the british museum

The British Museum

The British Museum is the location of a national collection of science and art treasures. It first began in 1753 when Parliament purchased the collection of Sir Hans Sloane (the Cabinet of Curiosities) and a collection from Sir Robert Cotton along with Sir Robert Harley’s Library. First opened to the public in 1759 in Montague House, it was later moved to its present location, being built in stages from 1823. The famous domed Reading Room was built in 1857 and is now part of the glassed-in Great Court.

Where's British Museum located?

Located in the Bloomsbury area of London

How to Get

British Museum, Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG

Tube: Tower Hill (Circle, District and DLR lines)
Buses: 8, 9, 11, 15, 15B, 22B, 25, 133 and 501.

Open Hours

March – October:
Tuesday to Saturday: 9 am to 5:30 pm
Sunday and Monday: 10 am to 5:30 pm
November – February :
Tuesday to Saturday: 9 am to 4:30 pm
Sunday and Monday: 10 am to 4:30 pm


Since 1754, the museum’s home has sat at the site of the Montague House in Bloomsbury. It wasn’t long before this facility became too small to display and store the museum’s large collection and plans were made for additions to the museum. The Townley Gallery for classical sculpture was added first, but was later torn down to make way for the Smirke Building, which is the core of the building visitors see today when they visit the museum.

The idea for the Smirke Building, designed by Sir Robert Smirke in Greek revival style, was conceived in 1823 but the addition was not completed until nearly thirty years later. It was originally built to house the personal library of King George III. This new building was a quadrangle situated north of the Montague House. The south wing of the Smirke Building eventually replaced the old house. 


A domed, circular reading room was added in 1857, and the White Wing, designed by architect John Taylor, was added thirty years later. King Edward VII’s Galleries, a Beaux Arts style addition, became part of the British Museum in 1914.

The Parthenon Galleries, by American John Russell Pope, was built to house the Parthenon sculptures and opened in 1939. However, because of extensive damage suffered during World War II, the structure had to be rebuilt and was reopened in 1962. Another new wing, opened in 1980, housed public facilities like a restaurant and gift shop.

Finally, the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court opened in 2000. This two-acre square (8000 sq m), enclosed by a glass roof, creates an indoor courtyard with the museum’s famed circular reading room in the center. This design made by Norman Foster and Partners makes it easier for visitors to find their way in the museum thanks to the large open space, very similar to the way the entrance area below the Louvre Pyramid in Paris works.

The collection found at the British Museum is enjoyed by millions each year. Because the museum is so large, many visitors take more than one day to explore. Not all of the more than seven million artifacts are on display, but much of the collection constantly rotates so you’ll see something new with each visit.

The Elgin Marbles, the collection of marble sculptures that were taken from the Parthenon in Athens, is one of the museum’s most famous attractions. They are located in the purpose-built Parthenon Galleries. 

The sculptures, also known as the Parthenon Marbles, were obtained by Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin and diplomat in Constantinopal in the Ottoman Empire, which at that time included Greece.

Earl Elgin obtained permission “to take away any pieces of stone with old inscriptions or figures thereon”, to prevent any more damage by the Turkish.
Lord Elgin’s collection was at first displayed at his own house, but in 1816 the House of Commons decided to purchase the collection and hand it over to the British Museum.


Facts & Figuries

Sir Hans Sloane had collected a vast number of natural history specimens, and these were part of the Museum’s collection for over a hundred years. In the 1880s, with space in Bloomsbury at a premium, it was agreed that these collections should move to a new site in South Kensington. London’s Natural History Museum was still officially known as the British Museum (Natural History) until 1992, despite being legally separate since 1963! Similarly, the founding collection contained a huge number of manuscripts and books. The collection continued to grow and grow, until the British Library became a separate institution in 1973. Even then, it remained in the Bloomsbury site until 1997 when it moved to the new building on Euston Road.

The British Museum is older than the USA

The British Museum is the world’s oldest national public museum. Founded in 1753, it opened its doors in 1759, 17 years before the Declaration of Independence.

Among The Largest And Finest

British Museum is a permanent collection of over 8 million works and among the largest and most comprehensive in existence and originates from all continents, illustrating and documenting the tale of human culture from its beginnings to the present.

It wasn't always so busy

Nowadays, the British Museum is the nation's most visited museum, with nearly seven million guests per year. Back when it first opened in 1759, it was rather more exclusive. The museum was open to the public, but they had to make a written application to obtain tickets. Once they were approved, only ten tickets were dispensed every hour.

The Oxus Treasure

he Oxus treasure is a collection of around 180 antique pieces of metalwork in silver and gold. Most pieces of its collection are smaller. The compilation also contains around 200 coins from the period of Achaemenid Persian. These coins were discovered close to the Oxus River between the years 1877-1880.

Virtual tour

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