Visitor numbers are picking up post-pandemic with many museums celebrating rises of more than 200% in footfall last year, according to the annual figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva).
Museums and galleries saw the strongest growth of all attraction types, reporting an overall increase of 158% in footfall. Heritage and cathedral sites followed with a 55% overall rise.
The Natural History Museum was the UK’s most-visited indoor attraction for the second year running, reporting a 196% rise on 2021. The London institution was in second place on the table behind Windsor Great Park, which is continuing to benefit from the boom in outdoor visits following Covid.
In third and fourth place were the British Museum and Tate Modern, which saw visits increase by 209% and 202% respectively.
Out of the top 10 most visited attractions, the Tower of London saw the biggest increase, welcoming 284% more visits in 2022 than it did the previous year and climbing from 33nd to 10th place.
The most visited Scottish attraction, the National Museum of Scotland, climbed from 20th to 11th place, with visits up by 199%.
There was success for newly reopened venues too. The Burrell Collection, which opened to the public last spring following a six-year revamp, welcomed 482,984 visits in 2022.
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery reported 409,784 visits last year, despite only being open temporarily for six months. The museum is undergoing essential works and will remain closed until 2024.
Some museums that were closed for much of the pandemic saw a significant bounce back. The People’s Palace museum in Glasgow, which reopened fully in March 2022, saw one of the largest percentage increases, with a 4,411% rise from 3,245 to 146,389 visitors.
The Design Museum saw visits up a huge 515% on 2021 figures, increasing from 83,179 to 511,863.
Across the UK, London saw the strongest year-on-year performance with visits up 152% followed by Scotland up 128% and Northern Ireland up 120%. Outside London, the English region with the biggest year-on-year growth was the North West, which was up 49%.
However there is some way to go before museum visits recover to pre-Covid levels. Overall, footfall to Alva’s members was 23% lower in 2022 than in 2019. Alva said this was down to the combined impact of Covid, Brexit-related recruitment issues and the cost-of-living crisis.
The cost-of-living crisis was reflected in the figures, with attractions offering free entry except for special exhibitions and events reporting the strongest year-on-year growth, with a 183% increase. Meanwhile sites that charge admission experienced a 101% rise in visitors.
“These figures show that visitors flocked back to their favourite places in 2022 to breathe, heal, repair and to enjoy special moments with special people in special places,” said Alva director Bernard Donoghue. “The year ended strongly with attractions reporting a very busy Christmas, strong visitor numbers and strong retail sales.
“We are still experiencing the tourism equivalent of 'long Covid' with many attractions still not back up to 2019 visitor levels due, mainly, to the absence of international visitors, notably from China and the Far East, but I am confident that they will return this year and we will see a continuing healthy recovery.”