Record year as Scotland heritage sites attract 5 million visitors

Heritage attractions in Scotland hit a record milestone in 2017, welcoming more than 5 million people in a single year for the first time.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES), which manages more than 300 heritage sites across the country is celebrating a 17% increase in footfall from the previous financial year, recording 5,041,297 visitors throughout the 2017-18 financial year.

The surge in numbers across the whole estate is being attributed to growth in UK, European and overseas visitors, with a significant uplift in Scots visiting sites partly due to a membership base of over 194,000.

The ongoing ‘Outlander effect’ has seen North American visitor figures increase by 27%, and French visitors increase by 19% year on year. The sites that have featured in the television series continue to enjoy an uplift in visitor numbers with Doune Castle attracting a massive 227% increase in numbers and Blackness Castle increasing by 182% since 2013.

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.”

Individual castles, palaces and other historic sites across Scotland have also achieved record figures. The top 10 most-visited HES attractions all individually celebrated record-breaking years, with more than 2 million people passing over Edinburgh Castle’s drawbridge, an increase of nearly 300,000 visitors in comparison to the previous year.

Glasgow Cathedral saw an increase of 27% to 400,324 visits to the medieval cathedral, whilst St Andrews Castle welcomed 90,253 visitors, an increase of 16%.

“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,” Duncan added.

Top 10 most visited heritage attractions in Scotland in 2017-18

Site Visitor Numbers % increase Year on Year
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%

Image: c. Historic Environment Scotland.