The Great Court

Great Court 

Opening times

Daily 09.00–17.30 (20.30 on Fridays)

At the centre of the British Museum is the Great Court, the largest covered public square in Europe.

Enclosed under a spectacular glass and steel roof, the court contains a number of sculptures from the Museum's collection. The sculptures on display introduce the cultures represented in the galleries beyond and include examples from fifth-century Ireland, late Ming Dynasty China, ancient Nimrud (now in Iraq) and the Greek and Roman empires.

The Great Court surrounds the famous Reading Room, a space that has been hailed as one of the great sights of London. It was once a world-famous centre of learning with famous readers, including Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and even Lenin.

Gallery facts

  • In the original Robert Smirke design, the Great Court was supposed to be a garden an open courtyard for promenading.
  • From 1852 it became the home of the library department of the Museum. The Reading Room and the iron bookstacks surrounding it, which covered most of the courtyard, opened in 1857.
  • After the library department relocated to the British Library in 1997, the Museum took the opportunity to re-open the space to the public. An architectural competition to redesign the space was launched.  
  • Designed by Foster and Partners, the Great Court was transformed into a two-acre space (3,692.5m2) enclosed by a spectacular glass roof with the world famous Reading Room in the middle.
  • The Great Court's glass and steel roof is made from 3,212 panes of glass, no two of which are the same. 
  • The Great Court was opened on 6 December 2000 by Her Majesty the Queen.
     

Accessibility

Visit Accessibility at the Museum for more information.