Nearly two million visitors flocked to the attraction - around 630,000 more than Edinburgh Castle, Scotland's second most popular site, according to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA).
Visitor numbers to Edinburgh’s biggest museum, which was the 11th busiest site in Britain in 2021, and the castle soared by 199 per cent and 218 per cent respectively in the space of 12 months.
Scotland claimed four places in the UK top 20, with the National Museum the most popular site outside London, the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh seeing a 322 per cent increase to attract more than 1.27 million, and the Riverside museum in Glasgow seeing its numbers soar by 276 per cent to more than 1.1 million
Nearly 10 million visitors flocked to Scotland's top 10 attractions, which also included the Kelvingrove museum and newly-refurbished Burrell Collection gallery in Glasgow, Stirling Castle, Edinburgh Zoo, the National War Museum in Edinburgh, and the city's Royal Botanic Garden.
Outside the central belt, the Glenfinnan Monument, in Lochaber, saw a 32 per cent increase, to nearly 400,000. Urquhart Castle, on the banks of Loch Ness, saw its numbers rise by more than 230 per cent to 357,000, while 344,000 visitors flocked to the Glencoe Visitor Centre, up 166 per cent on 2021.
Scottish attractions in the league table notched up more than 16.2 million visits – a 128 per cent increase on 2021.
Dr Chris Breward, director of the National Museum said: “In what remains a challenging time for the museum sector, it’s heartening that visitor numbers have almost returned to pre-pandemic levels, making it once again the most popular museum in the UK outside of London.
"This recovery of our visitor numbers, including those from overseas, is faster than we’d expected and, accompanied by encouraging figures from other Scottish attractions, is a powerful reminder of the essential role of museums and culture in our lives.”
Sir John Leighton, director-general of the National Galleries of Scotland, which runs the Scottish National Gallery, said: “We were happy to welcome over 1.8 million visitors across our sites, which reinforces our position as one of Scotland’s leading cultural institutions, illustrating continued appreciation from local, national and international audiences for our collection, exhibitions and events.”
A spokesman for Historic Environment Scotland, which runs Edinburgh and Stirling castles, said: “Scotland’s world-renowned historic environment makes a key contribution to the country’s tourism sector.
“As we continue the recovery from the challenges of the last few years, it’s hugely encouraging to see consistent rises in visitor numbers, including at Edinburgh Castle, which was once again Scotland’s most visited paid-for attraction.”
Phil Long, chief executive of the National Trust for Scotland, whose sites include the Glenfinnan Monument and the Glencoe Visitor Centre, said: “It’s fantastic to see just how popular our places proved with people last year, as we all started to recover from the impacts of the pandemic and the uncertainty that followed.
"It’s our privilege to share Scotland’s nature, beauty and heritage with everyone and these figures suggest that the trust, its places and the experiences we offer are really valued by people.”