VISITOR NUMBERS TO THE UK’S MOST POPULAR ATTRACTIONS INCREASE BY 19% ACCORDING TO ALVA’S 2023 VISITOR FIGURES - The British Museum returns to being the most visited attraction

18 March 2024: The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) has released the visitor figures of its members for 2023 today (Monday, March 18, 2024) during English Tourism Week and Scottish Tourism Month. The total number of visits to ALVA sites in 2023 was 146.6million, which was a 19% increase on the previous year (123.6 million) but still represented a decline of 11% on the 163.9 million visits in 2019 to the top 374 ALVA sites.

Indoor attractions saw a 23% increase in visitors compared to a 2% increase in Outdoor attractions. The most-visited attraction in the UK was the British Museum which saw 5,820,860 visits – a 42% increase on 2022 numbers which they attributed in part to the success of the China’s hidden century exhibition that ran from May to October. The last time that the museum was the most visited attraction was in 2019 and in 2022, it was the 3rd most visited attraction.

Wales saw a 25% increase in visitor numbers thanks to National Museum Wales joining ALVA last year. London saw a 24% increase and Scotland tied with Northern Ireland with a 21% increase. The region of England outside London with the biggest year-on-year growth was the East of England which was up 11%, followed by the West Midlands with 10%.

The second most visited attraction was the Natural History Museum (South Kensington) which had its best ever year for visits and saw a 22% increase in visitors to 5,688,786 and the most visited outdoor attraction was Windsor Great Park (The Crown Estate) with 5,487,856 visitors, which was a 3% decline on 2022 figures. In 4th place was Tate Modern with 4,742,038 visits which was also a 22% increase, while the Southbank Centre remained in 5th place with an 8% increase to 3,193,966 visitors. Despite only being open for half the year from June 22, 2023, the newly refurbished National Portrait

Gallery, London welcomed 1,164,018 visits giving it 27th place, and Young V&A reopened on July 1st and has since welcomed 405,000 visitors. The largest percentage increase in London was Guildhall Art Gallery that saw a 137% increase to 110,211 after moving 43 places up the table and the Royal Albert Hall returned to almost pre-pandemic numbers of 1,605,924, despite having 12 fewer events in 2023 compared to 2019.

In the Coronation year, Westminster Abbey had a 49% increase of visitors and worshippers to 1,587,866 (17th place); Windsor Castle saw a 66% increase to 1,374,607 visits (20th place) and Buckingham Palace welcomed 501,499 visitors, which was a 75% increase, during its summer opening between 14 July to 24 September (76th place).

While in Scotland, the most-visited free attraction continued to be the National Museum of Scotland, which moved down one place to 12th and saw a 11% increase to 2,186,841. It was followed by Edinburgh Castle, which was the most visited paid for attraction in Scotland in 14th position with a 41% increase welcoming 1,904,723 visits and National Galleries Scotland: National had a record-breaking year and saw a 44% increase to 1,836,057, which they attributed to their Grayson Perry exhibition and the opening of the new Scottish galleries. They moved up two places to 15th on the table. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum saw a 32% increase and 1,283,882 – seeing it move to 25th place and one place below was Riverside Museum in 26th place with 1,265,011. The most popular outdoor attraction in Scotland was Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh that saw a 4% increase with 1,041,391 visits. The Gallery of Modern Art moved 40 places to 70th with 510,936 visits which they attributed to the success of Banksy's Cut and Run exhibition which ran for 10 weeks, closing on 28 August. Glasgow Cathedral moved up 50 places and saw a 79% increase in visitors to 457,541.

Both Stirling Castle and Urquhart Castle saw visitor numbers increase +24% year on year with Stirling Castle seeing 517,299 visits and Urquhart Castle welcoming 442,761 visitors.

In Northern Ireland, Titanic Belfast continued to be the most-visited attraction and following the great response to their gallery refreshment in January and February 2023, it experienced its most successful year since 2012 with a 28% increase after welcoming 800,949 visitors (43rd place). Giants Causeway saw a 57% increase and moved 23 places to 54th with 662,806 visitors and Carrick-a-Rede saw an 83% increase to 171,031 and moved 27 places.

While in Wales, the most visited attraction was St. Fagans National Museum of History with 594,990 visits and a 23% increase (61st place). It was followed by the National Museum Cardiff with a 41% increase to 378,349 visits (108th place).

Outside London, other English attractions that performed well were RHS Garden Wisley in 21st place, followed by two in the South West. Stonehenge saw a 36% increase with 1,327,423 visitors (23rd place) and six places below was Roman Baths and Pump Room with 1,061,240 visitors and a 25% increase.

The largest percentage increase in England was Burghley House that moved 26 places with an 86% increase to 154,827 visitors after the introduction of an adventure playground and the National Railway Museum saw a 10% increase which they attributed to Wonderlab: The Bramall Gallery, an interactive gallery for families, which opened in July 2023 and exceeded all forecasts, ahead of the reopening of Station Hall in 2025.

Attractions that offered heavily discounted tickets for recipients of Universal Credit from February 2023 onwards included ZSL London Zoo who saw a 27% increase in visitor numbers to 1,327,902, while ZSL Whipsnade Zoo saw a 18% increase to 893,450 visitors. During the year, English Heritage worked with foodbanks to offer users free entry to the charity’s sites. Other attractions that offer discounted tickets include Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, who gave over 10,000 Ultimate Explorer tickets to families with children who receive free school meals; London Transport Museum; Kew Gardens; Tower of London (Historic Royal Palaces) and recently introduced at The King’s Galleries in London and Edinburgh.

