Discover the world's most visited museums

Story highlights

  • The Louvre had more than 9.5 million visitors last year
  • Half of the list's museums are in Europe
  • Washington is home to four of the list's six U.S.-based museums
  • China expects museum attendance to reach 1 billion by 2020

An afternoon spent in a world-class museum can be an out-of-body experience -- a trip in a mental time machine to the courts of China's Ming and Qing dynasties, to the cradle of civilization in Egypt, to Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Picasso's studios or to the top of Gettysburg's Little Round Top, where the Union came within one Confederate flanking maneuver of dissolving.

The Louvre in Paris topped the 2012 Museum Index with more than 9.5 million annual visitors last year. The list is part of the recently released Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and AECOM global attractions attendance report. Based on attendance figures compiled by AECOM, the index lists the 20 most visited museums worldwide.

The index includes lists for the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific. Attendance figures from museums in Australia and Canada were used in compiling the report, but they did not make the top 20 worldwide, said John Robinett, AECOM's senior vice president of economics. He said attendance numbers from museums in Africa, Central America and South America were not included because they are difficult to obtain, and this is the first year museums were included in the report.

"We'll probably expand this as we go through time," he said. "So stay tuned."

European museums make up 10 of the 20 on the list, and five of those are in London. Four of the six American museums are in Washington, three of them part of the Smithsonian Institution.

Three of the four Asia/Pacific museums are in China.

China wants to build 1,000 new museums in the next decade and projects museum attendance to reach 1 billion by 2020, according to the report.