Scottish heritage attractions set new visitor record

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More than 5 million people have visited Scotland’s heritage attractions in a single year with a new record set by the country’s historic properties.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is celebrating a 17 per cent increase in visitor numbers to its staffed properties during 2017/2018.

Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness is the third most visited historic property in Scotland. PIC: Creative Commons/Nilfanion.

Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness is the third most visited historic property in Scotland. PIC: Creative Commons/Nilfanion.

An increase in overseas tourists, the favourable exchange rate and the ongoing craze surrounding the Outlander series are credited with driving the figures with a 27 per cent rise in North American visitors alone.

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Three of the top ten HES attractions have been used by the Outlander series as filming locations and have all experienced a rise in visitors.

They are Glasgow Cathedral (up 27 per cent); Doune Castle (up 36 per cent) and Linlithgow Palace (up 17 per cent).

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Overall, some 5,041,291 paid to visit a Historic Environment Scotland property during 2017/2018. Meanwhile, an estimated 7m people spent time at one of the organisation’s free sites.

Edinburgh Castle remains the top attraction with 300,000 more visitors crossings its drawbridge last year when compared to the 12 months before.

The Neolothic settlement of Skara Brae in Orkney also features in the top 10, along with Iona Abbey.

Stephen Duncan, Director of Commercial and Tourism at HES, said: “Our record breaking visitor figures, including across all of our top ten sites, are a tremendous achievement for Scotland’s heritage tourism sector, reflecting the continued interest shown by tourists and home-grown visitors to learn more about our rich Scottish heritage.

“The exchange rate, as well as strong airport numbers, have both contributed to the growing figures.

“Over five million visitors have flocked to our wealth of historic sites across the length and breadth of the country, ranging from iconic attractions such as Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle, to landmarks such as Skara Brae in Orkney and Iona Abbey, as well as castles in Scotland’s historic towns such as St Andrews Castle.

“This rise in visitor numbers at our staffed sites has also been complemented by visitor growth at our unstaffed free access properties, bringing the overall total to an estimated 12 million.”

Stephen continued: “It is an incredible achievement to celebrate record-breaking figures across all our top 10 sites. This growing interest in Scotland’s historic environment, with visitors keen to explore our country’s rich heritage looks set to continue.

“Thank you to all our dedicated staff who have helped to bring to life Scotland’s past to every single one of our five million visitors.”

Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop said the figures were “very encouraging” news for Scotland’s world class attractions.

She added: “From Orkney to the Borders, Scotland’s diverse landscapes and iconic sites are of great importance to communities throughout the country, stimulating economic growth and further promoting our cultural heritage both in Scotland and internationally.”

The top 10 HES attractions in Scotland

(Attraction, visitor numbers, % rise)

1. Edinburgh Castle, 2,082,048, 15%

2. Stirling Castle, 574,348, 18%

3. Urquhart Castle, 487,837, 22%

4. Glasgow Cathedral, 400,324, 27%

5. Doune Castle, 125,772, 36%

6. Skara Brae, 110,497, 18%

7. St Andrews Castle, 90,253, 16%

8. Linlithgow Palace, 87,254, 17%

9. Fort George, 76,126, 24%

10. Iona Abbey, 66,570, 3%