- The impact of Covid hasn’t ended and the cost-of-living crisis sees an increase in visitors to free attractions -

The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) has released the visitor figures of its members for 2022 today (Friday, March 17, 2023) at the start of English Tourism Week and during Scottish Tourism Month. The total number of visits to ALVA sites in 2022 was 123.4million, which was a 69% increase on the previous year (73.1 million) but represented a decline of 23% on the 161.2 million visits in 2019 to the top 349 ALVA sites.

Indoor sites enjoyed the strongest year-on-year growth with a 176% increase, ahead of mixed sites at 44% and outdoor sites reported a far more modest increase of 5%. The most-visited attraction in the UK continued to be Windsor Great Park, which is managed by the Crown Estate, and saw 5,636,844 visits – a 4% increase on 2021 numbers.

London saw the strongest year-on-year performance with visits up 152% followed by Scotland up 128% and Northern Ireland up 120%. The region of England outside London with the biggest year-on-year growth was the North West which was up 49%.

The most-visited indoor attraction and second most visited attraction overall was the Natural History Museum (South Kensington) which saw a 196% increase in visitors to 4,654,608. While moving to 3rd place (from 6th) was the British Museum who saw a 209% increase and welcomed 4,097,253 visitors. In 4th place was Tate Modern who saw a 202% increase and moved from 7th place with 3,883,160 visitors, while the Southbank Centre moved up 8 places to 5th with a 275% increase to 2,947,155 visitors. The National Gallery saw a 274% increase and returned as one of the top 10 most-visited attractions with 2,727,119 visitors and the Tower of London moved from 33rd place to 10th with 2,020,121 visitors and a 284% increase.

While in Scotland, the highest free attraction on the table continued to be the National Museum of Scotland, which rose 9 places to 11th and saw a 199% increase to 1,973,751. It was followed by Edinburgh Castle, which was the highest paid for attraction in Scotland. In the 2021 figures, the castle had been in 41st place, but in 2022, it saw an increase of 218% to 16th position (1,346,168). In 17th place – moving 47 places with 1,277,230 visitors was the Scottish National Gallery. Glasgow’s Riverside Museum also featured in the top 20 with a 276% increase to 1,173,242 visitors (19th place) compared to 61st in 2021.

In Northern Ireland, Titanic Belfast was the most visited attraction. It saw a 177% increase to 48th place after welcoming 624,294 visitors.

Among the largest percentage increases was new ALVA member, the Design Museum which saw a 515% increase to 511,863 visitors. Also in London, Westminster Abbey saw a 551% increase to 1,063,063 and rose 105 places to 21st and The Monument to The Great Fire of London had a 729% increase with 81,291 visitors. Another notable rise was The Royal Shakespeare Company that moved 116 places with an increase of 557% and 672,487 visitors. Several Scottish attractions were also among the largest percentage increases with the People’s Palace in Glasgow seeing a 4,411% increase to 146,389 visitors, while Glasgow Cathedral (part of Historic Environment Scotland) saw an increase of 658% with 256,001 visitors and Doune Castle (also part of Historic Environment Scotland) saw a 1,650% increase to 55,484.

Museums & Galleries reported a surge in visits (+158%) compared with 2021. Visits to Heritage & Cathedral sites increased 55% and Zoo visits by +15%. Gardens & Leisure (-0.3%) experienced the weakest performance, with visits virtually unchanged on the tally for 2021. However, when comparing 2022 with 2019 by attraction type, it was revealed that both Gardens & Leisure (+3%) and Zoos (-4%) were welcoming similar volumes of visits as before the pandemic. While the remaining types of attraction all ended 2022 with visitor numbers still between 23% to 32% below their 2019 figures.
The cost-of-living crisis was also reflected in the annual figures for 2022 with attractions who offer free entry except for special exhibitions and events reporting the strongest year-on-year growth in visits with a 183% increase. In comparison, those who charged admission experienced a 101% rise in visitors.

Bernard Donoghue, Director of ALVA, commented: “These figures show that visitors flocked back to their favourite places in 2022 to breathe, heal, repair and to enjoy special moments with special people in special places. The year ended strongly with attractions reporting a very busy Christmas, strong visitor numbers and strong retail sales. People clearly wanted to create special memories with their loved ones after two difficult years and a challenging economic climate.”

“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."

Several new openings will be taking place in 2023 including the re-opening of the National Portrait Gallery in June, following a major redevelopment project, the opening exhibition programme includes a first look at intimate never-before-seen portraits of The Beatles taken by Paul McCartney, the launch of Young V&A – London’s new museum created with and for young people, featuring three new galleries and curated spaces designed for babies to teens will open in July, Tate Britain will unveil a complete rehang of its displays in May, and Titanic Belfast has just re-opened with four exciting new themed galleries. RAF Museum will launch their new Bomber Command Exhibition at both their London and Midlands sites in May. Titled STRIKE HARD, STRIKE SURE: BOMBER COMMAND 1939 – 1945, visitors can explore stories of the crew, technology and raids that were crucial to Allied victory using interactive technology as well as objects from the collection. The Science Museum will open an ambitious new gallery Engineers on June 23, 2023 which is dedicated to world-changing engineering innovations and the diverse and fascinating range of people behind them, while Wonderlab: The Bramall Gallery will be an exciting new family attraction opening at the National Railway Museum this summer (2023).

The Museum of London Docklands will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, with a programme of events planned for the summer. Opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2003, it is now the museum’s main site following the closure of London Wall in December. The museum’s new site in West Smithfield will open in 2026.

