The British Museum- What to See

By Dom Bewley

Even if you spend an entire day wandering the halls of The British Museum, you'll find that there are still thousands of artifacts left to explore. Established in 1753, this iconic landmark isn't just a museum; it's a time capsule that makes it one of London's top attractions. Known officially as the British National Museum, it's a hub where history, art, and culture converge, offering a rich tapestry of human endeavor and imagination.

Got a love for stunning architecture? The British Museum has it in spades. Interested in exhibitions that make you question everything you know? Look no further. What about a mind-boggling collection of over 8 million artifacts that represent 2 million years of human history? Absolutely, it's all here.

The British Museum exhibitions are not just displays; they are narratives that guide you through the annals of time. From relics of ancient civilizations to British Museum highlights that are renowned globally, there's no shortage of items that will leave you mesmerized.

So, get your camera ready and your curiosity piqued. Here's our curated list of what to see in The British Museum that will not only captivate your senses but will also offer a profound understanding of human civilization

Popular British Museum Exhibitions

The Rosetta Stone at the British Museum

The Rosetta Stone is a stone tablet. You may have heard of it. Thanks to it, modern humans were able to unlock ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Pretty important, then. So, it's no surprise that it's the most visited exhibit in the museum. The stone is carved with ancient Greek, hieroglyphics and demotic Egyptian. Originally discovered by French soldiers in 1799, it later passed into the hands of the British. And now it's in our museum. Yeah.

Mummy of Katebet

The British Museum is home to many amazingly preserved mummies. But, perhaps the most impressive is of Katebet, Chantress of Amun. Wrapped in linen and bearing a striking golden mask, the exhibit dates all the way back to 1300BC. And if that isn't a testament to the longstanding power of mummification, then she's sure to curse us all. Not really! Don't worry, mummy curses aren't real. Or are they? No, they're not.

Assyrian Lion Hunt Reliefs

In Assyria, lion hunting was a mark of kingly prowess. And many Assyrian alabaster panels in the museum tell the tale of King Ashurbanipal's exploits. Discovered in 1853 by Assyrian archaeologist Homuzd Rassam, the stunning depictions are eerily realistic. And, while they may be an animal activist's nightmare, there's no denying the superb craftsmanship.

The Elgin Marbles

These gorgeous sculptures have long been at the centre of controversy. Originally built to honour the goddess Athena, Lord Elgin...acquired...them from the Greek Parthenon in the 19th Century. Still, the collection of intricate marbles catalysed a fascination with classical Greece in Europe. So much so that the British Museum purchased them in 1816. Much to the Greek government's understandable dismay.

Lewis Chessmen

This collection of chess pieces, unearthed in 1831, are carved from mainly walrus ivory and whale teeth. Depicting real kings, queens, and bishops, they date way back to around AD 1200. They were discovered in Scotland, off the Isle of Lewis, formerly part of the Kingdom of Norway. They are thought to belong to a merchant travelling between Dublin and Norway. Chess - clearly a success worldwide.

More Amazing Artifacts To See at The British Museum

Samurai Armour

Steering away from Britain altogether, this Japanese warrior armour still cuts an imposing figure today. Harkening back to the Edo period, this armour forged by Unkai Mitsunao is unique. A number of its pieces come from different times. That includes a 16th-century bulletproof breastplate, and elaborate neck and leg pieces from the 18th century.

Easter Island Head

A legacy of a lost tradition, this massive statue named Hoa Hakananai'a (lost or hidden friend) is one of the moai of Easter Island. These huge sculptures are built to honour sacred ancestors. Brought to Britain by Commodore Richard Ashmore Powell in 1868, the basalt statue also features carvings of birds and rings on its back. Definitely one of the best things to see at the British Museum.

Colossal Granite Head of Amenhotep III

This red granite statue was one of many commissions by King Amenhotep III. The head alone weighs an incredible 3600 kilograms. Who knows how much the entire statue once weighed. Discovered in the Temple of Mut, it was acquired by British archaeologist Henry Salt in a Cairo warehouse. It's believed that the face, originally of Amenhotep III, was recarved to resemble proceeding king Rameses II. Now that's what we call a retcon.

