London: Westminster, St James’s Park and Hieroglyphs at the British Museum

On my second day in London, I headed into town bright and early to start the day with a little touristing. My destination? Westminster.

Situated on the banks of the River Thames in the heart of London, the historic district is home to a slew of the capital and the country’s most iconic landmarks, including the eponymous Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

Westminster Abbey

Inspired by the previous day’s visit to St Paul’s Cathedral, my first port of call was the magnificent Westminster Abbey.

The abbey, which has played host to countless royal weddings, funerals and coronations, dates back to 960 when it was founded by Benedictine monks. The current cathedral was built by King Henry III in the mid-13th century.

I’d visited the abbey years ago on a day trip to London with some school friends and hadn’t been back since, so I was keen to take another look.

But when I got there I found it was closed, so I had to make do with admiring it’s splendid exterior instead.

I wasn’t too bothered about not going inside as I was happy aimlessly wandering the streets and I can always go back another time – just, note to self and others, not on a Wednesday morning.

Statue of George V next to Westminster Abbey

I strolled around the side of the cathedral to look at it from all angles. Then crossed the road at Parliament Square Garden, making my way past the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, and over Westminster Bridge, where I stopped for a good look at the Palace of Westminster (below).

Houses of Parliament, London

After crossing the bridge via the underpass, I headed back over the Thames, this time on the other side of the bridge, so I could take in the view to the east (below).

Millennium Eye

After admiring the Millennium Eye and the newly-restored Big Ben (below), I scooted around the side of Parliament Square Garden towards the lovely St James’s Park.

Big Ben

I don’t know why, but of all the parks in central London, I often forget about St James’s Park (below) and don’t visit it nearly as often as I should.

St James's Park

It’s a wonderful park and despite it’s central location, I don’t find it too busy – possibly because I’m not the only one who forgets about it.

I strolled through the park, stopping to take some photos from the picturesque bridge in the centre of the lake. Then meandered to the café, where I stopped for a warming hot chocolate.

St James's Park

Refreshed, I continued my stroll through St James’s to the enormous Waterstones on Piccadilly, where I browsed the many floors looking for Christmas presents, then crossed Lower Regent’s Street to the Japan Centre for sushi.

After lunch, I popped back to St Paul’s Cathedral to check out the crypt as I hadn’t had time to do so the day before and then made my way to the British Museum (below) to visit the Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt exhibition.

The British Museum

Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt is the latest blockbuster exhibition at the British Museum and it marks the 200th anniversary of the hieroglyphs’ decipherment by Jean-François Champollion, a French Egyptologist.

The exhibition explores hieroglyphs, their use in Ancient Egypt, how they were eventually deciphered, as well as other forms of ancient writing.

Throughout the exhibition there are three ‘gem-birds’, based on the bird-like hieroglyph that means ‘to find’, to discover.

Each one gives visitors a chance to decipher a hieroglyph to learn an ancient Egyptian saying. It was a fun way to learn more about hieroglyphs and their meaning.

There are also lots of display panels that explain the meaning of different symbols – the owl symbol, for example, represents ‘m’.

Exhibit about ancient handwriting

The start of the exhibition focuses on early forms of writing, such as Coptic, and early attempts to decipher the hieroglyphs.

It also looks at the craze for collecting ancient Egyptian artifacts and the collections people amassed in previous centuries, many of which ended up in national museums, as well as the fake objects that inevitably cropped up.

The enchanted basin

Among the many intriguing artifacts on display in the early part of the exhibition is the ‘enchanted basin’, an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus dating from around 600BC, that’s inscribed with hieroglyphs (above).

Souvenirs from Ferdinando Cospi's Egyptology collection

One of the craziest and most macabre things I learned was that from the 1600s to the early 1900s people would have ‘mummy unwrapping parties’, where people would come together to unwrap mummified remains.

It’s such an inappropriately disrespectful, not to mention bizarre thing to do that it blows my mind that people not only used to think it was okay, but it was considered a form of entertainment. It’s like they didn’t view the individuals inside as human beings.

Many of the bandages had writing on them, so the unwrapped bandages proved useful to scholars trying to decipher the hieroglyphs.

Rosetta Stone

The most notable artifact on display is the Rosetta Stone (above), the Memphis stele that was key to cracking the hieroglyphic code.

Its one of the most famous objects in the British Museum’s collection and has pride of place in the exhibition.

