The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) has released its visitor figures for 2020 showing that two gardens, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and RHS Garden Wisley, have entered the top 10 for the first time.

Temperate House at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew was the fourth most visited UK attraction in 2020.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in Richmond moved up seven places to fourth with 1,226,289 visits while RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey jumped 21 places into seventh position with 993,516 visits. 

The increase in visitors to these particular attractions could be down to the fact that many outdoor attractions were able to reopen following the first lockdown much earlier than indoor sites.

What were the other most visited attractions?

The most visited attraction in the UK last year was Tate Modern with 1,431,704 visits, followed by the Natural History Museum in second place with 1,296,763 visits and British Museum with 1,275,466 visits. 

Chester Zoo was the most visited attraction outside London, moving eight places into sixth place with 1,185,652 visits. Unlike previous years, not all of the top ten were based in London.

Chester Zoo

Source: Pixabay

Chester Zoo was the most visited attraction outside London. 

However, the total number of visits to ALVA sites in 2020 was 45.4 million, representing an annual decline of 70% on the 151.3 million for 2019 due to the pandemic.

Bernard Donoghue, director of ALVA, said: “Our annual figures for 2020 reflect what a devastatingly hard year the attractions sector and the wider visitor economy faced. Tourism is the UK’s fifth biggest industry and, as these figures show, was hit first, hit hardest and will take the longest to recover.”

“Our museums and galleries, historic houses and gardens, cathedrals and palaces, castles and zoos, safari parks and heritage sites, theme parks and churches need your support more than ever before.”

Bernard Donoghue, director, ALVA.

“As we approach Easter, one of the economically important times for our members, we continue to question the Government’s decision to open non-essential retail but not indoor attractions, who will also miss the May Bank Holiday as well.

“When the attractions were open, they were open with much reduced capacity and the public’s feedback was that they were not only -safe but the visitor experience was superb. This will continue when they reopen in April, May and June – so we urge you to visit them – whether they are in the city or in the country, you are likely to never see them so quiet again and be able to get so close to wonderful art, animals and performances.”

The top 20 most visited attractions in 2020

 2020 Rank Attraction Total visits in 2020
 1 Tate Modern 1,431,704
Natural History Museum (South Kensington) 1,296,763
British Museum 1,275,466
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 1,226,289
The National Gallery 1,197,143
Chester Zoo 1,182,652
RHS Garden Wisley 993,516
V&A South Kensington 872,240
Science Museum 862,085
10  Somerset House 724,310
11  Southbank Centre 679,957
12  Horniman Museum and Gardens 606,329
13  ZSL Whipsnade zoo 550,046
14  Longleat 495,037
15  Westonbirt, The National Arboretum 484,533
16  Attingham Park 483,946
17  Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 452,479
18  ZSL London Zoo 450,252
19  Tower of London 447,812
20  National Museum of Scotland 444,437

What else do the figures show? 

Significant increases were seen by some of the top 20 attractions and for the first time, the most visited attraction in Scotland was Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh which moved up 20 places to 17th with 452,479 visits.

Other notable increases in the top 20 reflected the role some attractions have played in providing people with access to safe and well-managed outdoor spaces during the pandemic. Horniman Museum and Gardens in Forest Hill, London, leapt 29 places to 12th with 606,329 visits; ZSL Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire rose 45 places to 13th to 550,046 visits; Longleat in Wiltshire moved 20 places to 14th with 495,037 visits, while Westonbritt, The National Arboretum (Forestry England) in Gloucestershire moved 51 places to 15th with 484,533 and Attingham Park (National Trust) in Shrewsbury came in 16th place with 483,946 visits. 

In Northern Ireland, Titanic Belfast remained the most visited attraction with 159,044 visits and Mount Stewart (National Trust) in County Down was the second most visited, welcoming 155,928 visits. Also of note was Kew’s wild botanic garden, Wakehurst, in Sussex which moved up 86 places from 114 to 28 with 342,545 visits and Edinburgh Zoo which welcomed 335,625 visits. 

You can see the full list of ALVA’s 2020 visitor figures here.