Oxus Treasure

These delicate Persian relics were crafted between 500 - 400 BC. yet, they're still impressive thousands of years later. The British Museum holds one of the most important collections of Achaemenid gold on the planet. Here, you'll see a stunning Oxus horse and chariot sculpture.

Sutton Hoo Ship Burial Helmet

This helmet is only one of four intact helmets from Anglo-Saxon England. It was discovered at the Sutton Hoo ship burial, one of the most important archaeological sites in Britain. It's believed to have been part of a king or rich noble's collection. And, unfortunately, restoring the helmet to its current glory was difficult as it had shattered. However, it was later reconstructed to reveal its imposing mask and distinctive shape. Marvellous!

5 interesting facts about the British Museum in London:

1. The British Museum is the oldest national public museum in the world, having been founded in 1753 and opening its doors to the public in 1759.
2. The museum's collection includes over 8 million works, making it one of the largest and most comprehensive collections in the world.
3. Among the museum's most famous holdings are the Elgin Marbles, which were removed from the Parthenon in Athens in the early 19th century and shipped to England by Thomas Bruce, 7th Lord Elgin.
4. The museum's iconic Reading Room, which opened in 1857, was used by famous figures such as Karl Marx, Virginia Woolf, and Mahatma Gandhi.
5. The British Museum is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, welcoming over 6 million visitors every year.

What to See in The British Museum

The vast halls of the British Museum contain a treasure trove of over 8 million historical artifacts and works of art. Within its iconic neoclassical facade, visitors can get lost wandering through galleries filled with ancient wonders. See Greek and Roman sculptures that transport you back to antiquity.

Gaze upon the intricately painted sarcophagi of Egyptian mummies and marvel at the mysteries of ancient civilizations. Don't miss viewing the museum's most famous objects - the mystical Rosetta Stone, the elegant Parthenon Marbles from Athens, and masterpieces by Rembrandt and Michelangelo. For any lover of art, archeology and the thrilling stories of the past, an exploration of the British Museum's collections is a profoundly enriching experience.

So, there you have it. That's our list of the best things to see at the British National Museum in the UK. Now, you should have no trouble getting all of it in during a single visit.

Looking for more culture in London? Go see the history of astronomy unfold at the Royal Observatory or take a walk around St. Paul's Cathedral.

