Make the Most of the British Museum
When the British Museum opened in 1753, it was the world’s first national public museum, free (as it still is) to all “studious and curious persons.” It contains a breathtaking collection of over 8 million objects that paint an interconnected portrait of the world’s cultures. But it also epitomizes the long British traditions of exploration, quirkiness and obsessive collecting. You could spend weeks here. But don’t worry; we’ll guide you through.
If you don’t have time to idly wander, start your visit with these collections.
THE KEY TO THE ANCIENT WORLD
The Egyptian Galleries | Room 4
埃及馆 | 4号展厅
This long, spectacular gallery, stretching almost the length of the museum’s west side, houses sculptures and artifacts from about 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian civilization. It features spectacular busts, elaborately engraved sarcophagi and the museum’s most popular exhibit — the Rosetta Stone, dating from 196 B.C. and inscribed with near-identical texts in three scripts, which allowed linguists to develop an understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs through comparison.
Why It’s Must See: These exhibits give an instant idea of the magnificence, ambition and sophistication of ancient Egyptian culture.
What to Look For: A giant sculpture of a scarab beetle, with tenderly carved and curving legs, and an enormous bust of Ramesses II, which inspired Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias.”
看点：一座巨大的圣甲虫雕塑，有着柔和的线条和弯曲的腿，还有一座巨大的拉美西斯二世(Ramesses II)半身像，正是它启发珀西·比希·雪莱(Percy Bysshe Shelley)写下了《奥兹曼迪亚斯》(Ozymandias)这首诗。
Nearby: Adjacent to the long Egyptian gallery is part of the museum’s Middle East collection. In Room 6, you’ll find the incredible human-headed, winged lion statues (883-859 B.C.) that formed the gates to the throne room of King Ashurnasirpal II of Assyria (which we now call northern Iraq). And yes, they do have five legs, because they were designed to be seen either from the front or from the side.
附近：长长的埃及馆旁边是博物馆中东藏品的一部分。在6号展厅里，可以看到不可思议的人面狮身有翅雕像（公元前883-859年），它们构成了通往亚述（今伊拉克北部）的阿淑尔纳西尔帕王二世(King Ashurnasirpal II)王座宫殿的大门。是的，它们有五条腿，因为它们是被设计为从正面或侧面观看的。
ART AND MYTH IN ATHENS
The Parthenon Sculptures | Room 18
帕台农(Parthenon)神殿雕塑 | 18号展厅
These beautiful friezes and sculptures formed part of the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens, built between 447 and 438 B.C. They were removed in 1805 by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in an attempt to save them from further degradation, but the British Museum’s possession of the Elgin Marbles, as they came to be called, has long been a subject of intense controversy.
Why It’s Must See: These intricately carved friezes and stand-alone sculptures offer a richly detailed portrait of Athenian society and mores.
What to Look For: The riveting horse’s head, with its bulging eyes and veined cheeks, exhausted from drawing the chariot of the moon across the night sky.
Nearby: The Nereid Monument, a large Lucian tomb found at Xanthos (in modern Turkey), in the adjacent Room 17 and is a wonderful melding of Greek and Middle Eastern figures, with nereids (mythical sea nymphs), a Persian king and a Greek army all depicted on its decorative panels.
附近：旁边的17号展厅内有涅内伊德碑像(The Nereid Monument)，以及在桑瑟斯古城（Xanthos，位于现在的土耳其）发现的一个巨大的卢西安(Lucian)坟茔，这座展厅是希腊与中东文物的精彩融合，装饰板上描绘着涅内伊德（神话里的海中仙女）、波斯国王和希腊军队。
THE INVENTION OF PORCELAIN
Chinese Ceramics (Sir Percival David collection) | Room 95
中国陶瓷（珀西瓦尔·大维德爵士[Sir Percival David]收藏） | 95号展厅
This stunning collection of Chinese ceramics is outstanding for its beauty, rarity and historical value. Some pieces date back to the invention of porcelain around 2,000 years ago.
