They’ve been closed for months, and are staggering towards limited openings, but museums and galleries have a lot of pent up demand to visit — if there are good exhibitions to see.

An annual survey by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) saw large increases in people visiting museums and galleries in the UK during 2019, and especially in London – with a 4.2% increase in visitor numbers in London, which for a yearly growth rate is pretty strong.

In total, over 70 million people visited the big London attractions in 2019.

What clearly comes out of the report though is that museums and galleries need headline reasons to visit. It’s hardly a surprise that blockbuster exhibitions pull in the money for the museums, but the surge in visits to see curious free things suggests that a dose of novelty can help a lot.

Increase the footfall to see the freebies, and convert the newbie into a paying customer — shops, cafes, and the like.

Space exploration was a big theme for 2019, with the Science Museum, Royal Museums Greenwich, and even the Natural History Museum all seeing big numbers thanks to their exhibitions.

Royal Museums Greenwich saw a 14% increase to 2.9 million visits. Their success was attributed to The Moon exhibition that coincided with the 50-year anniversary of the moon landings and had the highest visitor numbers for a show since 2015, as well as to their inaugural ice rink and international marketing campaigns. The Science Museum, which saw the return of Tim Peake’s Soyuz spacecraft to the museum after a UK tour, and a dedicated Summer of Space programme to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, also saw an increase in 4% to 3.3 million visits.

The Natural History Museum went art – and put Luke Jerram’s inflatable moon in a room and just left it there for people to get tons of selfies with — it was fun, and that attracted 2.2 million people to have a look.

That huge visitor number to look at a giant balloon aligned with Cathedrals increasingly doing odd-things, such as light displays and even a helter-skelter suggests that experiences that go beyond learning really helps to bring in people who might otherwise by dubious about visiting a “dry old museum”.

Tate Modern also saw an increase of 3.9% to 6.1 million visitors – achieving their highest ever figure, as did Tate Britain with the largest increase in London of 42% with 1.8 million visitors.

The National Gallery also nudged past 6 million visitors and an increase of 4.8% over the previous year.

Kew Gardens saw a 23% increase, which was mainly due to the six-month blockbuster exhibition by glass artist Dale Chihuly.

The Museum of London Docklands achieved an 11.7% increase (324,438 visits). through targeted marketing of their activities to their 5 local boroughs as well as the free exhibition Secret Rivers.

English Heritage’s Eltham Palace and Gardens saw a 22% increase which was largely down to the success of their Enchanted event during December when they transformed the palace’s gardens into an ‘enchanting’ experience of light, colour and sound.

Expect to see a lot more of that as garden owning venues around London spot the opportunity to top up their visitor numbers during the traditionally quieter months.

Despite being closed for the first 3 months of 2019 as part of their three-year transformation project, Old Royal Naval College moved up 3 places to 26th in the UK, which was partly due to the newly restored Painted Hall.

