Your Guide To Navigating The British Museum


As one of the most important cultural centres in the world for human history, the monolithic British Museum combines more than 8 million artefacts, millions of years of human history and thousands of visitors a day into a London attraction that demands return visits. Located in the City of London’s Russell Square, this historic museum is a must for guests of the Montcalm Royal London House and other hotels visiting the English capital for tourism purposes.

The museum itself consists of 60 rich and absorbing galleries, each of which you could probably spend an hour or more exploring. Unfortunately, the museum itself is not open 24 hours a day, so you have to make do with strategic visits where you head directly to the galleries that most interest you. There’s a lot to get through in the British Museum; each exhibit explores a different era or part of the world, charting the evolution of human society and coalescing into a detailed tapestry of its history. For tourists looking to kill an hour before their Montcalm restaurant reservation or their tip to a West End show then, this could be quite a daunting undertaking!

With enough forward planning though, anything is possible. You needn’t invest a day, even two days to get a sense of the British Museum’s scale. This blog will provide a brief guide to one of London’s most popular and historic tourist attractions alongside tips on how guests of luxury hotels in London can make the most of their first time visit to the museum, however long their visit may be.

The British Museum – A Brief History

The British Museum dates back to 1753, when the personal collections of Sir Hans Sloane, a physician and scientist were bequeathed to the general public. Sloane’s many artefacts were collected over years of travelling the globe and initially the contents of it included what would go on to become the base collection of the Natural History Museum, the V&A and the Science Museum as well. Over two and a half centuries, the museum expanded due to England’s colonisation of other parts of the world and eventually the various parts of the collection split off into different museums and cultural centres.

Overview Of The British Museum

The British Museum is made up of 60 galleries from 11 departments, all charting different periods of history through the lens of continents and subcontinents. Spanning four floors, the museum is easy to navigate and includes cafes, learning centres and temporary exhibition galleries.

Architecture Of The British Museum

Over hundreds of years, the British Museum has expanded from its Greek Revival facade to include more modern interiors, all whilst retaining its portland stone exterior. One key feature is the very entrance of the building, above which is a pediment – the triangular upper part of the entrance building named The Progress of Civilisation. This facade includes carvings of fifteen symbolic figures, presenting the precise theme of the museum as a whole – the evolution of human society.

Departments At The British Museum

The British Museum consists of eleven departments, three of which are research focused, whilst the other 8 are visitable by the general public. All are scattered across the four floors of the museum and guests of the Montcalm Hotel Chiswell Street can easily navigate to the galleries they want to visit thanks to clear signage and maps throughout the building.

The departments of the British Museum include the Americas, which covers 350,000 objects from Africa, Oceania and the American continents, the Department of Asia which covers visual artefacts, a department collecting and studying the artefacts of Egyptian and Sudanese empires, a Department of Ancient Greece and Rome and a British and European history department, which also includes artefacts from the continent’s prehistoric human settlements. Other departments include one specifically studying coins and medals, prints and drawings and the Department of the Middle East.

Tips For Your Visit

As you can probably tell from the above, the British Museum is teeming with artefacts and history. It can take a great deal of time and energy to cover all of it so when you do visit, make sure not to overstretch yourself and plan accordingly. Below are some tips you can use to help with this.

Arrive Early

It’s hard to overstate just how big the British Museum is. If you plan on spending the whole day exploring the museum, try to arrive as early as possible to avoid queues and crowds. With peak times ranging from late afternoon to lunch time, starting in the morning can mean you can tick off your bucket list easily and then enjoy the rest of the exhibitions.

Avoid Rush Hour

As mentioned above, the British Museum is one of the busiest museums in London because it’s one of the most expansive. It’s never going to be quiet but you can avoid the busiest times of year. These tend to be during school holidays and rainy days. Consider visiting during sunny days, when Londoners might be more likely to be enjoying the weather outside than visiting a gallery. Moreover, the central courtyard looks exquisite as the sun shines through its glass roof.

Prioritise In Advance

Whether it’s the Rosetta Stone, the mummies or the Parthenon Sculptures, do some background research and plan which exhibits you’d like to see first. Navigate the museum’s four floors accordingly and tick them off early. This will give you much more time to explore the museum’s many artefacts freely and without worry or hassle. The chances are, other visitors may have a similar sentiment for the exhibits you’re most interested in, so beat them to it!

Don’t Rush

Most importantly, take your time when visiting the British Museum. With so much detail and care put into the curation of galleries, let alone the artefacts themselves, it’d be a shame to miss a smaller beauty or gallery because you’re whizzing through them. Daily guided tours will help you get an overview of the museum and often specific departments in an hour or less, but the best memories of the British Museum are when you allow yourself to get truly absorbed by it.