London reigns while Scotland flourishes in latest ALVA figures
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London reigns while Scotland flourishes in latest ALVA figures

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Despite a decline in visitor numbers, London’s British Museum is still the UK’s most visited attraction, but Scotland reigns supreme, with the country outperforming the rest of Great Britain in terms of growth for the sixth consecutive year.

According to new member figures released today (16 March) by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA), there was an overall increase to the UK’s visitor attractions of 7.3 per cent. For Scotland, that growth was nearly double, with a 13.9 per cent increase on 2016.

London Calling

London is still the cash cow, with 64.2 million people visiting attractions in the English capital out of a recorded 130 million visits to ALVA sites in the UK. London in fact is so dominant, that it hold all of the top 10 positions on the list in terms of visitor numbers.

The British Museum keeps its title as the UK’s most visited attraction for the 11th consecutive year, though its numbers have decreased two years running, with a visitor drop of 6 per cent between 2015 and 2016 from 6.8 million to 6.4 million, and then again for 2017 as numbers dropped a further 8 per cent to 5.9 million. Over the two year period, the drop accounts for 900,000 people – a 13.2 per cent decline.

Snapping on the British Museum’s heels is the Tate Modern, which climbs one place to second in the list as 5.65 million people came through its doors in 2017. It displaces the National Gallery, which suffered a 16.5 per cent decline in visitor numbers, with 5.2 million people visiting the institution.

The Natural History Museum remains in fourth place with 4.43 million visitors, while the V&A came fifth due to a 26 per cent increase in visitors. Welcoming 3.78 million visitors, the V&A attributed the rise to the launch of the new entrance and courtyard on Exhibition Road, including a new purpose-built gallery space, as well as phenomenal success of three exhibitions: Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains; Plywood: Material of the Modern World and Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion.

The rest of England

Outside of London, Chester Zoo remains England’s most visited attraction in 13th place, welcoming 1.86 million visitors in 2017 – a slight decrease of 1.8 per cent on previous figures. After a 14.5 per cent rise in visitation, Stonehenge is second on the list with 1.6 million visitors, ranking 17th overall.

A notable increase is Shakespeare’s New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon which opened in the summer of 2016 following a two-year, £6m capital project to mark the 400th anniversary of the Bard's death. The attraction last year saw a 191 per cent increase to 142,325 visitors.

Scotland rising

Of the 56 ALVA attractions in Scotland, the vast majority enjoyed attendance increases, the most impressive coming for 139th-ranked Inverewe Gardens, which saw a 109.6 per cent increase in visitor numbers to 192,000 people. Another stellar performance came from the hamlet of Glenfinnan, which increased its visitor numbers year-on-year to 396,000 people – a 57.8 per cent rise.

National Museum Scotland is at the top of the pile in the north, welcoming 2.16 million people last year – an increase of 20 per cent. Edinburgh Castle follows with a 16 per cent rise to 2.06 million people in 2017 and continues to be the most-visited paid for attraction in Scotland.

Northern Ireland’s game of tourism

Consecutive tourism campaigns based on Game of Thrones have been a success for Northern Ireland’s tourist attractions, with its top three most-visited sites all seeing a rise in visitor numbers, with the Giant’s Causeway on top of the pile.

Welcoming 1.01 million visitors last year, the Giant’s Causeway remains Northern Ireland’s most-visited attraction, with a 7 per cent rise year-on-year, climbing up to 32nd overall in the UK compared to 55th in 2016. Second for Northern Ireland was Titanic Belfast, which enjoyed a 13.4 per cent rise in visitor numbers to 771,000 people. Ulster Museum came in third, with a 15.9 per cent attendance rise as 533,000 people came through its doors last year, the attendance attributed to a 77m (252ft) Game of Thrones tapestry, inspired by the famous Bayeux Tapestry, which will come to British shores this year.

Wales stays steady

For ALVA’s four attractions in Wales, attendance remained relatively flat, with a four per cent increase at 116th-ranked Bodnant Gardens seeing 252,000 visitors last year. Second was Erddig, which record a level attendance of 164,000 visitors, while Penrhyn Castle saw numbers drop 5 per cent to 109,000. WWT Llanelli welcomed 70,000 visitors, a four per cent rise.

A word from the director

“This has been another fantastic year for tourism, and attractions in particular,” said ALVA director, Bernard Donoghue.

“We know from research that overseas leisure visitors say that their primary reason to visit the UK is to experience our history, heritage and world-leading cultural institutions, and this is borne out by 2017 visitor numbers.

“Economic factors have also had an impact on UK visitors to central London, with associated evidence that costs linked with a visit such as travel and food and drink have played an important part in deciding where to visit.

“Undoubtedly there have been some concerns about global security issues, but economic concerns are playing a more crucial part. Other travel issues such as the semi-closure of Waterloo station in August, as well as the inconsistent train service from South and South East England also deterred people from travelling to London and encouraged people to visit attractions nearer to home.”

Top 10 most visited attractions in the UK

• British Museum, London – 5,906,716 visitors (-8 per cent)

• Tate Modern, London – 5,656,004 visitors (-3 per cent)

• National Gallery, London – 5,229,192 (-16.5 per cent)

• Natural History Museum, London – 4,434,520 (-4 per cent)

• V&A South Kensington, London – 3,789,748 (26 per cent)

• Science Museum, London – 3,251,000 (0.17 per cent)

• Southbank Centre, London – 3,232,655 (-17.3 per cent)

• Somerset House, London – 3,223,350 (-6.8 per cent)

• Tower of London, London – 2,843,031 (3.7 per cent)

• Royal Museums Greenwich, London – 2,607,099 (6 per cent)

Top 5 most visited attractions in England excluding London

• Chester Zoo, Chester – 1,866,628 (-1.8 per cent)

• Stonehenge, Salisbury – 1,582,532 (14.5 per cent)

• Roman Baths and Pump Room, Bath – 1,318,976 (8.38 per cent)

• RHS Garden Wisley, Woking – 1,143,175 (0.7 per cent)

• National Museum Royal Navy – 1,081,909 (17 per cent)

Top 5 most visited attractions in Scotland

• National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh – 1,081,909 (20 per cent)

• Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh – 2,063,709 (16 per cent)

• Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh – 1,600,761 (4 per cent)

• Riverside Museum, Glasgow – 1,355,359 (7.65 per cent)

• Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, Glasgow – 1,304,072 (3.55 per cent)

Top 5 most visited attractions in Northern Ireland

• Giant’s Causeway, Bushmills – 1,011,467 (7 per cent)

• Titanic Belfast, Belfast – 771,038 (13.4 per cent)

• Ulster Museum, Belfast – 533,153 (15.9 per cent)

• Mount Stewart, County Down – 218,692 (20 per cent)

• Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, Holywood – 168,077 (-5.9 per cent)

Most visited attractions in Wales

• Bodnant Garden, Tal-y-Cafn – 251,816 (4 per cent)

• Erddig, Marchwiel – 164,645 (no change)

• Penrhyn Castle, Bangor – 109,395 (-5 per cent)

• WWT Llanelli, Llanelli – 70,260 (4 per cent)

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Despite a decline in visitor numbers, London’s British Museum is still the UK’s most visited attraction, but Scotland reigns supreme, with the country outperforming the rest of Great Britain in terms of growth for the sixth consecutive year.
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