The British Museum is massive. With more than 8 million objects spanning all of human history and every culture, you can walk around for weeks and still discover something new. Which is why it’s really important to select a few things that you think your kids will be interested in!
The British Museum is one of our absolute favourite places in London. Having worked just around the corner in Holborn, we have visited countless times and there is always something new to explore. Visiting with children it gets a bit trickier, and require a bit of planning to make sure you have a great family day out at the museum.
Great for kids, but not necessarily for toddlers
First of all, this is not the best museum in London to bring toddlers. The crowds can be huge, and there are priceless artefacts on display everywhere so it doesn’t make sense to let them run much around. Which means they will be strapped in the buggy for the majority of the time, which for us often ends in a very frustrated child.
For younger kids starting to discover history on the other side, the British Museum can be a really inspiring place. However, the artefacts only become interesting if the kids know the story behind them. After having read books about mummies and Vikings our choice sections to focus on was obvious!
The mummies at the British Museum
A lot of kids are fascinated by Egyptian history, which is also very high up on our list. The exhibition of mummies, coffins and funeral masks is indeed amazing as you would expect given Britain’s leading role in Egyptian archaeology back in the days. This section will probably keep kids occupied for a good 20-30 min, but be aware that this particular exhibition hall fills up really quickly. Given the huge popularity of these objects, it’s actually quite strange that they haven’t been given a more prominent place in a bigger hall. In our experience, being surrounded by huge crowds ruins the moment when going to museums. It also makes it more difficult to explain and discuss the objects with your children. So as always in London, our advice is to go first thing in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the biggest crowds.
The Lewis Chessmen
The Lewis Chessmen made of walrus ivory are some of the biggest masterpieces of the British Museum. Actually, the 78 chessmen found on the Isle of Lewis in 1831 represent the biggest chess-set discovered from the medieval period anywhere. These iconic chessmen each have unique expressions showing power, gender, beauty and fear. It’s almost like they come alive. The 800-year-old objects were made in Norway with ornamentation similar to what you can find in the carvings of Norwegian stave churches and Viking ships. Crafted just after the Viking Age, they offer an interesting perspective on Norway in medieval times. It’s certainly a big contrast between exporting refined artistic goods and barbarian warriors raiding the English coast! Given our links to Norway and interest in the Viking history of London, our 5-year old was absolutely fascinated by these medieval characters. We followed up not long after with a trip to the Viking Valley in Gudvangen, which is a great place for kids to get inspired to learn about history.
Summarising our visit to the British Museum
These are just examples of areas of the museum what worked well for us. There are plenty of other fascinating sections in the British Museum, like the Rosetta Stone, the Aztec serpent, Samurai armour, the Sutton Hoo hoard and the Parthenon sculptures. By tailoring the visit based on what your kids are interested in, and inspiring them beforehand your chances are higher for a successful visit. Our verdict is that you can certainly bring younger kids from the age of 4-5, but it will require more “work” than highly interactive museums such as the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum.
Also, the good thing about the British Museum is that admission is completely free. So you don’t need to feel guilty by calling it a day early or popping out for lunch somewhere.
Getting to the British Museum
Address: Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG