The survey of 687 sites across the country found the most popular destinations were free admission attractions, which welcomed more than twice as many visitors as those with entry fees.
The rise in the number of tourists, which equates to a 3.3 per cent increase on 2013’s figures, comes as Scotland hosted major international events such as the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup.
The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh was once again the top attraction of the year, with more than 1,639,509 visitors. The National Gallery in Edinburgh, Lomond Shores and Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow also proved to be popular.
The research, carried out by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), found Historic Scotland’s Edinburgh Castle was the most popular paid attraction, with 1,480,676 visitors in 2014, up 4.3 per cent compared to 2013. Top paid attractions also included Edinburgh Zoo, Edinburgh Bus Tours, Stirling Castle and Glasgow’s Science Centre.
Professor John Lennon, Director of the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Business Development at GCU, said: “2014 proved to be a winning year with visitor attractions enjoying the profile Scotland gained internationally as a result of key events such as the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup, and Homecoming 2014.
“Many operators also saw positive impacts from the anniversaries associated with the First World War, which served to heighten Scotland’s profile and destination awareness, nationally and internationally.”
Other success stories include Glasgow’s Riverside Museum, which saw visitor numbers rise by 41.8 per cent between 2013 and 2014 to 1,049,834, and the Helix in Falkirk, which, in its first year, welcomed an estimated 800,000 visitors, resulting in a knock-on effect in the local area and an increase of 26.4 per cent of visitors to the Falkirk Wheel.
Susan Gray, communications manager at Scotland’s top tourist destination, said: “We are delighted that the National Museum of Scotland remains the most popular visitor attraction in Scotland.
“We are currently creating ten exciting new galleries of decorative art, fashion, design, and science and technology and look forward to welcoming even more visitors when these open in summer 2016.”
Alasdair Smart, manager of Lowland Canals Waterway, said: “It’s been an exciting year on Scotland’s canals and we’re immensely proud that the Falkirk Wheel has enjoyed its busiest 12 months since it first started turning back in 2002. 2014 saw more than half a million people pay a visit to the world’s only rotating boat lift and we’ve now had more visitors than the entire population of Scotland.
“Even more than a decade since its opening, the chance to see this iconic feat of engineering in action is still drawing huge numbers of visitors, boosting the economy of the area, and helping put Falkirk on tourists’ ‘to-see’ lists the world over. The Falkirk Wheel is the jewel in the crown of Scotland’s canal network and now, with The Helix and The Kelpies nearby, the area has even more to offer.”
Stephen Duncan, director for tourism at Historic Scotland, which runs Edinburgh and Stirling castles, said: “Edinburgh Castle continues to enthral visitors from both home and abroad, and we are delighted that it continues to be the most visited paid-for attraction in Scotland.
“Across our estate of over 70 paid-for attractions, we are continuing to invest in our visitor experience.”