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Friday, April 19, 2013

British Museum

The British Museum is one of London's most popular attractions and draws thousands of visitors from all over the world each day, with total visitors over 6 million a year.

A visit to the British Museum and its treasures is a must for most foreign and domestic visitors to London and the British Museum is also visited by thousands of UK school children on school trips each year.

British Museum, London
Main Entrance & Facade British Museum

The British Museum has its origins in the collection of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), the Irish physician and collector who also founded the excellent Chelsea Physic Garden and after whom Sloane Square and Sloane Street in London are named.

The basic collection of manuscripts, books, natural history specimens and antiquities was increased by gifts, purchases, and some may say, imperial theft from Britain's empire over the following centuries.

Duveen Gallery, British Museum, London, UK
The Duveen Gallery 1980
The British Museum is the oldest public museum in the world and was founded in 1753. The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford is older but was begun as a private, university collection.

The main building and famous facade of the British Museum was designed by architect Robert Smirke (1780–1867) and now contains the Great Court designed by Sir Norman Foster and the Reading Room where Karl Marx, Mahatma Gandhi and George Bernard Shaw sought inspiration, read and wrote.

Exhibits, British Museum, London, UK
Antiquities on display, British Museum
Collections at the British Museum include the popular Egyptian collection with its mummies and the Rosetta Stone, the Greek and Roman Collection, which contains the Portland vase and the controversial Parthenon Sculptures (Elgin Marbles) brought to Britain by Lord Elgin from the Parthenon in Athens and purchased by the British government in 1816.

Other collections are the Asian Collection with many Hindu and Buddhist works of art, Chinese ceramics and Japanese wood block prints, Coins and Medals, the Enlightenment, the Middle Eastern Collection with the world famous Assyrian reliefs from Nineveh and two 7th century BCE human-headed bulls from Khorsabad, the Europe Collection (Lindow Man & the Sutton Hoo Ship Treasure), the African Collection (Benin Bronzes seized by the British in 1897), the Americas Collection and the World Collection.

Reading Room, British Museum, London, Britain
The Reading Room of the British Museum

The British Museum has over 70,000 exhibits on show from a total collection of over 13 million. The British Museum also hosts temporary exhibitions which can be massive draws.

The Reading Room (above) was built in the 1850s to house the British Library which has now split up with the main British Library now nearby in King's Cross.

British Museum, London, UK
Classical antiquities, British Museum, London, UK
The British Museum is always busy but early in the morning or at lunch time on weekdays are the best times to visit. The northern entrance on Montague Place is less crowded than the main entrance on Great Russell Street.

Also repeat visits to see one or two collections at a time rather than attempt to see the whole museum in one go is a better tactic to get the most out of this fantastic institution. The British Museum remains free to visit but a donation is asked for.

Exhibit, British Museum, London, UK
Classical statue, British Museum, London
The area around the British Museum has numerous cafes and restaurants catering to the many foreign tourists who visit. The Pizza Express on Coptic Street is located in an original Victorian dairy and is recommended. Museum Street is famous for its antiquarian and rare book stores.

A visit to the British Museum can be combined with seeing nearby Covent Garden and the parks of Russell Square and Bloomsbury Square. Soho and Trafalgar Square are also close and within reasonable walking distance.

Great Court designed by Sir Norman Foster.
Great Court designed by Sir Norman Foster

British Museum
Great Russell Street
London Borough of Camden
Tel: 020 7323 8299
Map of British Museum

Hours: 10am-5.30pm daily; selected galleries until 8.30pm Friday

The nearest underground stations to the British Museum are Tottenham Court Road, Russell Square and Holborn. Many London buses pass near the British Museum including numbers #7, #8, #10, #14, #19, #24, #25, #29, #30, #38, #55, #68, #73, #134, #188. The nearest mainline stations are Euston and King's Cross.

British Museum, London.
Egyptian antiquities at the British Museum, London
© Britain-Visitor.com

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