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British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces

The British Museum, located in London, stands as one of the world’s most visited and renowned cultural institutions. The museum attracts millions of visitors each year who come to explore its vast and fascinating exhibits. In this list, you will learn about the most famous pieces at the British Museum and the must see items when visiting the museum so that you know what to see in the British Museum when you finally visit it.

Renowned for its extensive and diverse collection, the British Museum is a treasure trove of human history, art, and culture. One of the notable British Museum highlights is its outstanding Egyptian collection, often regarded as the best outside of Egypt itself.

This collection features important pieces, including iconic pieces like the Rosetta Stone and the Book of the Dead. These invaluable artifacts provide a glimpse into the rich history, language, and beliefs of ancient Egypt.

Beyond its exceptional Egyptian collection, the British Museum houses a variety of artifacts from various cultures and continents. The Parthenon Marbles and Sculptures, for example, are a standout among Greek collections, providing visitors with a unique insight into classical antiquity.

The museum’s exhibits span thousands of years and cover diverse topics, including art, archaeology, anthropology, and more. Visitors can explore artifacts from Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe, offering a truly global perspective on human history and culture.

For many, the British Museum is a must-visit attraction in London. The opportunity to witness firsthand the cultural treasures that span the breadth of human civilization makes it a compelling destination. So don’t miss the chance if you are in London and go see these masterpieces of the British Museum firsthand!

British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces

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What to see at the British Museum

Take our time wandering through the corridors, despite the huge collection, it doesn’t take much to visit it completely.

Even if you don’t have much time to admire each artifact though, make sure to at least see the British Museum most famous pieces mentioned below, they will make your visit worthwhile!

The Younger Memnon - British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces
source: British Museum

1. The Younger Memnon

This is one of two colossal granite heads found at the entrance to Ramses’ mortuary temple in Thebes, Egypt, the temple known as Ramesseum. The statue represents Rameses II the pharaoh of the 19th Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt, wearing the Nemes, the fabric we see covering the head of the pharaohs.

Although not considered a crown, the Nemes still symbolize the pharaoh’s power.

Initially, the statue was formed by the complete body of the pharaoh, but the head that we see today in the British Museum is a single part that remains, the rest of the statue was never found.

The other statue that matches this temple door is still in the Ramesseum.

Location: Ancient Egypt Room.

DID YOU KNOW? It is now possible to visit the museum online with the British Museum virtual tour. Besides the British Museum, many other museums offer virtual tours online.


Rosetta Stone - British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces

2. Rosetta Stone

Probably the most important artifact on the list of British Museum collection highlights is the Rosetta Stone.

Thanks to this stone, found in 1799 in Rashid town, by French soldiers during the invasion of Napoleon Bonaparte, it was possible to figure out the meaning of the hieroglyphic language used in ancient Egypt.

The stone, containing a decree issued at Memphis in 196 BC, the text was written using hieroglyphics, Demotic, and ancient Greek, with time it was possible to decode the hieroglyphics through the ancient Greek and the phonetic illustrations through the demotic text.

The decree inscribed established the divine cult of the new ruler, King Ptolemy V.

Location: Ancient Egypt, Room 4.

Top Tip: Although the entrance is free, you can have a more immersive visit and learn about the pieces displayed in the museum with a guided tour, this private guided tour also includes a skip-the-line pass so you don’t have to worry about wasting time in line! Book it here.


British Museum Mummies - British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces

3. Mummies

Among the vast collection of Egyptian artifacts in the British Museum, are the human mummies. Besides that, the museum also keeps more than three hundred animal mummies, which include cats, dogs, bulls, and even a 4-meter crocodile.

The museum has over 140 mummies and coffins in its collection, and most of these mummies are on display. The most famous of them is the Katabet mummy.

They are all in great condition, and each one has very unique details. Some are decorated and painted, and others are just covered, showing the amazing process and work of mummification, typical of the ancient Egyptian civilization.

