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Visitors to UK attractions up 7.2 per cent, with major boost for Scottish sites

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The popularity of attractions across the uk continues to rise, according to the annual report from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (alva), with 130m people through their doors in 2016. Scottish attractions had one of their best years on record.

A number of attractions stood out from the crowd. The British Museum is celebrating 10 consecutive years as the UK’s most visited attraction, despite a 6 per cent decrease in visitors from 2015, down to 6.42m. Snapping at its heels in second place, the National Gallery achieved a 6 per cent increase in visitors, welcoming 6.26m people.

The Tate Modern, which opened its Herzog & de Meuron designed extension in summer 2016, saw attendance rise 24 per cent, taking it to third place in ALVA’s table. The rest of the top 10 attractions were also all in London, including the Natural History Museum, Southbank Centre, Science Museum, the V&A and the Tower of London. A total of 67m people went to an attraction in the capital last year.

Among London galleries, Tate Britain’s attendance continued a four-year decline to 1.08m – something that will likely be reversed for 2017 considering the popularity of its current David Hockney retrospective. Meanwhile, the Royal Academy enjoyed the success of its 2016 blockbuster exhibition Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, rising from 29th to 23rd in the table thanks to its 17 per cent boost.

Outside London, Chester Zoo was the most visited attraction, welcoming 1.9m people – a 12 per cent rise engendered by investment in its £40m Islands project and raised awareness from TV documentary The Secret Life of the Zoo.

Elsewhere, attractions pulling in over 1 million visitors include the Titanic Belfast, which increased attendance by 9 per cent, the Eden Project, which rose by 4 per cent and Startford’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Swan Theatre, rising nearly 7 per cent.

“Many of our members in scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Cornwall had record years in 2016, although the first 9 months of 2016 were unquestionably hard for our members, particularly in London, for many reasons,” said Bernard Donoghue, director of ALVA. “However by the end of the year nearly all attractions were reporting growth from visitors from overseas and the rest of the UK.”

A big winner from the year of the Brexit referendum was Scotland, where the attractions achieved a 15.6 per cent increase in visitor numbers, a total of 15m visitors.

Edinburgh Castle kept its place as Scotland’s most-visited visitor attraction, and jumped two places in the ALVA table to 16th. The heritage site received almost 1.8 million visitors, 13 per cent more than in 2015. The Scottish National Gallery was close behind in 18th place, attracting 12 per cent more visitors than the previous year.

Similarly, visitor numbers also rose at Riverside Museum, Glasgow (+11%), National War Museum, Edinburgh (+13%), Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow (+9%), Stirling Castle (+5%), National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (+29%), Glasgow Cathedral (+62%) and St Andrews Castle (+10%).

Stephen Duncan, director of commercial and tourism at Historic Environment Scotland and ALVA Board Member, stressed the role of the country’s heritage and historical sites.

“These figures show that Scotland is a major player in the UK tourism sector,” Duncan said. “Heritage tourism is a key element in this wider success story. Together our iconic castles, abbeys, palaces and other historic sites, which represent thousands of years’ worth of Scottish history, welcomed over 3.7 million visitors in 2016 alone. Our visitor offering is stronger than ever before and it’s something that we will continue to build upon during 2017 as we mark Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.”

To see the full list of figures, click here.

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The popularity of attractions across the UK continues to rise, according to the annual report from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA), with 130m people through their doors in 2016. Scottish attractions had one of their best years on record.
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