Leading Visitor Attractions 2019: Historic Environment Scotland

Iona © David Gill

The visitor numbers for Leading Visitor Attractions in 2019 are now available. Properties managed by Historic Environment Scotland attracted over 5 million visitors in 2019. Top of the list is Edinburgh Castle with 2.2 million visitors, followed by Stirling Castle (609,000), Urquhart Castle (547,000) and Glasgow Cathedral (537,000). Skara Brae on Orkney received over 115,000 visitors, no doubt reflecting the presence of cruise ships.

The top six sites attract over 4 million visitors in 2019.

Heritage tourism: Cambridge University Museums

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge © David Gill

Cambridge University Museums play an important part in the visitor economy for Cambridge (1.3 million visitors in 2019). The Fitzwilliam Museum is the most visited, though there has been a steady decrease in recent years from 441,000 in 2016 to 349,000 in 2019. The Cambridge University Botanic Gardens have seen a steady increase to 334,000 in 2019.

The refurbished Kettle’s Yard and the University Museum of Zoology have seen a substantial increase in numbers, 231,000 and 134,000 respectively in 2019.

Heritage tourism: East Anglia

Ickworth © David Gill

The top seven paid heritage visitor attractions in East Anglia (Norfolk and Suffolk) account for 1.1 million visitors a year (2018). Four are properties managed by the National Trust: Ickworth, Blickling Hall, Felbrigg Hall, and Oxburgh Hall. Framlingham Castle is managed by English Heritage.

Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery © David Gill

There is a single museum, the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

Sheringham Station, the Poppy Line © David Gill

The Poppy Line (North Norfolk Railway) is also in the top seven.

Chart © David Gill

Heritage tourism: Messenia

The fortress, Pylos © David Gill

Messenia in the south-west Peloponnese has been developing as a tourist destination. One of the main archaeological attractions is the classical city of Messene, and the Late Bronze palace near Pylos (‘Nestor’s Palace’). The fortresses at Pylos and Methoni are now tourist attractions in their own right with 46,000 and 71,000 visitors respectively.

Methoni © David Gill

The six archaeological sites in Messene now attract over 221,000 visitors a year (2019).

Data: Hellenic Statistical Service. Chart © David Gill

Heritage tourism: Attica

Rhamnous © David Gill

By 2019, the six staffed archaeological sites in Attica (outside Athens) had attracted over 445,000 visitors. This was a significant growth from the 179,000 in 2004. The coastal deme centre of Rhamnous only attracted 7,000 visitors in 2019, up from 2,000 in 2004.

Brauron © David Gill

The sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron attracted 32,000 visitors in 2019 up from 4,000 in 2004.

Sounion © David Gill

The most popular site was the coastal temple of Poseidon at Sounion attracting 326,000 visitors in 2019.

Eleusis © David Gill

The Telesterion at Eleusis attracted 45,000 in 2019 up from 8,000 in 2004.

Data: Hellenic Statistical Service. Chart © David Gill

The other sites are the Amphiareion and the soros at Marathon. The Amphiareion is on the tentative list for World Heritage status as part of the ancient theatre grouping. It attracted over 23,000 visitors in 2019.

Heritage tourism: Messene

Messene from Mount Ithome © David Gill

The ancient city of Messene in the Peloponnese, below Mount Ithome, is becoming an important tourist attraction for this part of Messenia. Since 2014 it has been on the UNESCO tentative list for World Heritage. Numbers to the central part of the site have been monitored since 2012, and in 2019 were over 65,000. A small proportion of visitors visit the site museum: in 2014 there were over 9,000.

Messene © David Gill

The extensive site includes some of the best preserved ancient fortifications in Greece.

Data source: Hellenic Statistical Service. Chart © David Gill

Heritage Tourism in Greece: Nestor’s Palace

Nestor’s Palace © David Gill

The bronze age palace near Pylos was the findspot of a major archive of Linear B tablets that shed light on the economy of this part of Messenia. The location is popularly known as Nestor’s Palace.

