UK SITES INCREASE VISITOR NUMBERS BY 5.59% - - British Museum maintains top position - - Winter attractions encourage all year round visits - - Dinosaurs continue to be a roaring success

14 July 2020: The most visited attraction in the UK was the British Museum with 6,239,983 visits. This increase of 7% from 2108 is attributed to the success of the exhibition programme - in particular the exhibitions on Munch, Manga and Troy, all of which exceeded expectations. Manga was very successful and delivered the museum’s youngest and most diverse audience for a temporary exhibition ever.

70,305,076 people visited attractions in London, which saw a 4.15% increase and therefore it is no surprise that the Top 10 most visited attractions continue to be in London.

Bernard Donoghue, Director of ALVA, commented: “These figures demonstrate how popular and well-loved our fantastic array of visitor attractions are, and of their significance to local, regional and national economies. All of our members, however, face a very difficult future and exceptionally challenging times and so ALVA is making a special request of the public to spend their precious time and money at their local visitor attraction, to help them to survive and recover.”

He continues: “More than ever the public will be the saviours of the UK tourism industry and all of our members warmly welcome them to visit and show why our museums and galleries, historic houses and gardens, cathedrals and palaces, castles and zoos, safari parks and heritage sites, theme parks and churches aren't just important to the economy but also to our physical and mental well-being too.”

Here's some of the reasons why our attractions are so loved and popular: Tate Modern also saw an increase of 3.9% to 6,098,340 visits – achieving their highest ever figure, as did Tate Britain with the largest increase in London of 42% and moving up 9 places to 16th (1,808,637 visits). Tate took the lead in the sector around Climate Emergency, having declared a Climate Emergency in July with the highly successful Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life at Tate Modern. The National Gallery remained in 3rd place with 6,011,007 visits and an increase of 4.8%.

Space exploration played an important role in several museums that had record years. The Natural History Museum, in 4th place, saw their best ever year, which was, in part, attributed to their free art installation the Museum of the Moon that attracted over 2.2 million visits (4% increase, 5,423,932 visits), while Royal Museums Greenwich, moved up one place to 9th after a 14% increase to 2,906,000 visits. Their success was attributed to The Moon exhibition that coincided with the 50-year anniversary of the moon landings and had the highest visitor numbers for a show since 2015, as well as to their inaugural ice rink and international marketing campaigns. The Science Museum, which saw the return of Tim Peake’s Soyuz spacecraft to the museum after a highly successful UK tour, and a dedicated Summer of Space programme to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, also saw an increase in 4% to 3,301,975. 2019 marked the culmination of a decade of transformation at the museum, with the opening of six new permanent galleries.

Kew Gardens saw a 23% increase, which was mainly due to the six month blockbuster exhibition by glass artist Dale Chihuly; this was his first major European show for 14 years offering visitors the chance to see Kew Gardens transformed into a magnificent contemporary outdoor gallery. In addition, last summer also saw the launch of the brand new Children’s Garden at Kew, which is a unique space the size of nearly 40 tennis courts, where children can play, explore and develop their love of nature (11th place, 2,316,699 visits). It was a very positive year across all four RHS Gardens but particularly at RHS Garden Wisley (15.1% increase), where the new Welcome Building, plant centre, gift shop and restaurant contributed significantly to the rise. Other factors in the rise were a strong events offer, including Wisley’s first ever major garden sculpture exhibition featuring the likes of Henry Moore and Lynn Chadwick, along with greater marketing investment and improved weather year-on-year.

Other notable London Attractions were the Museum of London Docklands which achieved a 11.7% increase through targeted marketing of their activities to the their 5 local boroughs as well as the very successful free exhibition Secret Rivers (113th place, 324,438 visits). English Heritage’s Eltham Palace and Gardens saw a 22% increase which was largely down to the success of their Enchanted event during December when they transformed the palace's gardens into an 'enchanting' experience of light, colour and sound. Despite being closed for the first 3 months of the year as part of their landmark three-year transformation project, Old Royal Naval College moved up 3 places to 26th, which was partly due to the newly conserved Painted Hall.

