THE National Museum of Scotland has claimed Scotland’s first place in the top ten of the UK’s visitor attraction league table following its multi-million-pound revamp.
Almost 1.9 million visitors flocked to the flagship Edinburgh attraction in 2012 – up a third on the previous 12 months – as it ended up in ninth place, ahead of St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Tate Britain and the British Library.
The overhauled former Royal Museum building on Chambers Street was unveiled in July 2011 after undergoing a £47 million revamp and the attraction has since brought in more than 3.3 million visitors.
Edinburgh Castle, which was leapfrogged by the museum last year, was still the second most popular paid-for attraction outside London, with 1.2 million visitors, in the league compiled by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva).
Historic Scotland’s top three attractions – Edinburgh, Stirling and Urquhart castles – all suffered drops in visitors last year, with prolonged bad weather blamed for the slump. However, experts at Alva said the cost of petrol was affecting visitor numbers at rural attractions.
Gordon Rintoul, director of National Museums Scotland, said: “2012 was our first full year of operation since the £47m transformation. Our commitment and investment have been rewarded with a leap into the top ten UK visitor attractions, the first time a Scottish attraction has reached the top ten.
“Visitor numbers rose by almost 30 per cent over 2011 and were more than doubled when compared to 2007, prior to the redevelopment.
“Almost 1.9 million visitors came through our door in 2012, more than visited Westminster Abbey or Tate Britain. It demonstrates that Scotland has world-class attractions and that we are leading the sector.”
Other attractions believed to be badly affected by the weather included Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden and Culzean Castle and Country Park in Ayrshire.
However, of the 30 leading attractions in Scotland, 13 reported an increase in visitors, including the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow – the 21st most popular attraction in Britain – and both the Scottish National Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh.
A third attraction run by the National Galleries of Scotland, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, attracted more than 300,000 visitors in the first full calendar year since it opened after its own £17.6m transformation, completed in December 2011.
Stephen Duncan, director of commercial and tourism for Historic Scotland said: “We’re delighted Edinburgh Castle has retained its position as Scotland’s number-one paid-for attraction.
“We are operating within a recession, and last summer faced the worst weather in over 100 years … so we’re thrilled to have welcomed over 1.2 million visitors through the castle doors.”
The Riverside Museum in Glasgow was overtaken by Kelvingrove the year after it was completed and saw numbers drop 5.7 per cent, but still attracted more than a million. Kelvingrove’s own figure of 1.03 million was up 5.8 per cent.
Archie Graham, chair of Glasgow Life, said: “Glasgow’s civic museums enjoyed almost 3.4 million visits. For more than three decades, the city has recognised the importance of investing in our museums’ treasures, not only for our citizens but in confirming Glasgow’s status as a world-class cultural destination.”
Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “These figures show that Scotland’s heritage and culture are among our nation’s greatest assets and continue to be a huge draw for visitors.”