Why It’s Must See: The gallery has more than 1,700 examples of breathtaking beautiful ceramic objects, both practical and fanciful.
What to Look For: The David Vases, probably the most important blue-and-white porcelain pieces in existence, have inscriptions near their tops that date them to 1351. Sir Percival David reunited the vases in 1935, after buying them from two separate collections.
看点：大维德花瓶(The David Vases)，可能是现存最重要的青花瓷器物，其顶部附近的铭文表明它们的年代可以追溯到1351年。1935年，珀西瓦尔·大维德爵士分别从两个收藏家手中买下它们，令这对花瓶重聚。
Nearby: Next to the ceramics gallery is Room 67, devoted to Korean culture and tradition from 300 B.C. to the present. It has an eclectic range of objects, including metalwork, drawings, painting, ceramics and calligraphy, and is well worth a look, even if just to see the re-creation of a saranbang, or traditional scholar’s study.
A SPECTACULAR ARCHEOLOGICAL DISCOVERY
Sutton Hoo Ship Burial | Room 41
萨顿胡船葬(Sutton Hoo Ship Burial) | 41号展厅
The 1937 discovery of an Anglo-Saxon ship dating from around A.D. 600 was an astonishing find of royal treasures. The 88.5-foot long ship was an archaeologist’s dream, packed with treasures, including gold jewelry, Byzantine silverware, a magnificent casket and an iron helmet. It may have been the burial place for an Anglo-Saxon king.
Why It’s Must See: The objects on display are exquisitely crafted and tell us much about Anglo-Saxon England and that the great treasures, epic travels and larger-than-life warriors of the poetry of that time were not far from reality.
What to Look For: Made of iron and covered with copper panels that show a range of scenes, the Sutton Hoo helmet is one of only four surviving helmets from the period. It has a distinctive shape and a menacing face-mask with copper eyebrows that are inlaid with silver wire and garnets, ending in a silver boar’s head.
Nearby: Even if you are not interested in clocks, Rooms 38 and 39 house wonderful timepieces that are likely to leave you marveling. Make sure to find the 1589 Carillon Clock that plays music written by Martin Luther, and the 1585 Mechanical Galleon, which has miniature soldiers striking bells and firing guns.
附近：就算你对钟表不感兴趣，38号展厅和39号展厅精美的钟表也可能会让你惊叹不已。一定要找到1589钟琴(1589 Carillon Clock)，它曾经被用来演奏马丁·路德(Martin Luther)谱写的音乐，还要找到1585机械帆船钟(1585 Mechanical Galleon)，上面有微型士兵敲钟和开枪。
THE SPORT OF KINGS
Assyrian Lion Hunts | Room 10
亚述猎狮(Assyrian Lion Hunts) | 10号展厅
The sculpted reliefs on alabaster panels that line this gallery illustrate the extravagant hunting rituals of the last great Assyrian King, Ashurbanipal, who lived between 668 and around 630 B.C. The panels depict a full story, from the release of the lions to the subsequent chase, the showering of arrows and the killings that marked the king’s prowess and power.
Why It’s Must See: The hunt scenes show a world of pageantry, ritual and unsentimental cruelty far from most western sensibilities today.
What to Look For: The little boy who releases the lions from their cage at the start of the sequence is a small, but charming detail.
Nearby: In another part of this gallery, you will find remnants of the palace of Ashurbanipal from what is now northern Iraq. Look closely at the stone wall panel, which shows finely observed studies of plants and animals, including the lions that were kept in the royal gardens.
Off the Beaten Path
Lesser-known but not less-important pieces reside in these five galleries.
Oxus Treasure | Room 52
奥克瑟斯宝藏(Oxus Treasur) | 52号展厅
This room features around 170 gold and silver objects, found when a group of merchants was rescued from bandits by a British officer near the Oxus River, in what was then the Persian Empire. The hoard contained vessels, sculptures, coins and votive plaques and they show the gold- and silversmithing skills of the Achaemenid period (550-331 B.C). Exquisite griffin-headed amulets, a goldfish with tiny scales and a horse and chariot sculpture are among these wonders.