Visits made in 2019 to visitor attractions in membership with ALVA

Rank Site Total visits Charge/free % +/-
1 British Museum 6,239,983 F/C 7%
2 Tate Modern 6,098,340 F/C 3.9%
3 National Gallery, The 6,011,007 F/C 4.8%
4 NHM (South Kensington) 5,423,932 F/C 4%
5 Southbank Centre 4,360,255 F/C -2.05%
6 V&A South Kensington 3,992,198 F/C 1%
7 Science Museum 3,301,975 F 4%
8 Tower of London 2,984,499 C 4.4%
9 Royal Museums Greenwich 2,906,000 F/C 14%
10 Somerset House 2,841,772 F/C -9.6%
11 Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 2,316,699 C 23%
12 National Museum of Scotland 2,210,024 F/C -1%
13 Edinburgh Castle 2,201,354 C 4%
14 Chester Zoo 2,086,785 C 5.9%
15 Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum 1,832,097 F 73.73%
16 Tate Britain 1,808,637 F/C 42%
17 Royal Albert Hall 1,721,632 C -1.7%
18 St Paul’s Cathedral 1,716,417 F/C 3.6%
19 National Portrait Gallery London 1,619,694 F/C 1.02%
20 Stonehenge 1,604,248 C 3.1%
21 Scottish National Gallery 1,583,231 F/C -9%
22 Westminster Abbey 1,574,401 F/C 1.84%
23 British Library 1,534,860 F/C 5.35%
24 Riverside Museum 1,364,739 F 8.79%
25 Roman Baths and Pump Room 1,325,085 C 1.7%
26 Old Royal Naval College 1,264,683 F/C -1%
27 Royal Academy 1,248,882 F/C -2%
28 RHS Garden Wisley 1,232,772 F/C 15.1%
29 National Museum Royal Navy 1,122,072 F/C -9%
30 ZSL London Zoo 1,078,519 C 0.5%
31 IWM London 1,073,936 F/C 1%
32 Hampton Court Palace 1,072,823 C -3.8%
33 UK Parliament 1,063,501 F/C -1.9%
34 Longleat 1,011,314 C 12%
35 Eden Project 1,010,095 C 0.6%
36 Giant’s Causeway 998,014 F/C -4%
37 Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh 991,110 F/C 6%
38 Blenheim Palace 984,913 F/C 9.23%
39 The Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Swan Theatre 974,424 F/C -6.8%
40 Museum of Liverpool 956,918 F -1%
41 Horniman Museum and Gardens 952,954 F/C 2.8%
42 Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology 930,669 F/C 5%
43 Tower Bridge Exhibition 889,338 C 6%
44 Canterbury Cathedral 876,646 F/C -1.9%
45 Merseyside Maritime Museum 836,980 F -7%
46 Titanic Belfast 828,017 F/C -1%
47 National War Museum, Edinburgh 805,934 C 1%
48 Oxford University Museum of Natural History 792,282 F 1%
49 Shakespeare’s Globe 781,240 C -4.6%
50 Bodleian Libraries 760,815 F -16%
51 Durham Cathedral 727,367 F 9.6%
52 National Railway Museum 714,379 F -13.4%
53 York Minster 706,484 F/C 1.7%
54 Museum of London 706,219 F/C 1.7%
55 World Museum 672,514 F -53%
56 Clumber Park 666,997 F/C 1%
57 Tate Liverpool 660,022 F/C -6.67%
58 ZSL Whipsnade Zoo 648,945 C 6.7%
59 Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery 644,100 F -23%
60 V&A Dundee 624,600 F/C 83%
61 Churchill War Rooms 620,933 C 7%
62 Stirling Castle 609,698 C 1%
63 Chatsworth 606,420 C 0.1%
64 Edinburgh Zoo 605,000 F/C 2%
65 Gallery of Modern Art 576,689 F -8.97%
66 Westonbirt, The National Arboretum 566,565 C 2.5%
67 Attingham Park 557,136 F/C 13%
68 Museum of Science and Industry 556,523 F -21%
69 Urquhart Castle 547,518 C 6%
70 Leeds Castle 539,971 F/C 16%
71 Glasgow Cathedral 537,415 F 11%
72 Cliveden 524,807 F/C 8%
73 Kensington Palace 510,304 C -7.8%
74 Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art 508,090 F -11%
75 RAF Museum London 496,614 F 0.9%
76 Ulster Museum 492,689 F -15.7%
77 Carrick-a-Rede 485,736 F/C -2%
78 Pitt Rivers Museum 468,013 F -7%
79 Waddesdon Manor 463,328 F/C 0.6%
80 Glenfinnan Monument 462,235 F/C 22%
81 Belton House 460,547 F/C 8%
