Arts & Culture

UK attractions still behind pre-Covid levels

The Natural History Museum, London

UK visitor attractions remain way behind pre-Covid attendance figures despite a year-on-year surge in 2023.

According to figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA), visitor figures to its sites totalled 146.6 million in 2023, which was up 19% on 2022. However, this still represented a decline of 11% on the 163.9 million visits in 2019. ALVA’s members include the UK’s most popular, iconic and important museums, galleries, palaces, castles, cathedrals, zoos, historic houses, heritage sites, gardens and leisure attractions.

Indoor attractions saw a 23% increase in visitors compared to a 2% increase in Outdoor attractions.

British Museum takes No.1 spot

The most-visited attraction in the UK was the British Museum which saw 5.8 million visits – a 42% increase on 2022 numbers which they attributed in part to the success of the China’s hidden century exhibition. The second most visited attraction was the Natural History Museum, which had its best ever year for visits and saw a 22% increase in visitors to 5.7 million. The most-visited outdoor attraction was Windsor Great Park (The Crown Estate) with 5.5 million visitors, which was a 3% decline on 2022.

Wales saw a 25% increase in visitor numbers thanks to National Museum Wales joining ALVA last year. London saw a 24% increase and Scotland tied with Northern Ireland with a 21% increase. The region of England outside London with the biggest year-on-year growth was the East of England which was up 11%, followed by the West Midlands with 10%.

In the Coronation year, Westminster Abbey had a 49% increase of visitors and worshippers to 1.6 million (17th place), while Windsor Castle saw a 66% increase to 1.4 million visits (20th place).

Outside London, other English attractions that performed well were RHS Garden Wisley in 21st place, followed by two in the South West. Stonehenge saw a 36% increase with 1,327,423 visitors (23rd place) and six places below was Roman Baths and Pump Room with 1,061,240 visitors and a 25% increase.

Attractions offering discounted tickets thrived

Attractions that offered heavily discounted tickets for recipients of Universal Credit from February 2023 onwards included ZSL London Zoo who saw a 27% increase in visitor numbers to 1,327,902, while ZSL Whipsnade Zoo saw a 18% increase to 893,450 visitors. During the year, English Heritage worked with foodbanks to offer users free entry to the charity’s sites. Other attractions that offer discounted tickets include Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, who gave over 10,000 Ultimate Explorer tickets to families with children who receive free school meals; London Transport Museum; Kew Gardens; Tower of London (Historic Royal Palaces) and recently introduced at The King’s Galleries in London and Edinburgh.

Bernard Donoghue, director of ALVA, said: “Our members are not yet back to hosting the same number of visitors that they did in 2019, but they are really delighted that even in a challenging cost-of-living climate visitors are still prioritising spending special time with special people at special places.”

“Whilst the extension of tax relief for museums, theatres and galleries was a very welcome announcement in the recent Budget, there was a missed opportunity to reintroduce tax free shopping for overseas visitors, which would have improved the UK’s international competitiveness, and reduce VAT for tourism and hospitality which would have helped businesses repair their balance sheets.”