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Home Tourist Attraction What was Scotland’s top visitor attraction in 2023?

What was Scotland’s top visitor attraction in 2023?

by Staff

Meanwhile, historic venues maintained by the National Trust for Scotland saw their visitor numbers exceed pre-pandemic levels as 4.3 million people toured its heritage properties – up from 4.1m in 2019.


The most popular was the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Ayrshire, where a new collection of previously unseen historic artefacts linked to the Bard and drawn from the Blavatnik Honresfield collection went on display in January 2023.

Visitor numbers topped 200,000, an increase of 13% on the previous year.

The NTS also saw a surge in interest for the House of Dun in Angus, a grand 18th Century home and parkland which drew more than 44,000 visitors in 2023 – an increase of 40% year-on-year and more than four times the visitor numbers in 2019.

The Herald: Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, AllowayRobert Burns Birthplace Museum, Alloway (Image: NTS)

Work was completed in July 2021 to transform the historic stable block area into an exhibition celebrating the rural heritage of Angus, and visitors can now get guided tours led by experts in costume.

A project to restore the lush interior decoration at Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson’s Holmwood House in Glasgow – completed in Spring 2022 – has also been credited with boosting its visitor numbers by 40% year-on-year, while Crathes Castle in Aberdeenshire has seen its visitor numbers increase by 37% following work in summer 2022 to restore its rare 17th century painted ceilings and the opening of a new rose garden at the property in July 2023.

The House of the Binns near Linlithgow, reopened in March 2023 after a programme of restoration and redecoration, has nearly doubled its visitor numbers since its last season in 2018, while at Pitmedden Garden in Aberdeenshire – where two new parterres designed by award-winning garden designer Chris Beardshaw were added to the historic garden and opened to the public in July 2022 – visitor numbers are up by a third on 2019.

The Herald: A costumed guide at the House of Dun in AngusA costumed guide at the House of Dun in Angus (Image: NTS)

In 2024, the conservation body plans to reopen Craigievar Castle in May following a major restoration, and a new accessible walking and cycling route is due to open in Glencoe in the summer.

Phil Long, chief executive of NTS Scotland, said: “For 2023, we have exceeded our visitor targets for the year and our pre-pandemic levels too with 4.3 million visitors coming to experience our special places all across the country.

“It’s especially pleasing to see that our programme of projects is making a difference too, encouraging more people to visit and ensuring that they have a more memorable time when they do.

“In 2024, we are looking forward to sharing the new properties which joined our charity last year – the Treshnish Isles and the Mackintosh at the Willow – which show the amazing variety of places in our care and ways people can enjoy and experience Scotland’s nature, beauty and heritage.”

The Herald: Pitmedden Garden in AberdeenshirePitmedden Garden in Aberdeenshire (Image: NTS)

It comes as overall visitor numbers to tourist attractions across the UK remain lower than they were pre-Covid, according to statistics released today by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA).

The trade body, which monitors over 2,200 tourist sites including museums, galleries, palaces, castles, cathedrals, zoos, historic houses, heritage sites, gardens and leisure attractions, said many people remain “out of the habit” of going to them due to closures during the pandemic.

There were 146.6 million visits to major UK venues in 2023, a 19% increase compared to 2022 but still down by 11% on 2019 levels.

Bernard Donoghue, Alva director, said attractions are “recovering well” but suggested that the cost of living crisis was also having an impact, with many potential visitors making “tactical judgments about how they spend their leisure pounds”.

The Herald: The National Museum of Scotland remains the country's most popular visitor attractionThe National Museum of Scotland remains the country’s most popular visitor attraction (Image: PA)

Mr Donoghue added that the limited return of Chinese tourists due to the country’s coronavirus travel restrictions is also affecting overall visitor numbers to UK tourism hotspots.

He said: “They’re starting to come back now that they’re travelling out of China, and we hope that they’ll be back up to pre-Covid levels by the end of next year.” 

Mr Donoghue also suggested that the UK Government’s failure to reverse its 2020 decision to end tax-free shopping for inbound visitors has led to a “significant decrease” in spending in attraction gift shops by overseas tourists.

He added: “We are absolutely missing out on expensive items being bought by visitors from around the world, particularly from America, the Middle East and the Far East.

“We know that we’re losing out to places like Paris, Milan, Madrid and Rome.”

The British Museum, in central London, was the UK’s popular tourist attraction last year with 5.8 million visits, up 42% on 2022.

This was partly attributed to the success of its China’s Hidden Century exhibition, which ran from May until October.

The number one spot in Wales was taken by St Fagan’s National Museum of History in Cardiff, with 600,000 visitors, while the Titanic Belfast remains Northern Ireland’s number one attraction with 800,000 visitors last year.

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