When you visit London, one of the must-see museums is The British Museum. Home to some of the world’s most impressive historical artifacts, this massive museum can seem overwhelming, but with a little advance planning, it can be a fun place to take your kids.
Established by King George II in 1753, the British Museum was the first national museum belonging to neither a king or church and freely open to the public. Its exhibits were made up of Sir Henry Sloane’s vast collections of books, manuscripts, and natural history specimens, which were housed at the Montagu House in the Bloomsbury section of London. As the British Empire grew, it amassed a diverse amount of artifacts ranging from Ancient Egyptian statues to Asian art.
The building where the collections were housed was expanded to the current building in the early 20th century. During WWII, the collection was distributed to secure basements, country houses, and even the National Library of Wales to protect it from the Nazi bombs. Thankfully since the Duveen gallery was hit in the Blitz!
The current building was renovated extensively in the late 20th century with the beautiful glass-enclosed Great Court opening in 2000. The museum’s collections of natural history have been moved to the Natural History Museum and its book collection is now the British Library. The museum now focuses on the wonders of the world from British expeditions and preserves ancient and modern history.
The British Museum is one of the largest in the world and can be hard for little children to appreciate. I recommend visiting with older elementary kids (ages 10 and up) or just popping in to see the highlights while your kids snooze in the stroller! Start your day at the museum with fresh legs and eyes before picking a more kid-friendly outside activity after lunch (weather permitting). We spent the morning at the museum and then caught a boat to Greenwich. It was a perfect combination!
The best way to plan your tour of the museum’s must-see artifacts is to use Rick Steves’ audio tour or map. Even with older kids, we used his tour plan to see the highlights since the museum is so overwhelming.
Get your free timed-entry tickets ahead of time, and be prepared to wait in a longish line for airport-like security. You’ll enter into the dazzling Great Court, easily one of the most beautiful parts of any museum. Be sure to pick up a museum map – you will need it to navigate this enormous space!
Stop at the families desk to ask about the family mission (scavenger hunt) – or download here. You can also pick up an activity backpack or get a family trail guide at the desk (or here before your visit). This makes the huge museum a fun activity for younger kids!
The first stop for any tour is the most amazing artifact in the museum’s collection – the Rosetta Stone. Luckily it is just to the left of the entrance in the Ancient Egypt room (room 4). There is usually a crowd around it so wait your turn to really get up close and look at the inscriptions.
My kids really liked the other Egyptian artifacts in the room so take some time to walk through. It was so cool to see the statue of Ramesses II in the middle of the room (the pharaoh from Exodus in the Bible!).
They especially thought the cat with its nose and earrings was interesting! And the scarab beetle sculpture was cool.
Continue your tour through the Assyrian galleries (room 8) to get to the Ancient Greece galleries (rooms 23, 17, and 18). Head straight to the Parthenon Galleries (room 18) to see the Elgin Marbles brought here from the actual Parthenon in Athens.
As you leave, don’t miss seeing the Nereid Monument, an actual Greek temple (room 17).
Take the west stairs to the mummies (rooms 62-63). Continue around the outer rooms to room 50 where your kids will be fascinated with the Lindow Man (the Bog Man). We also made a point to see the Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial artifacts (room 41). If you’ve seen the movie, The Dig, you’ll be interested in these items.
Spend whatever time you have left wandering through the galleries. You never know what will strike your kid’s fancy. My boys were fascinated by these old clocks.
And don’t miss the Ancient Greek and Roman pottery. It’s amazing to know the items are thousands of years old!
Outside the museum is the lovely literary neighborhood of Bloomsbury. Talk a walk around to see where Virginia Woolf and other literary giants lived!
The British Museum is the museum of Western civilization history. From Ancient Egypt to the relics of the prehistoric British isles, it’s an amazing treasure trove of a museum. Don’t miss visiting, even if you just hit the highlights!
- Cost: Free
- Recommended: ages 10 and up
- Tour time: 1 hour to see highlights
- The main gift shop is located in the Great Court and can also be found online.
- Transportation: Located in Russell Square, the British Museum is easily accessible by Tube (Tottenham Court or Russell Square stop) or by bus. It’s also just a 15-minute lovely walk up the literary street of Charing Cross from Trafalgar Square (don’t miss Foyles!). Note the main entrance is on Great Russell Street.
- Dining options: The museum itself has three eateries, including a pizzeria perfect for families. In the neighborhood surrounding the museum are many quaint restaurants, including my favorite London Indian restaurant, Punjab. If it’s nice outside, grab lunch from the cafe in Russell Square and eat in the park!
- Nearby hotels: There’s a nearby Kimpton Hotel, which is always one of my favorite chains, and a family-friendly Doubletree. I spent six weeks living in the nearby Royal National in college, so it might be good for families on a budget. See my London guide for additional suggestions.
- Nearby attractions include: Charles Dickens Museum, Foundling Museum, The British Library, Harry Potter’s Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross Station, Covent Garden, and London’s Theatre district
Books to Read:
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