The Botanics were the 17th busiest visitor attraction in the UK last year, ahead of Stonehenge, London Zoo, Tate Britain and the Eden Project.Edinburgh Zoo was also able to attract more visitors than the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh Castle and Glasgow's Kelvingrove Museum as outdoor sites were able to accommodate more visitors and benefit from more relaxed restrictions.
The Botanics attracted 8,000 more visitors than the National Museum of Scotland, which saw its numbers plummet from 2.2 million to 444,000.
In its 350th anniversary year, the Edinburgh garden claimed top spot in Scotland, despite its visitor numbers slumping from 991,000 in 2019 to 452,000 – a drop of 54 per cent – after it was forced to impose a daily capacity of 1500 when it reopened after the first lockdown.
Visitor numbers were boosted by its festive light show, which was able to go ahead despite the vast majority of other live events in the city being cancelled.Outdoor sites such as the Culloden Battlefield, Ben Lomond, the Highland Wildlife Park, in Kingussie and Crathes Castle, in Aberdeenshire were among the other attractions to weathered the storm best.However indoor sites such as the National Museum and Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, Kelvingrove in Glasgow and V&A Dundee saw visitor numbers plummet more than 80 per cent, according to the figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, which reported an average decline of 66 per cent across its UK members.
The performance of the Botanics allowed it to leap 20 places in the UK-wide league table, three ahead of the National Museum.
Kari Coghill, director of enterprise and communication at the Botanics, said: “At the end of what’s been a very difficult 12 months for everyone, we’re grateful our Edinburgh garden was able to stay open, providing a place of health and well-being for local people unable to travel far from their own doors.
"While all public buildings on the site have been closed, the garden itself continued to provide a safe and welcoming environment.
"With all visits requiring a time slot ticket, booked online in advance of coming along, we have grown adept at welcoming visitors by utilising a variety of safety measures.
“Seeing how this could work, the natural progression, for the festive season was to open in the evening and offer Edinburgh families one of the few attainable evenings during the run of ‘Christmas at the Botanics.’"As Britain starts of emerge from Covid-19, we look forward to everyone in the sector being able to resume something more akin to everyday operations.”
David Field, chief executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which runs Edinburgh Zoo, said: “
“Like most of the visitor attractions on the list, 2020 was a tough year for us. We had to shut our gates for a large portion of time and as a result our main source of income was cut off. As a wildlife conservation charity, the support we received over the past year has been incredible and vital.
“It will be more important than ever now to support local attractions to aid in economic recovery.”