10th anniversary of free admission to national museums

Free admission to national museums was introduced by devolved nation administrations on 1 April 2001, and to English national museums on 1 December 2001.  These figures were put together on the tenth anniversary of free admission.

There are over 50 free national museums across the UK.

The first ten years: facts and figures 

Free admission was introduced by devolved nation administrations on 1st April 2001, and to English national museums on 1st December 2001.

Visitor figures

  • Over 50 million people visited the UK’s national museums in 2010/11.  From 2000 - 2010 visits increased by 51%[1].
  • Visitor figures increased markedly at all the formerly charging DCMS-sponsored museums, rising by over 150% from 7.2 million in 2000/01 to nearly 18 million in 2010/11. Visitor numbers rose by 269% at National Museums Liverpool, by 204% at the Natural Maritime Museum, by 184% at the National History Museum and by 180% at the Victoria and Albert Museum[2].
  • Visits to the national museums which have always been free, such as the British Museum, National Gallery and Tate, rose by 22% between 2000/01 and 2010/11.
  • The number of visits by children to DCMS-sponsored museums rose by 36% in 10 years, and over 2 million more children visited DCMS-sponsored museums than in 2000/01.  There were 8.3 million visits by children under 16 to these museums in 2010/11 – with a quarter of visits to the Natural History Museum, a third of visits to the Royal Armouries and over a third of visits to the four National Museum of Science and Industry sites by children under 16[3].
  • Audiences become more diverse after the introduction of free admission. The number of visitors from an ethnic minority background to DCMS-sponsored museums increased by 177.5% (compared to an overall increase in visits of 54%)[4]. In 2010/11 there were 2.5 million visitors from ethnic minority backgrounds.  Museums took steps to encourage more visitors from lower socio-economic groups, and the regional national museums demonstrated particular success – with 26% of visits to the National Museums Liverpool and 17% of visits to the Royal Armouries in Leeds by people from lower socio-economic groups in 2010/11[5].
  • Not only did National Museums become more popular but visitors would recommend it to others. 96% of visitors to DCMS-sponsored museums would recommend a visit, with 100% of visitors to the Royal Armouries and the Wallace Collections prepared to recommend a visit.
  • There was a 500% increase in unique web visitors to DCMS-sponsored museums’ websites. Although caused in part by the increased web use over the 10 years, the fact that 132 million web visits were made in 2010/11 is also a reflection of the increasingly innovative ways that national collections were displayed online.

Tourism

  • Of 29.9 million visits to the UK by international visitors in 2009, 7.7 million included time visiting a museum and 4.2 million an art gallery – a total of 40% of all visits[6].  
  • The UK is home to three of the five most visited art museums in the world[7].  All three – the British Museum, Tate and the National Gallery – are free.
  • 8 of the top 10 UK visitor attractions in 2010 were free national museums[8].
  • 25% of all overseas visitors to London visited the British Museum in 2010[9].  There are now more visitors to the museums on Exhibition Road (the V&A, Natural History and Science Museums) each year than there are to the city of Venice[10].
  • Museums are central to the UK visitor economy. In 2000/01 there were 9.2 million overseas visits to DCMS-sponsored museums and by 2010/11 this number rose to 17.7 million overseas visits. Nearly 60% of visitors to the UK visit the free DCMS-sponsored museums.[11] The visitor economy contributes £114 billion or 8.2% of the UK’s GDP[12].
  • In 2009 UK museums and art galleries helped to secure £1 billion of inbound visitor spending[13].

Economic impact

  • Museums play a key role in inspiring and showcasing the UK’s creative industries, which contribute £59bn to the UK economy, or 5.6% of GDP in 2013 [14].  This figure is more than double the average contribution made to GDP across the rest of Europe.
  • Approximately £1 in every £1,000 in the UK economy can be directly linked to the museum and gallery sector.  The major museums and galleries, the vast majority of which do not charge for admission, spend over £650 million a year[15].
  • The economic benefits of the UK’s major museums and galleries are estimated to be £1.5 billion per annum[16].  The estimated economic impact of the Natural History Museum is £253 million-£262 million, due to the combined impact of being a major employer (approximately 62– 63% of expenditure is spent on staffing), a major institution committing direct expenditure on goods and services, and an attraction drawing visitors to South Kensington (who spend money whilst they are there). It is estimated that for each £1 the NHM receives in Grant-in-Aid from Government, £4 is generated.[17]