The Holy Thorn Reliquary | Room 2a
圣荆棘圣物箱 | 2a展厅
This jewel box of a room contains some 300 precious objects from medieval and Renaissance Europe, bequeathed to the British Museum by the collector Baron Ferdinand Rothschild in 1898. Among the rarities found here is the Holy Thorn Reliquary, dating from 1397 and made to house a thorn from the crown of thorns placed on Christ’s head at his crucifixion. Look for the 16th-century theatrical cabinet that looks like a mini stage set, and a breathtaking 17th-century jade cup, with two dragonlike figures forming handles.
这个展厅内展出的珍宝中包含来自中世纪和文艺复兴时期欧洲的约300件珍贵物品，由收藏家费迪南德·罗斯柴尔德男爵(Baron Ferdinand Rothschild)在1898年遗赠给大英博物馆。其中的珍品包括圣荆棘圣物箱，它的历史可以追溯到1397年，用来盛放基督在十字架上被钉死时头戴的荆冠上的一根荆棘。还可以去看看一个16世纪的戏剧陈列柜，看上去像个迷你舞台；以及一个惊人的17世纪玉杯，有两个龙形手柄。
Mexico | Room 27
墨西哥 | 27号展厅
Briefly admire the Huastec goddess sculptures near the entrance, then head straight for the cabinet at the back of the room, which contains a double-headed serpent made from a single piece of cedar and covered in tiny turquoise mosaics. Its fanglike teeth are made from conch shells, its gums and snout from red oyster shell. The workmanship is spectacular, as it is on the two turquoise face-masks in cabinets found on each side of the serpent.
Hoa Hakananai’a | Room 24
失落的朋友(Hoa Hakananai'a) | 24号展厅
This monumental statue, from the incredibly remote Easter Island in the Pacific ocean, was taken by the crew of a British ship in 1868. It is hard to imagine how they moved the enormous statue, made of volcanic rock and weighing around four tons. With its cavernous eyes and curving mouth, there is something mesmerizing about the statue that repays a long and silent moment of contemplation.
African Collection | Room 25
非洲藏品 | 25号展厅
Although this collection is eclectic, there are superb pieces here, notably the 16th-century Benin Plaques. These rectangular metal panels served as decoration for the king’s palace, and they offer depictions of court life and its rituals, but also of European adventurers, and of gods and their attendants. Every plaque has a story to tell, offering a fascinating glimpse into a complex society. Don’t leave this gallery without seeing the contemporary Tree of Life, a 2004 sculpture made from decommissioned weapons from Mozambique’s civil war.
虽然这个系列藏品兼收并蓄，但也有一流的物品，特别是16世纪的贝宁铜板(Benin Plaques)。这些矩形金属板块是国王宫殿的装饰，它们描述了宫廷生活及其仪式，以及欧洲探险家、神和神的侍从。每个板块都有一个故事要讲，非常迷人，令人得以瞥见到一个复杂的社会。来了这个展厅，就一定要看看当代作品“生命之树”(Tree of Life)，它是一座2004年的雕塑，由莫桑比克内战中废弃的武器制成。
Unexpectedly Quiet Spots
If you need a break from the crowds, there are a few places that always seem peaceful.
THE ENLIGHTENMENT GALLERIES | ROOMS 1 AND 2
启蒙运动馆 | 1号和2号展厅
These long galleries, outfitted with oak and mahogany floors, classical columns, balconies and glass-fronted bookcases, offer a sense of another era. They were added to the original museum in 1823 to hold King George III’s collection of over 60,000 books, and now house a cabinet of curiosities that represent the insatiable curiosity and investigative spirit of the Age of Reason, from a 350,000-year-old hand ax to 18th-century plant specimens. In many ways, the Enlightenment Galleries feel like another museum altogether, and they are mostly tranquil and hushed.