One of the mummies in the British Museum is completely uncovered though, for those who are more curious!

Location: Rooms 60 and 63.


Katebet Mummy - British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces

4. Katabet Mummy

Once a Chantress of Amun in Karnak, she served during the late 18th or early 19th Dynasty around 1300 BC. The mummy of Katabet was found in a Theban tomb alongside a male mummy, probably her husband Qenna.

She was already old when she died, and her coffin was apparently designed for a man and later altered for her use.

Location: Room 63.

?Top Tip: Looking for a special treat? Don’t miss the chance to have a traditional English Afternoon Tea at the British Museum. Choose your tea and try traditional finger sandwiches, pastries, and scones while you admire the famous glass roof of the museum. Book here!


The Book of the Dead - British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces

5. The Book of the Dead – Papyrus of Ani

Besides the many papyri that you can find in the British Museum, close to the mummies you will find the famous Book of the Dead, a funerary text consisting of magic spells to assist the dead in the hereafter.

Many of the spells in this collection are dated back to the 3rd millennium BCE and used to be painted on the walls of the pyramids and coffins before the creation of the Book of the Dead.

After this creation, the book used to be placed in the coffins or burial chambers of the deceased.

It is one of the British Museum’s famous pieces, as it is the most well-preserved Book of the Dead scroll in the world. It is also known as the Papyrus of Ani, as it was compiled for the Theban Scribe Ani.

The Book of the Dead is considered one of the oldest books in the world.

Location: Room 62.


Balawat Gates - British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces

6. Balawat Gates

In the ancient city of Balawat (in the region of Iraq), the gates of the buildings used to be decorated with three richly decorated bronze bands. Each tells a story, often of the Assyrian exploits. Today they are considered to be one of the most important works of art of the Neo-Assyrian era.

The gates themselves were made of wood and due to time, they ended up decomposing, leaving behind the large bronze bands.

The gate that we now see on display at the British Museum was discovered in 1878 by Hormuzd Rassam, and taken to the museum, where it is also possible to see a replica of the gate, which gives us an idea of ​​its grandeur. This set of gates belonged to the temple of Manu (the Assyrian God of dreams).

Location: Room 5.

Parthenon Marbles and Sculptures - British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces
source: greece-is

7. Parthenon Marbles and Sculptures

Originally from the Parthenon, in the Acropolis of Athens, 2,500 years old Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Athena.

The marble pieces are also known as Elgin Marbles and were made under the guidance of the Ancient Greek sculptor and architect Phidias.

The marble collection includes a 75-meter-long frieze picturing the battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs. Another half of this frieze is still in Athens, displayed in the Acropolis Museum.

It was removed from Parthenon by orders of Earl Elgin, who was a British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, during one of the first restorations of the Greek ruins, hence the name Elgin Marbles, alongside sculptures from the Propylaea and Erechtheum between 1801 and 1812 and sent to Britain with the pretext that he had received an official decree to do so.

By some, it was considered looting and vandalism, which led to an investigation and later, to the exoneration of Elgin. The parliamentary committee decided though, that it was safer for the Marble pieces to be given asylum in a free government, such as the British, back in that time.

After that, the Marble pieces were sold to the British government, which later gave them to the British Museum.

Even after issuing his defense in 1810, the legality of Earl’s Elgin actions is still disputed nowadays by the international community and the British Museum.

Location: Room 18.

Top Tip: To learn more about the British Museum and its pieces, I suggest following their YouTube channel. Check the Curator’s Corner series, it is my favorite, in which episode a different Curator tells about one piece. Some of them are not even on display, so it is the only chance to see what they keep behind the walls!


Hoa Hakananai'a - British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces

8. Hoa Hakananai’a

The Maori statue from Easter Island whose name means Lost or Stolen Friend.

It is one of the sixteen Moais of basalt, it was removed from Easter Island and brought to London in 1868.

This Moai, in particular, is important because of the illustrations carved on its back associated with the Birdman cult (tangata manu).

