Here are the world’s 20 most popular museums

Da Vinci Code Locations
Getty Images | Pascal Le Segretain

World travelers—here are 20 additional stops to put on your bucket list! The Themed Entertainment Association ranks museums based upon attendance worldwide. Trust us, every single one is worth the SkyMiles.

More than 107 million people visited these 20 museums alone in 2016, a million more visitors compared to 2015. That’s impressive growth considering the competition from other tourist attractions such as amusement parks, concert venues and water parks. Not to mention that technology is changing our entertainment habits for good.

The most visited museums in the world span from South Korea to London to New York. After perusing this list, you’ll want to check them out for yourself!

1. National Museum of China

Moving on up! This museum was ranked second in 2015. Located in Beijing, the National Museum of China leads in attendance with more than 7.5 million visitors in 2016. The museum showcases 5,000 years of Chinese civilization with more than 1 million exhibition pieces. Asia happens to be responsible for most of the museum attendance growth last year. The museum was ranked number 14 back in 2012, with about half the number of visitors.

national museum of china photo
Getty Images | VCG

2. National Air And Space Museum

The National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. is the top ranking museum in the United States. It saw a growth of 8.7 percent in attendance from 2015 to 2016. The museum showcases all things flight from aviation to space travel, including the only portion of the Apollo 11 spacecraft to return to Earth. It opened on the National Mall in 1976 (and it’s free).

national air and space museum photo
Getty Images | Mark Wilson

3. The Louvre

Still ranked in the top three, The Louvre in Paris actually experienced a significant drop in attendance for the second year in a row. It earned the top spot in 2015 with 8.7 million guests. A respectable 7.4 million checked out the iconic museum in 2016.

The Louvre houses Western art from the Middle Ages to 1848. Once home to French heads of state, the Louvre is an historical backdrop of Paris and France for both art and architecture.

the louvre photo
Getty Images | Pascal Le Segretain

4. National Museum Of Natural History (D.C.)

Back to Washington, D.C.! Dropping just one ranking, 7.1 million people visited the National Museum of Natural History in 2016. Families and tour groups can explore the natural world, including ancient life forms (like dinosaurs!), rare gemstones, diverse cultures and dozens of exhibits. The museum is altogether the size of 18 football fields! That’s a lot of history.

national museum of natural history photo
Flickr | Glyn Lowe Photoworks.

5. Metropolitan Museum Of Art

It’s the last U.S. museum you’ll see in the top ten. From paintings to fashion, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) has more than 5,000 years of art history on display for the millions of New York residents and tourists. The Met actually consists of three NYC sites—The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Breuer, and The Met Cloisters. The museum moved up one spot in the 2016 TEA rankings.

metropolitan museum of art photo
Flickr | hannibal1107

6. British Museum

London’s first museum on the list houses a vast collection of art and artifacts from around the world. Roughly 6.4 million people visited the British Museum last year. The museum has ten research departments—one specifically for the study of coins and medals.

British Museum photo
Getty Images | Peter Macdiarmid

7. Shanghai Science & Technology Museum

If you’re into tech, this is where you can find bliss. Exhibits at the Shanghai Science & Technology Museum feature robots and space travel, but also the ancient sciences. The museum, funded by the Shanghai government, opened in 2001 and is only growing in popularity.

shanghai science and technology museum photo
Getty Images | China Photos

8. The National Gallery (London)

At the National Gallery in London, you’ll experience one of the greatest collections of paintings in the world from the 13th century to the early 20th century. Admission is free almost year-round. There are more than 2,300 works for the public to enjoy. As mentioned on the National Gallery’s website, “These pictures belong to the public.”

Attendance declined nearly 8 percent from 2014 to 2015, but rebounded. Attendance climbed 6 percent from 2015 to 2016.

national gallery photo
Getty Images | Carl Court

9. Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums, located in Vatican City, demonstrate how art, sculptures and music are influenced by Christianity, and also how the Church uses art to share its message. Many masterpieces were collected by popes through the centuries. Attendance was steady over the past two years, despite dropping from number seven to number nine. Also referred to as the “Pope’s Museums,” there is a fee to get in.

vatican museums photo
Getty Images | Dan Kitwood

10. Tate Modern

This art gallery in London recorded the largest increase in attendance from 2015 to 2016, with a whopping 23.9 percent increase. No other museums in the top 20 came close.  It also moved up three spots from 13 to 10.

