‘Outlander effect’ drives tourist surge as home-grown interest also booms

Blackness Castle at Bo'ness may not be on the top list of sites benefitting from the success of Outlander, starring Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, right, but it did see a significant surge in visitor numbers after featuring. Picture Michael Gillen
Blackness Castle at Bo'ness may not be on the top list of sites benefitting from the success of Outlander, starring Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, right, but it did see a significant surge in visitor numbers after featuring. Picture Michael Gillen
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More than 5.2 million people visited Scotland’s leading historic sites last year, with hit television show Outlander continuing to drive fresh interest in the places of Scotland’s past.

Seven out of the ten most visited attractions run by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) reported record visitor numbers in 2018. Three of those sites appeared as locations in the popular time-travelling drama.

Edinburgh Castle remains the most visited property owned by HES, with staff welcoming more than 2.11m people through the door last year.

Glasgow Cathedral, Doune Castle and Linlithgow Palace, which have all appeared in the series, were among the top ten most visited attractions in Scotland. One castle used as a location in Outlander experienced a 36 per cent surge in visitors last year.

Blackness Castle in West Lothian, which twinned as the Fort William garrison and prison in season one of the show, surpassed 50,000 visitors for the first time.

Stephen Duncan, commercial and tourism director at HES, said: “As well as the ‘Outlander effect’ bringing international visitors to Scotland to explore its rich history, we have also seen an increase in the number of Scots visiting heritage sites as evidenced in our highest-ever membership figure. With Scotland being used as a filming location for productions such as Outlaw King and Mary Queen of Scots, we hope visitors will continue to be inspired to explore the history of the sites they see on the big screen.”

The appetite for Scottish history and heritage drove a 5 per cent rise visitors to HES-manned properties in 2018.

Overall visitors are said to have contributed around £620m for the local tourist economy.

Stirling Castle and Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness were the next most visited sites after Edinburgh Castle. The Highlands stronghold attracted more than 500,000 visitors in a single year for the first time.

Doune Castle and Craigmillar Castle, which were also used as Outlander locations, have also experienced an increase in footfall, HES said.

While Outlander-related interest in Scotland’s historic sites tends to comes from overseas visitors, HES also recorded a rise in home-grown interest in its properties. A record number of memberships were bought in 2018, with more than 200,000 people investing in the organisation’s work – up from 5 per cent in 2017.

Mr Duncan said: “These incredible figures show the importance that the historic environment has on local communities with the vast majority of economic growth generated by the increase in high-spending international visitors.” Tourism secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “Scotland’s historic environment is a catalyst for economic growth, driving tourism, regeneration and sustainable development and fuelling improvements.”

VISITOR NUMBERS % INCREASE

Edinburgh Castle 2,111,578 2%

Stirling Castle 605,241 7%

Urquhart Castle 518,195 6%

Glasgow Cathedral 482,783 24%

Doune Castle 142,091 14%

Skara Brae 111,921 2%

Linlithgow Palace 94,718 9%

St Andrew’s Castle 91,302 1%

Fort George 71,906 -5%

Iona Abbey 64,183 -3%