Location: Room 24.


Double-Headed Serpent - British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces

9. Double-Headed Serpent

A serpent with a head on each end, made by Aztecs and believed to be used or worn during religious ceremonies, the serpent represents Quetzalcoatl. Its base is made of wood and decorated with turquoise and shells.

This is one of the 25 serpents in Europe and some believe Hernán Cortés received it as a gift from the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II, who initially thought that Hermán Was a personification of the god Quetzalcoatl.

Location: Room 27.


The Lewis Chessmen - British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces
source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

10. The Lewis Chessmen

Dating back to AD 1150-1200, the chess pieces were found in the Western Isles, which used to be part of the Kingdom of Norway but is nowadays part of Scotland.

They were buried for safekeeping en route to Ireland where they would be sold.

The chess pieces carved out of walrus tusks, show the political and cultural connection between the kingdoms of the British Isle and Scandinavia during the Middle Ages and the growing popularity of the game Chess in Europe in this period.

Chess was created in India around 500 BC and brought to Christian Europe via the Islamic world.

Location: Room 40.


Oxus treasure - British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces

11. Oxus treasure

A collection of 180 pieces originally from Persia, nowadays in the region of Tajikistan, close to the Oxus River.

The collection is made of mainly small pieces made of gold plus 200 coins from Persia and was found by the river.

It initially, had more than 1500 coins and other small sculptures, which were probably melted down. Some believe that this treasure belonged to a temple.

Location: Room 52.


The Royal Game of Ur - British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces
source: British Museum

12. The Royal Game of Ur

The game consists of two gameboards and was found in a royal tomb in the ancient city-state of Ur, in Iraq.

The two boards are dated back to the First Dynasty of Ur, before 2600 BC, which is considered one of the oldest examples of the gaming board ever found.

Alongside the game, a tablet partially describing how it should be played was found, allowing us to understand and play the game 2,000 years after its creation.

Location: Room 56.


British museum Samurai Armor - British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces
source: creationbaumann.com

13. Samurai Armor

Among the Japanese collections in the exhibition in the British Museum, the most notable one is the Set of Armor dated from the 16th to 19th centuries.

The pieces form a Samurai’s complete armor, made mainly of iron and steel, and protect the samurai from arrows coming from different directions and later from bullets.

This kind of set changed little since its creation and remained in use until the Edo period (1600 – 1868).

In this helmet specifically, based on the crest between the horns, it may have belonged to a retainer of the Maeda family, the lords of Kaga Province.

Location: Room 93.


Tahargo Sphynx - British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces

14. Tahargo Sphynx

Originally from the ancient kingdom of Nubia, the sphynx represents the face of the Nubian king Tahargo, the fourth and last king to rule over the combined kingdom of Ancient Egypt and Kush.

The statue was found close to the Temple of Amun at Kawa in Nubia, now Sudan.

Location: Room 65.


Lindow Man - British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces

15. Lindow Man

A bog body of a young man was found in a peat bog near Lindow Moss, North West England.

It was not the only body found in the same location. A year before its discovery, the body of a woman was found in the same peat bog, but the Lindow Man remains one of the most well-preserved bog bodies found in Europe.

Lindow Man was a healthy man in his mid-20s he had a high status as his body did not show evidence of heavy work.

Although it is known that he suffered a violent death, the real causes of it are unknown.

Location: Room 37.


Ife Head - British Museum Highlights: 15 Must-See Masterpieces
source: British Museum

16. Ife Head

A bronze head believed to represent Ooni, an African ruler of the ancient kingdom of Ife in Nigeria, the city was considered the religious and royal capital of the Yoruba people.

The mask was made before Africans had any contact with Europeans, therefore, different from what many think, the masks do not influence Greek or Roman sculptures.

The realism in this kind of art is something unusual in African culture. In total, eighteen heads were found, they are believed to be made by the same artist.

