Top 20 World’s Most Visited Museums
The world is filled with thousands and thousands of museums, but only a handful can pride themselves in showcasing the most famous and important pieces of history. And even though Europe is famous for its widespread array of cultural institutions, its most popular museums are mainly found in Western Europe, namely in Paris and London. Nonetheless, we will now present a top 20 of the world’s most visited museums in 2012, so you can pick the ones that suit your cultural needs and visit them during your next vacation.
20. London’s Science Museum
The Science Museum of London was established as an independent institution on June 26, 1909, and it gradually opened its doors for visitors between 1919 and 1928. The museum can be found on Exhibition Road, London SW7, and it attracts millions of visitors each year, more specifically 2,990,000 in the year 2012. Its highlights are incorporated into several galleries, including the Exploring Space gallery, the Power: East Hall, the Launchpad gallery as well as the Flight and Exploring Space galleries.
The Launchpad is an interactive gallery that showcases over 50 wondrous exhibits. In order to understand exactly how the various concepts work, guests need only ask a nearby Explainer for help. The Flight gallery includes several full-sized helicopters and airplanes such as Hurricane and Spitfire fighters, while the Exploring Space gallery is dedicated to mankind’s most difficult and extraordinary endeavor: space exploration.
Furthermore, this museum does not require an entry fee.
19. Beijing’s Geological Museum of China
The Geological Museum of China can be found in Beijing, and it was built in 1916, representing one of the country’s oldest museums of its kind. It was officially opened on October 1, 1959, and it currently showcases over 100,000 geological specimens that attracted 3,000,000 visitors in 2012.
The museum was rebuilt in 2004, and it now covers 4,500 square meters of space, including several halls such as the Ore Hall, the Gems Hall, the Earth Sciences hall and the Paleobotanical Hall. Highlights include a 3.5-ton quartz crystal, which is also the largest in the world, as well as several Shantungosaurus giganteus fossils and Zhoukoudian artifacts.
18. Seoul’s National Museum of Korea
The National Museum of Korea was established in 1945, but it was relocated in 2005 to a building within the Yongsan Family Park in Seoul, South Korea. This three-floor museum includes a wide array of historically significant objects, including a twelfth-century incense burner, a Silla gold crown from the fifth century as well as the seventh-century Pensive Bodhisattva statue. Its impressive collections and galleries managed to draw in a huge number of visitors in 2012, more specifically 3,128,000 people.
The first floor includes the Prehistory and Ancient History Gallery, which displays over 4,500 artifacts excavated from all over Korea. The second floor comprises the Calligraphy, Donation and Painting galleries, while the third floor contains the Sculpture and Crafts Gallery.
17. London’s Victoria & Albert Museum
Those passionate about design and decorative arts would surely enjoy visiting the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, which was established in 1852 honoring the names of Queen Victoria and Price Albert.
The museum is divided into four distinct collection departments called “Furniture, Textiles and Fashion”, “Asia”, “Word & Image” and “Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics & Glass”. The number of objects included in the museum’s vast collections adds up to 6.5 million, a fact that surely helped attract the total number of 3,232,000 visitors in 2012.
16. The Musee d’Orsay in Paris
The Musee d’Orsay was established in 1986, and it can be found at Rue de Lille 75343, Paris, France. The museum actually operates within a former Beaux-Arts railway station called Gare d’Orsay, which was constructed between 1898 and 1900.
Thanks to its comprehensive list of sculptures, paintings, furniture examples and photography masterpieces, this museum was visited by 3,579,000 guests in 2012. The main attractions include several paintings signed by some of the world’s most famous artists such as Monet, Seurat, Sisley, Van Gogh and Degas.
15. The Pompidou Centre in Paris
The Pompidou Centre was established in 1997 flaunting a stunning, contemporary exterior design based on Structural Expressionism. The centre comprises several highly important cultural establishments such as the largest modern art museum in Europe (Musée National d’Art Moderne), a large public library and the IRCAM music research centre. The museum was named after George Pompidou, a famous French president.
Upon construction, the centre was intended to handle 8,000 visitors a day, but it gradually exceeded all expectations, appealing to a total number of 3,800,000 guests in 2012.