82 Calke Abbey 458,380 F/C 16%
83 RHS Garden Harlow Carr 446,730 F/C 1.2%
84 National Science and Media Museum 439,916 F -4.3%
85 Glencoe Visitor Centre 431,855 F 101%
86 Shakespeare’s Birthplace 422,372 C -0.6%
87 Fountains Abbey Estate 412,435 F/C 6%
88 London Transport Museum 411,766 F/C 0.92%
89 Kingston Lacy 410,812 F/C 14%
90 Polesden Lacey 405,773 F/C 14%
91 RAF Museum Cosford 401,477 F -7.1%
92 IWM Duxford 401,287 C 2%
93 Anglesey Abbey 399,127 F/C 7%
94 International Slavery Museum 396,877 F 1%
95 Mottisfont 393,250 F/C 4%
96 Stourhead 392,929 F/C 0%
97 Walker Art Gallery 391,765 F 6%
98 V&A Museum of Childhood 386,944 F -7%
99 Nymans Garden 382,948 F/C 7%
100 Scottish National Portrait Gallery 372,743 F 4%
101 Dover Castle 368,243 C 0.8%
102 St Michael’s Mount 359,554 F/C 3%
103 RHS Garden Hyde Hall 359,230 F/C 7.4%
104 Tyntesfield 356,766 F/C 15%
105 Osborne 354,709 C 16.3%
106 The Fitzwilliam Museum 349,484 F -1%
107 Dunham Massey 340,235 F/C 9%
108 Wimpole Estate 335,199 F/C 9%
109 Cambridge University Botanic Garden 334,461 C 10%
110 Culzean Castle & Country Park 333,965 F/C 5%
111 HMS Belfast 327,206 C 10%
112 Beaulieu 327,121 C 2%
113 Museum of London Docklands 324,438 F/C 11.7%
114 Wakehurst 312,813 F/C -12%
115 Gibside 307,900 F/C 12%
116 Hardwick Hall 298,283 F/C 2%
117 Sheffield Park and Garden 295,384 F/C -4%
118 Croome 289,841 F/C 11%
119 Quarry Bank 285,762 F/C 16%
120 Ickworth 283,956 F/C 11%
121 Dyrham Park 282,547 F/C 11%
122 Killerton 281,910 F/C 5%
123 Tate St Ives 278,747 F/C -7.9%
124 Lanhydrock 275,079 F/C 1%
125 Bodnant Garden 271,339 F/C 6%
126 Castle Howard 269,044 C 18.4%
127 WWT Slimbridge 262,986 C -1%
128 Burns Birthplace Museum 261,283 C -4%
129 Corfe Castle 259,655 F/C 8%
130 RHS Garden Rosemoor 255,861 F/C 9.3%
131 Cragside Estate 255,005 F/C 7%
132 Sudbury Hall 254,083 F/C 25%
133 Chartwell 253,032 F/C 3%
134 Saltram 252,075 F/C 17%
135 Wallington 251,251 F/C 6%
136 Charlecote Park 250,032 F/C 17%
137 Shugborough Estate 246,180 F/C 17%
138 IWM North 244,564 F -27%
139 Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum 243,069 C 6%
140 Mount Stewart 239,371 F/C 5%
141 Baddesley Clinton 234,696 F/C 6%
142 Stowe 232,056 F/C 10%
143 Kettle’s Yard 231,941 F -5%
144 Trelissick 227,681 F/C 6%
145 Hanbury Hall and Gardens 227,624 F/C 12%
146 Blickling 225,624 F/C 15%
147 Speke Hall 224,913 F/C 9%
148 People’s Palace 223,774 F -34.68%
149 Packwood House 219,727 F/C 8%
150 The Vyne 219,053 F/C 15%
151 Kedleston 211,655 F/C 12%
152 Oxford Botanical Gardens and Arboretum 211,573 F/C 23%
153 Lady Lever Art Gallery 210,790 F 4%
154 Lacock 210,709 F/C 6%
155 Culloden Visitor Centre 209,011 C 1%
156 Dunster Castle 206,160 F/C 1%
157 Knole 204,902 F/C 12%
158 Harewood House Trust 201,694 C 5.9%
159 WWT Martin Mere 192,443 C -9%
160 WWT London 190,206 C 7%
161 Mary Rose, The 189,702 F/C 1%
162 Monument to the Great Fire of London, The 182,492 C 7%
163 Locomotion 180,697 F 3.4%
164 Audley End House and Gardens 175,725 C 3.3%
165 Ulster Folk & Transport Museum 172,712 C 18%
166 Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences 168,021 F 7%
167 Whitby Abbey 161,461 C 9.4%
168 Clifford’s Tower, York 160,815 C 4%
169 The St Mungo Museum of Religious Life And Art 159,157 F 10.25%
170 Tintagel Castle 154,996 C -32.8%
171 Crathes Castle 153,217 F/C 18%
172 Doune Castle 152,987 C 8%
173 Walmer Castle and Gardens 152,391 C 46.7%
174 NHM (Tring) 151,787 F 1%
175 History of Science Museum 148,412 F -16%
