London’s Museums Lost 2 Million Visitors In A Single Year

Guy Parsons Guy Parsons

British Museum

No, they didn’t all walk through a mysterious, dusty door, only to vanish into a cursed labyrinth beneath the streets of South Kensington. Or at least, you can’t PROVE they did.

But nonetheless, visitor numbers were down across all of London’s biggest museums in 2016/2017, a 9% drop compared to the year before.

The Natural History Museum was hardest hit, with a 14% drop leading to 731,000 fewer visits.

Natural History Museum
The Hintze Hall at the NHM. [Photo: Felipe Mellado]
At the British Museum – still the UK’s most popular tourist attraction – visits dropped by 624,000 (or 9%), while the V&A lost 457,000 visitors, and the Science Museum dropped by 200,000.

Outside the traditional museum areas, other institutions also saw drops, from the large (Royal Museums Greenwich, down 80,000) to the small (Horniman Museum, down 9,000.)

Switch House Stairs at Tate Modern, London
Stairs at the Tate Modern Switch House. Not pictured – the other 6.4 million guests. [Photo: Andrew Stawarz]
But the museums’ loss may have been galleries’ gain. Tate Modern had a record-smashing year, opening its new Switch House extension and bringing in an extra 1.8 million visits (a massive 40% increase) putting it on track to overtake the British Museum. (Find the best restaurants near Tate Modern.) Tate Britain attracted an extra 100,000 art lovers, while the National Gallery brought in 312,000 more guests than the year before. (That must annoy the National Portrait Gallery next door, who somehow lost 224,000 visitors.)

Tate Modern - Cerith Wyn Evans
Neon madness from Cerith Wyn Evans at Tate Britain. [Photo: Antonio Roberts]
In fact, take the museums and galleries together, and attendance is more or less level at 38.7 million. So are Londoners choosing Warhol over whales? Turner over tapestries? Abstract art over astronauts? We’ll have to see if the trend continues next year.

Try a museum visit with a difference at the Natural History Museum’s Lates.

Also published on Medium.

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