Charge overseas visitors £20 entry to British Museum, says former director

The museum requires renovation funds in the region of £500 million   (Getty Images)
The museum requires renovation funds in the region of £500 million (Getty Images)

A former director of the British Museum has called for visiting tourists to pay a general admission fee to fund renovation efforts.

Sir Mark Jones, 73, thinks that tourists should also be charged an entry fee at the National Gallery, Science Museum and Natural History Museum, but believes that access to the museums should remain free for British taxpayers and foreign visitors under 25.

The interim director of the British Museum since September 2023 told The Sunday Times: “The British put a very high value on free entry to museums — that is our tradition.

“People who support museums as taxpayers shouldn’t also have to pay to visit them.”

He also called for the museum to share the Elgin marbles – removed from the Parthenon and Acropolis of Athens since 1801 – in partnership with Greece.

The marble’s origin country has long called for the statue collection to be reunited with partner Parthenon works on display at the Acropolis Museum.

“If we were ever to find a way to create a partnership with the Greeks over the Parthenon Marbles, we would need to find a way to fund it,” said Jones.

The London museum, which requires an extensive refurbishment for a reported sum between £400 and £500 million, struck a £50 million deal with BP last year as part of funding to sustain the space.

Entry to the museum’s permanent exhibitions is currently free with one-off fees for non-members at some short-term displays.

Jones thinks it would “make sense” to charge admission to overseas visitors at some of the UK’s biggest tourist attractions as “they charge us”.

Most of Europe’s most popular museums charge an entry fee. Visitors to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel face a €20 (£16.90) charge, while The Louvre in Paris costs €22 (£18.60) for general adult admission.

The British art historian said, “The money has to come from somewhere.”

To “reasonably” charge tourists an admission price of around £20 would reduce overcrowding at exhibits and entry queue times, according to Jones.

“The museum is too busy for people to experience it as they should; fighting your way through the crowds doesn’t put you in the best state of mind to look at the collections,” said Jones.

The former director believes the entry fee could also improve staff wages and reduce ticket prices for pop-up exhibitions.

Previously in charge of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Jones took the role of interim museum director to restore the institution’s reputation following a theft scandal under Hartwig Fischer’s control.

Fischer acted as British Museum director from 2016 to 2023, during which time up to 2,000 items and artefacts were reported missing from the museum’s collection.

The director of the National Portrait Gallery, Dr Nicholas Cullinan, was announced as the museum’s new permanent director in March.