Major tourist attractions in London and the South East suffered last year following the terrorist attacks in Paris and the travel chaos caused by the Calais crisis.
Many popular museums, including the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum, the Southbank Centre, the Tate Modern, the Science Museum and the Tower of London, saw their numbers decline in 2015, according to new figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva).
Anecdotal evidence suggests many would-be tourists were deterred from visiting the capital following November’s Isis attacks on entertainment venues in Paris.
Attractions in Kent have also suffered from disruption caused by a combination of strikes by French port workers and attempts by migrants to reach the UK from Calais. Police have been forced to convert sections of the M20 into a near-permanent truck park in a bid to ease the chaos, which has put off day trippers in the county.
Bernard Donoghue, Director of Alva, said: “We have been told by our members that the bad weather has had an effect, and our members in the South East have seen a decrease during Operation Stack in Kent as well as at the aftermath of the Paris attacks.
Overall, visits to London attractions increased by 1.6% compared to 2014, a significantly lower increase than in other parts of the UK.
Last year there were 124.4 million visits to top UK venues, up 3.2% since 2014. A total of 65.2 million visits were made to UK attractions London. Of these, the British Museum was the most popular, and a 2% increase to 6.8 million visitors meant it was the UK’s top site for the ninth consecutive year.
The National Gallery takes second place with 5.9 million visitors, attracted by exhibitions such as Goya: The Portraits. But the numbers fell 8% after being hit by closures following several strikes by employees.
Mr Donoghue said: “More people have visited the British Museum and the National Gallery, combined, than Barcelona.”
Visits to the Tate Modern fell by nearly a fifth to 4.7 million as the gallery failed to match the success of its 2014 Henri Matisse exhibition. A spokeswoman said the gallery remained ” the most popular modern and contemporary art gallery in the world”, attracting an average of between 4.5 and 5 million visitors per year.
Scottish attractions increased by 5.5% and Edinburgh Castle, the most popular, welcomed 1.6 million visitors. The most popular attraction outside of London was the Library of Birmingham in 11th place with 1.8 million visitors. Chester Zoo, which saw an 18% increase to 1.7 million visitors, was England’s most visited paid attraction outside of London.
There was a 3.5% increase in visits to the gardens, and it was a record year for the Royal Horticultural Society, with a 6.1% increase to over one million visitors to RHS Garden Wisley.
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Victoria and Albert Museum
An exhibition of the work of Alexander McQueen, the British fashion designer, became the most popular ever at the V&A last year. He sold over 480,000 tickets to Savage Beauty and opened the museum overnight for the first time for an exhibition.
Visitors to Somerset House in central London have increased by almost a third, which Alva attributes to the success of its temporary exhibitions and public programmes. There was high demand to see PJ Harvey record his ninth album on location over a four week period.
Library of Birmingham
Despite its financial troubles, the library – which opened in April 2013 – remained the most-visited free attraction outside London, with 1.83 million visitors.