Location: Room 25.

British Museum History

The British Museum was founded in 1753 and opened to the public in 1759, and is today the most visited museum in London and the world, and is considered the third largest museum in the world today.

When it was opened, the British Museum was the first public, free museum in the world and brought together collections from the Cottonian Library, previously private collections of manuscripts, and the private collection of naturalist physician Sir Hans Sloane.

The purchase of the Sir Hans Sloane collection by the UK Parliament is what started the foundation of the British Museum. With the growth of the collection, there was a need to divide the pieces of this collection in two museums, and thus the Natural History Museum of London was created, where today the part of the collection dedicated to science and biology is kept.

?Did you know? The first public museum open in the world is also British and is located in Oxford. Called the Ashmolean Museum, it was opened in 1683 and holds the personal collection of Elias Ashmole.

British Museum Hours & Tickets

The British Museum galleries are open daily from 10:00 to 17:30, and on Fridays, until 20:30. The museum is closed on 24, 25, and 26 December, 1st January, and Good Friday.

The entrance is completely free, you can visit the main museum without buying any ticket. It is important to note though that you usually have to pay for visiting special exhibitions. Although the museum is free, donations are welcomed and encouraged.

For a more unique and immersive experience, try taking a guided tour, the British Museum offers four different tours, following different themes, and some of them are free.

The museum also sells an audio app to help you on your visit, it costs £4.99 per language.

If, by any chance, none of these tours interests you or doesn’t fit your schedule, don’t worry, you can also book different options of tours online, such as a private British Museum tour, which will give you more freedom to explore around, in a 101 experience where you will be able to ask questions to your guide more freely, in a more immersive and intimate environment.

In case you are looking for a more in-depth visit, this 5 hours British Museum tour may be just the perfect option! On this tour, you will have the chance to visit the British Museum accompanied by a qualified archaeologist! How cool is that?!

If you are looking for a different experience though, do take the chance to have tea at the British Museum. If you are a tea lover just like me, do go for this one, in it, you will experience traditional British tea, with pastry and sandwich, nothing better than a good memory to bring home as a souvenir!

Where is the British Museum located?

The museum is located in Great Russell Street, London. It is pretty easy to get here and you can take both the metro and bus.

Metro

The closest stations to get here are Tottenham Court Road and the Holborn, they leave you close to the museum, you will just have to walk a little.

Bus

Many buses pass nearby. Among them, is the 73 bus, which is one of the best for tourists, as it passes by some important points in London. For more information about the bus line, check here.

You can also get the ticket for the Hop on Hop off bus here, which will leave you right in front of the museum!

British Museum Facts

  • The British Museum is the largest in the world, covering around 92.000square meters
  • It is also the oldest national public museum. Opened in 1759, the British Museum is older than the USA by 17 years!
  • For over 30 years the museum had its metro station
  • When looking for a perfect site to build the museum, a place called Buckingham House was considered, but Montague House ended up being the chosen location. Later Buckingham House was rebuilt as Buckingham Palace!
  • The oldest object in the British Museum is a stone-chopping tool believed to be more than 2 million years old.
  • Only 1% of the museum’s collection is displayed to the public
  • During the temporary exhibition “Treasures of Tutankhamun” displaying the artifacts of King Tutankhamun, around 1.7 million people visited the museum, making this the most successful exhibition in British history.
  • Among the Mesopotamian tablets in the collection, there is one considered the oldest customer complaint, from nearly 4,000 years ago.

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6 Comments

  1. Added to my must-see list. Great post and excellent images!

  2. I did an internship at the BM when at uni. It was unreal ! I loved marching past queuing visitors to get in early and I learned so much. This was during the period when they built the beautiful courtyard. One day we all had to go home as tue workmen accidentally flooded the place!

    1. hhahahaha omg you are so lucky!! Seriously, I would love to work in a museum! The amount of things you can see and learn is surreal!! I hope you had a great time there! (although I’m sure you did XD)

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