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The UK’s most popular tourist attractions revealed – how many have you visited?

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The UK’s most-visited tourist attraction last year has been revealed, with a surge in visitors compared to 2022.

The British Museum finished number one and saw a total of 5.8 million visitors in 2023, a 42 per cent jump on the previous year, according to trade body the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva). The last time the British Museum topped the list was 2019.

Last year’s popularity was partly attributed to the success of its China’s Hidden Century exhibition, which ran from May until October.

Bernard Donoghue, Alva director, said attractions are “recovering well” from the coronavirus lockdowns, with 146.6 million visits to major UK venues in 2023 – a jump of 19 per cent on 2022.

However, he warned “they’re still not back to full recovery” as people “got out of the habit of going to museums and galleries” when they were closed.

The number of visits to attractions is still below pre-pandemic levels, down 11 per cent from 163.9 million in 2019 before the Covid-19 crisis.

Mr Donoghue told Simon Calder’s Independent Travel Podcast the industry was prepared for “a long and slow recovery after lockdown”.

“There’s a change in the economy, of course, the cost of living crisis. And so people are being much more tactical, sensibly, about how they spend their leisure pounds.”

Figures show the number of visits being made to tourism attractions is still below pre-pandemic levels (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)

The limited return of Chinese tourists due to the country’s coronavirus travel restrictions is also affecting overall visitor numbers to UK tourism hotspots, although the tourism chief is “hopeful that we should get back up to pre-Covid levels of Chinese visitors by the end of 2025”.

After the British Museum, the second most-visited attraction was the Natural History Museum in west London, which had its best year for visits at 5.7 million.

In third place was Windsor Great Park, Berkshire, with 5.5 million visits.

Top Ten

The UK’s most-visited tourist attractions in 2023

  1. The British Museum
  2. Natural History Museum
  3. Windsor Great Park
  4. Tate Modern
  5. Southbank Centre
  6. V&A South Kensington
  7. The National Gallery
  8. Science Museum
  9. Tower of London
  10. Somerset House

The most popular attraction in Scotland was Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland (2.2 million visits) while the number one spot in Wales was taken by St Fagans National Museum of History in Cardiff (600,000 visits).

Titanic Belfast had the most visits in Northern Ireland, with 800,000 people coming to the attraction.

Indoor attractions saw a 23 per cent increase in visitors compared with a 2 per cent increase in outdoor attractions.

In the Coronation year, Westminster Abbey had a 49 per cent increase in visitors to 1.5 million.

Mr Donoghue claimed that the government’s failure to reverse its 2020 decision to end tax-free shopping for inbound visitors has led to a “significant decrease” in spending in attraction gift shops by overseas tourists.

“We are absolutely missing out on expensive items being bought by visitors from around the world, particularly from America, the Middle East and the Far East,” he said.

“We know that we’re losing out to places like Paris, Milan, Madrid and Rome.”

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