There are world-class museums located across the globe, from well-established institutions such as the British Museum in London and The Met in New York to newer builds and niche offerings. For museum fans, the choice is endless. Here, we look at 20 of the world’s most visited museums.
Top of the list is the Louvre in Paris, which broke attendance records in 2018 when it crossed the 10 million visitor mark. A must-see on any trip to Paris, it is a favoured haunt of celebrities too, including Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
Other highlights include some of London’s best-loved museums, such as the V&A and the National Gallery. In the US, big names like the American Museum of Natural History and the National Gallery of Art. Meanwhile, China’s top museums include the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum and Nanjing Museum. Read on to find out which are the world’s most visited museums.
1 The Louvre – Paris, France
With record-breaking visitor figures, The Louvre is undoubtedly one of the most popular museums in the world. It is home to over 380,000 objects and a permanent collection that covers 60,600 square metres. Visitors can enjoy sculptures, paintings, drawings, and more, with famous highlights being the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo
As well as its world-class collection, it is also a landmark in itself, thanks to the iconic Louvre Pyramid, designed by the Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei.
In recent years, the Louvre has put extra effort into managing visitor flows and visiting conditions. Even pre-COVID, the museum encouraged people to book their visit online, especially in the peak summer months. These measures make it easier for the museum to set a cap on the number of daily visitors, for a less crowded, more enjoyable experience.
The Louvre’s Leonardo da Vinci exhibition was visited by around 1.1 million guests. The show ran for four months in 2019/20 and commemorated the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death.
In 2021, the museum announced that it had put its entire collection of artworks online.
2 National Museum of China – Beijing, China
The second most visited museum in the world is the National Museum of China in Beijing, China. This free museum is home to 1.3 million objects, displayed in a series of galleries exploring everything from ancient ceramics and calligraphy to jade and bronze treasures, as well as Buddhist sculptures and socialist-realism art.
Recent exhibitions have covered a wide range of topics from across the world of art, culture, history and politics. These have included The Power of Truth: Marking the Bicentenary of the Birth of Karl Marx, The Journey Back Home: An Exhibition of Chinese Artifacts Repatriated from Italy and The Splendor of Asia: An Exhibition of Asian Civilizations.
3 Vatican Museums – Vatican City
The Vatican Museums display works from the Catholic Church’s collection and the papacy throughout the centuries. The museums contain around 70,000 works including Roman sculptures and Renaissance art.
To mark the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, the Vatican Museums held a free exhibition of the artist’s famous painting of Saint Jerome in 2019. The work of art was moved from the Vatican Pinacoteca to the Braccio di Carlo Magno in Saint Peter’s Square.
Here, it was on display for three months alongside a document from the Historical Archive of the Fabric of Saint Peter which details da Vinci’s stay in an apartment arranged for him in the Vatican Belvedere.
4 The Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York, USA
Number four on the list of the most visited museums in the world is The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met).
The Met is the largest art museum in the United States and holds more than 2 million works in its permanent collection. It is famous for holding blockbuster attractions, such as 2018’s record-breaking Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer. It also hosts the Met Gala each year, although the 2020 event had to be moved online due to the pandemic.
In 2021, Sofie Andersen, head of digital content at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, spoke to blooloop about digital storytelling and the museum’s online strategy.
5 British Museum – London, UK
The UK’s first entry on the list of the most visited museums is London’s British Museum.
The British Museum was the first public national museum in the world. It is home to around 8 million works and is dedicated to history, art and culture.
One of the museum’s key exhibitions of recent years was 2019’s Inspired by the east: How the Islamic world influenced western art. This blockbuster exhibition spanned five centuries and explored the influence of the Islamic world on western art. It was a collaboration with the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) in Kuala Lumpur.
The British Museum also worked with Samsung to reopen the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre and launch a digital learning programme for teenagers. Together, they also announced a further 35,000 places for school children across the UK on its ‘Virtual Visits’ scheme.
In 2021, blooloop spoke to Amanda Mayne, international engagement manager at the British Museum, about touring exhibitions, the lessons we can take from the pandemic, and the importance of international partnerships.
6 Tate Modern – London, UK
London museums dominate the next few spaces on our list of the world’s most visited museums, with Tate Modern coming in at 6th place.