这几个长长的展馆装有橡木和红木地板、古典式立柱、阳台和玻璃门书架，感觉像是另一个时代。1823年，它们被添加到原始的博物馆当中，用来保存乔治三世(King George III)的6万多本藏书，现在则用来陈列那些象征理性时代无止境的好奇心与探索精神的珍品，从拥有35万年历史的手斧到18世纪的植物标本。在很多方面，启蒙运动馆感觉像是另一个博物馆，这里大部分时间都是宁静安详的。
Instead of taking the elevators to the second or the third levels, take the wide staircases at each end of the museum and spend some time looking at the artwork that everyone else walks past. The North stairs feature an extraordinary white marble Amitabha Buddha from northern China that rises through the museum’s four stories. The West stairs boast stunning mosaic panels from the 4th and 5th centuries.
THE PRINT GALLERIES | ROOM 90
印刷馆 | 90号展厅
Tucked away on the fourth floor, the print galleries hold an astounding archive of more than two million prints, dating back to 1400. The display here is always changing, but you can ask to see any of the prints, in the adjacent study room. Consult the online archive ahead of time.
Carved Jade Terrapin From Allahabad | Room 34
阿拉哈巴德玉龟(Carved Jade Terrapin From Allahabad) | 34号展厅
This 90-pound terrapin is carved from a single piece of green jade and was found at the bottom of a water cistern during engineering excavations in 1803. The wonderfully lifelike piece is thought to be from the early 1600s. Note how the slightly off-center head creates the impression that the creature is moving forward.
Chinese Ceramic Tomb Guardians | Room 33
中国守墓陶俑 | 33号展厅
Look at the detail and variety of these color-glazed burial figures from the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-906). There are two guardian figures, called lokapala, a military official, a civil official and two fantastical beasts. Don’t overlook the bird of prey on the military official’s hat.
Painting and Calligraphy Gallery | Room 91a
绘画书法馆 | 91a号展厅
This changing display of painting and calligraphy from China includes the delicately wrought “Admonitions Scroll” (A.D. 344-406), an early example of the integration of the arts of poetry, painting and calligraphy. A digital interactive version is available when the scroll is not on display.
Gems From Ur | Room 56
乌尔的珍宝 | 56号展厅
These items are from one of the earliest cities in the world, Ur in Mesopotamia, and date back to around 2500 B.C. The Standard of Ur is a box, with inlaid mosaic showing incredibly elaborate war scenes on one side and scenes of tribute and banqueting on the other. The Royal Game of Ur, also known as the Game of 20 Squares, is one of the oldest gaming boards in existence (and shows that board games were as popular then as they are now).
这些物品来自世界上最早的城市之一，美索不达米亚的乌尔，时间可追溯到大约公元前2500年。“乌尔军旗”( The Standard of Ur)是一个盒子，盒子一侧镶嵌的马赛克展示了极为精致的战争场面，另一侧则是进贡和宴会的场景。 乌尔王族局戏(The Royal Game of Ur)，也被称为廿格戏(Game of 20 Squares)，是已知最古老的棋类游戏之一（并且表明当时的棋类游戏像现在一样盛行）。
The World of Alexander | Room 22
亚历山大的世界 | 22号展厅
If you haven’t had time to see the Greek and Roman galleries, head here for a condensed look at artifacts from a time when the Greek world was at its height of power, influence and artistic patronage, under Alexander the Great (around 330 B.C.). Look for the beautiful marble statue of Demeter and the decorated column fragment from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
如果你没有时间看希腊和罗马展厅，那就到这里来做个精华概览吧，这个时期希腊世界在在亚历山大大帝（Alexander the Great，约公元前330年）领导下，正值其权力、影响力与对艺术的赞助达到顶峰之时。寻找美丽的德米特(Demeter)大理石雕像，以及以弗所的阿尔忒弥斯神殿(Temple of Artemis)装饰柱的残片，这座神殿是古代世界的七大奇迹之一。
Going With Kids?
