The Introverts Guide to the British Museum

The Great Court. 
I’ve visited London numerous times. Each time, I stay in a different neighborhood, which allows me to explore the city one corner at a time. This method is clearly flawed. It means you miss out on some of the other great things in the city if you focus on just one neighborhood. The only way this works is if you know you are going to be a regular visitor. I've made a lot more trips to London than I would have ever originally imagined. However, one big spot has always escaped me, The British Museum  This is rather odd since I used to have a minor obsession with the Rosetta Stone. Honestly, the first two trips I didn’t even know it was IN the British Museum, so, my bad.

What you need to know about the British Museum is that it is perpetually packed. On any given day it is filled with tourists from all over the world and hoards of school children running like it’s a football field. Entrance is an optional £5 donation. There are two entrances, main and rear, each easily accessible by the street.  The museum has an open foyer in the middle with a sky high, textured, rolling ceiling that lets in lots of natural light. The museum technically has 8 floors. Floors -1 and -2 house the education and research centers in addition to a few specialized collections, which most people miss.  If you enter through the rear entrance, Montague Place, you will enter on level -1. The main entrance on Great Russell Street brings you right into the Great Court, the foyer I referred to above. You will know it is the main entrance because of the columns and facade and all of the people hanging around in the front courtyard (see below). The biggest collections in the museum can be found on level 0 (ground floor for my fellow Americans), the same level as the Great Court and on level 3. Collections are scattered on all of the floors but unless you are spending multiple days here you will have to prioritize what you want to see. Collections range from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome to Medieval Europe and just about everything in between.

Enlightenment Room 
Museums are usually a great place for introverts, there’s a lot to read, great open spaces and corners to be alone in, and a lot of them can be quiet. The British Museum is not one of those places. It is loud and very busy. It took a lot of work to find galleries that weren’t teeming with people. Matching what you want to see with those quiet galleries is quite a challenge. I was able to find a few places where you could have a few minutes alone to recharge if needed. The upper floors were less busy overall, mostly because I think a lot of people don’t make it up there with all of the galleries on the other floors. The outer galleries of Level 0 are also a little quieter (Rooms 18, 18b, 15, 14, 13, 10, and 7 specifically). The Enlightenment room, number 1 on the map, was very quiet and less populated. Room 4, off the left side of the Great Court was the busiest I saw, not a great surprise since the Rosetta Stone is in there. The Great Court is really unique and beautiful but one loop around it was enough for me. It was overwhelmingly crowded, it felt like a mall food court at lunch. (Rooms 49-52 on level 3 were also a bit calmer)

The Rosetta Stone. 
My big “get” was the Rosetta Stone as I mentioned earlier and it was very easy to find. It can be found right off the Great Court and is marked on the map with an “I.” If by some fluke there were not 50 people around it you could actually see it from the Great Court through the doorway.  I went by it several times and it was always surrounded. I wedged myself into the crowd so I could read the placard and get a good look at it, but it wasn’t long before I got shoved. I left to find a quiet corner shortly after.

Main entrance
Personal Note - While I enjoyed the British Museum, I think I would have enjoyed it more on my first or second trip to London. Specifically because at that point I had done very little other travel. It would have been a great window into what I would later be blessed to see in person. I think that is why it was so exciting to see so many school children there. It is a perfect introduction to history and the history of modern archaeological finds. People who have never traveled will be especially inspired by all that is found around the world and exhibited in this museum. There is something for everyone there. I particularly liked some of the Mycenaean period jewelry.


Enter through the rear, Montague Place entrance. It is less overwhelming.

Spread your visit over a few days if there are a lot of specific things you want to see. Spend a couple of hours each day, instead of doing 8 hours in one day at the museum.

Pick up a map of the museum in the Great Court for a donation of £1. It is the best way to prioritize your visit. Any room with a yellow boxed letter will be busier. The museum map also gives its own suggestions for avoiding the crowds.

The Gallery CafĂ© on Level 0 is quite secluded because it is all the way through the galleries. It is a great recharge refuge. It wasn’t even that busy at lunch time. It’s too out of the way for most people to find.

Go alone or separate from your group if possible. The ability to go at your own pace in a place like this goes a long way towards needing less of a recharge.  Being pushed and pulled by a group can easily lead to over-stimulation in a place like this.

Enjoy any moment you have a gallery to yourself. It’s rare.

And most importantly, don’t feel guilty about needing a recharge or checking out because of over-stimulation. Your brain works differently and THAT’S OK!

Completely overwhelmed just reading this?

Get an audio guide or take one of the numerous highlight tours available for free.

Not sure how to get there?

The museum has a great resource page for you.