international museum attendance figures back to pre-pandemic levels

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Visitor numbers at the world’s largest museums of art have largely returned to their pre-pandemic levels, an exclusive survey by The Art Newspaper has found.

The Covid-19 pandemic caused museum visitor numbers to plummet across the world as institutions shut their doors and people were forced to stay inside. The number of people visiting the most-visited 100 museums fell from 230 million in 2019, the last full pre-pandemic year, to just 54m in 2020. Since then we have seen a slow recovery, with 71m visitors in 2021 and 141m in 2022.

Although the total number of visitors to the top 100 museums was 176 million in 2023, our survey shows that many of the world’s largest museums are now close to their 2019 visitor numbers. The Musée du Louvre is once again the most-visited museum in our survey with 8.9 million visitors, just 8% below its 2019 figure. The British Museum in London had 5.8 million visitors (7% down on 2019), the Prado in Madrid 3.3 million (5% down) and the Vatican Museums in Rome 6.8 million (2% down).

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam attracted 2.7 million visitors, the same as in 2019, 654,000 of whom saw its blockbuster exhibition of Johannes Vermeer.

Other major world museums received more visitors in 2023 than they did pre-pandemic. The Musée d’Orsay in Paris was up 6% on 2019, to 3.9 million, and the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence was up 15%, to 2.7 million. Both were record figures for the museums.

Recently opened museums such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi, M+ in Hong Kong and the Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo had their best ever years. The latter is now the most popular art museum in Scandinavia. London’s National Portrait Gallery and Young V&A both reopened to record visitor numbers.

However, some museums are still struggling to attract the same number of visitors as before the pandemic. London’s National Gallery had the biggest absolute fall in visitor numbers of any museum in our survey – it received 3.1 million visitors in 2023, a fall of 2.9 million from 2019 (down 48%). However, the museum’s Sainsbury Wing was closed throughout 2023, reducing gallery space and the number of entrances. It is due to reopen in 2025.

Figures for Tate Britain and Tate Liverpool were also much lower than in 2019 (both down 40%, with 1.1 million and 399,000 respectively in 2023). However, Tate Liverpool was shut from October, and many galleries at Tate Britain were shut for part of the year for a major rehang. A Tate spokesperson says “Tate Britain was at 87% of its pre-Covid average and Tate Liverpool was at 73% for the periods of 2023 when they were each fully open.”

Tate Modern’s recovery was more tepid (4.7 million visits, down 22% from 2019), as was the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (3.1 million, down 21%).

Chinese state museums usually release their figures later in the year, so were not included in the report.

The Art Newspaper’s annual survey is the most comprehensive worldwide study of museum visitor numbers. Research was conducted via email and phone during February 2024 and uses figures reported by the institutions themselves for the preceding calendar year.

The full report, including the list of the top 150 most-visited art museums in the world, will be published in the April issue of The Art Newspaper.

Article updated on 18 March with a statement from Tate, and on 19 March to correct the British Museum’s visitor number (from 5.5m to 5.8m)

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