The opening of ten new galleries showcasing art, design, fashion, science and technology helped the Edinburgh museum record a 15 per cent rise in its 150th anniversary year.
The castle saw a 13.4 per cent increase last year, the equivalent of 200,000 visitors, but still lagged 32,4000 behind the museum.
The Scottish National Gallery complex in Edinburgh and Glasgow’s Riverside Museum were among the other best performers, recording rises of 12.1 per cent and 11.5 per cent respectively.
Figures compiled by tourism experts at Glasgow Caledonian University’s Moffat Centre, revealed a 6.5 per cent increase across the top 20 paid-for and free sites, which attracted 21.7 million visitors.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the historic attraction, was overtaken by the Riverside Museum last year, while the Loch Lomond Shores complex at Balloch and St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh also recorded more than a million visitors each.
Professor John Lennon, director of the Moffat Centre, said: “There is no doubt that Scotland’s visitor attractions have benefitted from the lower value of Sterling against the Euro and the US Dollar. This has made the prospect of a visit to Scotland at its most affordable for some years.
“In addition the positive demand from domestic visitors has also helped increase admissions as many families chose a ‘staycation’ because of concerns of the value of the pound and perceived concerns about security in many destinations.”
Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of the National Museum of Scotland, which unveiled the new galleries last July, said: “I am delighted the latest figures from the Moffat Centre have seen the museum named as the most popular attraction in Scotland. 2016 was a fantastic year for the Museum, with celebrations to mark its 150th anniversary and the opening of ten new galleries of applied art, fashion, design, science and technology.
“Furthermore, we recorded the highest ever visitor numbers across all our sites, with nearly 2.7 million visits.”
The National Galleries of Scotland has just embarked on a £16.8 million overhaul of the Scottish National Gallery, which is expected to provide a huge boost to its visitor numbers, which reached 1.54 million last year and was the third busiest attraction in Scotland.
A spokesman said: “The key to the increase in visitors is strong programming along with the draw of an outstanding collection. A rich mix of exhibitions and successful and high-profile initiatives help explain this level of success.”
Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of national tourism agency VisitScotland, said: “It is great to see a wide array of Scotland’s fabulous attractions enjoy such a successful year.
“The visitor economy causes a ripple effect that touches every industry, business and community in the country, so it is not only the attractions, but Scotland as a whole, that reaps the rewards.”
SCOTLAND'S 10 MOST POPULAR VISITOR ATTRACTIONS
National Museum of Scotland 1,810,948
Edinburgh Castle 1,778,548
Scottish National Gallery (Edinburgh) 1,544,069
Loch Lomond Shores 1,316,656
Riverside Museum (Glasgow) 1,261,681
Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum (Glasgow) 1,259,318
St Giles’ Cathedral (Edinburgh) 1,171,793
Gretna Green Famous Blacksmith’s Shop 794,543
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 790,050
National War Museum (Edinburgh) 678,982