The National Science and Media Museum is about to undergo a ‘once-in-a-generation’ transformation ready for Bradford to become City of Culture in 2025, with huge changes through a £6 million capital project called ‘Sound and Vision’ including two new galleries, a new passenger lift and improvements to the main entrance. To facilitate these works, the museum has announced a temporary closure from June 2023 until summer 2024. A major exhibition Operation Ouch! will premiere at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester from July 21, 2023 offering visitors the opportunity to see the hit CBBC children’s TV series brought to life. Taking a dive into the digestive system, the experience will see visitors travel like a poo in a voyage to discover where our food goes when we eat, investigating the funniest bodily functions as they go!

Visitors to the Natural History Museum will have the opportunity to step into the world of the colossal dinosaur Patagotitan mayorum, one of the largest known creatures to have ever walked our planet in its new blockbuster exhibition Titanosaur: Life as the Biggest Dinosaur which opens on 31st March. Making its European debut, this gigantic titanosaur is four times heavier than Dippy the Diplodocus and 12 metres longer than Hope, the Museum’s iconic blue whale and will takes centre stage in a fun and interactive family exhibition.

London Zoo will open The Secret Life of Reptiles and Amphibians, a conservation centre for threatened species where visitors can come face-to-face with the world’s largest amphibian and largest aquatic frog as well as surprising salamanders, snakes, lizards and crocodiles. In this immersive new space, visitors will be able to follow in the footsteps of ZSL scientists and conservationists as they work to save reptiles and amphibians on the brink of extinction. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) has announced plans to give giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian a ‘giant farewell’ from Edinburgh Zoo as the wildlife conservation charity prepares for the pair’s return to China later this year.

At the Roman Baths in Bath new Sunrise Tours will give visitors the rare opportunity to explore the historic monument outside of normal opening hours, with an exclusive number of people, and discover the fascinating history of the site from an expert guide. Running on Mondays and Fridays in term time until June, the hour-long tours will give visitors the rare chance to explore the Roman Baths Museum with some of our most experienced staff and get to talk to them about the unique artefacts on display, including the gilt bronze head of the goddess Sulis Minerva and the magnificent Gorgon’s Head. Full story:

The Garden area to the west side of Sandringham House kept as a large expanse of lawn in recent years, is to be transformed into a new climate friendly topiary garden. In addition, over 40 of His Majesty The King’s watercolours will go on display in the House this year.

The first major UK exhibition by Keg de Souza will open at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on March 24. Shipping Roots is an invitation to consider how the displacement of people and transportation of plants has massively altered ecosystems and contributed to the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change. As artist in residence at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Keg De Souza spent much of 2022 studying the research institute’s living and preserved collections in preparation for her striking exploration of colonial legacies through the movement of plants between the UK, India and Australia.

2023 at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew will feature an array of new festivals and exhibitions at its two botanic gardens, Kew Gardens and Wakehurst. From firm favourites including Kew’s Orchid festival, Christmas at Kew and Glow Wild, to new exhibitions from acclaimed artists Anila Quayyum Agha and Sue Wickison who present new work in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, exploring themes of faith, reflection, and cultural interaction. Kew will also see a new summer programme, The Wander Project, guiding visitors throughout Kew’s 320 acres with five dedicated trails, whilst Wakehurst will be celebrating one of the world's most recognisable and loved plants, the tree. In Rooted, a series of bespoke outdoor installations across Wakehurst created by award-winning artists will uncover the phenomenal power of woodland wonders. Throughout the year, visitors in receipt of Universal Credit, Pension Credit and other benefits can enjoy entry to Kew Gardens and Wakehurst for £1, and those aged 16-29 can take advantage of the £9 young person’s ticket.

Animals: Art, Science and Sound will open at the British Library on April 21 and will feature artworks, manuscripts, sound recordings and printed publications. This exhibition explores how humans have documented animals over the past 2000 years.
At The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, the new exhibition will be Style & Society: Dressing the Georgians. The show will explore what fashion can tell us about life in the 18th century through magnificent portraits, luxurious textiles, and sparkling jewellery (21 April – 8 October) and the Buckingham Palace State Rooms will open in the Summer from 14 July-24 September. Blenheim Palace will celebrate its centuries-old relationship with the Royal Family in a major new exhibition opening Sunday, March 19. The Oxfordshire UNESCO World Heritage Site will be showcasing its close connections to the monarchy with an exhibition of previously unseen artefacts, photo albums, robes, crowns and coronets. Royal Connections Crowns and Coronets includes personal effects from royal weddings, coronations, holidays, and even documents and images of young royals doing their work experience at Blenheim.

The glittering world of the Georgian court will come head-to-head with the high glamour of the modern-day red carpet in a new exhibition set to open at Kensington Palace. Opening on April 5, Crown to Couture will see contemporary couture worn by high profile celebrities including Lizzo and Lady Gaga, displayed alongside historic costume – drawing fascinating parallels between the world of the red carpet and the world of the Royal Court in the eighteenth century. Set to be the largest exhibition ever staged at the palace, over 200 fascinating objects will be going on display across the glittering State Apartments and intimate exhibition spaces, from some of the finest examples of 18th century court dress to iconic contemporary red carpet looks.

In response to the current cost of living crisis The Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich will be offering a £2 ticket for visitors in receipt of Universal Credit which gives access to tours, talks and the magnificent Painted Hall. Along with other venues across the sector, they are also marking the 300th anniversary of the death of architect Sir Christopher Wren with Wren300. As well as a programme of concerts talks and tours the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich will be opening up one of their iconic domes to offer Dome Tours to the public for the first time.

For further information on ALVA and to download images,
please visit
Twitter @alva_uk

For further Press Information and to arrange interviews, please contact
Rachel Aked
[email protected]
Tel: 07790 732448

ALVA’s Members are the UK's most popular, iconic and important museums, galleries, palaces, castles, cathedrals, zoos, historic houses, heritage sites, gardens and leisure attractions.
March 2023

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