The British Museum has one of the largest collections in the world in its possession, with about 8 million items devoted to culture and history. The items range from the beginnings of documented human culture to present times and they come from all over the world, offering a comprehensive presentation of the trajectory of human culture of every origin over the centuries.
- Department of Greece and Rome – Antiques from the Classical world are well-represented in the Department of Greece and Rome, encompassing more than 100,000 items dating from the Greek Bronze Age (3200 BC) to the time of Constantine I (4th century AD). Important exhibits include two parts from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (the Temple of Artemis at Ephesos and Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, sculptures from the Athenian Parthenon). The complete collection in the department is divided into the following sections: Prehistoric Greece, Etruscan, Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece.
- Department of Prehistory and Europe – A few of the earliest items created by humans more than 2 million years ago in east Africa can be seen here, as well as European archaeology and art spanning over hundreds of years. Objects from the Neolithic and prehistoric eras are also present here, collected from all over the world. The department is also home to a massive collection of Romano-British items, especially Roman silver treasures. Sub-categories with impressive exhibits in the department are the Stone Age (art from the Ice Age in Britain), Bronze Age (several gold items found in Cornwall), Iron Age (treasures from Spain), Early Medieval (Viking hoards from Norway) and Medieval (Royal Gold Cup).
- Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan – A major collection of more than 100,000 items (the largest in the world) from Ancient Egypt can be found here, offering a beautiful and complete illustration of life and culture in Sudan and Egypt, spanning over 11,000 years. The British Museum has had objects like this from its beginning and the collection has expanded over the years from the original 160 items to the vast collection it currently houses. Valuable exhibits that can be viewed here include parts of statues of Amenhotep III (1350 BC), a fragment of the beard of the Great Sphinx of Giza (14th century BC), a bust of Ramses II (1250 BC) and a mummy dating to around 3300 BC, going by the name of “Ginger”.
- Department of the Middle East – The biggest collection of Mesopotamian antiques in the world can be found in the department of the Middle East. With around 330,000 items, the British collection, previously known as the Department of Ancient Near East, is surpassed only by Iraq. An illustration of the life and culture of Middle Eastern civilizations is comprised of objects collected from places such as the Arabian Peninsula, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Anatolia and Persia. The collection of Islamic art owned by the British Museum is among the biggest in the world, at approximately 40,000 objects, ranging from paintings, to glass, inscriptions, metalwork, pottery and tiles.
- Department of Prints and Drawings – Here, you can see the Western Prints and Drawings national collection. It is considered to be one of the best and largest print rooms in the world. Don’t miss Room 90, which is the exhibition gallery. The Department of Prints and Drawings was established in 1808 and nowadays it features more than 2 million prints and 50,000 drawings. The pieces of art are signed by famous names, such as Goya, Rembrandt, Rubens, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.
- Department of Asia – This impressive collections includes more than 75,000 items from Asia. The most valuable collections come from Japan, Northern Thailand. Sri Lanka, Borneo & Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Some of the most interesting items are: Chinese ritual bronzes, Japanese prints, the Kulu vase, the Wardak vase, the bronze bell (Malaysia) and the Buddhist limestone reliefs.
- Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas – When it comes to etnographical materials, there is nothing more appropriate than this department. It includes more than 350,000 items, some of them as old as 2 million years, gathered from 3 continents. It also features modern artifacts and the collecting is ongoing.
- Department of Conservation and Scientific Research – Starting from 1920, the department was founded to identify and analyse the artifacts and their materials. It also has a publishing area that makes their discoveries known to the world. The department’s specialist areas are: mosaics, glass & ceramics, wall paintings, stone, textiles & organic materials and metals.
- Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure – This department records the various archaeological objects found in Wales and England. It has also been instructed by the UK Government to manage the Treasure Act 1996. They analyze each artifact, date it and include it in the appropriate collection.
- Department of Coins and Medals – British Museum features one of the most impressive numismatic collections in the world. It includes 1 million items: paper money, coins, tokens and medals. The oldest objects date from the 7th century BC. The department is continuously expanding its collection through bequest, donation and purchase. Most of the valuables can be admired in Gallery 68, also known as Citi Money Gallery.
You can find an interactive map on the official site to see where all the galleries are located.
- Dining – The British Museum offers different dining facilities for those who wish to have a bite between exhibit viewings. The Gallery Café and Court Café are available for a quick stop for caffeine and the Court Restaurant is open for the visitors who desire a complete, sit-down meal.
- Shopping – No less than four shops stand at the visitors’ disposal, according to areas of interest. In addition, they are all available online. There is a family shop for customers with kids, a bookshop for those who want to read more in-depth about the museum’s fascinating collection, the culture shop, as well as the collections shop, for those looking for specific items and souvenirs.
- Late Fridays – An event that takes place every week is Late Friday, when the museum closes at 8:30 pm, instead of the usual 5:30 pm, and certain exhibitions are open until late, but not all. Visitors can also dine at the restaurant, “al fresco”, when the weather permits it.
- Special events with unique exhibitions are always taking place at the museum; keep up with the news by visiting the museum website, which is updated constantly. Tickets can be booked online.
- Bus – Southampton Row (routes 188, 168, 91, X68, 68, 59), New Oxford Street (routes 242, 98, 55, 38, 25, 19, 8, 7, 1), Gower Street and Tottenham Court Road (routes 390, 134, 73, 29, 24, 14, 10) bus stops are the closest to the museum, at a few minutes away.
- London Underground – Russel Square, Goodge Street, Holborn and Tottenham Court Toad stations are all five minutes away.
- Bike – You will find bike racks on Great Russell Street, within the Museum gates. The Barclays docking station is between Montague Place and Great Russell Street.
Originally a universal museum, with exhibits covering several areas, the British Museum was set up by Sir Hans Sloane in 1753, with a collection of 71,000 assorted items. The institution started receiving donations and gifts that added to that assortment of objects. Thus, over the years, the British Museum has expanded its collection to contain millions of exhibits, becoming one of the largest and most complete illustrations of human culture and history in the world. Its natural history collection, plus its collection of manuscripts and books are now the independent Natural History Museum and the British Library, respectively, with millions of items of their own. The museum’s online database is also larger than any other museum, with an estimated 2,000,000 items, viewed by almost 20 million people. The museum itself received more than 6.5 million visitors in the previous year.
Some of the items in the British Museum collection have been subject to debate and controversy as to whether they belong there or not, having been claimed by other nations and museums, over the years. A part of them have since been returned, but ownership is still being disputed on the rest.