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Museums are considered cultural institutions and often backed by nonprofit organizations, governments, or private families that open the collections as a public service rather than lucrative business venture.

There are hundreds of thousands museums around the world that welcome fewer than 1 million visitors a year, but there are also mega-museums. These museums include the Louvre, Met, Tate, and Vatican and are integral to the cultural fabric of the cities where they reside.

The 2012 Theme Index, produced by Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM, highlights the 20 most visited museums in 2012. The museums hail from the U.S., Europe, and Asia and attracted 98.5 million visitors last year.

Six of the top 20 museums are located in London, which is the most institutions from the list to be located in any one city. The next most cultural cities, if determined by the number of world-renowned museums, are Washington, D.C. and Paris.

The majority, or 13 out of 20 museums, are free to visit and those with admission fees offer at least one free day per month. The Vatican Museums are the most expensive at an estimated $21 and the Geological Museum of China and National Palace Museum in Taipei are the cheapest at just $5.

Below is a list of the 20 most visited museums around the world. The admission fees have been converted to U.S. dollars and represent standard adult fares.

Museum City Visitors (2012) Admission
Louvre Paris 9,720,000 Paid ($15)
National Museum of Natural History Washington, D.C. 7,600,000 Free
National Air and Space Museum Washington, D.C. 6,800,000 Free
The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York City 6,116,000 Free
British Museum London 5,576,000 Free
Tate Modern London 5,319,000 Free
National Gallery London 5,164,000 Free
Vatican Museums Vatican 5,065,000 Paid ($21)
American Museum of Natural History New York City 5,000,000 Paid ($19)
Natural History Museum London 4,936,000 Free
National Museum of American History Washington, D.C. 4,800,000 Free
National Palace Museum (Taiwan) Taipei 4,361,000 Paid ($5)
National Gallery of Art Washington, D.C. 4,200,000 Free
National Museum of China Beijing 4,100,000 Free
Centre Pompidou Paris 3,800,000 Paid ($17)
Musee D’Orsay Paris 3,579,000 Paid ($12)
Victora & Albert Museum London 3,232,000 Free
National Museum of Korea Seoul 3,128,000 Free
Geological Museum of China Beijing 3,000,000 Paid ($5)
Science Museum London 2,990,000 Free


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Tags: museums, nyc, washington dc

Photo credit: Tourists sit in front of the Louvre in Paris, France. Miguel / Flickr

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