Visits to members of the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) rose by almost 10% in 2017 – the fourth year running that an increase in numbers has been recorded.
ASVA has more than 450 members, which include castles, galleries, museums, historic houses, heritage sites, wildlife parks, gardens and leisure attractions.
Statistics submitted by 232 member sites show that they had 30 million visits in 2017, up by 9.7% year-on-year.
It follows a 6% rise in 2016, and a 3.4% rise in 2015.
The two top sites – The National Museum of Scotland and Edinburgh Castle (pictured) – each attracted more than two million visits, the first time that any visitor attraction in Scotland has surpassed the two-million milestone.
Overall, 77% of attractions reported an increase on 2016 figures, with a significant number noting that 2017 was their ‘best year to date’.
Sectors which fared well in 2017 include castles and heritage sites (14.7%), museums and galleries (7.5%), gardens (13.6%) and distilleries/whisky-related attractions (11.8%).
Edinburgh continued to dominate, with 11 of the top 20 attractions.
Dr Gordon Rintoul, National Museums Scotland director, said: “2017 was a very busy year for the National Museum of Scotland. We staged our acclaimed exhibitions Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites, and The Tomb: Ancient Egyptian Burial, which was the most popular special exhibition we have mounted.
“We are now looking ahead to the spring 2019 opening of two new galleries dedicated to ancient Egypt and East Asia, the final phase in our masterplan to transform the Museum and showcase the breadth of our world-class collections.”
Another area which fared well in 2017 was the Highlands. Inverewe Garden in Wester Ross enjoyed a major uplift in visitor numbers (110%), driven in part by the popularity of the North Coast 500 touring route.
Attractions near Loch Ness, including the medieval fortress of Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness by Jacobite, which offers scenic cruises on the loch, saw visitor numbers rise 23% and 29% respectively. Both attractions benefit from a programme of visits of about 30,000 per year, from a tour operator specialising in the Chinese market.
The Outlander effect boosted many sites with connections to the popular TV series, with large increases in visitor numbers recorded at attractions including Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre (28%), Glasgow Cathedral (31%), Castle Fraser (49%) and Glenfinnan Monument (58%) .
Douglas Walker, ASVA chair, said: “These figures demonstrate that the visitor attractions sector in Scotland is in robust health. Attractions that have invested in their visitor offer by developing innovative new products and services and launching inspiring events and exhibitions programmes, supported by creative and effective marketing campaigns, are not only reaching new visitor markets but are actively encouraging their existing visitors to return time and again.”