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Admission is free to the British Museum, which is located in the Bloomsbury area of London.

Admission is free to the British Museum, which is located in the Bloomsbury area of London. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)

Admission is free to the British Museum, which is located in the Bloomsbury area of London.

Admission is free to the British Museum, which is located in the Bloomsbury area of London. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)

A Babylonian tablet from 700-500 BC showing a map of the world at the British Museum in London, England.

A Babylonian tablet from 700-500 BC showing a map of the world at the British Museum in London, England. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)

The British Museum holds the earliest known depiction of Christ, a fourth-century mosaic floor roundel. It is one of the most important early remains from the Roman Empire.

The British Museum holds the earliest known depiction of Christ, a fourth-century mosaic floor roundel. It is one of the most important early remains from the Roman Empire. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)

The Sutton Hoo helmet at the British Museum. It's one of just four complete helmets to survive from Anglo-Saxon England.

The Sutton Hoo helmet at the British Museum. It's one of just four complete helmets to survive from Anglo-Saxon England. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)

The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court inside the British Museum in London contains a cafe and small gift shops.

The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court inside the British Museum in London contains a cafe and small gift shops. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)

A collection of Japanese samurai armor and weapons from between 1500 and 1800 at the British Museum in London. Thick bulletproof breastplates were added to samurai armor when the Portuguese introduced guns to Japan.

A collection of Japanese samurai armor and weapons from between 1500 and 1800 at the British Museum in London. Thick bulletproof breastplates were added to samurai armor when the Portuguese introduced guns to Japan. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)

The only surviving copy of the book "Nightingale Deep in the Mountains," privately published by Katsushika Hokusai in 1798 at the British Museum in London. Hokusai completed more than 1,000 designs for illustrated books.

The only surviving copy of the book "Nightingale Deep in the Mountains," privately published by Katsushika Hokusai in 1798 at the British Museum in London. Hokusai completed more than 1,000 designs for illustrated books. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)

A Mayan lintel on display at the British Museum in London.

A Mayan lintel on display at the British Museum in London. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)

A view from the entrance into the Room of Enlightenment at the British Museum. Housed in the former home of the library of King George III, the permanent exhibition reflects the Age of Reason, a period that lasted from about 1680 to 1820.

A view from the entrance into the Room of Enlightenment at the British Museum. Housed in the former home of the library of King George III, the permanent exhibition reflects the Age of Reason, a period that lasted from about 1680 to 1820. (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)

This marble portrait of Alexander the Great, displayed in the British Museum, is said to be the first such sculpture of legendary king.  

William Howard/Stars and Stripes

This marble portrait of Alexander the Great, displayed in the British Museum, is said to be the first such sculpture of legendary king. William Howard/Stars and Stripes (William Howard/Stars and Stripes)

Eight million artifacts and works of art spanning the length of human history.

These are the modest offerings of the British Museum in London.

Established with the collections of physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane, the museum opened to the public in 1759. It grew along with the British imperial footprint, and there are now several branch institutions.

My first visit was by chance, as my wife and I stumbled onto the entrance during a day trip to London. Admission was free, so I figured why not just give it a quick look?

Hours passed as we explored room after room of displays documenting the entire existence of human culture.

Without the benefit of an audio guide or map, we wandered in complete awe.

There are reliefs of lions from Assyria dating from the seventh century BC, stone tablets from the ancient Library of Alexandria, sculptures from the Parthenon, Japanese samurai armor, the first artistic depiction of Jesus Christ, and Anglo-Saxon artifacts recovered from the Sutton Hoo Viking ship burial.

Historical highlights are easily found by looking for the crowds. That’s how we were drawn to the Egyptian area, where a throng of people desperately tried to take photos of the Rosetta Stone with their mobile phones.

After three hours of exploring, my wife and I ended up in the gift shop, typically our final stop at a museum. In this case, we decided to continue our exploration after I had discovered the British Museum’s room of Enlightenment hidden behind a large doorway.

Situated in the former library of King George III, the permanent exhibition reflects the Age of Reason, a period of learning from about 1680 to 1820. It contains a variety of weird and wonderful objects gathered by explorers during excursions around the world, including 60,000 books.

Prideful thoughts of how we had seen the entire museum in three hours faded as we stared down the length of the massive hall from the entryway.

Deflated, we left to re-energize ourselves at a nearby restaurant, but vowed to return to finish the exhibits the same day.

howard.william@stripes.com

British Museum

DIRECTIONS

Located on Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London. The entrance is a short walk from the Holborn and Tottenham Court Road Underground stations. There is little on-street parking.

TIMES

10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily

costS

Free

FOOD

There are three food options located inside the museum. The Great Court Restaurant serves fresh seasonal mains, afternoon tea and exclusive exhibition-inspired menus; dinner on Friday evenings coincides with the late opening of the museum. The Court Cafe offers quick eats and coffee. The Pizzeria serves family meals of pizzas, salads and desserts.

information

Phone: (+44) (0) 20 7323 8299, email: info@britishmuseum.org, website: www.britishmuseum.org


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