Three attractions in Scotland’s capital – the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle and Scottish National Gallery – made the UK top 20 league and recorded double digit increases.
Other sites like Doune and Blackness castles saw audiences surge by more than a third thanks to appearance in the hit TV show Outlander.
The performance of the main attractions across Scotland was in sharp contrast to the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Southbank Centre, the National Portrait Gallery and the V&A, London sites which all saw a drop in visitors last year.
Audience numbers were up 15.6 per cent across the board in Scotland, compared to the UK average of 7.2 per cent.
The Museum of Scotland’s 16 per cent increase in visitors, to more than 1.81 million, is largely down to ten new galleries showcasing decorative art, design, science and technology treasures, although these did not open until July.
Edinburgh Castle, which saw visitor numbers jump 13 per cent to 1.77 million, was Scotland’s top “paid-for” attraction. Other strong performers in Scotland included the Riverside Museum in Glasgow, which is on the verge of overtaking Kelvingrove as the city’s most popular attraction, after recording an 11 per cent increase in visitors last year.
It is the second year in a row that Scotland’s leading attractions have performed better than the rest of the country, although the increase recorded in 2015 was just 5.4 per cent.
Bernard Donoghue, director of ALVA, said: “Scotland has continued to outperform the rest of the UK with a substantial increase in their visitor numbers. 2016 was a great year for Scottish tourism – proving that Scotland is reaping the benefits of significant capital investment in attractions and creative programming by its institutions.”
Tourism secretary Fiona Hyslop MSP said: “As these figures illustrate, this has been a record year for our leading visitor attractions. Our wide range of attractions and excellent heritage and museum collections continue to provide high-quality and exciting experiences, both to people who live here, and to our visitors.
“The success of our leading visitor attractions will continue to play a vital role in making Scotland a destination of first choice for visitors.”
Stephen Duncan, director of tourism at Historic Environment Scotland, said its offering for visitors was “stronger than ever before.”
He added: “These latest figures for last year show that Scotland is a major player in the UK tourism sector.
“Heritage tourism is a key element in this wider success story. Together our iconic castles, abbeys, palaces and other historic sites, which represent thousands of years’ worth of Scottish history, welcomed over 3.7 million visitors in 2016 alone.”
Duncan Dornan, head of museums and collections at Glasgow Life, which runs the city’s major museums and galleries, said: “We celebrated a record year with almost four million visits across our nine civic museums in 2016.
“Kelvingrove and Riverside, in particular, continue to be a huge draw for citizens and visitors. Each welcomed in excess of 1.2 million people through their doors, to enjoy many of the city’s treasures that are on show.”