Visitors to Tate Modern can explore Tate’s collection of British and international modern and contemporary art from 1900 to the present. Tate Museum is housed in one of London’s historic buildings, the former Bankside Power Station. Here, it is able to display very large pieces in the huge Turbine Hall.
Founded in 2000, Tate Modern celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2020 and had a series of events planned, before COVID-19 struck. This included a special immersive exhibition by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama featuring her ‘Infinity Rooms’ (pictured above).
In 2021, the director of digital at Tate, Hilary Knight, spoke to blooloop about how digital enhances the museum’s mission.
7 The National Gallery – London, UK
A popular tourist destination in the city centre, the National Gallery first opened in 1824. The iconic building in Trafalgar Square holds a collection of over 2,300 paintings, which date from the mid-13th century to 1900.
In 2019, the National Gallery continued its mission to expand the brand into Asia, with a branded pop-up store in the Grandview mall, Guangzhou. Here, visitors could enjoy interactive installations with replicas of famous works. The 200 square metre pop-up featured art from Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Raphael. Visitors could also learn more about the artists through a series of innovative room sets.
In 2021, the museum unveiled £25m upgrade plans. This will include work on the iconic Trafalgar Square buildings to reconfigure the Sainsbury Wing, upgrade the visitor amenities, create new spaces and renovate the ground floor entrance.
8 The Natural History Museum – London, UK
Visitors to the Natural History Museum in London can view items from its 80 million-strong collection of specimens. These cover five main subjects; botany, entomology, mineralogy, palaeontology and zoology. It is particularly famous for its dinosaur exhibits.
In 2019, The Natural History Museum received support from the National Lottery for its Urban Nature Project. This aims to transform the attraction’s five acres of outdoor space. The gardens will become a space for urban wildlife research and conservation.
The museum is one of several to have declared a planetary emergency and in 2021, the museum was involved in a series of events at COP26 in Glasgow. A key strategy that underpins a lot of its work is its goal to create advocates for the planet.
9 American Museum of Natural History – New York, USA
The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. It spans 26 connected buildings and is home to 45 permanent exhibition halls, as well as a planetarium and a library. It is home to more than 34 million specimens.
At the end of 2018, a Manhattan Supreme Court Judge ruled against a neighbourhood group that tried to block the museum’s expansion project. The $383 million expansion will take up about a quarter of an acre of nearby Theodore Roosevelt Park.
10 State Hermitage – St Petersburg, Russia
The State Hermitage in St Petersburg is the second-largest art museum in the world and dates back to 1764. It has been open to the public since 1852.
Visitors can enjoy a huge collection of paintings within the complex of historic buildings. This includes the Winter Palace, which used to be the home of Russian emperors, and the Menshikov Palace.
11 Shanghai Science and Technology Museum – Shanghai, China
Shanghai Science and Technology Museum in Pudong, Shanghai, is China’s second entry in our list of the most visited museums in the world and first opened to the public on 18 December 2001 when it began by looking at the themes of nature, people and technology. It welcomed over 19.5 million visitors during the first decade of operation.
Permanent exhibitions include World of Robots, Space Navigation, Spectrum of Life and Earthcrust Exploration. It also holds special exhibitions throughout the year.
In 2021, the Shanghai Astronomy Museum, the world’s largest planetarium and a branch of the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, opened to the public after nearly five years of construction.
12 Reina Sofía – Madrid, Spain
Spain makes an entry on this list of the world’s most visited museums with Madrid’s Reina Sofía. This museum reported a healthy increase of 13.5% last year, from 3,898,000 in 2018.
The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS) is the country’s national museum of 20th-century art. It holds a large collection of work by two of Spain’s most famous artists, Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso.
Notable exhibitions recently have included displays of the works of Henrik Olesen, Sara Ramo and H.C. Westerman. The museum also held an exhibition exploring the recreational and political resistances in Madrid during the 1990s.
13 National Museum of Natural History – Washington D.C., USA
Washington D.C.’s popular National Museum of Natural History is the third American museum on this list of 2019 the world’s most visited.
Part of the Smithsonian Institution, this museum first opened in 1910. It covers 1.5 million square feet with 325,000 square feet of exhibition and public space, which is dedicated to natural history, with a huge collection of specimens, including plants, animals, fossils, rocks and meteorites, as well as cultural artefacts.
