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ALVA’s 2023 UK visitor figures released

Geraldine Kendall Adams, Indoor attractions top visitor table for the first time since Covid, Museums Association, 19 March 2024

British Museum regains title as most-visited venue as footfall grows 19% across UK.

The V&A was boosted by the success of blockbusters such as last summer’s Diva exhibition © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Indoor museums have outperformed outdoor attractions for the first time since before the pandemic, according to the 2023 visitor figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva).

Released this week, the figures show that total visits to Alva’s member sites grew by 19% last year, from 123.6 million to 146.6 million. However footfall still remains 11% lower than the pre-Covid peak of 163.9 million in 2019.

Many of London’s national museums reported significant growth in their numbers.

The British Museum regained its position as the UK’s most-visited attraction with more than 5.82 million visits, a rise of 42% since last year and just 7% lower than its pre-Covid high of 2019.

The Natural History Museum kept its second-place spot, with 5.69 million visits – 22% higher than its footfall last year.

The first outdoor attraction on the table, the Crown Estate Windsor Great Park, fell to third place after topping the chart every year since 2020, reporting a 3% drop in visitors.

Four other institutions in the top 10 reported growth of more than 20%, including Tate Modern, which stayed in fourth place with 22% more visits.

In the wake of popular blockbusters such as last summer’s Diva exhibition, the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) moved up one place into the sixth spot, reporting 28% more visits than the previous year – 21% below pre-pandemic figures.

The National Gallery moved down one spot but attracted 14% more visits – its numbers remain 48% below pre-Covid levels.

In 8th and 9th place respectively, the Science Museum and the Tower of London both climbed up a spot, reporting 27% and 28% more visits than the previous year.

Royal Museums Greenwich saw the highest growth among London museums, climbing two places to the 11th spot with visits up 56% on the previous year.

“2023 was a big year for London’s tourism sector, with attractions across the city reporting almost a quarter increase in visitors,” said Laura Citron, CEO of Visit London. “Alongside the increase, we saw big milestone reopenings like the Young V&A and the iconic National Portrait Gallery, showing that London is truly back with a bang.”

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, the first attraction outside London on the list, moved down one spot but saw visits rise by 11%; the institution has made one of the strongest recoveries post-Covid, with footfall now just 1% below pre-pandemic levels.

In 14th position, Edinburgh Castle was the most visited paid for attraction in Scotland in, with a 41% increase, welcoming 1,904,723 visits.

Meanwhile the National Galleries Scotland: National, which reopened fully last year after an extensive refurbishment, has seen its numbers climb 44% higher than the previous year and 16% higher than 2019 levels.

Staying in the 25th spot, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow reported a 32% rise in visits.

Titanic Belfast, the first Northern Irish entry on the list, moved up five places to the 48th spot with a 28% rise in visits, just 3% below its 2019 figure.

In Wales, the most visited attraction was St Fagans National Museum of History with 594,990 visits and a 23% increase (61st place). This was followed by the National Museum Cardiff with a 41% increase to 378,349 visits (108th place).

“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,” said Bernard Donoghue, director of Alva.

“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.”