14. Beijing’s National Museum of China
The National Museum of China actually represents a merger between two museums that happened to occupy the same building. These two museums were the National Museum of Chinese History, which occupied the southern end of the building and the Museum of the Chinese Revolution found in the northern wing. The National Museum of China was established in 2003, and it intrigued a total of 4,100,000 visitors in 2012.
The museum boasts a total of 1,050,000 items, some of which are completely unique and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Highlights include a bat-shaped bronze statue from the tomb of Lady Fu Ha, a stone carving from the Eastern Han Dynasty and a porcelain vase from the Qing Dynasty.
13. The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.
The National Gallery of Art was established in 1937, and it can be found at the National Mall in Washington D.C. As one of the most important museums in the US, it includes a wide variety of Western Art pieces, some obtained through generous donations made by important personalities such as Chester Dale, Lessing J. Rosenwald and Paul Mellon.
Furthermore, the Gallery accommodates the sole painting made by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas – Ginerva de’ Benci. Other highlights include the Portrait of a Lady by Rogier van der Weyden from c. 1460, The Mill by Rembrandt van Rijn from 1648, The Plum by Édouard Manet form 1878 and many more. The National Gallery of Art was visited by 4,200,000 guests in 2012.
12. The National Palace Museum in Taipei
The Taipei version of the National Palace Museum was established on November 12, 1965, and it comprises a wide variety of artifacts and high-quality pieces, most originating from vast collections put together by old Chinese emperors. The museum operates within a building designed by Huang Baoyu, which was the subject of an extensive renovation program in 2002.
Major attractions include the famous Bell of Zhou commissioned by King Li of Zhou, the Jadeite Cabbage and the Meat-shaped Stone. In addition, guests are able to admire and examine a wide variety of old documents, books and paintings, including the Yongle Encyclopedia and the Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains by Huang Gongwang. In the year 2012, this museum was frequented by 4,361,000 people.
11. The National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.
The National Museum of American History was established in 1964, and it can be found at the National Mall at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, Washington D.C. This museum houses and showcases highly important items linked to the history of the United States, including Archie Bunker’s chair and the original Star-Spangled Banner. Other highlights include a Southern Railways locomotive, a statue of George Washington by Horatio Greenough as well as an exhibit of the First Ladies of America.
The museum was closed and renovated between 2006 and 2008, which resulted in the addition of a new welcome center, a special environmentally controlled chamber for the Star-Spangled Banner, new galleries, a grand staircase and more. The museum accommodated 4,800,000 visitors in 2012.
10. London’s Natural History Museum
We start our top 10 of the world’s most visited museums with the Natural History Museum in London, which managed to accumulate 4,936,000 visitors in 2012. This famous institution was established in 1881, and it comprises as much as 70 million items divided into five main categories related to zoology, mineralogy, paleontology, entomology and botany.
A key factor in the museum’s popularity gain is that it houses several specimens collected by Charles Darwin himself, as well as a major exhibition of ornate architecture and dinosaur skeletons. Moreover, the museum features several galleries, each dedicated to various themes. For example, the Orange Zone includes the Darwin Centre and the Wildlife Garden, while the Blue Zone is focused around Dinosaurs, Human Biology, Fish and more. The Greenzone features bird exhibits as well as the Minerals gallery, while the Red Zone involves several galleries such as the Earth Lab and the Visions of Earth.
9. New York’s American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History in New York was founded in 1869, and it is located in Central Park West, 79th street. The museum includes its own library and planetarium as well as 45 exhibition halls, which are used to showcase well over 32 million specimens of rocks, meteorites, animals, plants, fossils and artifacts.
The museum actually represents a vast complex of 27 linked buildings, all occupying a total of 1,600,000 square feet of space. Since its vast halls enthralled 5,000,000 visitors last year, New York’s American Museum of Natural History sits comfortably at no.9 in our top 20.
8. The Vatican Museums in Vatican City
The Vatican Museums of Vatican City were established in 1506 by Pope Julius II, and they include a wide variety of historically significant works of art and artifacts gathered by the Catholic Church over the centuries. Highlights include a red marble papal throne, the St. Jerome in the Wilderness portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, the Entombment painting by Caravaggio as well as the Sistine Chapel with its famous ceiling.
