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Annual audience figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions show that post-pandemic, audiences are returning quicker to cultural sites offering free entry.

interior of the main hall of National Museum of Scotland
The National Museum of Scotland, which offers free entry, remained ALVA's most visited attraction in Scotland

Mike McBey via Flickr

Audiences are returning to attractions that offer free entry quicker than those that charge admission, according to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions’ (ALVA) visitor figures for 2022.

In a year where visitor numbers to tourist sites continued to recover from pandemic-enforced closures, attractions including museums, galleries and heritage sites which are free to enter - except for special exhibitions - saw visitor numbers increase by 183% on 2021 levels. 

In comparison, those who charged admission experienced a 101% increase in visitors, with ALVA attributing the difference between the two to the ongoing costs-of-living crisis.


The total number of visits across all ALVA’s sites in 2022 was 123.4 million, a 69% increase on the previous year. But the figure remains 23% down on 2019 levels, the last year unaffected by the Covid pandemic.

While some attraction types, such as garden and leisure sites, are now seeing similar visitor numbers to pre-pandemic, the majority, including indoor arts and cultural organisations, are seeing visitor numbers remain between 23% to 32% down on 2019 figures.

ALVA Director Bernard Donoghue says 2022 audience numbers show visitors “flocked back to their favourite places to breathe, heal, repair and enjoy special moments”.

He added he believes visitor numbers to ALVA sites will see “a continuing healthy recovery”.

“Many attractions still not back up to 2019 visitor levels due, mainly, to the absence of international visitors, notably from China and the Far East [but] the year ended strongly with attractions reporting a very busy Christmas, strong visitor numbers and strong retail sales,” he said.

Audiences return to indoor sites

Indoor sites enjoyed the strongest year-on-year growth in visitors, with an 176% increase on 2021.

Indoor cultural sites benefitted from a year of no Covid-enforced closures or social distancing measures in 2022, with museums and galleries reporting a 158% increase in visitors compared with 2021 figures.

ALVA’s visitor figures for 2021 showed London to be the area slowest to recover from the pandemic. Visitor numbers to attractions in the capital have since accelerated, up 152% in 2022.

London boasts nine of the 10 most visited indoor attractions, with the majority arts and culture buildings.

The Natural History Museum retained its position as the most visited indoor attraction in 2022. Meanwhile, the British Museum, Tate Modern, Southbank Centre and The National Gallery – all saw their visitor numbers increase by more than 200% in 2022.

The National Museum of Scotland also features in the top 10 most visited indoor attractions. It retained its position as the most visited attraction in Scotland, buoyed by a 199% increase in visitors.