You have probably heard of the British Museum and its collections.
If you’re visiting London, the museums in that city should be high on your list of things to see. Not only are they some truly remarkable institutions with fascinating exhibits from all over the world and from pretty much all fields and historical periods, but most of them are also completely free to enter! Obviously, there may be some special exhibitions in them that will require you to purchase a ticket, but the majority of these huge buildings will still remain accessible. They may ask you for a small donation, though, but that’s still way below what you’d expect to pay to visit a museum of this level of quality.
Abundant Historical Significance
Chief among these institutions is the British Museum, a place famous all over the world for its abundance of spectacular items of crucial historical significance. I was in London recently and couldn’t wait for an opportunity to go and visit it. It is an absolutely enormous building with so many different items that you could easily spend days there and still not see everything. Still, some exhibits are more impressive than others (although even those others will make your jaw drop). So here’s a list of ten things you really have to see in the museum. Hopefully, it will help you experience the museum in its full glory if you’re short on time or maybe have just one day in London.
10 Must-See Things at the British Museum
1 The Rosetta Stone
For me, this was the most impressive thing to see in the museum. Some may disagree with the choice, but considering how many times this stone was mentioned in various movies, books, even video games and the significance it has for unlocking the secrets of ancient Egypt, I think the position at the top of the list is quite justified.
If you don’t know, there are three versions of the same text on the Rosetta Stone – two are different variations of ancient Egyptian language and one is in ancient Greek. This last version allowed scientists to finally understand hieroglyphs, so you can imagine how big a window into the past opened when the code was cracked. For me, though, it was extremely awe-inspiring to see evidence of these two powerful cultures interacting with each other.
It somehow gives you a glimpse of how life looked like all those centuries ago. Awesome!
2. The Mummies
Speaking of ancient Egypt, here’s something else that’s sure to send your imagination into overdrive. There’s a variety of mummies you can see on the upper floor of the British Museum, and seeing these things for yourself live and not in movies or shows is something quite special. There are even mummies of cats there!
This whole area is dedicated to the Egyptian concept of the afterlife, and there’s something really exciting about being here. You hear so much in school about it, you read about all of that in your textbooks, but to actually see all of that is another thing entirely. Obviously, this is one of the most popular parts of the British Museum, but it was never too crowded and we were always able to enjoy it thoroughly. Definitely a must if you come here!
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3. Sculptures from Parthenon
Another great ancient culture is that of ancient Greece, and in this museum, you can easily see why that is so. There are many exceptionally beautiful sculptures you can see, and they were once a part of Parthenon, an Athenian temple dedicated to the goddess Athena.
Quite literally hundreds of sculptures, friezes, and statues can be examined, and they show a whole lot about the life of ancient Greeks. The level of detail and the dedication that was needed to do all of this is extremely impressive, so you will get a pretty good idea of why the Greek culture is held in such high regard. It should be said, however, that modern Greeks want these artifacts back, but the British Museum has so far rejected their government’s requests.
4. Japanese Galleries at the British Museum
Now, Japan is really a fascinating country. In many respects, it is a world leader when it comes to technology. But, on the other hand, the country’s society still very much respects its traditions and customs that go back centuries. Therefore, visiting Japanese galleries is well worth your time. Because they have items from prehistory, modern times and everything in between.
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The thing that is hands down the best Japanese exhibit in the museum is the suit of real samurai armor from the 17th century. How cool is that?! You can easily imagine a warrior who puts honor above all else in it. Really is a vivid example of how majestic samurai were.
5. The clay figures from Bab edh-Dhra
While these three things are certainly not much to look at, this is exactly why they stood out for me so much. The fact that they are about 5000 years old. The figures are quite crudely made. You get the feeling that you could do something like that right now with a little bit of clay. It just goes to show how huge the British Museum’s collection is. What adds a layer of humor to all of that is that two of these figures clearly have bulges where their penises are supposed to be, while the third one doesn’t have it – is it a woman or just a guy with bad luck?
6. The Ife Head
Now, you may have not heard of this artifact. But I can assure you it will leave quite an impression. This is because you will be looking at a head made of brass that is so incredibly lifelike that you’ll expect it to speak as soon as you lay your eyes on it. The head originates from Western Africa (Ife was a kingdom there). It is about 600 years old.
