While 2020 will prove to be a different story due to the impact of COVID-19, the 20 top museums across the globe saw relatively stable attendance in 2019. The Louvre in Paris, France held onto the top spot once again, maintaining its position as the most visited museum in the world. There were also two newcomers to the top 20. These are the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum in China and the Musée d’Orsay in France.
Attendance figures are from this year’s Theme Index and Museum Index, which can be downloaded here.
The top 20 most visited museums
1. Louvre, Paris – attendance 9,600,000
Claiming the top spot as the most visited museum in the world once more is the Louvre in Paris, France. However, attendance was down 5.9% from a record-breaking 10,200,000 in 2018. This is in part due to the museum’s efforts to limit overcrowding.
During 2019, the Louvre put extra effort into managing visitor flows and visiting conditions. For instance, it encouraged people to book their visit online booking, especially in the peak summer months. The work done to manage visitor flow saw the monthly attendance figures drop from one million to 800,000 visitors per month.
These measures make it easier for the museum to set a cap on the number of daily visitors, offering entry in less than half an hour and offering a less crowded, more enjoyable experience.
Despite this, the Louvre’s Leonardo da Vinci exhibition was visited by around 1.1 million guests. The show ran for four months and commemorated the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death.
2. National Museum of China, Beijing – attendance 7,390,000
Holding onto second place in the list of most visited museums is the National Museum of China in Beijing, China. This is despite a 14.2% fall in visitor numbers, from 8,610,000 in 2018.
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.
During 2019, the National Museum of China in Beijing hosted nine thematic exhibitions. These explored various topics in the world of art, culture, history and politics. For example, they 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 – attendance 6,883,000
The Vatican Museums, third in the list of most visited museums, also celebrated Leonardo da Vinci in 2019. Last year, attendance rose by 1.9% from 6,756,000 visitors in 2018.
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. 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. Other notable exhibitions that took place last year were Plečnik and the Sacred and Tempo Divino, which has now been extended to June 2020.
4. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – attendance 6,770,000
Number four on the list of the most visited museums in the world is The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met). This popular institution in New York also saw a drop from 2018, falling by 8% from 7,360,000.
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 this year’s event had to be moved online due to the pandemic.
At the start of 2019, the Met announced that it was working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to imagine new ways for audiences to engage with art through artificial intelligence.
5. British Museum, London – attendance 6,208,000
The UK’s first entry on the list of the most visited museums is London’s British Museum. This saw a rise of 5.8% from 5,869,000 visitors in 2018.
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 in 2019 was 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.
6. Tate Modern, London – attendance 6,098,000
London museums dominate the next few spaces on the list, with Tate Modern coming in at 6th place. Like almost all the UK museums featured, it also saw an increase in visitors last year, up by 4.6 from 5,829,000.
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 celebrates its 20th anniversary this year 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’.
7. The National Gallery, London – attendance 6,011,000
London’s National Gallery rises one place on the list of the world’s most visited museums, with an increase of 4.8% from 5,736,000 visitors in 2018.
A popular tourist destination in the city centre, it 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.
Last year, 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.
8. Natural History Museum, London – attendance 5,424,000
The Natural History Museum has also risen one place on the list of the world’s most visited museums. It saw a rise of 3.8% from 5,226,000 visitors in 2018.
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.
Last year, 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.
9. American Museum of Natural History, New York – attendance 5,000,000
The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York kept its attendance figures at a steady 500,000, the same as 2018. However, it did rise one place on the list.
AMNH 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 – attendance 4,957,000
The State Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia, saw a big increase of 15.4% from 2018 and rises from 14th to 10th place on the list of the world’s most visited museums. In 2018, it had 4,294,000 visits.
This 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.
Popular events in 2019 included exhibitions about Boticelli, Rembrandt and Picasso.
11. Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, Shanghai – attendance 4,824,000
China’s second entry in the list of the most visited museums in the world saw a huge leap in attendance in 2019. The figure rose by 36% from 3,540,000 in 2018, bringing it into the top 20.
Shanghai Science and Technology Museum is located in Pudong, Shanghai 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.
Current permanent exhibitions include World of Robots, Space Navigation, Spectrum of Life and Earthcrust Exploration. It also holds special exhibitions throughout the year.
12. Reina Sofía, Madrid – attendance 4,426,000
Spain makes an entry on the list of the most visited museums of 2019 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 last year 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. – attendance 4,200,000
Washington D.C.’s popular National Museum of Natural History is the third American museum on the list of 2019’s most visited. The attendance figures have dropped by 12.5% from 4,800,000 in 2018.
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.
14. Nanjing Museum, Nanjing – attendance 4,169,000
Another entry from China, Nanjing Museum saw a big increase in visitors last year, with attendance up by 13.6% from 3,670,000 in 2018.
This 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.
15. Zhejiang Museum, Hangzhou – attendance 4,150,000
Zhejiang Museum is 15th on the list of the world’s most visited museums and saw a small drop in attendance last year, falling by 1.2% from 4,200,000 in 2018.
It 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.
16. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. – attendance 4,074,000
The National Gallery of Art has also seen a fall in visitor numbers from 2018. Last year, attendance fell by 7.5% from 4,404,000, making it number 16 on the list of most visited museums.
This US museum 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 last year included 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.
17. Victoria & Albert Museum, London – attendance 3,921,000
Another London institution on the list of the world’s most visited museums, the V&A saw a 1.2% drop in attendance last year, falling from 3,968,000.
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.
18. China Science and Technology Museum, Beijing – attendance 3,891,000
China Science and Technology Museum in Beijing recorded fewer visitors in 2019 than the previous year, with a drop of 11.6% from 4,400,000.
This 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.
19. National Palace Museum, Taipei – attendance 3,832,000
The National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan was the 19th most visited museum in the world last year. Attendance has remained fairly stable, with only a 0.7% drop from 2018’s figure of 3,860,000.
This museum 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.
20. Musée d’Orsay, Paris – attendance 3,652,000
The final entry on the list of the top 20 most visited museums in the world is the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France. This institution saw a large increase in visitors in 2019, up 15% from 3,175,000 the previous year.
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.
Earlier this year, 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.
Figures courtesy of The TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index 2019. All images courtesy of those museums mentioned, unless otherwise stated.