Permanent exhibits include the famous Bone Hall, which can now be explored with an innovative AR app. In 2021, the museum also launched a new AR experience that immerses visitors in a holographic orca pod.
14 Nanjing Museum – Nanjing, China
Nanjing Museum was one of the first museums to be established in China and has since been expanded in both 1999 and 2009. It holds a large permanent collection with more than 400,000 pieces, including an impressive display of Ming and Qing imperial porcelain.
One of the permanent installations at Nanjing Museum is an exhibition on the Jiangsu Area in Ancient Times, covering ancient history through to the to Ming and Qing dynasties. Visitors can view a dinosaur skeleton and a wall made of bricks from the Northern and Southern Dynasties.
Image: Nanjing Museum, Wikimedia Commons
15 Zhejiang Museum – Hangzhou, China
Zhejiang Museum, 15th on the list of the world’s most visited museums, was founded in 1929, making it one of China’s oldest museums. Zhejiang museum holds more than 100,000 items in its permanent collection and was expanded in 2009 with a new building in West Lake Cultural Square.
The museum holds a collection of pottery, lacquerware, woodenware, bone tools and ivory artefacts, as well as jade ware, bronzes, porcelain, gold and silver coins, paintings and calligraphy.
Image: Zhejiang Museum, Jade ring from the Majiabang culture (7,000–6,000 years ago)
16 National Gallery of Art – Washington D.C, USA
The National Gallery of Art is dedicated to visual art, education, and culture. It holds over 150,000 items, including paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photographs, prints, and drawings. The museum spans two buildings as well as a sculpture garden.
Notable exhibitions of recent years include a show on lunar photographs as well as an exhibition on renaissance sculptor and painter, Andrea del Verrocchio, of whom Leonardo da Vinci was a pupil.
In 2022, Nick Sharp, chief digital officer, spoke to blooloop about the museum’s digital strategy and the importance of an authentic voice
17 Victoria & Albert Museum – London, UK
This museum of art and design is home to a permanent collection of over 2.3 million objects, covering more than 5,000 years of human creativity. Mediums covered within its permanent exhibitions include architecture, furniture, fashion, textiles, photography, sculpture, painting, jewellery, glass, ceramics, book arts and more.
In 2020, blooloop found out more about the plans for V&A East, in conversation with Tim Reeve, deputy director of the V&A and Dr Gus Casely-Hayford OBE, director of V&A East. The project includes a new five-storey museum, alongside a new collection and research centre, located in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford.
The V&A has also launched a digital platform called Explore the Collections.
18 China Science and Technology Museum – Beijing, China
China Science and Technology Museum was founded in 1988 before being expanded in 2000. It then moved into new buildings in 2006 ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympics in the city.
China Science and Technology Museum has five permanent exhibitions: Science Paradise, The Glory of China, Science & Technology and Life, Explorations and Discoveries, and Challenges and the Future. Visitors can also enjoy a dome theatre, giant screen theatre, 4D theatre and motion theatre.
Image: China Science and Technology Museum, Wikimedia Commons
19 National Palace Museum – Taipei, Taiwan
The National Palace Museum in Taipei was established in 1925 and holds almost 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artefacts and artwork.
In 2018, The Government of Taiwan approved a six-year, $342 million development plan for the National Palace Museum. This will include the renovation and expansion of the National Palace Museum headquarters as well as creating an exhibition and restoration facility at the museum’s Southern Branch in Chiayi County.
The museum, which has been working to make its collections more accessible through the use of digital technology, is listed in blooloop’s roundup of the world’s best virtual museum tours.
20 Musée d’Orsay – Paris, France
The final entry on this list of the top 20 most visited museums in the world is the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France.
The Musée d’Orsay is located in the former Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900. As well as sculptures, furniture, and photography, it holds the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings in the world, including work by including Monet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh.
In 2020, the museum announced the launch of a major expansion project. This will see the creation of a new wing, intended to display the Musée d’Orsay’s Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection. The project is scheduled to complete by 2026.
In 2021, it appointed Christophe Leribault as director. Leribault was previously curator at the Louvre and director of the Musée Delacroix.
Figures courtesy of The TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index. All images courtesy of those museums mentioned, unless otherwise stated.