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The Tower of London

10 Facts About the Tower of London You Never Knew | The London Pass®

by Mia Russell A fortress, a palace, a prison. The Tower of London has a long and macabre history as a place of imprisonment and incarceration. From being the execution site of queens, whose ghosts are said to still haunt its halls, to the current home of the Crown Jewels, the Tower of London has a wealth of secrets begging to be explored. Let’s dive right in to discover some fascinating facts about the Tower of London, as well as some curious mysteries. 1. The Tower of London Is Not Its Official Name Founded by William the Conqueror in 1066, this historic castle is based in the heart of London and is one of the world's most iconic and recognizable landmarks. However, the Tower of London is not its official name. The building’s official title is Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London. 2. The Tower of London Was London’s First Zoo Before the Tower became a prison for humans, it was a prison for animals in the form of London’s first zoo. Known as the ‘Royal Menagerie,’ the Tower housed the royal collection of wild and exotic animals that were gifted to the kings and queens that reigned. Seeing African elephants, lions, tigers, kangaroos, ostriches, and a polar bear roaming around the grounds wasn't unusual. In 1835 the Duke of Wellington closed the menagerie, and the animals were moved to grounds in Regent’s Park that later became the London Zoo. Today, all that is left of the animals at the Tower are the resident ravens and sculptures of lions and other animals dotted about the grounds. 3. The Tower is Home to the Crown Jewels One of the many unique attractions at the Tower of London is the Crown Jewels. Officially known as Royal Coronation apparel, the Crown Jewels have been safely stored in the Tower of London since the 15th century. The collection includes some of the world's most valuable and historic jewels, such as the Imperial State Crown, which the monarch wears at the State Opening of Parliament. The Imperial State Crown boasts 23,578 gemstones and is thought to have a value of between two and four billion pounds! Other items kept in the Tower include royal robes and jewelry, which are brought out and sent to Westminster Abbey when a new King or Queen is crowned. 4. Resident Ravens are the Guardians of the Tower Ravens have long been a part of the Tower’s history and are protected by royal decree. When Charles II wanted the ravens removed, he was told that the monarchy would fall, so the ravens stayed and have called the Tower home ever since. The ravens are cared for by the Tower's raven master, who will regale stories of their role throughout history when you enjoy a free tour of the Tower of London with your pass. 5. The Real Guardians of the Tower are the ‘Beefeaters’ The famous Yeoman Warders have guarded the Tower of London since the 16th century. Also known as the ‘Beefeaters,’ these ceremonial guardians of the Tower were responsible for safeguarding the British crown jewels and looking after any prisoners in the Tower. Today, Yeoman Warders are selected for their outstanding service in the Armed Forces. They still play the ceremonial role of guardians to the Tower and provide information and guided tours to visitors as they have done since the Victorian era. Why the name ‘Beefeaters’? The odd name stems from Henry VII, whose personal guards were the first ‘Beefeaters,’ as they were allowed to eat as much beef as they wanted from the King's table. The bright red and black uniforms of the Yeoman Warder include pure gold thread and are estimated to cost over £7,000 each! 6. The Oldest Military Ceremony in the World Takes Place Every Night The Tower gates are locked in a historic military tradition known as the Ceremony of The Keys every evening. At precisely 9:53 pm, the Chief Yeoman Warder, accompanied by an armed escort of the Queen’s Guards, set off to lock all the gates carrying a lantern in one hand and the Queen’s Keys in another. The evening ritual has continued for over 700 years without fail – the faithful Yeoman Warders did their job for Queen and country throughout the Great London Fire, the Plague, and both World Wars. 7. The Tower was Never Meant to be a Prison The long and gruesome history of the Tower as one of the most brutal prisons in England and a place of execution was never planned. The Tower was built primarily as a secure fortress to showcase royal power. Soon, however, the Tower became home to anyone who threatened the Royals or the country. Many famous historical figures were held prisoner within its walls, including Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Queen Elizabeth I. Many were also executed and murdered here, including the two boy princes, Edward V and Richard. The last execution in the Tower of London occurred in 1941 when a firing squad shot German spy Josef Jakobs. Use your pass to tour the Tower of London and explore the dark dungeons and freezing towers where prisoners were held. 8. The Tower is Thought to be Haunted The fortress’ ominous 1,000-year history of horrific torture and bloody executions is thought to have left the spirits of those who died to haunt its stone passageways. The ghosts of Lady Grey and the Countess of Salisbury are believed to be here, as well as those of the twins that were murdered in the Bloody Tower. The most famous ghostly figure is that of Anne Boleyn, Queen of Henry VIII, who was beheaded in 1536 on Tower Green after giving birth to a stillborn son. Anne is often spotted wandering the grounds carrying her severed head and a grizzly bear from when the Tower was a zoo! 9. The Tower was a Military Base During Both World Wars During World War I and II, the Tower of London transformed into an impenetrable military base. During WWI, the moat around the Tower was used as a training ground for recruits. Today, the headquarters of the Royal Fusiliers Regiment is still based at the Tower. During the Second World War, Rudolf Hess, the infamous Nazi prisoner of war, was held prisoner at the Tower after crash landing in London during a flight to Scotland and being captured. Twelve enemy spies were also executed here during the war. 10. The Tower was Bombed During World War II During World War I, only one bomb fell on the Tower, landing harmlessly in the moat. During World War II, however, the Tower was devastated. High-explosive bombs found their target during the Blitz in 1940, destroying several buildings. One of the towers completely collapsed into the moat below it. After the war, the damage was thankfully repaired, and the Tower opened to the public once again. Plus, don't forget to save... So there you have it, our top ten most interesting facts about the Tower of London – don't forget to save on your entry to this and other top London attractions with the London Pass®.
Go City Expert