 Free national museums

(*indicates museums that were free before 2001)

Armagh County Museum, National Museums Northern Ireland*

Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales (became free on 1st April 2001)

  • National Museum Cardiff
  • St Fagans: National History Museum
  • Big Pit: National Coal Museum
  • National Roman Legion Museum
  • National Slate Museum
  • National Wool Museum
  • National Waterfront Museum

British Museum*

Geffrye Museum

Horniman Museum

Imperial War Museum London

Imperial War Museum North

Locomotion: The National Railway Museum at Shildon

Museum of London

Museum of London Docklands

Museum of Science & Industry Manchester

National Army Museum*

National Coal Mining Museum for England

National Football Museum

National Galleries Scotland*

  • Scottish National Gallery
  • Scottish National Portrait Gallery
  • Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

National Gallery*

National Media Museum

National Maritime Museum

National Museums Liverpool

  • International Slavery Museum
  • Lady Lever Art Gallery
  • Merseyside Maritime Museum
  • Museum of Liverpool
  • Sudley House
  • UK Border Agency National Museum
  • Walker Art Gallery
  • World Museum Liverpool

National Museum of Scotland (became free on 1st April 2001)

National Portrait Gallery*

National Railway Museum, York

Natural History Museum, London

Natural History Museum at Tring

Royal Air Force Museum, London

Royal Air Force Museum, Cosford

Royal Armouries, Leeds

Royal Armouries, Fort Nelson

Science Museum, London

Sir John Soane’s Museum*

Tate Britain*

Tate Liverpool*

Tate Modern*

Ulster Museum*

Victoria and Albert Museum

V&A Museum of Childhood*

Wallace Collection*

Charging branches of national museums
The main sites of all the UK’s national museums are free to all visitors.  Some individual branches do currently charge an entrance fee, although many of these offer free entry for children (* indicates free entry for children):

Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms*

HMS Belfast*

Imperial War Museum Duxford*

Museum of Costume, National Museums Scotland

National Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory*

National Museum of Flight, National Museums Scotland

National Museum of the Royal Navy – 4 sites (NB: entry to the main NMRN museum site will become free from 1 April 2012)

National Museum of Rural Life, National Museums Scotland

Tate St Ives*

Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, National Museums Northern Ireland

Ulster American Folk Park, National Museums Northern Ireland


[1] Figures include the DCMS and Ministry of Defence sponsored national museums in England and the national museums in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Calculated using visitor data from NMDC museums and DCMS performance indicator data: http://www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/research_and_statistics/8609.aspx

[2] DCMS data: http://www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/museums_and_galleries/3380.aspx 

[3] DCMS key performance indicator (KPI) statistics from 2000/01 and 2010/11.

[4] The number of BAME visitors has increased from 899,361 in 2000/01 to 2,495,890 in 2010/11 (DCMS KPI statistics from 2000/01 and 2010/11).

[5] NS-SEC groups 5-8 as required in the DCMS KPI returns 2010/11

[6] VisitBritain Foresight Issue 83 September 2010

[7] The Art Newspaper, No 223, April 2011, pg 24

[8] http://www.alva.org.uk/visitor_statistics/

[9] Visitor figures published by DCMS http://www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/research_and_statistics/8609.aspx and Travel Trends 2010, ONS

[10] http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/nov/11/london-exhibition-road-cultural?newsfeed=true  

[11] Travel Trends 2010, Office of National Statistics (ONS)

[12] Deloitte & Oxford Economic Achieveing the full potential of the visitor economy (2009)

[13] VisitBritain Foresight Issue 83 September 2010

[14] http://www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/creative_industries/default.aspx#Creative

[15] Tony Travers Museums and Galleries in Britain: Economic, social and creative impacts (2006)

[16] Tony Travers Museums and Galleries in Britain: Economic, social and creative impacts (2006)

[17] Treasurehouse and Powerhouse, Tony Travers and Richard Brown, LSE, 2010