The British Museum was the most visited attraction in the country last year, according to the latest visitor figures from The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA).

In 2023 the museum saw 5,820,860 visits, a 42% increase on its 2022 figures. ALVA says the museum attributed part of its success to its ‘China’s hidden century’ exhibition, which ran from May to October.

The last time that the museum was the most visited attraction was in 2019. In 2022 ALVA figures, it was the 3rd most visited attraction.

It means the museum has taken the crown from the Natural History Museum, which was 2022’s most visited attraction, moving to second place in the newly released ranking.

Despite coming second, the Natural History Museum’s 5.6m visits in 2023 marked its best ever year, representing an annual increase of 22%.

Comparing 2019 and 2023 visitors data – the last two full years unaffected by lockdown restrictions –  the Natural History Museum is one of a minority of museums to see an increase in comparable visits.

Across all of ALVA member sites in 2023 there were a total of 146 million visits, an annual increase of 19%, but 11% lower than pre-pandemic 2019 figures.

Last week DCMS also announced its annual figures for national museums and galleries, and it too compared the pre- and post-pandemic periods of 2018/19 and 2022/23. It concluded there were 27% fewer visits to the country’s 15 DCMS supported museums and galleries.

National museum and gallery visits 27% lower than pre-pandemic levels

Breaking the data down further, ALVA reports that indoor attractions saw a 23% annual increase in visitors, which outdoor attractions saw a 2% annual increase.

Wales saw a 25% increase in visitor numbers thanks to National Museum Wales joining ALVA last year. London saw a 24% increase and Scotland tied with Northern Ireland with a 21% increase.

The region of England outside London with the biggest year-on-year growth was the East of England which saw an 11% increase in visits, followed by the West Midlands with 10%.

The most visited outdoor attraction Windsor Great Park, which is managed by the Crown Estate. The Royal Park, which was also 2021’s most visited attraction, saw 5.4m visits, a 3% decline on 2022 figures.

In 4th place was Tate Modern with 4.74m visits which was also a 22% increase, while the Southbank Centre remained in 5th place with an 8% increase to 3.19m visitors.

Despite only being open for half the year from June 22, 2023, the newly refurbished National Portrait Gallery, London welcomed 1.16m visits, earning it 27th place, and Young V&A – reopened in July – has since welcomed 405,000 visitors.

The largest percentage increase in London was Guildhall Art Gallery. It saw a 137% increase to 110,211 visitors after moving 43 places up the table The Royal Albert Hall returned to almost pre-pandemic numbers of 1,605,924, despite having 12 fewer events in 2023 compared to 2019.

Outside London, Stonehenge saw a 36% annual increase with 1.3m annual visitors, putting it in 23rd place.

The largest percentage increase in visitors in England was seen by Stamford mansion Burghley House, which moved up ALVA’s ranking by 26 places this year, with an 86% increase in visits to 154,827 after the introduction of an adventure playground.

The National Railway Museum saw a 10% increase which it attributed to Wonderlab: The Bramall Gallery, an interactive gallery for families, which opened in July 2023.

ALVA notes that attractions that offered heavily discounted tickets for recipients of Universal saw visits increase, citing English Heritage and itswork with foodbanks to offer users free entry to the charity’s sites.

Other attractions that offer discounted tickets include Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, which gave over 10,000 Ultimate Explorer tickets to families with children who receive free school meals.

Bernard Donoghue OBE, Director of ALVA, said: “Our members are not yet back to hosting the same number of visitors that they did in 2019, but they are really delighted that even in a challenging cost-of-living climate visitors are still prioritising spending special time with special people at special places.”

Commenting on the recently announced budget, Donoghue added: “Whilst the extension of tax relief for museums, theatres and galleries was a very welcome announcement in the recent Budget, there was a missed opportunity to reintroduce tax free shopping for overseas visitors, which would have improved the UK’s international competitiveness, and reduce VAT for tourism and hospitality which would have helped businesses repair their balance sheets.”

ALVA 2023 visitor figures

2023 Rank 2022 Rank Site Total Visits in 2023 Total Visits in 2022
1 3 The British Museum 5,820,860 4,097,253
2 2 Natural History Museum (South Kensington) 5,688,786 4,654,608
3 1 The Crown Estate, Windsor Great Park 5,487,856 5,636,844
4 4 Tate Modern 4,742,038 3,883,160
5 5 Southbank Centre 3,193,966 2,947,155
6 7 V&A South Kensington 3,110,000 2,430,000
7 6 The National Gallery 3,096,508 2,727,119
8 9 Science Museum 2,956,886 2,334,113
9 10 Tower of London 2,790,280 2,181,707
10 8 Somerset House 2,727,677 2,346,580
11 13 Royal Museums Greenwich 2,547,821 1,628,580
12 11 National Museum of Scotland 2,186,841 1,973,751
13 12 Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 1,974,295 1,963,885
14 16 Edinburgh Castle 1,904,723 1,346,168
15 17 National Galleries Scotland: National 1,836,057 1,277,230
16 15 Royal Albert Hall 1,605,924 1,401,200
17 21 Westminster Abbey 1,587,866 1,062,909
18 18 St Paul’s Cathedral 1,499,575 1,193,888
19 20 British Library 1,390,378 1,149,070
20 26 Windsor Castle 1,374,607 827,331
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