The celebrated stele was discovered by French soldiers in Rashid, Egypt in 1799 after Napoleon invaded the country and it was handed over to the British two years later as part of a peace treaty.

The stele features a decree by Ptolemy V, which is inscribed in three languages, one of which happens to be hieroglyphs, and it was this that helped scholars finally decipher their meaning.

The Race to Decipherment display

A large part of the exhibition focuses on the ‘race to decipherment’ charting, in chronological order, the attempts of scholars at the beginning of the 19th century to decode the hieroglyphs.

The Askew Codex

Two scholars led the way, the aforementioned Jean-François Champollion and the British polymath Thomas Young.

Drawings by travellers to Egypt

Scholars often relied on drawings that travellers visiting Egypt made of the objects they came across (above).

It was fascinating seeing and reading about the different objects and pieces of information that helped the scholars with their work.

Champollion's letter to Bon-Joseph Dacier

Jean-François Champollion eventually deciphered the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone in September 1822, and he wrote about his breakthrough in a letter to his colleague Bon-Joseph Dacier (above).

The Abydos King List

The exhibition then moves on to look at how the ability to read ancient Egyptian texts has helped scholars improve our understanding of life in Ancient Egypt.

The many artifacts on display that helped with this included the Abydos King List (above), studied by Champollion, which lists the names of 34 Ancient Egyptian kings.

Statue of Pharaoh Sety II

The Ancient Egyptians carved inscriptions or wrote on a variety of objects and it was interesting to see the range of inscribed artifacts, from statues of pharoahs (above) to cartonnages housing mummified remains (below).

The mummified remains of Bakentenhor

But the exhibition also delves into the use of hieroglyphs in everyday life, from weights and measures to maths textbooks and letters detailing marriages, divorces and business deals.

Weights, measures and maths in ancient Egypt display

So much of what we see and hear about Ancient Egypt focuses on the pharoahs, pyramids and mummified remains that it was interesting and refreshing to learn about everyday life in the kingdom and to see some of the objects they used (below).

Early Ancient Egyptian writing materials

I enjoyed Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt. I really like codes and puzzles, although I’m terrible at solving them, and enjoyed having an opportunity to find out the story behind one of the most famous decipherments in history.


Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt
British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG
Open daily 10am to 5pm, 8.30pm on Fridays, until 19 February 2023

12 thoughts on “London: Westminster, St James’s Park and Hieroglyphs at the British Museum

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  1. Although I loved your tour around Westminster, I really enjoyed reading about the museum. Firstly I didn’t know that the mummies’ bandages have writing on them. Secondly, they had unwrapping parties!! That’s crazy and clearly before scary movies!! Maggie

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am sorry to hear that Westminster Abbey was closed, and you didn’t get a chance to have another look, it truly is a magnificent place to visit despite the steep entry price. I would love to see the Rosetta Stone and three of its scripts up close. There was a time when the Rosetta Stone sat uncovered in the museum and people could walk up, touch the stone and trace the writing with their fingers. I am glad the museum realized this probably wasn’t good for the longevity of the artefact and placed it beneath a glass case. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was my own fault and a lesson in why you should always check the opening times before setting off. Gosh, I can’t believe they used to let people touch the stone, that’s crazy! Definitely a wise decision to put it in a glass case. Thanks for commenting Aiva and have a nice day, too 🙂 xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Your photos are absolutely beautiful – and The British Museum is truly special isn’t it. I feel like I could spent an entire year in London and still not see so much of it, we try and spend a weekend there every year doing something new and in 10 years now we’ve barely scratched the surface!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the British Museum, it’s one of my favourite museums. There’s so much to see and it’s expertly curated. I know what you mean, I lived in London for seven years and despite going out and about every weekend (and many an evening), there’s still lots I never got around to seeing!


  4. I love getting an early start to the day, especially on vacation when you’re able to start exploring the sights before the crowds take over. It’s too bad that Westminster Abbey was closed, but it sounds like you were able to still fill your day by wandering around and taking in some of the other iconic sights of London. And you even got to enjoy some blue skies and sun. Glad you were able to return to St Paul’s Cathedral to explore the crypt. Looks interesting. Thanks for sharing. Linda

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Linda. I do, too. I love being one of the first to arrive and being able to look around in relative peace. The good thing about London is there’s so much to do that even if your plans fall through, there are always plenty of other options. I was so lucky with the weather, it felt like it rained non-stop between October and January, so it was a relief it stayed sunny most of the time.

      Liked by 1 person

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