The British Museum is my favourite museum in London and in the world because it houses great treasures and is free (except temporary exhibitions) and I think that culture should be accessible to anybody interested.
The first time I went to The British Museum, I was so enthralled by what I saw that I didn’t notice the time passed. I stayed 6 hours, my record!
But it’s only when I came back that I realized that I haven’t seen a lot and that there were still plenty to discover.
I’ve now visited The British Museum several times and can ensure you that I discovered new treasures each time.
After my last visit, I came up with the idea to make a list of my 25 top treasures to see.
Obviously, this list is very personal as it’s based on my preferences in art: I like art from long ago and far away, if it makes any sense.
It wasn’t an easy task to only select 25 treasures but I was guided by the desire to make a tour that was doable in one visit and allows to view different parts of the museum.
The day of your visit, I recommend to arrive to The British Museum at the opening (10:00). There will be less people than later on (but still a lot) and it will leave you the time to visit it properly.
The Great Court is impressive: it’s huge and the glass ceiling is a piece of art in itself.
One of my favourite angle to take a picture of the lobby is from the left corner (if you arrive by the main entrance).
Then, I will suggest to start any visit by the Egyptian sculptures because they have a lot of success and can be difficult to photograph if there are too many people around.
So take the first door on your left and let the visit begins!
The 25 treasures are presented in a logical order that will avoid you to lose precious time if you decide to follow my tour or part of it:
Room 4 – Egyptian sculptures
1. The Rosetta stone (Egypt – 196 BC)
This is probably the most famous and photographed item of The British Museum.
But it’s very difficult to take a good picture of the Rosetta stone because of the reflection of the crowd around.
Room 10 – Assyria
2. Human-headed winged bulls (Iraq – about 710-705 BC)
There are several pairs of human-headed winged bulls and lions in The Brisith Museum but this pair is the most beautiful according to me.
Room 17 – Nereide monument
3. The Nereide monument (Turkey 390-380 BC)
Room 15 – Athens and Lycia
4. The head of Perikles (Roman – 2nd century AD, copy of a lost Greek original of around 440-430 BC)
Room 11 – Greece: Cycladic islands
Room 4 – Egyptian sculptures
6. The head of Amenhotep III (Egypt – around 1370 BC)
7. The Goddess Sekhmet granite statue (Egypt – around 1350 BC)
8. The Gayer-Anderson Cat (Egypt – around 600 BC)
9. The sarcophagus lid of Sisobek (Egypt – around 630 BC)
Level 3 – Take the West stairs
Room 62-63 – Egyptian death and afterlife: mummies
10. Mummies of animals: cats, crocodile, baboon, snake… (Egypt)
It was the first time that I saw mummies of animals and I really liked them. If you have kids, they might be particularly interested in them.
11. The mummy of Cleopatra from Thebes (Egypt – early 2nd century AD)
This isn’t the mummy of the famous Cleopatra but it’s nonetheless a great mummy.
12. Shabtis (Egypt)
Shabtis were funeral figurines placed in tombs among the grave goods and were intended to carry out the deceased’s heavy work, should he/she be called upon to do manual labor in the afterlife.
Level 5 – Take the North stairs
Room 92-94 – Japan
13. Netsuke (Japan – 1600-1900 AD)
Netsuke were fashion accessories worn by Japanese men. There were small figures originally used as a button like fixture on men’s each, from which small personal belongings were hung.
14. Samourai armure and helmet (Japan – 1500-1800 AD)
15. Beauty with a cat print (Japan – late 1790s/early 1800s)
Level 2 – Take the North stairs
Room 67 – Korea
16. Iron Buddha (Korea – 900-1000 AD)
17. Amitabha Buddha (China – 585 AD)
Room 33 – China, South Asia and Southeast Asia
18. Dancing Ganesha (India – 750 AD)
19. Buddha preaching (Pakistan – 2nd-3rd century AD)
Ground floor – Take the East stairs
Room 27 – Mexico
20. The turquoise mosaic mask of Quetzacoatl (Mexico – 1400-1521 AD)
Room 24 – Living and dying
22. Basalt statue known as Hoa Hakananai’a (Easter Island – about 1400 AD)
The Great Court
23. House frontal pole Haida (Canada – about 1850 AD)
Room 25 – Africa
24. Benin plaques (Nigeria – 16th century AD)
Montague Place entrance
25. The 9 planets (India – 13th century AD)
Another angle to take a great picture of the Great Court is from a little window on the first floor. Take the South stairs and it will be on your left, just before the Room 40 dedicated to Medieval Europe.
After the visit, don’t forget to visit the shops, there are well stocked in souvenirs and books.
And if you feel like resting for a bit before leaving the museum, there are 2 cafes and 1 restaurant at your disposal.
Tips: There is another entrance/exit at the back of the building (Montague Place), which is much less crowded than the main entrance.
The British Museum (Daily 10:00-17:30)
Great Russell St
London WC1B 3DG