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The British Museum - The World’s First Public National Museum and Probably the Best!

Updated: Feb 25, 2023

Join us for an adventure that you will probably remember for the rest of your life and come with us to the British Museum. Most likely it is the best museum in the world with a glorious history. Thanks to the century long acquisition of exhibits about almost everything, the British Museum will give you joy and keep educating you no matter how many times you come to visit.

The British Museum was opened in 1759 as the first national museum that would cover all fields of human life and knowledge. The core of the museum comes from the large private collection of curiosities that the Anglo-Irish scientist, Sir Hans Sloane left to King George II. Since the foundation, the enlightenment ideas and a critical scrutiny of all assumptions including science and tolerance, have made the museum what it is today: a centre of human curiosity believing in its objects being reliable witnesses documenting our history.

As early as in 1753, the Parliament passed an Act that created the world’s first free public national museum. Initially, visitors applied for tickets to visit. Visitors were let in during limited hours so that they could enjoy personal tours of the collections. From the 1830s onwards, the opening hours were extended and the museum became truly open and freely accessible for all.

The museum's Greek Revival style building is located in Bloomsbury in London, at the heart of the academia. It has four large wings, 43 Greek temple style columns and a triangular pediment over the main entrance where enormous steps lead you in to the museum's world.

The construction used the latest technology of the time including concrete floors, a cast-iron frame and Portland stone on the front layer, resulting in a Gold Medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1853. Since then, many further improvements have been added, the most recent being the Queen Elizabeth Great Court that was opened as late as in 2000. One more reason to remember the late Queen with its large space enclosed by a fantastic glass roof with a world famous Reading Room in the middle.

The British Museum was the first national museum belonging to neither the church nor the king, but freely open to the public. The museum covers human history, art and culture with a permanent collection of eight million pieces making it one of the largest and most comprehensive in the world. The museum's expansion over the past 250 years has largely been a result of British colonisation. In 1840, the museum started its first own overseas excavations in Xanthos, in Asia Minor and in 1857, the museum’s expedition led by Charles Newton discovered the 4th-century BC Mausoleum of Halikarnassos, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (check our review!).

Actually, the ownership of some of its most famous objects originating in other countries is disputed and remains the subject of international controversy with a whole number of repatriation claims for items such as the Elgin Marbles from Greece, Tabots from Ethiopia or the Rosetta Stone from Egypt. Even UNESCO ruled that the Elgin or, as also known, the Parthenon Marbles would need to be restituted. China is claiming artefacts taken during the destruction of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing during the Second Opium War in 1860 - something that even Victor Hugo condemned in his time. Perhaps it’s time to visit the Museum now before they leave the museum!

Depending on the time you have available, you might wish to take advantage of the free guided tours for certain sections. The excellent daily forty-minute eye-opener tours are highly recommended. If you have very little time, take a museum map and follow their guidance for the must see in one hour or two-three hours. Also, if you hold an exhibition ticket, you do not need to queue for the entry!

The museum makes a point of being open and accessible to all visitors. An easy access route is available for disabled visitors and visitors with prams. An on-site parking license can be obtained at request, too.

All visitors must pass through a security check which also involves a bag search. There is a large cloakroom turning left immediately after passing through the main entrance. The use of the cloakroom is charged per item.

There are accessible toilets in the Great Court at Level 0.

There are several restaurants and cafés in the museum: the Courtyard has a big pillar which has an excellent Italian restaurant, the refined Great Court Restaurant on the top. The pillar has also several toilets and the biggest of the bookstores/museum shops. On the ground floor of the Great Court you will find the Court Cafés, ideal for a quick bite or a coffee before your next stroll at the museum. The Museum pizzeria in the south-west corner of the Ground floor is a family friendly restaurant. There are also two food trucks selling hot snacks for the hasty visitor. There is a Coffee Lounge in the first floor at the south side of the Museum overlooking the Great Court with a wonderful view of the iconic Reading Room.

The Museum has probably the best museum store in the world offering replicas of the antiquity items, books on arts and history, audios and DVDs, prints of famous paintings, toys and games and what have you. There are several stores around the museum building with the largest one being situated in the library in the middle of the Great Court. This is a place where you will find the best gifts be it for your mum or best friend or to impress your guests with some coffee table books.

Visit and photos by Ali Okumus.

The British Museum

Great Russel Street, London WC1B 3DG

1 Comment

Unknown member
Feb 11, 2023

Fascinating review. Transported me all the way to London in my pyjamas. Will definitely add a visit to the museum to my list of things to do next time I'm in that city. A not-to-be-missed experience, surely. Thank you!

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