For the third year, the most visited attractions outside London were in Scotland. In 12th place was the National Museum of Scotland, which continued to be the most visited attraction outside London with 2,210,024 visits. In 13th position was Edinburgh Castle with a 4% increase (2,201,354) which continued to be the most visited paid for attraction in Scotland.

Glasgow Museums’ Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, saw a 74% increase – moving up 18 places to 15th, after welcoming two high-profile names Dippy, the Natural History Museum London’s famous dinosaur and Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing. Dippy wowed 635,000 people - more than at any other venue on its UK wide tour, and was the most successful temporary exhibition at Kelvingrove since it reopened after refurbishment 13 years ago. Then later in the year people appreciated the intimate and emotional work by acclaimed and prolific photographer Linda McCartney as her retrospective made its UK debut (1,832,097 visits). Nearby Kelvin Hall’s new temporary exhibition space hosted T Rex in Town, (delivered in partnership with The Hunterian/University of Glasgow) which brought in 47,935 visits.
Other Scottish sites that had a successful year after refurbishment were Glencoe Visitor Centre - which saw a 101% increase, and Brodick Castle & Country Park on Isle of Arran - which saw a 65% increase following a major reinterpretation exercise. Hill House in Helensburgh received a substantial increase of 139% when it reopened after a significant conservation project to place it inside a huge chain mail box to protect it. Haddo House in Aberdeenshire saw a 60% increase after receiving publicity around the ‘Haddo Madonna’.

Being a film or TV location – particularly linked to Outlander, also attracted visitors to several sites. Blackness Castle in West Lothian, which stood in for Fort William in series one of the TV show Outlander and also featured in 2019’s Mary Queen of Scots starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie achieved a 36% increase, while Glenfinnan Monument, used in Harry Potter, saw a 22% increase. Doune Castle in Perthshire, that featured in Outlander and Game of Thrones saw a 8% increase; Linlithgow Palace in West Lothian and Craigmillar Castle, Edinburgh, which were both in Outlander achieved increases of 9% and 15% respectively.

The most visited attraction in England outside London was Chester Zoo, which saw over 2 million visits (2,086,785 visits/ 14th place) and the most visited Heritage site outside London was Stonehenge with 1,604,248 visits (20th place).

Country Houses had a very successful year – mainly due to diversifying and adding additional activities in the winter months. Holkham Hall in Norfolk saw a 26.5% increase to 89,738 visits which was due to creative programming around Christmas activities; Castle Howard in North Yorkshire saw a 18.4% increase to 269,044 visits and rose 13 places as a result of introducing a new Adventure Playground and hosting BBC Countryfile Live and the wedding of pop star Ellie Goulding (126th place). The 900th Anniversary and its appearance on the Christmas Day special of Strictly Come Dancing assisted Leeds Castle in Kent to seeing a 16% increase. It moved up 8 places to 539,971 visits (70th place) and was the first historic house to open a fully accessible adventure golf course. Longleat in Wiltshire was the most visited country house with a 12% increase, moving up 9 places - their increase was attributed to the opening of Koala Creek and the fact that they now host more visitors in the winter than in the summer because of their Festival of Light which ran throughout November and December (1,011,314 visits). Harewood House in Yorkshire saw a 5.9% increase to 201,694 visits, which was due to the launch of their inaugural Biennial exhibition focusing on craft and design, Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters, as well as Christmas at Harewood: A Night at the Mansion, which included working with projection artists to create an after-hours atmosphere with talking paintings and singing statues! English Heritage’s Walmer Castle and Gardens in Kent saw a 46.7% increase after opening their lost pleasure grounds and natural play trail.

Two of the Birmingham Museums Trust venues had a strong year –Blakesley Hall saw a 34% increase, helped by opening a new family room in the hall itself which has driven visitors and given families more to do when visiting the historic property, while Soho House saw a 21% increase due to the Don’t Settle project which champions young people of colour to get involved in heritage. The group of young people have created new displays to tell under-represented stories in the house, launched a new tour, and held events at the site. This project has also seen the proportion of Black, Asian and minority ethnic visitors increase.

