Royal wedding and revamps boost visitor numbers at UK attractions

Westminster Abbey had a record 1.9 million visitors in 2011 and the National Museum of Scotland saw a 141% increase

Royal wedding fever sparked a record number of visits to Westminster Abbey last year, propelling it into the top 10 most-visited attractions in the UK for the first time, new figures reveal.

The Abbey welcomed nearly 1.9 million overseas and domestic visitors in 2011, up 36% on 2010, according to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva). Millions of TV viewers watched the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the 700-year-old building in April.

In contrast, St Paul's cathedral, where protesters set up an anti-capitalism camp, saw visitor numbers dip 4% to just under 1.82 million. Attractions in rural areas also struggled, Alva said, not because of the quality or attractiveness of the properties but due to the punitive price of petrol.

The Tower of London welcomed nearly 6% more visitors last year, at 2.55 million, while National Portrait Gallery visitors rose 3% to 1.88 million. The British Museum retained the top slot as the UK's most visited attraction with 5.85 million visitors, a modest increase of 0.1% on the previous year.

Overall, new museums and those that ploughed money into refurbishment reaped the benefits by pulling in large crowds. The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, for example, saw a 141% increase in visitors last year, one of the biggest increases of any attraction. It reopened fully in July after a £47m development and welcomed nearly 1.5 million visitors, achieving its original target of one million in less than four months.

Visitor numbers rose 22% at the National Maritime Museum, which opened the £35m Sammy Ofer wing in July. The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich saw a 31% increase in visitor numbers, helped partly by its starring role in films including The Iron Lady and Pirates of the Caribbean. But there was a steep decline (down 44.2% to 879,550) at the observatory at Greenwich, which introduced a £7 charge last year for access to the courtyard with the meridian line and the historic observatory, Flamsteed House.

Visits to the Natural History Museum in London rose nearly 5% to 4.87 million, while the nearby Science Museum saw visitor numbers rise 6% to 2.91 million, its highest number since current records began in 1992.

Bernard Donoghue, director of Alva, said: "The figures demonstrate that for Brits who holidayed at home in record numbers last year and for overseas visitors who came to the UK in record numbers last year, our iconic attractions are a must-see and a must-experience."

He said that even at a time of economic restraint, "those attractions which have invested in refurbishment, new exhibitions, new marketing, new catering and retail products have seen a real return on investment and more money for the visitor economy. Domestic visitors have prioritised visits to free attractions but not exclusively; they are mindful of getting value for money and experiencing great quality, and they are finding plenty of examples of both."

Two English Heritage properties saw a significant increase in their visitor figures. Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, which completed the first phase of a 20-year restoration project in August, welcomed nearly 90,000 people, and visitors to Wroxeter Roman City in Shropshire rose 177% after it was featured on the Channel 4 series Rome Wasn't Built in a Day.

Attractions that suffered in relatively remote locations included Penryhn Castle, between Snowdonia and the Menai strait in Wales, where visitor numbers fell 35% to 149,118.


Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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