Some of Scotland’s top tourist attractions have seen visitor numbers soar but they remain below pre-pandemic levels, figures show.
The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva) said on Friday there were 16.2 million visits to its member sites north of the border last year, up 128% compared to 7.1 million in 2021.
But visitor numbers last year were still 24% down on 2019, when attractions saw 21.4 million attendances.
Bernard Donoghue, director of Alva, said the figures show people “flocked back to their favourite places in 2022”, but warned: “Many attractions are still not back up to 2019 visitor levels due, mainly, to the absence of international visitors, notably from China and the far east.
“But I am confident that they will return this year and we will see a continuing healthy recovery.”
Scotland’s top tourist attraction last year was the free National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, which saw 1.97 million people through its doors – 199% up on 2021.
Edinburgh Castle was ranked as the second most popular attraction, with 1.35 million people paying to visit the building which dominates the city’s landscape and is home to the Scottish crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny.
Visitors to the castle increased by 218% last year compared to 2021.
The Riverside Museum on the Clyde in Glasgow saw a 276% surge in visitors to 1.17 million, while the nearby Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum saw a 209% increase to 891,114 visitors.
Glasgow’s Burrell Collection reopened last year after an extensive refurbishment and immediately became one of the top 10 most popular attractions in Scotland.
Duncan Dornan, head of Glasgow Museums which runs the city’s attractions, said: “Like museums and galleries across the UK, it was a joy to reopen more venues and new exhibitions throughout 2022, and to see galleries busy again, with people enjoying a more relaxed, more traditional, and often impromptu visit to some of Glasgow’s most popular attractions.”
Attractions run by the National Trust for Scotland have also seen visitor numbers rise.
Glenfinnan Visitor Centre in Lochaber saw more than 398,000 people stopping at the site where Charles Edward Stewart II raised his standard in 1754.
The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, South Ayrshire, saw a 28% rise in visitors compared to 2021, welcoming more than 180,000 people.
Philip Long, chief executive of the National Trust for Scotland, said: “It was fantastic to see just how popular our places proved with people last year as we all started to recover from the impacts of the global pandemic.
“It is our charity’s privilege to share Scotland’s nature, beauty and heritage with everyone and these figures suggest that the trust, its places and the experiences we offer are really valued by people.
“Visitors came back to us, our members stuck with us, and we have been supported generously by donors too, despite the challenging times for everyone.”
Historic Environment Scotland runs Edinburgh Castle as well as Stirling and Urquhart castles, which also saw visitor numbers soar.
A spokesman for the organisation said Scotland’s “world-renowned historic environment makes a key contribution to the country’s tourism sector”.
He added: “As we continue the recovery from the challenges of the last few years, it is hugely encouraging to see consistent rises in visitor numbers, including at Edinburgh Castle, which again was Scotland’s most visited paid for attraction in 2022.
“It’s fantastic to see that last year Scotland also enjoyed the strongest year on year performance for visits (up 128%) – second only to London in terms of the whole UK.
“With the sector continuing to move in the right direction, we are focused positively on the upcoming season and key milestones, including our popular events programme, and look forward to welcoming further visitors to our iconic historic sites.”
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