Strategize your visit to the British Museum to make it a day they’ll never forget either.
DON’T LEAVE THE KIDS AT HOME
The British Museum is particularly child-friendly. The family desk provides backpacks with suggested child-appropriate routes, notes on the objects they will see, and small coloring books. Digital guides ($7) provide games that are linked to different displays, best suited to those under 10. The museum’s website offers a calendar of family events and suggestions of child-friendly activities. If you want to pick a few things to see on your own, here are four suggestions.One note: Don’t try do too much with children – the museum is large and usually crowded, and there aren’t many places to sit down. One or two well-chosen spots will probably be enough for visitors under 10. Remember, you can come back – it’s free!
MUMMIES | ROOMS 62-63
木乃伊 | 62-63号展厅
This may sound a little ghoulish, but children are bound to be fascinated by the richly decorated and carved sarcofagi that fill this room – and charmed by the sacred animals (cats, bulls and crocodiles among them) that were also mummified.
THE LEWIS CHESSMEN | ROOM 40
路易斯西洋棋 | 40号展厅
These elaborately carved chess pieces, thought to date back to 1150, are made from walrus ivory and whale teeth, and were found on the Scottish Isle of Lewis in 1831. Children will notice that each piece has a different, curious expression (some rather glum) – and that they are familiar from their larger-than-life cameo in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
这些采用海象牙和鲸齿精心雕刻而成的象棋子出自1150年，但直到1831年才在苏格兰的路易斯岛被发现。孩子们会注意到每一枚棋子都有一个不同的、有趣的表情（有几个相当不开心）——在《哈利·波特与魔法石》(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)中的大号炫酷客串演出让他们成了熟面孔。
NATIVE AMERICAN HEADDRESSES | ROOM 26
美洲原住民头饰 | 26号展厅
Here are wonderfully expressive, colorful masks and headdresses, some representing ancestors, others worn for dancers and actors, or exclusively by chieftains. Kids will have fun imagining who the characters could be, and picking their favorites.
Tips for Visiting
The museum’s exhibition spaces open at 10 a.m., seven days a week. However, the museum’s Great Court, its extensive bookshop and ground-floor café all open at 9 a.m. Tip: go early, have a drink, browse the seriously tempting bookshop, and admire the lofty space and wonderful sculptures of the Great Court. Then be first to get into the exhibitions, which are relatively quiet for the first hour.
Want to go later? Expect crowds. Consider visiting after 5 p.m. on a Friday, when the museum is open until 8.30 p.m. (It closes at 5:30 p.m. on other days.)
Admission is free for the museum and its main collections, although you must pay to visit the featured exhibitions. (There are usually two of these at any one time.)
Use the back entrance on Montague Street to avoid the long lines at the front. You will still go through a security point, but there are always far fewer people here.
PLAN YOUR DAY
Finding your way around is not easy, even with the helpfully detailed official map, which you should grab immediately. Our map can help, too. But the British Museum is enormous; expect to get lost, but enjoy the amazing exhibits you stumble into.
The audio guides ($8) are especially helpful, if you’d like to follow one of the tours it suggests.
Want a proper afternoon tea? Avoid the busy café on the ground floor, and head up to the Great Court restaurant on the third floor. (The quickest way to do this is to walk up the stairs on either side of the huge circular dome — which usually houses temporary exhibitions — in the middle of the Great Court.) The restaurant is a delightful haven from the noise and bustle.
There are restrooms all over the museum, but crowds tend to form around those behind the bookshop and giftshop in the Great Court. It’s worth seeking out less frequented spots, all marked on the map.
DON’T MISS THE BOOKSHOP
The British Museum bookshop is exceptional, with a particularly strong children’s section that might provide good gifts. If you fancy a smaller-scale version of the Great Court lion, or of a horse’s head from the Acropolis, visit the collections shop to the right of the main entrance, which sells more expensive items, including replicas of statues and other pieces.