The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) has said that while there has been a 69% increase in visitors to top UK attractions, the total still represents a decline of 23% compared to visits in 2019.
ALVA’s figures for 2022 demonstrated that 123.4 million patrons visited ALVA sites, compared to 73.1 million in 2021. The 2022 figure was still a decline on the 161.2 million visitors in 2019 to the top 349 ALVA sites.
Indoor sites enjoyed the strongest year-on-year growth with a 176% increase, ahead of mixed sites at 44%. Outdoor sites reported a 5% increase in visitors. The most-visited attraction in the UK continued to be Windsor Great Park, which is managed by the Crown Estate. This attracted 5,636,844 visits, which is a 4% increase on 2021 numbers.
London saw the strongest year-on-year performance with visits up by 152%, while Scotland was up 128% followed by Northern Ireland with a 120% increase. The North West of England saw a 49% increase, the biggest area in England outside of London.
The most-visited indoor attraction and second most-visited overall was the Natural History Museum (pictured) in London, which welcomed 4,654,608 visitors in 2022, representing a 196% increase on 2021.
In Scotland, the highest free attraction was the National Museum of Scotland with 1,973,751 visitors. This was followed by Edinburgh Castle, which was the highest paid attraction in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, Titanic Belfast was the most visited attraction with 624,294 visitors.
Museums and galleries reported a 158% increase in visitors compared to 2021, while heritage and cathedral sites increased by 55%. Zoo visits saw a 15% increase in visitors. Gardens and leisure attractions experienced the weakest performance with numbers level with 2021 and similar to pre-pandemic.
The cost-of-living crisis in the UK was also reflected in the annual figures for last year, with attractions that offer free entry reporting the strongest year-on-year growth in visits with a 183% increase. This is compared to attractions that charged admission which witnessed a 101% rise in visitors.
Bernard Donoghue, director of ALVA, said: “These figures show that visitors flocked back to their favourite places in 2022 to breathe, heal, repair and to enjoy special moments with special people in special places. The year ended strongly with attractions reporting a very busy Christmas, strong visitor numbers and strong retail sales. People clearly wanted to create special memories with their loved ones after two difficult years and a challenging economic climate.”
He added: “Many attractions are still not back up to 2019 visitor levels due, mainly, to the absence of international visitors, notably from China and the Far East, but I am confident that they will return this year and we will see a continuing healthy recovery.”