Three London Museums Totaled More Visitors than Venice in 2015

Blockbuster exhibitions including Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the V&A helped to increase visitor numbers. Photograph: Mike Marsland/WireImage

by Rebecca Smithers, The Guardian, March 08, 2016

In St Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal, Venice has some of the world’s recognisable tourist attractions. But the Italian city was eclipsed in terms of visitor numbers last year by just three London museums – the Victoria and Albert, Natural History Museum and Science Museum.

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London’s popularity, combined with the relative weakness of the pound making UK holidays less expensive, has helped to produce a bumper year for tourism across the country, with a record 124.4 million visitors (domestic as well as overseas) flocking to top attractions.

Blockbuster exhibitions such as Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the V&A combined with late-night openings and membership events were driving interest from “a younger and culturally curious” new audience, according to Bernard Donoghue, the director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva).

The record 2015 attendance was a 3.2% increase on 2014, although that was down from a 6.5% rise the previous year.

But more than half of those visitors – a staggering 65.2 million – headed to venues in London, meaning last year the city contained all of the top 10 most visited UK destinations.

New figures are published on Monday by Alva, whose 57 members are the UK’s most popular and important museums, galleries, palaces and leisure attractions covering free and paid-for sites.

Donoghue said: “2015 continued to be a record year mainly due to our members continuing to show how diverse the UK is to both domestic and overseas visitors. More people visited the V&A, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, combined, than visited Venice. Visitors have responded to some extraordinary creative and interactive programming – they clearly no longer want to just walk past displays behind glass.”

The Gundestrup cauldron in the British Museum’s Celts exhibition

The Gundestrup cauldron, part of the British Museum’s Celts exhibition which took place last year. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

The famous South Kensington-based trio of Victorian museums – the V&A, Natural History Museum and Science Museum – together attracted 11.9 million visitors.

Last week, the London mayor, Boris Johnson, said the city beat Paris and New York as the most popular global destination with 18.8 million international visitors in 2015.

The V&A said its major retrospective of the late fashion designer McQueen, which ran for 21 weeks between March and August, was its most visited exhibition ever, enjoyed by 493,043 people. For the final two weekends the museum opened through the night for the first time in its history to accommodate extra demand.

Despite controversy over its sponsorship by oil giant BP, the British Museum continued to be the most popular attraction overall for the ninth year running with 6.8 million visitors, thanks to major exhibitions such as Indigenous Australia and the Celts. In second was the National Gallery, which pulled in 5.9 million visitors, with the Natural History Museum in third with 5.2 million.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle was the most visited tourist attraction in Scotland during 2015. Photograph: Alamy

Temporary exhibitions played a crucial role in this year’s figures, Alva said. The largest single increase in visitor numbers among the top 10 attractions was at Somerset House, which recorded an increase of 31% (to 3.2 million and eighth place) – thanks to temporary exhibitions and Film4 summer screenings. The Royal Academy credited its 33% leap in numbers to Ai Weiwei and its hugely popular annual Summer Exhibition.

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Elsewhere, Tate Liverpool experienced a 12% increase with an exhibition devoted to the American artist Jackson Pollock, and the city’s World Museum bolstered its attendance by 8% largely thanks to its temporary exhibition, the Mexican-themed Mayas: Revelation of an Endless Time. Visitors to Scottish attractions were also up by 5.48%, with Edinburgh Castle the most visited north of the border – ahead of the National Museum of Scotland for the first time in five years.

“The current weakness of the pound to the dollar and euro is making the UK a more affordable destination and 2016 is on target to be another memorable year for Alva members,” Donoghue said. Major new openings will include London Zoo’s Land of the Lions - an Indian-inspired home for Asiatic lions - on 25 March and the highly anticipated Tate Modern extension in June.

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This article was written by Rebecca Smithers from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.