Lonely Planet Writer

The Tate Modern saw more visitors last year than the National Gallery in London

The top attractions in the United Kingdom for 2017 have been named with London landing a clean sweep in the list of the top ten. The British Museum retained its crown at the top of the rankings with almost six million visitors last year despite a small drop in numbers from 2016.

A young boy on his mini scooter passes the Tate Modern art gallery on the Southbank. Image by Getty

Tate Modern, the spectacular riverside museum in a converted power station, was the new second-placed attraction with 5.65 million visitors.

Inflatable fish float installation by French artist Philippe Parreno titled ‘Anywhen’ at the Tate Modern. Image by Getty Images

It leapfrogged the National Gallery, which now sits in third, with a still very impressive 5.22 million art lovers coming to see its storied collection of painting and sculpture.

The interior of the British Museum in London.
The British Museum in London was the number one attraction again in 2017. Image by Anna Levan/Shutterstock

In fourth was the Natural History Museum in London, followed by its near neighbour in South Kensington, the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum. The V&A Museum saw some of the fastest growing visitor numbers in 2017 with 3.78 million people attracted by a series of blockbuster exhibitions including Pink Floyd, Balenciaga, and the world’s first exhibition dedicated to humble plywood.

Installation image of David Bowie Is at the V&A. Image by (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The rankings are published by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions and cover 130 million visits to 238 of the United Kingdom’s most popular tourist locations. Outside of London, the most visited attractions were in Edinburgh with the National Museum of Scotland and Edinburgh Castle both receiving just over two million visitors.

The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. Image by ©Shelley Tonkin/Lonely Planet

Visitor numbers in Scotland have been booming, with a near 14% rise to the 56 locations that are part of the association there. For the rest of England (outside of London), the most popular site was Chester Zoo followed by the Unesco World Heritage site, Stonehenge. In Northern Ireland, more than one million people visited the Giant’s Causeway with Titanic Belfast and the Ulster Museum making up the top three. Bernard Donoghue of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions said the primary reason for visits to the UK remained its “history, heritage and world-leading cultural institutions”. “This has been another fantastic year for tourism, and attractions in particular,” he said.
The Top 10 most visited attractions in the UK last year were…

  1. British Museum (5.906 million)
    One of the most famous and largest museums in the world, it has been welcoming visitors for more than 250 years. It is probably best known for the Elgin Marbles, a collection of sculptures (taken controversially) from the Parthenon in Athens.
  2. Tate Modern (5.656 million)
    Although it’s only been open eighteen years, Tate Modern has fast become one of the best-known modern art museums in the world. It is particularly famous for its Turbine Hall, an enormous space given over to giant specially-commissioned artworks.
  3. National Gallery (5.229 million)
    Located on Trafalgar Square, it houses a collection of 2300 paintings covering more than 700 years of art history. Among its most famous works are Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, Leonarda da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks, and Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors (with its famous illusion of a human skull).
  4. Natural History Museum (4.434 million)
    Housed in one of London’s most beautiful buildings, this museum is home to an extraordinary 80 million objects gathered from every corner of the globe. Historically best known for its iconic dinosaur replica Dippy, Dippy was replaced with the skeleton of an actual blue whale.
  5. Victoria & Albert Museum (3.789 million)
    Right next door to the Natural History Museum, the V&A is the biggest museum of decorative arts and design in the world. It has renowned collections of jewellery, swords, and a famous glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly hanging in its entrance hall.
  6. Science Museum (3.251 million)
    A neighbour of the two above, is has a collection of 300,000 items charting the history of scientific development. It is home to the first jet engine, Robert Stephenson’s Rocket steam locomotive, and a replica of the first model of DNA.
  7. Southbank Centre (3.232 million)
    A collection of artistic venues, it was founded as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951. Visitors come to see the temporary exhibitions in the brutalist Hayward Gallery and performances in the Royal Festival Hall.
  8. Somerset House (3.233 million)
    Located not far from Covent Garden, Somerset House has a famous permanent collection of art in its Courtauld Gallery as well as a constantly rolling programme of contemporary arts events and exhibitions.
  9. Tower of London (2.843 million)
    No building tells the story of London and the UK quiet as well as the Tower. A Unesco World Heritage site, it is home to the Crown Jewels, live historical re-enactments, as well as exhibitions telling stories of its storied use as a prison.
  10. Royal Museums Greenwich (2.607 million)
    Another Unesco World Heritage site, the Royal Museums is made up of a variety of attractions including the Cutty Sark sailing ship, the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House art gallery.
Fountain Court at Somerset House in London’s Strand, the 8th most popular attraction for 2017. Image by Getty

The remainder of the top 20 list reads: 11. National Museum of Scotland (2.165 million); 12. Edinburgh Castle (2.063 million); 13. Chester Zoo (1.866 million); 14. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (1.802 million); 15. Tate Britain (1.777 million); 16. Scottish National Gallery (1.6 million); 17. Stonehenge (1.582 million); 18. St Paul’s Cathedral (1.571 million); 19. Westminster Abbey (1.547 million); 20. Royal Albert Hall (1.495 million).