The Ashmolean Museum saw a 5% increase, which was attributed to the introduction of 7-day opening from February and by the Last Supper in Pompeii exhibition, which received 87,280 visitors in total, making it their most successful exhibition to date.

The most visited attraction in Northern Ireland was Giant’s Causeway with 998,014 visits, while Titanic Belfast saw 828,017 visits and Ulster Folk & Transport Museum saw the biggest increase of 18% to 172,712 visits which was attributed to the Science Museum’s National Tour of Tim Peake’s Spacecraft exhibition at the Ulster Transport Museum.

Bernard Donoghue also noted: “Our members have some great plans for the rest of 2020. In London – the V&A will be reopening Kimono, which was well-received critically but forced to close after just 2 weeks. Tate opens on July 27 and the British Museum will reopen later in summer, autumn shows include the Citi exhibition Arctic: culture and climate and Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution. These were postponed from the spring. The National Gallery opened with Titian, which has been extended until January 17, and hotly anticipated Artemisia that was due to open in April will open on October 3 until January 24, 2021 and the Royal Academy will open on July 16 with the five-star exhibition, Picasso and Paper, being extended until Sunday, August 2.

The Old Royal Naval College has just reopened with new smartphone tours. The first of these is Building Detectives, which takes families on a treasure trail around the beautiful outdoor spaces of the Old Royal Naval College. Following clues dotted around the site, the mission is to find out who the grand buildings were created for. Upcoming events include the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival, Luna Cinema open-air screenings in August and a fascinating and vital Black History Month exhibition in October. Somerset House re-opens on July 16 with their acclaimed Mushrooms exhibition, and on-site café Hej (takeaway only). The Southbank The Southbank Centre will host Everyday Heroes, a public art and poetry project that celebrates and highlights the invaluable contributions of all those key workers who have kept the country running during the COVID-19 crisis. The original portraits the artists produce - whether in the form of paintings, drawings, photographs and texts - will be reproduced as large scale posters and presented in a dynamic display across the Southbank Centre from mid August to November 2020. The portraits and poems will be spread across prominent places and popular walkways throughout the 11-acre site in a kind of outdoor gallery that is accessible to all for free, and Among the Trees at the Hayward from August celebrates key works of art that reimagine how we think about trees and forests.

The Gardens of Hampton Court Palace are open now and interior spaces open on July 17. New for 2020 will be the Molecatcher Family Trail in the gardens which encourages little ones to help Elizabeth I’s molecatcher to find all of the Tudor characters that have escaped from the palace into the gardens. There are a whole host of sculptures to be discovered as visitors make their way through the stunning formal gardens. Their traditional Shire horse carriage rides are also available on the East Front Gardens. The Tower of London is also open with their Yeoman Warders running special tours, regaling visitors of their experiences during lockdown. Visitors will also be able to marvel at the world-famous Crown Jewels without the usual crowds, as well as meeting the resident ravens. Kensington Palace will open on July 30 and after wandering through the stunning State Apartments, visitors can pay a visit to Victoria: A Royal Childhood exhibition, which tells the story of Queen Victoria’s childhood at the palace, in the very place she grew up, and where she went to bed a princess and woke up a Queen. London Transport Museum is currently planning its reopening offer for families, culture lovers and transport fans keen to enjoy its Covent Garden Museum, Depot and Hidden London tours once more. Details and dates will be announced soon. Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace both open on July 23 with exhibitions in the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace including George IV: Art & Spectacle until November 1 and Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace from December 11 – February 2022.

The RAF Museum (Cosford and London) was the first national museum to open its doors to visitors, and plans are now underway for new Battle of Britain exhibitions to open at both sites in September. Oxford's Botanic Garden and Arboretum have now reopened. Plans are underway to reopen the Ashmolean Museum in August. The Pitt Rivers Museum, Museum of Natural History, History of Science Museum, Old Bodleian Library and Weston Library plan to reopen to the public in early autumn, exact dates still to be confirmed.

