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With artefacts spanning two million years of human history and culture, the British Museum is an enormous cabinet de curiosités. Opened in 1759, this was the first public national museum – and entry is still free for all ‘studious and curious persons’. From Egyptian mummies to antiquities, there are 80,000 objects on display, cherry-picked from a collection of over eight million pieces. Must-sees include the Rosetta Stone, which unlocked ancient hieroglyphics, and the exquisite, fifth-century Parthenon marbles.  

To avoid the biggest crowds, visit on a weekday morning and head for the entrance on Montague Place. It’s usually quieter than the main approach, and you can always double back to see the soaring, glass-covered courtyard. Afterwards, spend the afternoon wandering Bloomsbury, with its stately garden squares and Georgian townhouses. Atmospheric old-timers include The Lamb pub, where Charles Dickens was once a regular, and umbrella emporium James Smith & Sons, in situ since 1831. Our pick of the best addresses also takes in some hip newcomers – including Taiwanese street-food joint Bao and a fabulously retro bowling alley.

Shops and restaurants
around the British Museum

  • London Review Bookshop

    14-16 Bury Place, WC1A 2JL

    An offshoot of the scholarly London Review of Books, this small but prestigious bookshop is impeccably curated. From poetry to cookery, philosophy to fiction, it has most genres covered, and often stocks hard-to-find titles from smaller publishers and imprints. Big-name authors regularly drop by for talks and readings, while the café is a cosy spot for tea and home-made cakes.

  • BAO Fitz

    31 Windmill Street, W1T 2JN

    Never bitten into a bao? This London mini-chain serves some of the best in town; fluffy, Taiwanese-style steamed buns, stuffed with crunchy daikon or terrific confit pork. Cooked in squid-ink batter, the black cod bao’s a standout – as is the fried chicken chop, served with a soy cured-egg. This branch is the only one to take reservations, so call ahead for a table or risk a snaking queue.

  • Brunei Gallery

    SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, WC1H 0XG

    This culturally curious gallery is part of London’s Museum Mile, which stretches all the way from Euston to the Thames. Owned by SOAS university, it’s an under-the-radar gem, with a rooftop Japanese garden and free exhibitions. Spanning Asia, Africa and the Middle East, they’re always delightfully varied, from vibrant displays of ikat textiles to film posters from Ghana.

  • All Star Lanes Holborn

    Victoria House, Bloomsbury Place, WC1B 4DA

    Bowling and burgers is a tried-and-tested combination, served with a retro twist at this sleek, four-lane alley. Its decor riffs on vintage Americana, with neon signs and 50s pin-ups, while the low-lit bar mixes a mean Old Fashioned. Slide into a booth at the diner for polished, comfort-food classics, from cheeseburgers and buttermilk chicken to creamy mac ’n’ cheese.

  • L Cornelissen & Son

    105 Great Russell Street, WC1B 3RY

    This old-fashioned art shop is impossible to resist, with its narrow, Dickensian shopfront and hand-painted signage. Founded in 1855, it’s stocked with artists’ essentials, from sable brushes and Japanese inks to a rainbow array of rare pigments. Over the years, all kinds of famous names have browsed its wooden shelves, including Rex Whistler, Francis Bacon and Damien Hirst.

  • The Coral Room

    16-22 Great Russell Street, WC1B 3NN

    Designed by Martin Brudnizki, the coral-pink bar at the Bloomsbury Hotel is a fabulously opulent affair. Its interiors exude art-deco glamour, with bespoke chandeliers, curving banquettes and a polished marble bar. An elegant drinks list champions English sparkling wines, which also appear in the cocktails – like the fragrant Bloomsbury Blush, spiked with crème de pêche.

  • Lima

    31 Rathbone Place, W1T 1JH  

    This was the first Peruvian restaurant in Europe to score a Michelin star, back in 2013. Its game-changing dishes are packed with colour and flavour, from slow-braised pork with choclo corn to spicy seafood tiraditos. For a blowout lunch, try the eight-course tasting menu, which includes the braised octopus and moreish alfajores, filled with outrageously rich dulce de leche ice-cream.

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