176 Anne Hathaway’s Cottage 146,698 C 1.3%
177 Highland Safari Park 142,000 F/C -30%
178 1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey and Battlefield 136,647 C 10.3%
179 Wrest Park 135,420 C 5%
180 University Museum of Zoology 134,739 F 8%
181 Eltham Palace and Gardens 134,238 C 22%
182 Kenwood 132,468 F 1%
183 Carisbrooke Castle 131,358 C 4.5%
184 Shakespeare’s New Place 124,991 C 13.8%
185 Guildhall Art Gallery 123,731 F/C 6%
186 Threave Garden 120,840 C 24%
187 Kenilworth Castle and Elizabethan Garden 119,047 C 8.2%
188 Skara Brae 115,136 C 3%
189 National Museum of Rural Life 113,525 C 13%
190 Ulster American Folk Park 112,916 C -3.6%
191 Housesteads Roman Fort – Hadrian’s Wall 111,508 C 1.7%
192 National Maritime Museum Cornwall 110,386 F/C -9%
193 Burghley 107,887 C -8.2%
194 Linlithgow Palace 103,312 C 9%
195 Provand’s Lordship 94,481 F 5.66%
196 WWT Arundel 93,743 C 3%
197 Holkham Hall 89,738 C 26.5%
198 Piermaster’s House 89,140 F -61%
199 St Andrews Castle 88,814 C -3%
200 Hall’s Croft 85,335 C 9.3%
201 WWT Washington 83,817 C 14%
202 Mary Arden’s Farm 81,364 C 2.5%
203 Brodie Castle 79,634 F/C -70%
204 Blackness Castle 79,265 C 36%
205 Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology 76,669 F -6%
206 Inverewe Gardens 76,351 C -9%
207 Fort George 76,169 C 6%
208 National Museum of Flight 74,696 C -6%
209 WWT Llanelli 74,486 C 3%
210 Brodick Castle & Country Park 68,423 F/C 65%
211 Fyvie Castle 66,039 F/C 12%
212 Scotland Street School Museum 65,464 F 5.42%
213 Newhailes 65,395 C -6%
214 Iona Abbey 63,884 C 0%
215 WWT Castle Espie 63,673 C 7%
216 Melrose Abbey 61,325 C 5%
217 Pollok House 57,099 C -2%
218 Castle Fraser 56,822 F/C 12%
219 St Andrews Cathedral 54,511 C -3%
220 Benmore Botanic Garden 53,420 C 9%
221 The Polar Museum 51,469 F 7%
222 Falkland Palace 49,329 C 2%
223 Pitmedden Garden & Museum of Farm Life 48,106 C 10%
224 T Rex in Town at Kelvin Hall 47,935 C %
225 Drum Castle 47,446 F/C -7%
226 Tantallon Castle 45,798 C 6%
227 Sudley House 44,068 F 21%
228 Bannockburn Heritage Centre 43,427 C -8%
229 Craigmillar Castle 40,634 C 15%
230 Caerlaverock Castle 39,143 C 11%
231 Elgin Cathedral 37,979 C -4%
232 Dawyck Botanic Garden 37,051 C 4%
233 Georgian House 32,127 C -7%
234 Dirleton Castle 31,883 C 7%
235 Hill House 31,172 C 139%
236 WWT Welney 30,762 C 5%
237 Jedburgh Abbey 29,484 C 7%
238 Maeshowe 29,391 C 3%
239 Dumbarton Castle 29,197 C 2%
240 Aston Hall 28,804 C -11%
241 Logan Botanic Garden 28,761 C 14%
242 Dunstaffnage Castle 25,429 C 16%
243 Culross Palace 25,209 C -1%
244 Aberdour Castle 24,768 C -10%
245 Blakesley Hall 24,726 C 34%
246 Haddo House 24,380 F/C 60%
247 Craigievar Castle 24,072 F/C 19%
248 Tenement House 23,456 C 33%
249 Dunfermline Palace 22,860 C 18%
250 Jarlshof 22,439 C -3%
251 Gladstone’s Land 20,065 C 67%
252 Museum of the Jewellery Quarter 19,354 C -10%
253 Kellie Castle 18,938 C 6%
254 Broughton House & Garden 18,917 C 8%
255 Leith Hall 18,842 F/C -3%
256 Greenbank Garden 17,275 C 5%
257 Glasgow Museums Resource Centre 17,232 F -1.2%
258 WWT Caerlaverock 16,105 C 16%
259 Sarehole Mill 14,383 C -20%
260 Branklyn Garden 14,115 C 15%
261 Museum of Classical Archaeology 13,015 F -12%
262 Whipple Museum of the History of Science 11,845 F 8%
263 Keats House 11,808 F/C -1%
264 Soho House 10,374 C 21%
265 Weoley Castle 8,147 F -2%
266 Museum Collection Centre 2,407 F/C 27%
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