THE BRITISH Museum was London’s most popular tourist attraction in 2008, clinching top spot ahead of the Tate Modern and The National Gallery.

Popular on LondonNet

Despite, or maybe because of, the recession, most of London’s main attractions posted healthy increases in visitor numbers, according to a survey by Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.

“If you are a half-switched-on father, you are going to say ‘I’ve got an idea – let’s go to the Science Museum. And oh, it’s free!” said Robin Brooke, ALVA director.

“We have had a benefit from the weak pound. A foreign holiday looks like opulence now; it’s much easier to justify having your holiday at home.”

The Tower of London (sixth most popular) and British Museum posted rises of 10%, but even those healthy numbers were eclipsed by Greenwich’s National Maritime Museum, which took in 21% more visitors in 2008 than in 2007.

On the downside, both the Take Modern and the Victoria and Albert saw fewer people through their doors. Both places say the drops can be explained by the particularly popular exhibitions they had in 2007.

There are fears numbers will drop this year as the recession bites, but on the whole the picture for 2009 is rosey, according to ALVA, which reports that 60% of attractions expect to maintain or increase traffic.

That kind of optimism is always good to hear, but beware that Brooke also said that he is “starting to hear promising predictions about the weather too”.

That London Attraction Top Ten in Full:

1. British Museum – 5.93m (+9.5%)
2. Tate Modern – 4.86m (-6.0%)
3. The National Gallery – 4.38m (+6.0%)
4. Natural History Museum – 3.70m (+2.7%)
5. Science Museum – 2.71m (+1.0%)
6. Tower of London – 2.16m (+9.6%)
7. V#38;A Museum – 2.07m (-15%)
8. National Maritime Museum – 2.05m (+21%)
9. National Portrait Gallery – 1.84m (+15%)
10. St Paul’s Cathedral – 1.69m (+4%)

The above list doesn’t include some major attractions, such as the London Eye and Madame Tussauds, which aren’t members of ALVA.