Among the Country House members; Waddesdon opened their much-delayed exhibition Nick Knight: Roses from my Garden and their Aviary and Woodland Playground are now being open too. The gardens of Chatsworth are open and all catering and retail outlets will be open by mid-July, they hope to announce by the end of the month when the house will reopen. Longleat is pretty much fully open with all their attractions around the park (Safari Park and walk-through attractions, with exception of Longleat House) and Holkham will he hosting Feast in the Park: each weekend throughout the Summer and their walled Garden is now open with the newly restored Thomas Messenger building and re-designed Ornamental Garden in Square Two. Holkham Adventures incudes new walking, cycling, nature and discovery trails - as well as cycle hire, a high ropes course, woodland play area and the whole National Nature Reserve and beach to explore. Harewood House & Gardens, which opens on July 20, offers ample space to explore, a new natural outdoor play area, a previously unseen exhibition in the House by acclaimed British artist Kate MccGwire as well as the Bird Garden and Walled Garden. Events to look forward to include Luna Drive-In cinema, with 14 dates of state-of-the-art drive in cinema and films spanning everything from sing-along to cult classic and the latest blockbusters. Launching this month also is a series of Special Events at Harewood, including alpaca walks with Afternoon Tea and curator tours of non-public exhibitions and lunch.

Gardens such as Kew reopened their gates and beautiful glasshouses, inviting people to spend a whole day connecting with nature through 300 acres of gardens where you can picnic or visit newly opened food outlets on site. In a year when many travel plans have had to change, Kew will launch a new festival Travel the World at Kew (from August 22), to invite visitors to satisfy their wanderlust by making a trip around the world in one day. The festival will guide visitors across six continents, through designated locations set within our UNESCO World Heritage landscape. By highlighting beautiful plants from 10 countries and regions, visitors will be transported to these parts of the world through sights, smells and a spirit of place. Also coming later this year (from October 3) will be a stunning exhibition led by world-renowned artist Jan Hendrix, exploring the beauty and fragility of the natural world and humanity’s impact on it. At the RHS Gardens: Sculpture at Wisley 2020: The Four Seasons by Philip Haas – has been extended to December 31. This is an unmissable exhibition of larger-than-life sculptures by contemporary American sculptor and filmmaker Philip Haas. The 3D interpretations of paintings by 16th-century Italian artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo imagine Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter in human form, rendered with exuberant arrangements of seasonal fruit, vegetables, flowers and crops. There will also be special Walkies at Wisley evenings with your four-legged friend on certain days in August. The RHS Photographic Competition Exhibition will be at all RHS Gardens between September 4 and October 11. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has reopened, helping people to reconnect with the wonderful world of plants. There are two major events scheduled to take place. Luna Cinema will visit on August 28-30 for a three-night programme of outdoor film screenings. Christmas at the Botanics, the magical, botanical illuminated trail, will light up the Garden from November 26 – January 3.
Across England, from Cornwall to Cumbria, many of English Heritage’s castles and forts, abbeys and historic houses have now reopened. At some of the charity’s sites, the new safety measures have revealed a new perspective on these old landmarks. At Stonehenge, for instance, a new walking route takes the visitor through the ancient landscape surrounding the prehistoric stones. The National Trust’s Great Summer Escape plans to bring nature, beauty and history straight to you at home.

Chester Zoo is one of several Zoos who are members of ALVA and their Monsoon Forest, the UK’s largest indoor zoological building which tragically suffered a fire in December 2018, is set to reopen later this year following its loving restoration – it will be home to hundreds of South East Asia’s most endangered species. Both Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park are now open and are running a 'virtual summer school' as well as hosting a series of evening events called 'Edinburgh Zoo After Hours' which will start on Friday, July 24. Sir David Attenborough will front a landmark TV appeal to save conservation charity behind London and Whipsnade Zoos “from extinction”.

