13 2017
Things to do
Treasures of the Scythians
Please note the title of this exhibition is TBC. Quick history lesson: Scythia was a region in antiquity that covered parts of present-day Ukraine, southern Russia and Kazakhstan. It was also home to a great nomadic civilisation that produced a great...Exhibitions Thursday September 14 2017 - Sunday January 14 2018