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While zoos and gardens suffered due to poor weather in UK in 2012, the indoor museums thrived and many of the marquee ones had their best year on record.

Last year’s wash-out weather forced visitors to the UK’s leading tourist attractions indoors, boosting the popularity of sellout exhibitions featuring the best of modern British art and design and the nostalgic glamour of Hollywood.

While the rain put a damper on visits to gardens and other outdoor attractions, indoor exhibitions thrived, according to new figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva).

The members of Alva represent the UK’s most popular and important museums, galleries, palaces, castles, cathedrals, zoos, historic houses, heritage sites, gardens and leisure attractions. The 44 members manage nearly 2,000 tourist sites and welcome over 100 million domestic and overseas visitors each year. Total visitor numbers last year were 92.2 million – 5.1% more than in 2011.

The British Museum attracted more than 5.57 million visitors, making it the most visited in the UK, thanks to the appeal of The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman exhibition curated by Grayson Perry. It featured his new works alongside objects made by unknown men and women throughout history from the museum’s permanent collection.

The Victoria & Albert Museum enjoyed the best year in its history, as visitors flocked to its sellout Hollywood costume exhibition. An average of almost 2,600 visitors per day bought tickets to see some of the most famous outfits in the history of film – from the gingham dress and ruby red slippers worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz to Keira Knightley’s emerald green gown in the film Atonement. In total, the V&A welcomed more than 3.23 million visitors in 2012 – a 16% increase on 2011.

Work from controversial British artist Damien Hirst was on display at the Tate Modern last year, where visits increased 9% to nearly 5.32 million. At the same time a major Lucian Freud exhibition helped the National Portrait Gallery to enjoy a 12% increase in visits, to almost 2.1 million.

The poor weather meant that 30 attractions saw double-digit percentage declines in the number of visits. Of these, 27 were either gardens or outdoor attractions. London Zoo suffered a 10.7% dip in visits to just over 974,000, for example, while Kew Gardens in London saw numbers plummet by almost 14% to just over 1 million.

Bernard Donoghue, the director of Alva, commented: “We are delighted with the visitor figures and although the Olympics deterred visitors from central London, and there was a noticeable decline in visitors to attractions while the Games took place, the recovery was almost immediate after the Games left town.”

Sandie Dawe, the chief executive officer of the national tourism agency VisitBritain, added: “It’s fantastic to see the heightened demand across the whole of Britain for our world class attractions in what was a pivotal year for the tourism industry. With the majority of museums and galleries free of charge, Britain offers unparalleled attractions at fantastic value, reaffirming our position as one of the most competitive countries in the world to visit.”

One of the largest single increases in visitors (53%) was enjoyed by the new Museum of Liverpool, which opened in July 2011. It attracted more than 1 million visitors and was the most visited museum in England outside London.

This article originally appeared on


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Tags: museums, uk

Photo credit: Ice Age snow sculptures outside the British Museum. Photo courtesy BM's Facebook page.

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