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.

MuseumCityVisitors (2012)Admission
LouvreParis9,720,000Paid ($15)
National Museum of Natural HistoryWashington, D.C.7,600,000Free
National Air and Space MuseumWashington, D.C.6,800,000Free
The Metropolitan Museum of ArtNew York City6,116,000Free
British MuseumLondon5,576,000Free
Tate ModernLondon5,319,000Free
National GalleryLondon5,164,000Free
Vatican MuseumsVatican5,065,000Paid ($21)
American Museum of Natural HistoryNew York City5,000,000Paid ($19)
Natural History MuseumLondon4,936,000Free
National Museum of American HistoryWashington, D.C.4,800,000Free
National Palace Museum (Taiwan)Taipei4,361,000Paid ($5)
National Gallery of ArtWashington, D.C.4,200,000Free
National Museum of ChinaBeijing4,100,000Free
Centre PompidouParis3,800,000Paid ($17)
Musee D’OrsayParis3,579,000Paid ($12)
Victora & Albert MuseumLondon3,232,000Free
National Museum of KoreaSeoul3,128,000Free
Geological Museum of ChinaBeijing3,000,000Paid ($5)
Science MuseumLondon2,990,000Free


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