Westminster Abbey has just re-opened for tourists and Public worship has also resumed in the Abbey, on July 5 with their first service since March – this has been the longest period of time it has been closed to visitors since preparations for HM The Queen’s coronation in 1953. More than 50 of the 356 churches in the care of Churches Conservation Trust have now re-opened and later this month, booking for Champing™, the unique concept of camping overnight in a historic church, will be available.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach has reopened and extended its operating season for 2020. Instead of closing on November 1, the park will now remain open every weekend until the December 13. It is also looking forward to a series of Late Night Riding events where all the rides remain open until 10pm. The first of these special days is Saturday, July 25 and there are a further five in the calendar throughout the summer and autumn. The Roman Baths have now reopened too and will be running twilight experiences on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings during August, with reduced capacity, and a very special atmosphere by the Great Bath.

The National Memorial Arboretum will be launching an Outdoor Escape Challenge for visitors from late July until the end of November. Inspired by the growing popularity (pre Covid19) of escape rooms and recognising the need for more outdoor entertainment in these new social distancing times, the charity has created two levels of activity to challenge the grey matter: Operation Locate – a challenging mission to discover a lost WWII unit in the Far East and Operation Uncover, a family friendly mission to uncover a mischievous WWII spy. National Museums Liverpool (NML) have reopened two of its popular attractions today, World Museum and the Walker Art Gallery. Linda McCartney Retrospective will open from August 8 to November 1 at the Walker Art Gallery.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the gardens at Hillsborough Castle and Gardens in N. Ireland are open and the interior spaces will open on July 30. Three Glasgow museums have confirmed reopening dates, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum from w/c August 17, Riverside Museum from w/c August 31 and GoMA from w/c October 5. The Palace of Holyroodhouse opens on July 23 with an exhibition in The Queen’s Gallery, Eastern Encounters: Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent which runs until January 31, followed by Victoria & Albert: Our Lives in Watercolour: from March 5 to September 5, 2021. National Galleries of Scotland will open their gallery buildings through a phased manner from August.

From the world’s leading group of science museums we can look forward to major new exhibitions, festivals and experiences at the Science Museum Group sites across England. This year, Bradford Science Festival, produced by the National Science and Media Museum will take place in October. A major public programme focused on climate and the solutions to the urgent challenges facing the world early next year will include a climate themed Manchester Science Festival produced by the Science and Industry Museum in February, and the UK’s first significant exhibition on carbon capture and storage at the Science Museum (London) in March ahead of COP26. Other unmissable major exhibitions in 2021 will include the group’s first major exhibition dedicated to the science and technology of sound at the National Science and Media Museum (Bradford), and a major new Special Exhibition Gallery designed by award-winning architects Carmody Groarke which will open with Top Secret: from ciphers to cyber security at the Science and Industry Museum (Manchester).

Stephenson’s original Rocket is now on display at the National Railway Museum in York, alongside other legends of the steam age. The museum is also planning their £55m Vision 2025 project to transform the museum as the cultural heart of York Central. Locomotion in Shildon will now feature free daily displays of Rowland Emett’s A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley in motion, after the mechanical sculpture was saved for the nation. State of the art new IMAX cinema experiences will be presented at the National Science and Media Museum (Bradford) and the Science Museum (London).

Imperial War Museums is reopening IWM London, IWM North, IWM Duxford and Churchill War Rooms to the public from August 1. Visitors returning to IWM London will be welcomed back with a brand new addition to the museum’s iconic Atrium – a commission from the internationally renowned artist Ai Weiwei, titled History of Bombs. Covering over 1,000 square feet, Ai’s takeover of the Atrium is the first time that the space has been given over in its entirety to an artist. There will also be a variety of activities at IWM Duxford including: Flight Academy and Airplane Investigators.

The nine WWT wetland centres are now open and welcoming pre-booked visitors, including Slimbridge, Martin Mere (Lancashire); Llanelli and London. Their priority is to ensure the public can access its beautiful waterscapes to help boost wellbeing and people’s connection with nature in the area.

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