London museums struggle for visitors post-Covid

Annual research from The Art Newspaper has revealed that London’s museums and galleries are faring worse than global competitors in recouping the number of visitors they had pre-pandemic.

National Gallery of London museums

Annual research from The Art Newspaper has revealed that London museums and galleries are faring worse than global competitors in recouping the number of visitors they had pre-pandemic.

The worldwide yearly survey from The Art Newspaper will be released later this month on 27 March, but early results show a particular decline for London’s cultural institutions, as they fare worse than other international museums. 

London’s British Museum was the most-visited art museum in the UK, and the third most visited globally, however it’s numbers are still down approximately 33 per cent when compared to 2019. The 4.1 million who visited the museum in 2022 massively exceeds the 1.3 million who went in 2021, but falls short of 2019’s figure of 6.2 million visitors. 

Tate Modern was the fourth most visited globally. The 4.1 million who went last year was three times more than in 2021, but was 36 per cent lower than the 2019 number of 6.2 million.

It was a similar story and The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) – 2.4 million last year, down 40 per cent on pre-pandemic levels. Tate Britain fared worse. It attracted 913,000 visitors, down 49 per cent.

The Tate

Tate Modern

Most concerning of all the major London museums was the National Gallery’s performance. While it reported 2.7 million visits in 2022, this figure marks a 55 per cent decrease compared to 2019’s 6 million visitors. Losing 3.3 million visitors made the National Gallery the largest recorded fall in numbers of any museum surveyed by The Art Newspaper worldwide. 

In a statement to the newspaper, a National Gallery spokesperson cited “the reduction of international tourism” as a “key factor in our reduced visitor numbers”, explaining “domestic numbers are close to recovery”.

Compared to other worldwide institutions, London’s rate of recovery has been slow. In Paris, the Musée du Louvre – the world’s most-visited art museum – saw 7.7 million visits, down only 20 per cent compared to 2019. At 3.3 million visits, the Musee d’Orsay was down 10 per cent, with the Centre Pompidou fairing best of all with a drop of just 8 per cent to 2019 numbers. 


In New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art saw 32 per cent fewer visitors, the Whitney Museum of American Art decreased by 19 per cent, and The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in fact saw a 10 per cent rise, however it is worth noting it was partially closed for rebuilding in 2019.

Despite the effective ban on tourism to Russia, Saint Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum’s numbers were down a respectable 43 per cent, apparently the result of an increase in domestic Russian tourists.

China’s state-run museums are set to release their data later this year. It is possible that Chinese institutions fare similarly or even worse than London’s, however these numbers will have been further affected by China’s zero Covid policy, which was in place for much of 2022. 

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