Fascinating facts about the Tour de France

The Tour de France kicks off this weekend and people around the world will be tuning tomorrow, 5th July, as the 198 cyclists set off from Yorkshire and end up in Paris on the 27th July after a gruelling 3,500kms over three weeks. But even if you’re not an avid cyclist or don’t know who our biking hero Bradley ‘Wiggo’ Wiggins is – do not dismay, we’ll fill you in on all you need to know and even some fascinating facts you really never would have known. Always great for a pub quiz. Top 10 fascinating facts about the Tour de France: The first race was a publicity event for a sponsoring newspaper to boost sales of L’Auto, run by Henri Desgrange The early races were a lot tougher – some stages lasted 400kms without a break and even cycling well into the night with no support teams or ‘cheerers on’! Although the race started in 1903, the race is only 111 years old as the race wasn’t run over the two World Wars Bikes in the earlier years were banned from having gears, so during an uphill struggle cyclists would have to pedal with pure force or remove their back wheel and change it for another gear instead There are 22 teams that race, each with 8 riders, and they all have to wear the same kit – although it gets complicated when you factor in leaders, cumulative leaders, and the 26 year old with the lowest cumulative time... Best leave that up to the professionals The King of the Mountain jersey is white with red polka dots. Want to know why? It’s because of the Chocolat Poulain sponsor who’s wrappers are decorated the same The race leader’s jersey is yellow because of the pages of the original sponsoring paper L’Auto-Velo that had yellow pages “Pauses pipi” are an unwritten rule by the gentlemen of the race who decided that when nature has to call the competitors won’t use it as an excuse to get one up on them The average Tour de France cyclist burns nearly 124,000 calories over the three week race Cycling the entire 3,500kms (which is the same distance from London to Cairo) generates enough sweat to flush a toilet 39 times – gross but true! Catch the Tour de France 2014 in London at the Fan Parks in Green Park and Trafalgar Square on the 5th-7th July and head to Canary Wharf for the closing of the race on the 27th July.
Vanessa Teo

London's Best Roof Gardens

It's summer in London and what better way to escape the heat, or bask in it, however you prefer, than to explore the rooftops of the capital. Beat the crowds by taking your tour of London up a level and enjoy the private oases high above the streets. Not only does it provide an escape from the bustle below, but you can enjoy verdant views over the city and stretching panoramas as far as the eye can see. We've listed our favourite rooftop experiences for you to try while you're in London; from green gardens to sophisticated bars - there's something for everyone. The Roof Gardens, Kensington Located one hundred feet above Kensington High Street are the gorgeous secluded Roof Gardens; a magical world filled with trickling streams, delicate flowers, giant oaks and exotic pink flamingos. Yes, really. Covering approximately 1.5 acres, this green oasis in the city is split into three themes - Tudor, Spanish and English woodland. It’s the perfect roof garden and you’ll not find one like it. If you’re feeling peckish, forget the picnic, you have to do it properly in Kensington. Try out the Babylon restaurant on the 7th floor for some gourmet grub instead. Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden, Southbank One of the Southbank’s summer specials, high above the hustle and bustle of one of London’s most touristy areas, the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden offers those on the riverside a green garden to enjoy. Up an industrial concrete yellow staircase, you’re invited to this garden party on wooden decking and pretty iron tables and chairs complete with a pop up bar - and plenty of Pimms on tap. It’s the perfect summery spot to enjoy a drink before you revel in the entertainment provided by the BFI Cinema, National Theatre and Southbank Centre, located just below. Vista Bar, Trafalgar Square If you’re looking for a room with a view, you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere better than Trafalgar Square’s Vista Bar, overlooking the iconic square, National Gallery and the Thames. With clean lines, dark wood decking and polished garden furniture, this bar is both sophisticated and stylish – perfect for a special occasion. Sit amongst the perfectly manicured bushes, sipping a glass of bubbly, or if you stay for a bite to eat they’ve got a fresh BBQ with a range of tasty burgers to try. Another alternative for stunning views is the Radio Rooftop Bar, further down on the Strand. Another perfectly polished experience, expect the chic-est of chic and perhaps the odd celebrity sighting, too. Sushisamba, Heron Tower Located in London’s East End banking district the Heron Tower is a must for anyone who wants a break from sightseeing to explore a bit of London rarely ventured by visitors to the city. Up on the 38th and 39th floors of the Heron Tower (which itself is one of the tallest buildings in London) you can get a unique perspective of the city from this easterly vantage point. What makes it so special is the weeping willow tree in the middle of the round bar and the dim red lights which give the atmosphere a modern and romantic feel; perfect for making a good impression. Have a cocktail as the sun goes down, overlooking St Paul’s and the Gerkin, and you'll see a magical park of London you can't find in the guidebooks.
Vanessa Teo

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