MORE than a million people have visited the new-look National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh since its £47 million overhaul was unveiled at the end of July.
The landmark was reached shortly after doors opened yesterday and just days after the three-year refurbishment for the Victorian museum saw the attraction named the best building in Scotland.
A further boom in visitors is expected next year, when two major exhibitions will open – one featuring ancient Egyptian artefacts and the other celebrating Catherine The Great.
Planning has already started for the next £11m phase of the museum’s transformation, when new science and technology and European fine art galleries will be created.
Museum chiefs had not revealed an official target for visitor numbers but had been banking on the attraction generating an average of a million visitors a year.
However, the passing of the million mark so soon means the museum stands a chance of topping the 3.2 million visitors lured in by Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, in the 12 months after it reopened in 2006, following a £28m revamp.
The capital’s flagship museum is almost certain to overtake Edinburgh Castle as the nation’s most popular attraction. The castle attracted 1.2 million visitors in the whole of last year.
Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of the museum, said: “Our biggest ever previous attendance for the whole site was the year before the temporary closure, when we had 833,324 visitors. Getting more than a million in the first year would still have been a 20 per cent increase, but the reaction we’ve had from the public has been quite immense.
“It’s definitely far surpassed our expectations. There’s no way we were expecting as many as 22,000 visitors on the first day of opening and we’re still getting around 9,000 in on a Saturday, which is quite incredible.
“We did probably benefit from the bad weather during the festival in August, although the feedback we’ve had from most people is that they would have come anyway.”
The old Royal Museum building, on Chambers Street, was closed in April 2010 to make way for a revamp during which new street-level entrances were developed, old basement storerooms were turned into a dramatic entrance hall and a string of new galleries and exhibition spaces were created. Extra space has seen 8,000 objects go on display in 16 new galleries, 80 per cent of which are on show for the first time.
Dr Rintoul added: “The new exhibitions we’re bringing to Edinburgh from overseas next year will be in a brand new part of the museum. We’re already looking to the next stage in terms of planning.”
The capital’s cultural scene is set for another major boost next week, when the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, on Queen Street reopens after a £17m refurbishment, which led to a three-year closure. A £10m revamp of the nearby Assembly Rooms building on George Street is expected to be completed by July.