The British Museum is usually on just about every list of must see things in London. After seeing some photographs of the British Museum’s new roof, I thought it might be worth a return visit. After all, I hadn’t been since I was in college and I really can’t remember much about it. However, I know the museum is huge and with everything else there is in London, I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend a whole day at the British Museum.
So we decided to check out the website to see if we could come up for a plan to see the British Museum in 3 hours. After all, we had done it for the Louvre. Well, we were pleasantly surprised to find a page on the British Museum website with their recommendations on what to see if you only have 3 hours. We used the link to download and print the itinerary and we were ready to go.
When we arrived we were surprised to find a line to get in. There is no admission fee (except for special exhibits) but you do have to go through security, and luckily the line moved quickly. Next, we picked up a map and checked our coats (another line). I was planning on getting an audio guide, but there were so many people in the museum that they were actually sold out. All this took about 20 minutes.
Then we were ready to actually start seeing the British Museum. We were able to quickly find the first item on the list, the Sloane astrolabe. Then we looked around the room a little more. The walls were covered with books, we saw all kinds of old books like Homer’s Odyssey. We probably could have spent more time looking through the books but we were on a mission. On to the next item…..
We struggled to find the Stone chopper from Tanzania, which was the next item on the list. After circling the room twice, we decided to ask the guard. He told us that it was no longer on display and it hadn’t been for a few years. The website had not been updated. I’m not sure when the list on the website was put together but I did also notice that the audio guide reference numbers were not up to date.
For the most part we were able to find most of the items on the list, but we couldn’t find all of them. We didn’t realize that there were also pictures of the items on the website because the downloaded pdf was just a list with room numbers, descriptions (vague at times), and outdated audio guide numbers. Some of the rooms had a lot of artifacts in them too, so at times we felt like we were on a scavenger hunt. We really struggled in the jade room.
Some of my favorite items from the list were:
- The Rosetta Stone, which provided the key to the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs, because it has the same script in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic Script, and Ancient Greek.
- Parthenon sculptures are taken from the Parthenon in Athens. There has been a huge debate over whether the British Museum should keep them.
- Easter Island Statue Hoa Hakananai’a, which is actually from Easter Island but one of the smaller statues there. Seeing it in person reminded me of how I really want to go there!
- Automated Model of a Ship which is actually a clock. If I would have had more time I would have spent it in this room as there were all sorts of beautiful clocks.
- The Lewis Chessman which is a medieval chess set from the 12th century. I had no idea the game had been around so long!
- The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial – This ship containing some amazing treasures from the 6th-7th century which was found in southeast England in 1939.
We also noticed a couple of items on the map marked as not be missed were not included on the list we had downloaded from the website:
- The Horse from the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos is a very impressive sculpture from 350 BC.
- The Portland Vase is a beautiful Roman Cameo vase from 25 AD. The vase was broken in 1845 and they did an amazing job to restore it and keep it in excellent condition.
I was also surprised the that the Lindow Man was not on the list. It is a body of a man who died sometime between 2 BC and 119 AD that was naturally mummified by the peat moss it was lying in. The body was only discovered in 1984 in northwest England. We just happened to stumble upon it in Room 50. Also, we noticed a crowd around Cleopatra’s Mummy in Room 62, which we thought was very impressive until I later learned it was A Cleopatra and not THE Cleopatra.
So we ended up spending about 4 hours at the British Museum, including taking a brief break to sit and have a drink. Can it be done in 3 hours? Yes, but you have to be very focused and stick to the plan. Having a short list of items to see is really helpful especially given the amount of pieces in the museum. It would be even better if the British Museum updated their website and also added pictures to the pdf version of the list. You should also be prepared for the crowds. In spite of the challenges, I did really enjoy the British Museum and hope to go back and explore further. There are so many amazing artifacts!
Have you been to the British Museum? I would love to hear about your experience.
- Have a plan of what you would like to see when you visit the British Museum, especially if you have limited time.
- Look at the suggested list of what to see at the British Museum if you only have 3 hours on your phone, rather than downloading and printing. That way you will have pictures of the pieces you are looking for.
- The Sutton Hoo burial site would make for a great day trip from London.