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Visitor numbers break two million mark at castle and museum

More than 30 million visits were made to 232 tourism sites across Scotland in 2017.

The number of people visiting two major attractions passed the two million mark for the first time last year, new figures show.

The National Museum of Scotland topped the visit attraction list with 2,165,601 people passing through, up 19.6% on the previous year.

Edinburgh Castle was in second place with 2,063,709 visitors, a 16% rise on 2016.

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The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

The Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) said visits to its member sites around the country rose dramatically in 2017, the fourth year running that an increase in numbers has been recorded.

More than 30 million visits were made to 232 of its member sites in Scotland in 2017, a rise of 9.7% over 2016 figures.

The Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh was in third place with 1,600,761 visitors followed by the Riverside Museum and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow with 1,355,359 and 1,304,072 visitors respectively.

The “Outlander effect” continued to benefit many sites featuring in the cult TV series, as well as others with Jacobite connections, with large increases in visitor numbers recorded at attractions including Glenfinnan Monument (+58%), Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre (+28%), Glasgow Cathedral (+31%) and Castle Fraser (+49%).

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The Riverside Museum in Glasgow (Danny Lawson/PA)

Douglas Walker, ASVA Chairman, said: “These figures demonstrate that the visitor attractions sector in Scotland is in robust health.

“Attractions that have invested in their visitor offer by developing innovative new products and services and launching inspiring events and exhibitions programmes, supported by creative and effective marketing campaigns, are not only reaching new visitor markets but are actively encouraging their existing visitors to return time and again”

ASVA said sectors which fared particularly well in 2017 included castles and heritage sites, museums and galleries, gardens and distilleries or whisky-related attractions.

It said the Highlands fared well in 2017, particularly Inverewe Garden in Wester Ross which saw a 110% rise in visitor numbers, driven in part by the popularity of the North Coast 500 touring route.

Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “With Scotland’s iconic tourist sites attracting over 30 million visits, 2017 was another hugely successful year for our world-class visitor attractions.

“Tourism is of vital importance to communities throughout Scotland, stimulating economic growth and promoting the importance of our cultural heritage to a wider audience.”

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Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop (Jane Barlow/PA)

Distilleries and whisky-related attractions also enjoyed a successful year, with Caol Ila Distillery Visitor Centre (+32%), Glen Ord Distillery Visitor Centre (+28%) and Kingsbarns Distillery (+30%), among those recording rises.

Eleven of the top 20 attractions were in Edinburgh.

Malcolm Roughead, VisitScotland Chief Executive, said: “Scotland’s visitor attractions are a valuable part of our country’s outstanding tourism offering, showcasing our rich history and sharing Scotland’s story with visitors from far and wide. It is fantastic to see such strong growth in numbers for the fourth year running.

“2017 was the year to delve into Scotland’s fascinating past, and the huge success of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology will have undoubtedly helped shine a light on the country’s many ancient castles and heritage sites, including Edinburgh Castle which, for the first time, attracted over two-million visitors. An incredible achievement.

“The continued impact of the Outlander effect and the growing popularity of whisky tourism are also positioning Scotland as an unmissable destination for film and food and drink experiences.”

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