Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Best Cities for Top Art Galleries and Museums (2012)

Which are the best cities to go to if you want to indulge in a spot of art gallery and museum visiting?

I've reviewed the top 100 art galleries and museums - judged by the number of visitors - in the The Art Newspaper's  Visitor Figures Survey (2012) - Exhibition & museum attendance.

On the basis of the self-reported but unaudited numbers of visitors I've identified the Top 5 Cities for the most popular Art Galleries and Museums in the World.  (Actually it's the top 5 plus 2 as there's been a howling omission from the Survey plus another city is beginning to recover its former status!)

The names are all:
  • prefixed with their position in the ranking of the top 100 art galleries and museums
  • plus an indication of the places gained or dropped since 2010 as a suffix
While the top four art cities remain the same, in 2011 Seoul has now replaced Tokyo in the top five following the devastating Tsunami and the aftershocks of the March earthquake off the coast of Japan. However it should be noted that rankings of museums in Tokyo had already dropped significantly in 2010.


London - continues to have a total of eight art museums and galleries in the top 100 art galleries and museums in the world. This is significantly in excess of any other capital city. (I live in London and can get to all of these in under 45 minutes!). What's also significant for overseas tourists is how many other art museums in the UK are in the top 100 (see the end).

In 2012, all did well to maintain their positions given the adverse impact of the Olympic Games on visitors to the centre of London.

This year the National Gallery and Tate Modern swopped positions in the top 5.  The Royal Academy of Arts did particularly well on the strength of the very popular Hockney Exhibition.  By way of contrast, the Serpentine Gallery dropped out of the top 100 Art Galleries and Musuems.

The list in 2012 is:

#3.   British Museum, London (no change)
#4.   Tate Modern, London (+1)
#5.   National Gallery, London (-1)  
#11. Victoria and Albert Museum (+3)
#18. National Portrait Gallery (no change)
#26. Tate Britain (+3)
#33. Saatchi Gallery (+10)
#44. Royal Academy of Arts (+19)

Interior Atrium of the British Museum - with stone lion

While Paris has a lot of art galleries in the top 100, it's got a much greater spread across the 100 than London.

The Louvre Museum
The Louvre continued to maintain - and develop - its unassailable lead over all other museums and galleries with the addition of a new wing relating to Islamic Art.

The Museum Quai Branly continues to slip over time.  The Centre Pompidou continues to slip and I predict will slip further still when visitor figures are finally produced for the art gallery venue and activities alone. 

#1     The Louvre (no change)
#9     Centre Pompidou (-1)
#10. Musée d'Orsay (no change)
#27  Grand Palais (-2)
#37  Musée du Quai Branly (-8)
#99  Musée des Arts Décoratifs (new entry)

The Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville, Paris  dropped out of the top 100.


New York is the third most popular city to view art.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's new galleries helped to stimulate traffic. The New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia  (opened November 2011) and an American Wing both helped it to sustain second place overall.  It will be interesting to see whether it can sustain this position in 2013 when if it has neither a blockbuter exhibition (2011) or new galleries which the public want to see (2012).

The Museum of Modern Art has slowed its drop through the rankings but has not recovered its former ranked position.

#2     Metropolitan Museum of Art (no change)
#14  Museum of Modern Art, New York (-1)
#47  Guggenheim Musem (-1)

The Caixa Forum in Madrid dropped from #24 in 2011 to completely out of the menu of riders.


Seoul claims the 4th place for the first time. Two of its three museums move into the top 100 museums.

#12 National Museum of Korea (-3)
#15 National Folk Museum of Korea (+1)
#39 National Museum of Contemporary Art (+10)


Edinburgh is a new entry in the top 5 cities for art - with two museums in the top 25 - which is quite some achievement. In my opinion this means it ranks in 5th place overall.

#20  National Museum of Scotland (+6)
#23  National Galleries of Scotland (new entry)


Tokyo is back in 2012! It has four art galleries and museums in the top 100.  It lost its 5th place in the top 5 in 2011 due to the impact of the tsunami the year before.

#28  Tokyo National Museum (+3)
#56  Mori Art Museum (new entry)
#63  National Art Center Tokyo (new entry)
#67  National Museum of Western Art (+35)


The big news - in relation to the Survey - is that the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid is not included in the rankings.  It's hard to see why it might have been excluded from such a  prestigious Survey.  Presumably they refused to make a return as I assume the Art newspaper propted them for their return.

Madrid drops out of the top 5 on the basis of this omission. The astounding leap up the charts by the Caixa Forum in 2011 is not repeated and in fact it drops out of the top 100 altogether. Like the UK, Spain is also stronger in the European context in terms of its representation of regional museums.

By way of contrast the Museo Thyssen Bornemisza had a most astounding leap up the charts

#16 Reina Sofía, Madrid (- 1)
#40 Museo Thyssen Bornemisza (+21)

Top 100 Art Galleries and Museums in the UK

For the record, other art galleries and museums in the UK which made the top 100 are as follows

#53 Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow
#61 Riverside Museum, Glasgow
#74 Ashmolean Museum Oxford
#83 Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Birmingham

Plus #98 National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

What can I say?  If you want to visit the best range of top art museums and galleries in the world - come to the UK!

I've updated my information site about the top museums and art galleries which you can find here - Top 10 Art Galleries and Museums in the World.


  1. Think it's worth pointing out that Glasgow is about 50 minutes from Edinburgh by train - so if you think of Edinburgh as a suburb of Glasgow, you get even more great galleries in the one place!

  2. h - I'm not getting in the middle of the Glasgow - Edinburgh dialogue

    Glasgow has of course got Kelvingrove and the Riverside Museums - although they don't rank quite as high.

    What I would say is I was a bit surprised Glasgow hadn't taken the same approach as Edinburgh to rolling up its smaller museums on different sites under one umbrella eg Glasgow Museums - because they would then have a very respectable showing.

    For what it's worth I think the Burrell is brilliant!

  3. They do - - but obviously not for this survey.
    Edinburgh and Glasgow are clearly the two best cities in the world - I just wanted to point out to foreign types how close they are to each other :)
    And I agree about the Burrell - they may have a very small painting section, but each work is a gem. The Hunterian is rather good, to - it is a privilege to live somewhere with such easy access to such great art.


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