The British Museum is massive. With more than 8 million objects spanning human history, you can walk around for weeks and still discover something new. This is why it’s really important to select a few things that you think your kids will be interested in!
The British Museum is unique. The vast collection from all over the world makes it possible to experience the history of mankind through the display of priceless artefacts from early beginnings up until modern times. Taking children to the British Museum is a great investment in their future, opening their eyes to the wonders of the world and inspiring them to learn more about history. With a bit of planning, you’ll have a great family day out at the museum.
5 things to see at the British Museum for kids
- The Mummies Exhibition: Explore mummification, magic and rituals through the Egyptians objects on display.
- The Lewis Chessmen: Get close to the world’s most famous chess pieces made of walrus ivory.
- The Rosetta Stone: The legendary stone with the same text written in three different languages enabled the Egyptian hieroglyphs to be deciphered.
- The Sutton Hoo Hoard: See the iconic Sutton Hoo Helmet and all the other Anglo-Saxon treasures discovered from the ship burial.
- The Parthenon Sculptures: Removed from the Acropolis in Athens in the early 19th century, the originals are still on display in the British Museum
1. The Mummies Exhibition
Many 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 quickly.
Given the huge popularity of these objects, it’s quite strange that they haven’t been given a more prominent place in a bigger hall. From 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.
2. The Lewis Chessmen
The Lewis Chessmen made of walrus ivory are some of the biggest masterpieces of the British Museum. 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 made in Norway with ornamentation are 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 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.
3. The Rosetta Stone
The Rosetta Stone, a slab made of granitoid rock with a written decree from 196 B.C. A group of Egyptian clergy and Egypt’s ruler, Ptolemy V, signed the decree in 196 B.C., attesting to his generosity and devotion. The decree can be written in three ways:
- Hieroglyphics, primarily used by Egyptian priests
- Demotic (a more straightforward script used for everyday purposes)
- Ancient Greek.
After the 4th century, Egyptian hieroglyphics were no longer used, and scholars found the writing system challenging to understand. The Rosetta Stone became an indispensable tool for researchers trying to understand the language.
4. The Sutton Hoo Hoard:
One of the richest hoards of buried artefacts ever found, the Sutton Hoo ship burial was found in Suffolk, England, just as World War II broke out. Over the next few years, an impressive number of Anglo-Saxon treasures were uncovered, revealing dozens of gold and jewelled items and transforming our knowledge of early medieval England. The story of its discovery has also been documented through the Netflix film The Dig.
5. The Parthenon Sculptures
The Parthenon Sculptures are a set of several decorations made out of marble originally placed at the temple of Athena (the Parthenon) on the Acropolis in Athens. The incredibly detailed pieces of art were made between 447BC and 432BC, and consist of:
- A frieze which shows the procession of the Panathenaic festival (the celebration of the birthday of the goddess Athena)
- A range of metopes (sculpted panels) showing the battle between Centaurs and Lapiths at the marriage-feast of Peirithoos
- Figures of the gods and legendary heroes from the temple’s pediments.
Summarising the British Museum with kids
The Lewis chessmen and the Mummies Exhibition are examples of areas of the museum that worked well for us. Of course, you’ll find 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. In our experience, tailoring museum visits to our kids’ interests and getting them excited about subjects beforehand makes a big difference.
Great for older kids, but not necessarily for toddlers
In general, the British Museum is great for families; the staff is friendly and you can feel that children are welcome. The crowds can be huge though, and there are priceless artefacts on display everywhere, which means you can’t let toddlers run around on their own.
For older children interested in history, on the other hand, the British Museum is an inspiring place. Museum artefacts become a lot more interesting when you know the story behind them, so consider getting audio guides.
The British Museum is made for an adult audience in mind and bringing young children will require more “work” than highly interactive museums such as the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. For older school-children studying history on the other hand, the British Museum is a fantastic resource.
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 letting the kids run around in the nearest park instead.
Is the British Museum family-friendly?
Yes, especially for families with school-age children learning about history.
Is the museum good for toddlers?
There’s nothing preventing families with toddlers from enjoying the museum. Children are welcome and the staff is friendly. However, keep in mind the large crowds and the lack of play areas.
Is the British Museum free?
Yes, the museum is free.
What’s the best time to visit?
If you want to beat the crowds, either come first thing in the morning or avoid weekends and school holidays.
Can you see mummies at the British Museum?
Yes, the museum has an extensive mummies exhibition about Egyptian death and the afterlife.
How much time do I need at the British Museum?
It all depends. History buffs might spend a week going through the vast collections, while families with young kids might want to shorten the visit to a couple of hours.
Are there any play areas for kids at the museum?
No, but there are other activities like family trails and family audio guides. The museum is primarily targeted towards adults and older children.
Is there a place in the museum for families to eat a packed lunch from home?
There are no specific picnic areas, and seating is limited. We recommend going for a picnic on the grass in Russel Square nearby.
Is the museum stroller friendly?
Yes, you can bring a stroller everywhere.
How long is the queue at British Museum?
Maximum 15 minutes during peak time in summer.