The country’s largest museum and one of the oldest and finest in the world, this famous museum boasts vast Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, Roman, European and Middle Eastern galleries, among many others. It is once again London’s most visited attraction, drawing an average of five and a half million punters each year.
Begun in 1753 with a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ sold to the nation by royal physician Sir Hans Sloane, the collection mushroomed over the ensuing years partly through acquisitions, bequests and plundering the empire. The grand Enlightenment Gallery was the first section of the redesigned museum to be built in the 1820s.
Among the must-sees are the Rosetta Stone, the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics, discovered in 1799; the controversial Parthenon Sculptures, taken from the Parthenon in Athens by Lord Elgin (the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire); the large collection of Egyptian mummies; and the Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo burial relics.
The Great Court was restored and augmented by Norman Foster in 2000 and now has a spectacular glass-and-steel roof, making it one of the most impressive architectural spaces in the capital. In the centre is the Reading Room, with its stunning blue-and-gold domed ceiling made of papier-mache, where Karl Marx researched and wrote Capital.
You’ll need multiple visits to savour even the highlights here; happily there are 15 half-hour free ‘eyeOpener’ tours daily, focussing on different parts of the collection. Various multimedie iPad tours are also available (adult/child £5/3.50)