Europe home to most popular museums in the world

The mile-long queues of camera-toting tourists that regularly wind throughout the courtyard attest to the recently confirmed finding that the Louvre is, by far, the most visited museum in the world.

According to the 2012 Theme Index, the iconic museum in the City of Light attracted 9,720,000 visitors last year, setting it far ahead of its closest competition, the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC which drew 7,600,000 visitors.

Even with free admission, the natural history museum in the US capitol couldn’t keep up with the Parisian landmark where basic admission to the permanent collection is €11.

Last year, the Louvre likewise generated buzz after it opened a new wing dedicated to Islamic art.

Citing publications touting the importance of a city’s cultural capital, analysts at AECOM and Themed Entertainment Association write that museums act as drivers for economic growth.

Not only do museums attract a well-educated work force -- also known as the “creative class” -- some experts go so far as identifying the arts as a measure of a city’s economic strength.

In New York, for example, culture and the arts, the fourth largest employer in the city, is billed as the city's true competitive asset with a more important role in supporting the local economy than the finance industry, points out Elizabeth Currid’s "The Warhol Economy."

Meanwhile, a scan of the most popular museums around the world also reveals distinctive geographical patterns when it comes to genres.

European museums, for example, are dominated by art and house some of the best collections in the world.

In the Middle East and Asia, museums are slowly shifting from displays of antiquities towards interactive exhibits that make use of technology and engage visitors. In China, plans are afoot to build a thousand new museums over the next 10 years, and by 2020, it’s projected that attendance will reach 1 billion.

And in North America, the most popular museums are natural history and science-based.

Of the top 20 global museums, half of them are in Europe.

Here are the top five most popular museums in 2012:

1. Louvre, Paris, France, 9,720,000

2. National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C., 7,600,000

3. National Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C., 6,800,000

4. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 6,116,000

5. British Museum, London, 5,576,000