SCOTLAND'S national museum has become the most visited cultural attraction outside London.
The revamped National Museum on Chambers Street in Edinburgh experienced a remarkable 141% increase in visitors following its £47 million refurbishment.
The museum re-opened in July last year and attracted almost 1.5 million people – achieving the museum's original target of one million visitors in less than four months, making it the 12th most visited museum or gallery in the UK last year.
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In the figures, released by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva), there was also success for one of Glasgow's newest attractions, the Riverside Museum, with more than one million visitors to the new waterfront building designed by "starchitect" Zaha Hadid.
The list, topped by the British Museum, National Gallery and Tate Modern in London, showed differing fortunes for two other Glasgow galleries – Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum attracted 981,061 visitors, down 8.4% in 2011, although the Gallery of Modern Art, or Goma, posted a healthy rise of 24%, up to 608,680, mainly due to the success of the British Art Show.
The Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh posted figures of 925,574, down more than 4%, although the newly revamped and acclaimed Scottish National Portrait Gallery attracted 52,869 in the short time since its re-opening.
Edinburgh Castle retains its position as the number one paid-for tourist attraction in the list with 1.3 million visitors.
National Museums Scotland director Dr Gordon Rintoul said: "I am delighted the latest Alva visitor figures confirm the National Museum of Scotland is the leading visitor attraction outside of London.
"These results are testimony to our achievement in creating a truly world-class visitor attraction which brings, and will continue to bring, huge benefits to the country's tourism economy."
Councillor George Redmond, chairman of Glasgow Life, the body that runs the city's museums and galleries, said: "Glasgow museums recorded almost 3.4 million visits across our estate in 2011, up by 36%, making our civic collection the best performing in the UK.
"A full 21 years since Glasgow celebrated as the UK's first European Capital of Culture, the city's bold vision of transforming our fortunes through investment in culture and sport has more than paid off."
Alva director Bernard Donoghue said: "The attractions figures for Scotland for 2011 are truly impressive. The refurbished National Museum of Scotland saw a massive 141% increase in visitor figures over 2010 and was the most visited free attraction in Scotland.
"Edinburgh Castle was the most visited 'paid-for' attraction, with an 8% increase in visitor numbers over the previous year, and two other Historic Scotland properties, Stirling Castle and Urquhart Castle, also increased visitor numbers."
He added: "Scottish attractions' successes demonstrate very clearly political and financial investment in building new attractions or refurbishing existing ones, results in real returns on investment for the Scottish local and national economies, for job creation, for regeneration and in delivering a truly quality Scottish experience and welcome for visitors from home and abroad.
"The Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh also saw an increase in 2011 and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery's recently completed very successful refurbishment will attract new larger audiences in 2012."
The members of Alva are the UK's most popular, iconic and important museums, galleries, palaces, castles, cathedrals, zoos, historic houses, heritage sites, gardens and leisure attractions. The 42 members manage some 2000 tourist sites and welcome more than 100 million domestic and overseas visitors each year.