You don’t hear much about African kingdoms of old these days. But things like this (and there are plenty more from Africa) show you that these were thriving societies with a wonderful culture and fascinating art. I can’t even imagine the skill it took to capture a face so well. Absolutely incredible – go and see it!
7. The Head of Amenhotep III
This is another extremely impressive head. With almost four tons in weight and almost three meters (about 10 feet) in height. This huge head of Amenhotep III, the pharaoh who ruled Egypt almost 3500 years ago. This work of art will make you stop in your tracks. And since there is a huge arm right next to it, it is obvious that the head in question was a part of a statue of absolutely monumental proportions.
You really have to stand in awe at the power a ruler like this exerted if works of art like these were erected in his honor. You can’t help but wonder how big the whole statue really was. What was it like to create it and then place it at its designated spot? The fact that the head is so perfectly preserved also gives a fantastic impression. Because you can easily imagine this individual ruling over the masses. Don’t miss this for the world!
8. View of Venice
Although this exhibit is perhaps less known than most of the entries on this list, it is nevertheless equally impressive. This map of Venice from around 1500 AD is an incredibly detailed plan of the city. Every narrow street and a small house of the period finding its place there. It really feels like anyone could find their way around with this thing. Absolutely exquisite and the level of detail really draws you in and doesn’t let go.
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It is possible to stare at this for hours at a time and get a perfectly clear picture of how people used to live back in the day. Obviously, the people in charge of the museum felt the same way. Because there is a bench in front of the map where you can sit down and just enjoy the skill and dedication it took to create something like this. Oh, and don’t be surprised if you see or hear Italian tourists expressing their delight close to you. Many of them make it their mission to stop here.
9. Lewis Chessmen
Maybe a bunch of chess pieces doesn’t sound exciting at first. But when you take a look at the level of detail they have and consider the fact that they date back to the 12th century, your outlook on them could change. For me, there was something very attractive in these little guys. I could clearly picture two guys playing a tense game next to a roaring fire.
They are so very charming, of great design and full of personality that you somehow can’t resist them. Stop by and take a look. This is probably the most famous chess set in the world. Because it actually featured in one of the Harry Potter movies. Remember The Chamber of Secrets? Remember the chess match they had to play? These are the guys from that match!
10. The British Museum
Yes, the title is a bit confusing, but allow me to explain. The museum itself is quite a magnificent feat of architecture. The front mimics the style of ancient Greece. When you combine that with the building’s sheer size you get something very impressive indeed.
Over the years, new parts of the museum were added. So it pays to keep your eyes open to see different architectural influences. One thing you surely can’t miss is the Queen Elisabeth II Great Court, a huge covered square right in the middle of the museum. It is actually the biggest covered public square in Europe. The glass roof is absolutely spectacular. You can stop here to take a break from all the walking. It is a great idea if you ask me because it allows you to really soak in the importance and the vastness of this building. Not to mention that it’s a great place for people watching.
Few Final Words
This is a place where you can easily spend a whole day. And still, feel the desire to see more. In fact, you can plan just for that if you enough time in the city and if this sort of thing interests you. The museum has plenty of facilities to help you with that. Including cafes, a restaurant, and even a pizzeria! Therefore, you can always take a break from wandering around its premises and just sit down for a cup of coffee or even a nice lunch (the restaurant is quite good, actually).
What impressed me a lot was that all the children were running around the museum. Schools often bring their pupils here, you see, and show them around. The kids are not bored at all! I mean, obviously, seeing a real mummy can’t be boring, right? They get tasks they have to do and things they have to see and walk around the museum with genuine curiosity. It’s very nice to see. But don’t worry – they are well behaved. And certainly won’t spoil your visit.
So, if you’re looking for something awe-inspiring and unique to do in London, a visit to the museum should be at the top of your list. You simply can’t go wrong with it. I guarantee you’ll enjoy the experience.
This is a guest post by Anca.
Anca is the founder and chief editor of One Day Itinerary. A travel blog dedicated to those who want to make the most of their time in a new city. Even if they only have only one day there. Thanks to the fact that she has traveled literally all over the world. She can tell you the dos and don’ts of pretty much every major city in the world. As a matter of fact, she’s already done so in her blog posts.