Museum and gallery visits hit four-year high | News

The number of visits to state-sponsored museums and galleries rose to 42.4m in 2023/24, government figures show.

Statistics published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport show that for the final quarter of 2023/24 covering the months of January to March 2024 almost 10 million visits were made, a 13% increase on the same period in 2023 and the highest level in five years.

Overall during 2023/24 there were 42.4m visits to the 30 DCMS-sponsored museums and galleries, including Tate, Sir John Soane’s Museum, British Museum, and Royal Armouries Leeds.


This represents a 21% increase on 2022/23 when the number was 34.9m, but is still five million (10%) down on the pre-pandemic level of 47.6m in 2019/20. 

Despite lower figures overall, some organisations have surpassed their 2019/2020 audience numbers, including The Royal Armouries, which recorded visitor numbers in excess of pre-pandemic levels at both its sites outside of London.

In 2023/24, Royal Armouries Leeds had 357,756 visits compared with 222,053 in 2019/20, while Fort Nelson in Hampshire saw 143,266 visits, up from 92,192. 

The organisation’s White Tower site in the Tower of London had 1.74m visits in 2023/24, compared with its 2019/20 figure of 1.87m.

“We’ve found that particularly it is families that have returned, and our visitor numbers are now at a level higher than we saw before the pandemic,” said a Royal Armouries spokesperson.

“The cost-of-living crisis has meant that families are looking for free and low-cost options, and our programme of daily live combats and performances, as well as special exhibitions and enhanced school holiday activities, have driven an increase in our visitors.

“Our collection at the White Tower is housed within the Tower of London, which has a different and much more international visitor base.”

Meanwhile, Sir John Soane’s Museum in London told Arts Professional that although its site offers limited capacity, it has also experienced record visitor numbers so far this year.

“The Soane Museum is delighted to see our visitor admissions returning to and indeed exceeding our pre-pandemic numbers,” said a spokesperson.

“During the financial year ended March 2024, we welcomed 157,938 visitors – a new Soane Museum record, the previous record having been set in the prior year with 133,785 visitors.” 

In comparison, during the financial year ending March 2020, the museum received 118,015 visits.

Lockdown restrictions

Since 2020, lockdown restrictions have skewed attendance data for museums and art galleries, and the latest data offers organisations a clearer comparison to how the current visitor trends correspond to pre-pandemic behaviour.

UK museums and galleries closed from mid-March 2020, reopening in early July with lockdown measures in place. A second closure occurred from 5 November to 1 December 2020, followed by the introduction of various tiers of restrictions.

Museums and galleries shut again from 6 January to 17 May 2021, with all restrictions eventually lifted from 19 July 2021. However, some museums maintained their own rules around ticketed entry times and face coverings afterwards.

One organisation yet to return to pre-Covid audience levels is Tate, which reported 6.3m visits across its four sites in 2023/2024, compared with 8.6m in 2019/2022, despite domestic visitor numbers returning to pre-pandemic levels in 2023.

Factors affecting Tate’s figures include the closure of Tate Liverpool in October 2023 for a major refurbishment and the closure of some galleries at Tate Britain for part of that year for a rehang.

Maria Balshaw, Director of Tate, previously said: “I’m delighted that Tate’s domestic visitor numbers are now back up to pre-Covid levels. The public’s appetite for art and culture is clearly as strong as ever.

“International tourism will take longer to recover.”

International tourism

The figures from DCMS tally with recent data collected from across the sector.

A survey by The Art Newspaper published in March found that in 2023, many of the world’s major museums were close to equalling their pre-pandemic levels, while some, including The Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence, had exceeded them.

Alongside Tate, the data showed that V&A and the National Portrait Gallery had more ground to make up, with numbers down 21% and 48%, respectively, compared with 2019, while The British Museum was just 7% down, and The Musée du Louvre was 8% lower.

In March, the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) also reported that throughout 2023, across all of its 358 member sites, there were 146.6 million visits – up 19% on the figure for 2022 but 11% down on the 163.9 million recorded in 2019.

ALVA Director Bernard Donoghue commented that while he welcomed measures in the Spring Budget to retain cultural tax reliefs introduced in 2021, there had been “a missed opportunity” to reintroduce tax-free shopping for overseas visitors.

“[This] would have improved the UK’s international competitiveness and reduced VAT for tourism and hospitality, which would have helped businesses repair their balance sheets,” he said.

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