The Natural History Museum was the most visited indoor attraction in the UK last year, according to new figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA).

The museum achieved a 196% increase in attendance from 2021, with 4.6m visitors in 2022. It was also named the second most visited attraction overall..

The museum was beaten to the overall top-spot by Windsor Great Park, which is managed by the Crown Estate. The Royal Park, which was also 2021’s most visited attraction, saw 5.6m visits last year.

‘A unique year’: ALVA reveals 2021 visitor museum and heritage figures

Indoor sites saw largest visitor growth

ALVA’s data shows indoor sites enjoyed the strongest year-on-year growth with a 176% increase, ahead of mixed sites at 44% and outdoor sites reported a far more modest increase of 5%.

Geographically, London saw the strongest year-on-year growth, with visits up 152%. Scotland was up 128% and Northern Ireland up 120%. Outside London, the biggest year-on-year growth was in the North West, which saw visitor numbers grow by 49%. Fourteen of the top 20 most visited attractions were in London, with four in Scotland and two in South East.

In London, The British Museum moved from sixth to third place, with a 209% increase in visitors, Tate Modern moved from seventh to fourth place with a 202% growth in visitors, and the National Gallery saw a 274% increase which saw it return to the top 10.

The Design Museum was among those with the largest year-on-year growth . It saw 515% more visitors in 2022 than 2021, totalling 511,863.

Museums and galleries saw the largest surge in visits, up 158% compared with 2021. Visits to heritage and cathedral sites increased 55% and Zoo visits by 15%.

A total of 123.4 million visits were made to the top 349 ALVA member sites, a 69% increase from 73.1 million in 2021, but a decline of 23% against 2019 figures, the most recent pre-pandemic year.

Free entry assisted visitor growth

While attractions welcomed far more visitors in 2022 overall, the ALVA figures suggest that attractions which offer free entry, except for special exhibitions and events, saw a stronger year-on-year growth in visits. Those that offered free entry saw an aggregated 183% increase in visitors in 2022. In comparison, the attractions which charged admission experienced a 101% rise in visitors.

International visitors key to recovery

Bernard Donoghue OBE, Director of ALVA, said the attractions sector is “experiencing the tourism equivalent of ‘long Covid’ with many attractions still not back up to 2019 visitor levels due, mainly, to the absence of international visitors, notably from China and the Far East”, adding ”I am confident that they will return this year and we will see a continuing healthy recovery.”

“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.”

Last year Donoghue called on the Government to reverse a decision which saw EU school and youth groups require passports rather than ID cards to travel to the UK.

Donoghue serves on the judging panel of the Museums + Heritage Awards, which recently announced its 2023 shortlist.

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ALVA’s top 20 most visited attractions in 2022

2021 Rank

2022 Rank

Site

Total Visits in 2022

1 –1 The Crown Estate, Windsor Great Park 5,636,844
4 ↑2 Natural History Museum (South Kensington) 4,654,608
6 ↑3 The British Museum 4,097,253
7 ↑4 Tate Modern 3,883,160
13 ↑5 Southbank Centre 2,947,155
15 ↑6 The National Gallery 2,727,119
11 ↑7 V&A South Kensington 2,370,261
8 –8 Somerset House 2,346,580
9 –9 Science Museum 2,334,930
33 ↑10 Tower of London 2,020,121
20 ↑11 National Museum of Scotland 1,973,751
2 ↓12 Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 1,963,885
18 ↑13 Royal Museums Greenwich 1,628,580
5 ↓14 RHS Garden Wisley 1,494,709
32 ↑15 Royal Albert Hall 1,449,486
41 ↑16 Edinburgh Castle 1,346,168
64 ↑17 Scottish National Gallery 1,277,230
73 ↑18 St Paul’s Cathedral 1,193,888
61 ↑19 Riverside Museum 1,173,242
45 ↑20 British Library 1,149,070
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