British Museum

Top choice museum in The West End

Image by Chris Hepburn Getty Images

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 others. It is frequently London’s most-visited attraction, drawing 6.5 million visitors annually.

Don't miss 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 (then the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire); and the large collection of Egyptian mummies.

Other must-see items include the Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo burial relics and the Winged Bulls from Khorsabad.

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 1823.

The Great Court, restored and augmented by Norman Foster in 2000, 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 mâché, where Karl Marx researched and wrote Das Kapital, and Mahatma Gandhi was a cardholder.

The British Museum's extension, the £135 million World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre in its northwestern corner, opened in 2014, in the same year as the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, which hosts high-profile exhibitions.

The museum is huge, so make a few focused visits if you have time, and consider taking one of the free tours. There are up to 15 free 30- to 40-minute Eye-opener tours of individual galleries each day. The museum also has free 45-minute lunchtime gallery talks (1.15pm Tuesday to Friday), a 1½-hour highlights tour (£14; 11.30am and 2pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday) and free 20-minute spotlight tours on Friday evenings. Audio and family guides (adult/child £7/6) in 10 languages are available from the audio-guide desk in the Great Court.