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Museums worldwide - statistics & facts

Museums are institutions that acquire, preserve, interpret, and exhibit artifacts of artistic, cultural, scientific, and historical importance. According to an estimate by UNESCO, there were roughly 104 thousand such organizations in the world as of March 2021, with the regions of North America and Western Europe reporting the highest number of museums worldwide. Meanwhile, the United States topped the list of the countries worldwide ranked by the number of museums, accounting for nearly one-third of all institutions.

The most visited museums in the world

Despite being the most visited museum worldwide in 2020, the Louvre in Paris, France, experienced a dramatic drop in visitors that year due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The renowned museum attracted approximately 2.7 million visitors in 2020, almost seven million fewer than in 2019. Two Chinese institutions - the National Museum of China in Beijing and the Nanjing Museum in Nanjing - placed second and third in the ranking, respectively. In fact, China was the country reporting the highest aggregated attendance at most visited museums in the world that year, followed by the United Kingdom.

When looking at the museum attendance in the UK, the nation’s capital, London, played a key role as it is where many of the most visited British museums are based. The majority of these establishments are sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) and, in the 2020/2021 financial year, the Tate Gallery Group, Science Museum Group, and the National History Museum were the DCMS sponsored museums in England with the highest number of visitors. From among these institutions, the Tate galleries reported the largest decline in attendance in 2020/2021 due to the pandemic, welcoming 7.5 million fewer visitors compared to the previous year.

The COVID-19 impact and the digitalization of museums

The museum industry has been significantly affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, as institutions worldwide had to close to the public in light of stay-at-home measures and emergency restrictions. According to a May 2021 study, around 20 percent of surveyed institutions worldwide claimed that due to the COVID-19 pandemic museum visitors decreased by more than 90 percent. The same survey showed that most museums faced substantial revenue losses during the pandemic. Overall, while the health crisis forced several organizations to close, many institutions made the most of digital possibilities. For instance, research from May 2021 showed that about 53 percent of surveyed museums worldwide increased their social media activities after the lockdown.

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