A WARM summer helped Edinburgh Castle’s visitor numbers soar to record levels last year, with more than 1.4 million visitors.
The landmark, which brought in an additional 189,000 visitors over the space of 12 months, was the clear beneficiary from the good weather.
Historic Scotland’s 78 sites across the country saw a surge of interest with more than 3.1 million visitors in total, an increase of 10 per cent year-on-year. Edinburgh Castle’s record-breaking total was 117,000 more than its previous best total, recorded three years ago.
However, its 15 per cent increase in 2013 was not enough to take the National Museum of Scotland’s crown as the nation’s most popular attraction – despite a 7 per cent drop in visitors – as it continues to enjoy the benefits of a £47 million refurbishment nearly three years ago.
The Edinburgh museum was the 13th busiest attraction anywhere in Britain outside London, with 1.76 million visitors.
The National War Museum, which is based at Edinburgh Castle but run by National Museums Scotland, also saw a 16 per cent increase.
Two other major outdoor attractions, Stirling Castle and Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness, saw increases of 2 and 5 per cent respectively.
Historic Scotland said its ten most popular sites attracted a total of 2.5 million visitors in 2013, with Edinburgh Castle the most popular paid-for UK attraction outside London.
Commercial director Stephen Duncan said: “2013 was a fantastic year for our sites – with record-breaking figures, membership at an all-time high and Edinburgh Castle breaking the 1.4m visitor mark for the first time.
“In terms of trends, we had anticipated an increase in travel trade numbers this year but the increase has exceeded all expectations. We are also benefiting from an increase in visitors from China and emerging markets.”
Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of National Museums Scotland, said: “Being confirmed as the most visited attraction outside London for the third year running demonstrates that we continue to capture the imagination of visitors with compelling exhibitions, imaginative public programmes and internationally important collections.”
The new figures, compiled by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, revealed an average increase of 5 per cent recorded by museums, galleries, palaces, parks and gardens across Scotland.
Indoor attractions such as the national galleries in Edinburgh and the new Riverside Museum in Glasgow suffered significant drops in their numbers, though Glasgow’s busiest attraction and the third most popular in Scotland, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, bucked the trend with a slight increase of 0.2 per cent, thought to be down to the success of its Jack Vettriano show.
Edinburgh Zoo’s visitor numbers also declined, by 6 per cent, but the attraction is still benefiting from the “giant panda effect” with visitor numbers of more than 750,000 some 40 per cent higher than before the arrival of Tian Tian and Yang Guang.
The “James Bond effect” has been credited with the National Trust for Scotland’s site at Glencoe seeing a 41 per cent increase in visitors. Daniel Craig and Dame Judi Dench visited the mountainous area to film key scenes for Skyfall, which broke British box office records at the end of 2012.
Barbara Smith, managing director of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which runs Edinburgh Zoo, said: “We are delighted to continue to be the second most popular paid-for visitor attraction in Scotland.
“2013 was a very successful year for the Zoo, bucking the trend for a panda zoo in year two with only a very small drop in visitor numbers compared to the first year of their arrival.”
A spokeswoman for the National Galleries of Scotland admitted its sites in Edinburgh had suffered a nine per cent drop across the board, but pointed out this was still up 15 per cent compared to its figures in 2011. She added that a drop had been anticipated due to the record numbers that flocked to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in 2012 after a major overhaul and the success of “blockbuster” Picasso and Van Gogh exhibitions.
Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland, said: “Scotland has a plethora of diverse and fascinating visitor attractions and it’s great to see that so many saw an increase in visitor numbers last year, with the 15 per cent increase reported by Edinburgh Castle particularly encouraging.
“With The Helix in Falkirk due to open this summer and the V&A Museum in Dundee in 2016, Scotland’s visitor attraction offering is truly world-class and going from strength to strength.”
Comment: Bounceback after Olympics, with Glasgow 2014 and golf to come
ACROSS Britain we definitely saw a post-Olympic bounce last year, and there was definitely a recovery for the tourism industry in Scotland.
There were some really strong performances around the country, particularly at Historic Scotland’s main sites.
Their figures are evidence that international visitors are returning in more significant numbers again. Scotland is also still very much seen overseas as a safe and secure destination to go on holiday. Other factors have affected attractions like Edinburgh Zoo, which has only seen a minor drop after the first year having the giant pandas there. Their numbers are still way up on what they used to be.
I would have expected to see a slight decline in visitors at the National Museum of Scotland because of the life-cycle you see with attractions after they have a refurbishment.
The key thing this year is the combined impact of having the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup and the independence referendum within the space of a few months. There is a build-up of interest around the world, which will be keeping Scotland in the global headlines for most of the year.
• Prof John Lennon is director of the Moffat Centre, Glasgow Caledonian University.
TOP ATTRACTIONS, VISITOR NUMBERS AND PERFORMANCE
National Museum of Scotland, (Edinburgh)
1,768,090 down 7.0%
1,420,027 up 15%
Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum (Glasgow)
1,044,067 up 0.2%
Scottish National Gallery (Edinburgh)
933,296 down 2.9%
760,897 down 6%
Riverside Museum (Glasgow)
740,276 down 26.6%
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
679,756 down 5%
National War Museum (Edinburgh)
572,361 up 16%
Gallery of Modern Art (Glasgow)
572,152 down 4%
411,726 up 2%