Bernard Donoghue OBE, Director of ALVA, commented: “Our members are not yet back to hosting the same number of visitors that they did in 2019, but they are really delighted that even in a challenging cost-of-living climate visitors are still prioritising spending special time with special people at special places.”

“Whilst the extension of tax relief for museums, theatres and galleries was a very welcome announcement in the recent Budget, there was a missed opportunity to reintroduce tax free shopping for overseas visitors, which would have improved the UK's international competitiveness, and reduce VAT for tourism and hospitality which would have helped businesses repair their balance sheets.”

Looking forward, The Queen’s House has just reopened with works from the Royal Museums Greenwich’s (RMG) fine art collection and Beamish will be opening a Georgian tavern and pottery, a 1950s cinema, toy shop, electrical shop, record shop and STEM learning space, along with Georgian-style self-catering accommodation, as part of their Remaking Beamish project. Provand’s Lordship, the oldest house in Glasgow, will reopen on March 29 after around £1.6 million was spent on repairs and improvement work which started in the summer of 2022. It is part of Glasgow’s Cathedral Precinct and will play a significant part in celebrations of Glasgow’s 850th anniversary in 2025. Locomotion in Shildon is currently readying itself for the launch of New Hall (and a return to 7 day a week opening) in May 2024, which will create the largest collection of heritage rail vehicles under cover and on public display anywhere in Europe.

To celebrate 200 years of the National Gallery on May 10, 12 of the UK’s most iconic and well-loved paintings are being lent to 12 venues across the UK including the National Gallery of Scotland, the Ashmolean Museum Oxford, Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge; Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle and the Ulster Museum Belfast. Celebrating other anniversaries will be RAF Museum London with a Weekend in June filled with live music and entertainment to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

Recently opened at the Tate Modern is Yoko Ono Music of the mind which is on until September 1, and a new exhibition at Kensington Palace, Untold Lives, will uncover the forgotten stories of those who worked at the royal palaces over 300 years ago – it is open until October 27 and at the Hayward Gallery, a major sculpture exhibition When Forms Come Alive continues until 6 May 2024 followed by Tavares Strachan's landmark show which opens on June 18.

Exhibitions to look forward to include NAOMI: In Fashion at the V&A South Kensington exploring the extraordinary career of fashion model Naomi Campbell which opens on June 22, and Barbie®: The Exhibition will be at the Design Museum from July 5 and will explore the design evolution of one of the world’s most famous dolls! Michelangelo the last decades opens at the British Museum on May 2 and Birds: Brilliant and Bizarre will open at the Natural History Museum on May 24. From March 29, the Old Royal Naval College opens a fascinating new exhibition, Chocolate House Greenwich, about the key role that chocolate played in the revival of 18th century Greenwich.

Elsewhere Art of the Selfie has just opened at the National Museum Cardiff and will run until January 2025, while at Blenheim Palace, from March 23 to June 30, the Palace launches its biggest exhibition in its 300-year history. Icons of British Fashion, features world-class designers with each fashion house taking over a significant room in the Palace. Happiness!, the first major exhibition on a comedian in a national museum, celebrates one of the UK’s best-loved and most influential comedians, Sir Ken Dodd has been extended at the Museum of Liverpool for an extra four months, closing to the public on July 7 and Game on - the largest interactive exhibition of the history and the culture of video games - will be at the

National Museum of Scotland from June 29 and Discovering Degas - showcasing Sir William Burrell’s complete collection of prized works by Edgar Degas displayed together for the first time alongside around 50 further world-class works on loan from national and international collections – will be at The Burrell Collection, Glasgow from May 24. 2024 sees Paris host the summer Olympics, Paris 1924: Sport, Art and the Body will be at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge from July 19. In South West England, Brunel’s SS Great Britain is unveiling new permanent exhibits as Wardian Cases arrive on the top deck from March 26 onwards. These Victorian sea-going terrariums will be planted with live Orchids, Ferns, Fruit Trees and more, bringing the story of Victorian trans-continental plant movements to life for the first time. The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust’s 2024 temporary exhibition From Stars to Cells: The Life of Iron, will open in the Coalbrookdale Gallery at Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron on April 24. Blists Hill Victorian Town will welcome back its Victorian Seaside Experience during the summer holidays, recreating the atmosphere of the traditional Victorian seaside.

The hit animated television series Bluey is coming to life at Wakehurst in Sussex (27 March – 14 April) and Kew Gardens (29 March – 14 April), as Bluey, Bingo and the gang take over the gardens to create the ultimate Easter day out. A brand-new FREE Stick Man outdoor trail will open at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, within the National Forest on March 23. And Forestry England has launched 26 children’s trails celebrating the Gruffalo’s 25th birthday in the nation’s forests including Delamere Forest, Moors Vallery Country Park and Haldon Forest, which all featured in the top 100 attractions. At the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester the outrageous hit exhibition Operation Ouch! Food, Poo and You continues until 9 June.

At The King’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, the summer exhibition Royal Portraits: A Century of Photography will chart the evolution of royal portrait photography from the 1920s to the present day, revealing the stories behind some of the most celebrated photographs ever taken of the Royal Family. From November, Drawing the Italian Renaissance will explore the diversity and accomplishment of drawing across Italy during this revolutionary period, through works by artists including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian.

Following a successful run in London, Style & Society: Dressing the Georgians will be the first exhibition to open at The King’s Gallery in Edinburgh following its 18-month closure for essential maintenance work. Exploring life in Georgian Britain through the fashions of the day, it will be the 40th exhibition to be held in the Gallery since it was opened as a space to share a wider variety of works from the Royal Collection in Scotland.

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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 2024

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