Top 10 Tips for Visiting the British Museum!
Updated: Jul 19, 2020
It’s known as “The World’s Museum” and contains 8 million objects not just from Britain but from all over the world, dating back millions of years. Whilst the collection has it’s controversies (which I will tackle in another post), it is an amazing and inspiring collection and definitely top of most people’s lists when they visit the London. Having been a guide at the museum for many years, I’ve decided to share my top 10 tips for a hassle-free visit!
Number 1 - Get there early..
The British Museum sees around 6 million visitors a year, and on a busy day in summer the queues for the security check can stretch round the block. But there are a few ways to avoid the crowds. The first is to arrive early – although the museum galleries officially open from 10am to 5:30pm, actually you can pass the security check and get into the building, cloakrooms, toilets and café from 9am. So get in early, have a coffee and plan your visit. Also, consider coming on a weekday, rather than a weekend when the museum will be more crowded. And beware of school holidays!
Number 2 - Or get there late...
Do you want to get right up close to the Rosetta Stone? Or to see the Parthenon sculptures with dramatic shadows? Come to the museum on a Friday evening. Every Friday the museum stays open until 20:30, and the visitor numbers really start to drop after 18:00. It’s a special atmosphere in the evenings, and the museum is a short walk from Covent Garden for food and drinks after your visit. (We run a special Friday evening tour to take advantage of the quieter visiting time!)
Number 3 - Be strategic with your gallery choice
If you get to the museum early, get yourself to the popular galleries first whilst they are still quiet – for example the Greek Parthenon sculpture gallery, the Egyptian sculpture gallery and the Egyptian mummy gallery. Once the museum becomes busier take advantage of the many quieter and often-overlooked galleries which all have first-class collections – for example Japan, Africa, Ancient Europe, Mesopotamia, or the Islamic World.
Number 4 - Focus on one area
The British museum is huge and you will not manage to see everything in one trip (unless you have one of our guides to take you through!) – pick you areas of interest and visit those first before museum fatigue sets in! If you want an overview of many cultures in one room head to the Enlightenment Room on the ground floor – this houses objects of all ages and from all over the world, collected during the Enlightenment period in Europe – so it’s a great place to get to see many cultures without having to walk through the whole museum. A good one for kids – look for the mummified mermaid and the stuffed animals.
Number 5 - Refresh and refuel!
There are four cafes, a restaurant and a pizzeria inside the museum – plenty of places to take a break. Just outside the back entrance to the museum you will find Russell Square, a lovely garden square with a café where you can take a break, there are a range of eateries nearby on Bernard Street and Brunswick Square (if you exit and return by the back entrance you will avoid the queues!). Out the front of the museum you will find a number of eateries on Museum Street and the small streets leading off it, including Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Fish and Chips, Greek and Italian. The pub, the Museum Tavern, is actually older than the museum itself!
Number 6 - Buy a map and talk to the information desk
It’s £1 for a map, the money helps to support the museum and you get a souvenir! The map also highlights some key objects so it can be very useful. Or see our post on the ten key objects in the British Museum here. If you have kids the family desk has some brilliant activity backpacks for free (you have to leave a deposit).
Number 7 - Take advantage of the free eye-opener gallery tours
There are a number of free gallery tours lasting 30-40 minutes which take place through-out the day. They focus on one gallery (out of a total of 60 in the whole museum), so if you have a particular interest in one region these are very helpful. These are volunteer run tours and most of the guides are great, but they can be cancelled at the last minute, so if you plan to go on one make sure you have a back-up plan! Check the schedule here.
Number 8 - Use the secret hidden back entrance…
OK, it’s not exactly hidden, but most people don’t realise that there is a second entrance to the British Museum, on Montague Place at the back of the museum (Ssssshh! Don’t tell anyone!). It’s not as glamorous as the main entrance, but if you are arriving on a busy day in the afternoon when the queues at the front entrance will be long, then I recommend that you use this entrance. It’s also much closer than the front entrance to the Russell Square underground station, if you are coming by underground.
Number 9 -Seek out hidden bathrooms!
Again, not exactly hidden - but if you head for the main bathrooms women may end up waiting in queues of up to 20 minutes at busy times... Instead follow the signs to the Pizzeria, at the end of gallery downstairs, where you will find a rarely used bathroom. (The Pizzeria also has air-con, a welcome relief in summer!) Alternatively, at the back of the museum by the East stairs elevator, on both the ground and the first floors you will also find quieter bathrooms.
Number 10 - Consider becoming a member!
If you are planning on visiting any of the temporary exhibitions whilst you are at the British Museum, and if you will return at all within the year to London (or other family members will visit), it might be worth becoming a member – you get unlimited entrance to temporary exhibitions, to skip the line at the entrance of the museum, use the dedicated members bag check, there’s a free members cloakroom, and a lounge and café. Plus you are supporting the museum!
And a final bonus tip!
If you really want to make the most of your time in London then consider taking a tour! Of course I am biased, but there really is no better way to cover such a large museum easily and stress-free than with a guide to curate the experience for you - trust me, I'm a guide!