Charting two million years of human history and culture, the British Museum hosts one of the planet’s richest and most diverse collection of artefacts. With finds spanning every corner of the globe, the institution’s vast galleries bring the story of human civilisation to life, from the earliest of our species right through to the present day.
Established in 1753, the museum’s collection now features some eight million pieces, making it the largest of any museum in the world. The site has grown enormously since its early days and was most recently redeveloped in 2001, when its now iconic Great Court glass roof was completed. With so many pieces of human history to marvel at, there really is something at the British Museum to spark the imagination of every guest, no matter their age or interests.
With at least a million visitors per year and continuously among the country’s most attended museums, you’ll want to plan your trip in advance. Here we’ll cover everything you need to know for a successful day at the British Museum, including how to get there and places to eat near the British Museum.
The museum is in the Bloomsbury area of Central London, in the Borough of Camden. It’s only a short walk from other popular spots like Covent Garden and the city’s famous West End theatres.
Since the British Museum is located right at the heart of the capital, you could save time and money when you travel into the city by train. Arriving at London Waterloo, hop on the Underground beneath the station and ride the Northern line northbound for a few stops. Get off at Tottenham Court Road, then you’ll find the museum’s Great Russell Street entrance is a pleasant seven-minute walk away.
Alternatively, you could take a route number 59, 68, 168 or 188 bus from Stop K, directly outside the front of the station on Tenison Way. A 19-minute journey takes you pretty much from door to door from Waterloo Station to British Museum, with just 250 metres between the Southampton Row Theobalds Road stop and the museum gates.
Traffic in Central London can get busy, and once you’ve factored in parking and congestion charges, you could save yourself hassle by taking the train instead. Via the South Western Railway network, you can travel direct into London Waterloo from hubs like Woking, Basingstoke, Guildford, Winchester, and Southampton Central train stations.
Things to do at the British Museum
Whether you’re on an art lover’s tour of London or are travelling with kids, the British Museum offers something for everyone.
With more than 60 galleries to explore, it can be hard to know where to start at the British Museum. These spaces are arranged in wings that surround the central Great Court, across three main levels. Artefacts and galleries are generally clustered together by location then separated again by historical era, with entire segments of the museum dedicated to Africa, Egyptian Sculpture, Roman Empire, Islamic World and more.
If you’re planning on taking your time as you move through the galleries, we’d recommend marking those you’re most keen to see on a map. The sheer size and scale of the museum’s collection means you may not get time to see everything, even if you spent a whole day here. And don’t forget to see if any of the special exhibitions are of interest – they’re often among the best exhibitions in London.
British Museum tickets
It’s not essential to reserve tickets to the British Museum unless you’re a group of 10 or more, though booking in advance may well minimise your wait for entry on the day. And as the museum is among the best free things to do in London, you won’t need to pay anything either way. Tickets can be reserved via the museum website – all you need to do is pick your date and timeslot.
If you’d like to see any of the special and temporary exhibitions, there is usually a charge to enter these. Getting British Museum tickets for these in advance will ensure you’re not left disappointed on the day.
See the British Museum in a whole new way when you book in on one of the gallery talks and tours. Scheduled regularly and with dedicated events for both members and non-members, there’s a great range of tailored experiences available for an additional fee. For a brush with history try the Around the World in 90 Minutes Tour, while options such as the Out-of-Hours: An Introduction to China provide much more insight. Whatever you opt for, these guided tours and talks help bring these fascinating exhibits to life.
Tips for enjoying the British Museum
With so much to see and do, you can hardly go wrong on your trip to the British Museum. But do ensure you have the best day possible we’d recommend you:
- Try to avoid peak times. Take advantage of the first couple of hours in the mornings or plan your trip for a Friday when British Museum opening times run later into the evening.
- Check if there are any special exhibitions you’d like to attend. If so, purchase tickets in advance to avoid disappointment or queues on the day.
- Use the official British Museum app to enjoy guided tours lasting either one, three or six hours.
- Prepare for security checks at the entrance. If possible, leave any large bags or suitcases at home.
Things to do near the British Museum
With its central location in charming Bloomsbury, there’s plenty more to fill your day with in the museum’s immediate surroundings. If the collections have sparked your imagination, why not continue the experience by visiting one of London’s other world class museums? The Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum and National Gallery are among your top options, and each is only a short journey away via the Tube.
For some evening entertainment after a long day at the museum, why not wander south and explore London’s legendary West End? Famous theatres including The Shaftesbury, Dominion, Novello, Lyceum, and Gillian Lynne are all within a kilometre of the British Museum, hosting an array of exciting musicals, dance shows and live drama between them.
If stage shows aren’t your thing, why not stroll down to the markets at Covent Garden and see what you find? From fresh produce to handmade crafts, there’s always something worth picking up. Meanwhile, nearby green spaces like Russell Square and Lincoln’s Inn Fields are perfect for a picnic.
Food and drinks
With an entire day’s worth of artefacts to explore, you’ll be glad to hear the British Museum provides plenty of places to stop and recharge. On the ground floor of the Great Court are the Court Cafes, where you can take your pick from fresh sandwiches, salads and cakes. The upstairs Great Court Restaurant offers something more substantial and a superb setting, while the Montague Café is the perfect place to stop for a coffee. There’s even the option to dine alfresco with food trucks and outdoor seating by the Great Russell Street entrance.
If you’re looking for restaurants near the British Museum, you’ve an abundance of good options in the area. Head south from the museum towards Seven Dials and take your pick from popular spots like Rossopomodoro, The Barbary, and Monmouth Kitchen, or have a search around Seven Dials Market.
Places to stay near the British Museum
With its super central Bloomsbury location, there’s no end of accommodation options close to the British Museum.
Some of the area’s most affordable picks include the Astor Museum Hostel and Travelodge London Covent Garden. The Thistle Hotel London Holborn and Radisson Blu Edwardian Bloomsbury Street are a great compromise when it comes to style and budget, while the 5-star L’oscar London offers a truly unforgettable experience. Meanwhile, The Resident Soho with its large rooms that feature a mini kitchen is ideal for families.
British Museum accessibility
The British Museum aims for its facilities to be open and accessible to all. Wheelchair reservations and blue badge parking can be booked in advance through the British Museum ticketing team. Lifts and accessible toilers are available throughout the building, while service animals are welcome in all spaces. For more information and details on how to contact the dedicated accessibility support services, check the museum’s accessibility page.