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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.  

The new roof of the British Museum is spectacular.
The new roof of the British Museum is spectacular.

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.

Room 1 in the British Museum. Lots to see including amazing books along the walls.
Room 1 in the British Museum. Lots to see including amazing books along the walls.

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.

The British Museum has such an impressive collection of Egyptian artifacts.
The British Museum has such an impressive collection of Egyptian artifacts.

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.

There is a large collection of Egyptian Art at the British Museum.
More Egyptian Art…..

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.

    I really enjoyed the Greek art at the British Museum.
    I really enjoyed the Greek art at the British Museum.

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:

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.   

The Lindow Man - hard to believe this is the remains of a man from about 2000 years ago.
The Lindow Man – hard to believe this is the remains of a man from about 2000 years ago.

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.

Anisa

 

Expert Tips:

  • 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.
Travel Notes & Beyond
The British Museum: A Race Against the Clock
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19 thoughts on “The British Museum: A Race Against the Clock

  • I am impressed! I’m one of those who could happily spend all day(s) in a museum exploring every nook and cranny, and reading every sign. (Drives the wife nuts!) Love your plan of attack, just not sure I could actually stick to it. #TheWeeklyPostcard badge

    1. Rob – I admire your patience! The British Museum is so huge and filled with so many pieces that even if you spent the whole day you would only see a fraction of it. We didn’t always stick to our plan, but in a place the size of the British Museum you have to have some sort of game plan.

  • The British Museum is a must! We were just there in July, and I have to say the Rosetta Stone is well worth waiting for the crowds to dissipate. It’s such a great museum.

    1. Corinne – yes the British Museum just has so many interesting pieces and agree the Rosetta Stone is another one not to be missed. Thanks for stopping by!

  • I’ve never properly seen it because there’s always a line to get in and then later there are so many ppl around that the whole experience is just frustrating! I think they should charge the entrance. I’ve seen just parts of the museum so one day I have to do a proper tour. # the weekly postcard

    1. Tanja – For us, the line to get in moved pretty fast so that was not really an issue. I agree you really need to bring your patience because the crowds are intense, but the things that you get to see are amazing. I agree that if they added a admission price it would be less crowded, but I think its great that everyone can visit without worrying about money. I wish more museums in the US were free, I would go more often.

  • I loved the British Museum and I could have stayed there the hole day, but unfortunately we only had a few hours. I’d love to go back and explore it in more detail. It’s one of the best in the world (if not THE best!)

    1. Anda – I definitely agree. It can be a little intimidating because it is so big. I want to go back and explore more too!

  • Oh I do love a good museum. I’ve been to the British Museum before, as I live not too far from London, but there’s always something I missed (or would like to see again). I like to take my time going around museums and read every sign, drink in every exhibit. Sounds like I need to set aside a full week to do it justice!

    1. Rachel – I admire you’re patience. Even if you had a whole week not sure you could really see everything in the British Museum, but that would be fun to try! Thanks for stopping by.

  • I am so very embarrassed to say that I have never been in the British Museum – I visited England when I was 18, for about 2 months.
    The Man that was discovered from 2000 years ago, covered in Peat Moss, that is one freaky display!!!
    I reckon I would end up spending all day there – love looking at Museums 🙂

  • Thanks for linking to #TheWeeklyPostcard; this is a great story. We have done a similar thing in both the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam) and Prado (Madrid). It’s actually a fun challenge. We might have done something similar here in London but we arrived too late, so we’ll have to go back. So thanks for the heads-up that the online tour isn’t up-to-date.

    I’d definitely put the British Museum on any list of Top 10 Things to see in London, even for non-museum goers. It has such a wide variety of fascinating things to see that there really is something for everyone.

    The next time we’re in London we also want to see the Victoria & Albert Museum. It comes very highly recommended. Have you perchance managed to see that as well?

    1. Linda – thanks for reading. I hope you get to visit the British Museum soon. I have been to the the V & A it is nice, but really doesn’t compare to the British Museum. The British Museum just has so many historical pieces that will really impress you.

    1. The British Museum can be really overwhelming, so I’m glad you find it helpful. I hope you get to visit soon.

      I did a similar post about the Louvre and I’m working on one for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

  • I was at The British Museum last December and had only 2 hours to spend there. I was really overwhelmed. This is a great guide on what to see in a short while.

    1. Thanks Sara! It is such an amazing place and so much to see! I don’t think you could even see it all in 1 day. It is crucial to have a plan!

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