The British Museum's Ice Age Art exhibition contributed to its success

BM recorded highest ever attendance in 2013

Geraldine Kendall, 05.03.2014
Visitor figures rose an average of 6% last year
Visitor figures have bounced back after being hit by the Olympics and bad weather in 2012, with attractions reporting an average 6% rise in 2013.

The latest report from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva), which has 56 members across the UK, shows that London attractions saw a 12% increase on the previous year, while outdoor attractions benefited from the summer heatwave with an 8% rise.

All of Alva's top 10 most-visited attractions in 2013 were located in the capital and all but one offer free admission.

Blockbuster exhibitions including Ice Age Art and Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum gave the British Museum its most successful year on record, with over 6.7m visitors - a 20% increase on 2012.

Second on the list was the National Gallery, which took in just over 6m visitors – a rise of 14%. The Natural History Museum (NHM) saw footfall rise 7% to 5.4m and the Science Museum reported an increase of 11% to 3.3m.

The biggest increases elsewhere were recorded by Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, which reported a jump of 55% to 675,000 following the opening of the new £35m Mary Rose Museum at the site.

The Churchill War Rooms in London saw a 38% rise, and the National Railway Museum in York welcomed 30% more visitors as a result of its commemorative celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of first world steam locomotive record.

Stonehenge attracted 19% more visitors than the previous year ahead of the opening of its new £27m visitor centre in December 2013.

NHM director Michael Dixon said the rising footfall reflected "the enduring success of museums".

"It also shows the continued success of the free admission policy,” he added.

But not every institution saw rises; National Museums Liverpool recorded a drop of 25% at the Museum of Liverpool – an expected tail-off following its opening year in 2012 – and a 26% decrease at the Merseyside Maritime Museum.

And after its record-breaking Damien Hirst exhibition in 2012, Tate Modern recorded a fall of 8% in attendance last year.

In Scotland, where several institutions were hit by strikes last spring, the National Museum of Scotland dropped out of the UK top 10, with visitors falling 7% to 1.8m. But the museum retained its place as Scotland's most-visited attraction.

Glasgow’s Riverside Museum was unable to sustain the high numbers it attracted in its first full year of opening, with footfall dropping 26% at the venue.

Edinburgh Castle, which charges an entry fee, saw an increase of 15% and Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow recorded a small rise of 0.2%.

Alva's figures do not include museums in Wales or Northern Ireland.

Alva's top 10 UK visitor attractions in 2013

  • British Museum 6.7m, +20.0%
  • National Gallery 6m, +14.0%
  • Natural History Museum 5.4m, +7%
  • Tate Modern 4.9m, -8%
  • Science Museum 3.3m, +10.9%
  • V&A 3.3m, +2%
  • Tower of London 2.9, +18%
  • Somerset House Trust 2.4m, no change
  • St Paul’s Cathedral 2.1m,+19%
  • Westminster Abbey 2m, +14%

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