The Tate Modern features international modern and contemporary art. If you’re questioning the name, “Tate” is a family of four art galleries from the cities of London, Liverpool and Cornwall. They are Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool and Tate St. Ives.

tate modern photo
Getty Images | Carl Court

11. American Museum Of Natural History

You’re probably familiar with the American Museum of Natural History if you’ve ever been to Central Park in New York City. The museum was founded in 1869 and continues to be one of the world’s most respected scientific institutions. Exhibits range from mummies to humpback whales to meteorites. The Hall of Biodiversity takes a deep dive into the factors threatening Earth. Attendance has remained unchanged since 2014 at 5 million guests each year.

american museum of natural history photo
Getty Images | Spencer Platt

12. National Palace Museum

This museum, located in Taipei, Taiwan, looks spectacular just from the outside! The National Palace Museum houses the largest collection of Chinese artifacts and artwork in the world. Its collections include calligraphy and rare books. It is the only museum from Taiwan to make the top 20 ranking. Unfortunately, it fell two spots in 2016.

taipei national palace museum photo
Flickr | legends2k

13. Natural History Museum (London)

With a slight dip in attendance last year, the Natural History Museum in London is going digital. It’s in the process of digitizing about 80 million specimens and providing that data through an open digital portal.

The museum also offers some pretty cool activities, including a movie night and museum sleepovers for kids and adults (appropriately called Dino Snores). The featured photo below comes from the recent Sensational Butterflies exhibit.

natural history museum london photo
Getty Images | Jack Taylor

14. National Gallery Of Art (D.C.)

Back to Washington, D.C. and the name is pretty self-explanatory. The National Gallery of Art was a gift to the United States from Andrew W. Mellon, an art collector from Pittsburgh who would go on to serve as secretary of the treasury. He donated his own artwork and funded the construction.

To this day, all the pieces are either donated or purchased with donated funds. It’s funny, Mellon never wanted the museum he founded to be named after him! The gallery’s popularity has ranked 14 two years running.

national gallery of art washington photo
Getty Images | Kris Connor

15. State Hermitage

Russia’s only museum to make the list, The State Hermitage Museum has more than one million works of art, and more than 700,000 archaeological artifacts. The museum, located in St. Petersburg, dates back to 1764! It’s growing in popularity. The number of visitors has risen more than 12 percent for two years in a row.

State Hermitage russia photo
Flickr | berlinrider

16. China Science Technology Museum

This is the second big tech museum out of China, and it’s growing at a steady pace. There were 3.8 million visitors last year, up 14 percent. You wouldn’t traditionally associate things like gunpowder, a compass or paper-making with technology. At the China Science Technology Museum, they are the core of an exhibit focused on ancient technology. This is a very inventive culture to learn about!

china science technology museum beijing photo
Flickr | maltman23

17. National Museum Of American History

The United States is a younger nation, so this museum is relatively new compared to others. Washington, D.C.’s National Museum of American History opened to the public in 1964.

An American history lesson: President Dwight Eisenhower approved the funding for the museum but, by the time it opened, Lyndon Johnson was in office. The museum is located on the National Mall and preserves 3 million of our national treasures.

National Museum Of American History washington photo
Flickr | leoncillo sabino

18. Reina Sofía

A debut on the TEA’s top 20 list, the Reina Sofía is located in Madrid, Spain. The modern, contemporary Spanish museum opened its doors in 1990. Its growth last year was 12 percent, with roughly 3.6 million attendees.

Reina Sofía spain photo
Flickr | Son of Groucho

19. National Museum Of Korea

This South Korean museum likes to play hopscotch. It made the top 20 in 2012 and 2014. It just snuck onto the index in 2016 with 3.4 million guests. The National Museum of Korea in Seoul is the flagship of Korean history, and only began when Japan was defeated in World War II. According to its website, the museum was a tool in restoring the nation’s cultural pride.

national museum of korea photo
Flickr | KOREA.NET - Official page of the Republic of Korea

20. Centre Pompidou

We round out the top 20 with a look back at Paris. The Centre Pompidou is another museum making a return to the top-ranked group after a year off. It is a true cultural venue. Not only is the museum a residence for artwork, but it is a center for music and also houses a public reading library.

Centre Pompidou paris photo
Flickr | alber_hernandez


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About the Author
Emily Hanford-Ostmann
I have a background in newspaper and broadcast news writing. When I'm not informing others about what's happening in town...I enjoy running, a great workout class, and finding my next favorite show on Netflix. I also find great joy in clearance shopping.

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