The museums are part of a vast 13-acre complex called the Palazzo Apostolico Vaticano, and they managed to fascinate 5,065,000 people in 2012.
7. London’s National Gallery
The National Gallery in London first opened its doors on May 10, 1824, and it can be found in Trafalgar Square. This very popular art museum contains a vast collection of over 2,300 paintings, some dating all the way back to the 13th century. Highlights include The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci, The Water Lily Pond by Monet, Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh and The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck.
The National Gallery’s building was designed by William Wilkins, who also sketched out the University College in London. London’s National Gallery allured 5,164,000 visitors last year, a fact that attests to its great importance and popularity.
6. Tate Modern in London
Tate Modern is a modern art gallery that was founded in London in the year 2000. The gallery was visited by 5,319,000 modern art fans in 2012, and it operates within the former Bankside Power Station built in 1963.
Tate Modern’s permanent collections are placed on its third and fifth floors, while the fourth floor is used for temporary exhibitions. Visitors are able to observe and admire works of art dating all the way back to 1500, as well as several modern and contemporary pieces. One of the gallery’s most important areas is the Turbine Hall, which occupies 3,400 square meters of space and is used mainly for special events or sponsored galleries.
5. London’s British Museum
The British Museum was founded in 1753, but it opened its doors officially 6 years later, originally operating within the Montague House in Bloomsbury. In order to be able to contain its ever-increasing number of collections, the museum had to be expanded. For example, the Smirke Building was built to incorporate the library of King George III, while the Parthenon Galleries house various Parthenon sculptures.
Visitors are also able to observe an extensive Egyptian Collection that includes the renowned Rosetta stone, as well as a wide array of sarcophagi and mummies. The British Museum in London was visited by 5,576,000 guests in 2012.
4. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art can be found in the city of New York, and it undoubtedly represents the largest and most popular art museum in the US, spreading across 2,000,000 square feet of space and charming 6,116,000 visitors in 2012.
The museum was founded in 1870 by American citizens, and it includes a permanent collection of over 2 million art pieces, musical instruments, ancient weapons, armors, costumes and accessories. Highlights include the Portrait of a Lady by Paolo Uccello from c. 1450, the View of Toledo by El Greco from 1596, The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David from 1787 and many more.
3. The National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.
The National Air and Space Museum can be found in Washington D.C., and it was founded in 1946 as the National Air Museum. The museum houses an extensive collection that involves spacecraft and aircraft examples, which are showcased as part of an exhibition that spreads across 161,145 square feet of space.
The most important exhibits include the Mercury Friendship 7 spacecraft, the Apollo Lunar Module LM-2, the Apollo 11 Command Module, the SpaceShipOne and the Spirit of St. Louis airplane. The National Air and Space Museum received 6,800,000 guests in 2012, which is why it is our no.3 pick regarding the world’s most visited museums.
2. The National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.
As the world’s most visited museum of its kind, the National Museum of National History was established in 1910, and it can be found in Washington D.C. Massive in size and boasting an extensive and extremely varied collection, the museum’s main building spreads across a total area of 1,320,000 square feet. Its collections include over 126 million examples of fossils, minerals, animals and plants.
The most popular and impressive galleries can be found in the Hall of Mammals, the Hall of Dinosaurs and in the Ocean Hall. There is also a Western Cultures Hall with various examples of art originating in Greece, Rome, Iraq or Egypt, as well as a Korea Gallery that honors the people of Korea and their traditions.
Ranking no.2 in our top 20, the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. saw a staggering number of 7,600,000 visitors in 2012.
1. The Louvre Museum in Paris
And the no.1 most visited museum in the world in 2012 is the Louvre in Paris, France, which saw 9,720,000 visitors. The Louvre is one of the most important landmarks in France, and it was established in 1793.
Since its founding days, the museum’s collections soared in number, especially during the reign of Napoleon. Nowadays, the Louvre includes a vast array of collections that involve paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture pieces, Islamic art examples, Egyptian antiques, decorative arts and many more.
Highlights include the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, a portrait of Marcus Agrippa from 25 BC, the Rebellious Slave sculpture by Michelangelo and an Ivory and Silver casket from Muslim Spain. Apart from its exquisite and valuable galleries, the museum is also famous for its magnificent glass pyramid that can be admired in the main courtyard.