The finds from the site are displayed in the nearby Chora Museum. Notice how the forecourt makes the visual allusion to the hearth in the palace.

Chora Museum © David Gill
Chora Museum © David Gill

Both locations attract significant numbers of tourists to this part of the Peloponnese. I have added data from the nearby museum at Pylos that also contains some regional finds.

Data Source: Hellenic Statistical Service. Chart © David Gill.

Tourism and the Minoan Palatial Centres

Kato Zakro © David Gill

In 2014 the Minoan Palatial Centres of Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, Zakros, and Kydonia were placed on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The description outlines their importance:

“The palatial centres played a vital part in the evolution, development and propagation of Minoan civilisation and marked the social transformation from the proto-urban communities of the Early Bronze Age to a multifaceted and hierarchical society. The political, social, economic and religious reorganisation, the transformation of private life, and the unprecedented cultural development that emerged from the gradual centralisation of power and the accumulation of wealth, were focussed on the palatial centres, each of which covered a large populated area of Crete.

The Minoan palatial centres stand out for their unique monumental architecture, with its complex internal organisation, which passed into ancient Greek memory as the “Labyrinth”. They constituted the administrative, economic and religious centres of a wider geographical area and housed multiple activities. They not only contained the residences of the rulers and the priesthood, but were home to a multitude of people: artisans (metalworkers, potters, weavers, etc.), merchants, scribes. Various events and contests were held around the palaces.”

Figures from Hellenic Statistical Service. Chart © David Gill

By 2019 four of the palaces accounted for 1.1 million visits, with over 930,00 at Knossos itself. The Bronze Age sites of Mycenae and Tiryns in the Peloponnese account for just over 500,000 visitors (2019); they form part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Kato Zakro, the most remote of the four main palace centres, receives around 10,000 visitors a year. Mallia, next to a major resort, receives around 80,000 visitors a year, and Phaistos around 120,000.

Heritage Tourism and Greece

Knossos © David Gill

Greece will be re-opening to tourists and dropping quarantine regulations (“Greece reopens cafes, island ferries“, ekatherimini.com 25 May 2020). There is concern that Spain and Portugal will try to attract tourists from Germany (Ilias Bellos, “Greece battling Spain, Portugal for German tourists“, ekatherimini.com 26 May 2020).

These are particular challenges for Greece. Tourists from Germany, the UK, France and Italy were the main national groups bringing over 8 million visitors (in 2015). Tourists from the UK have yet to be given clearance to travel to Greece and that group is worth in the region of $750 million to the economy of Greece. Heritage tourism to a region like the Argolid is worth over $230 million to the local economy. Knossos on Crete is at the heart of one of the nation’s most popular destinations. Heritage in Greece is a major asset for the tourist economy and needs to be protected until tourist numbers can increase and generate the much needed income for the sector.

Leading Visitor Attractions 2017: National Trust for Scotland

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Glenfinnan © David Gill

The details of the Leading Visitor Attractions for 2017 are now available.  The National Trust for Scotland locations are:

  • Glenfinnan [81]: 396,448 [+57.8%]
  • Culzean Castle & Country Park [124]: 244,930 [+11.6%]
  • Inverewe Gardens [139]: 191,951 [+109.6%]
  • Culloden [145]: 180,875 [+27.6%]
  • Burns Birthplace Museum [155]: 164,316 [+1.2%]
  • Crathes Castle [171]: 121,841 [+23.7%]
  • Bannockburn [201]: 55,347 [+7.9%]
  • Falkland Palace [205]: 50,726 [+15.1%]
  • Drum Castle [208]: 46,574 [-3%]
  • Brodick Castle & Country Park [210]: 44,361 [-38.1%]
  • Pitmedden Garden [212]: 43,045 [+17.9%]
  • Hill House [220]: 28,518 [+6.2%]
  • Gladstones Land [235]: 12,061 [-44.7%]

There are two notable changes: Glenfinnan has rocketed to the top of the NTS list, and Inverewe has risen from no. 181. Inverewe’s popularity is probably its situation on the designated Scottish coastal drive NC500.

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Culloden © David Gill

NTS figures for: