TOURIST attractions along the North Coast 500, the Highland touring route recently dubbed Scotland's Route 66, had a third more visits last year after the rising popularity of the holiday circuit of Scotland.

New industry figures from the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) show that visits to its member sites rose dramatically in 2017 - for the fourth year running - with over 30 million visits to 232 of the organisation’s attractions last year, a rise of 9.7 per cent over the previous year.

The two top sites – the National Museum of Scotland and Edinburgh Castle – each attracted more than two million visits, the first time that any visitor attraction in Scotland has surpassed the two million milestone.

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However, the Highlands also had a huge increase in tourist numbers last year, with Inverewe Garden in Wester Ross recording a 110 per cent rise driven in part by the recent popularity of the North Coast 500 touring route, boosted by marketing and the comparison to the famous US road trip route.

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VisitScotland, the national tourism agency, said that the popularity of the touring route has "undoubtedly helped bring more visitors to the area and encouraged them to explore the local visitor offering when here".

Also on the way, Urqhuart Castle had a 23 per cent rise between 2016-2017, Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre and Glen Ord Distillery Visitor Centre 28 per cent each.

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Malcolm Roughead, VisitScotland chief executive, said: “Scotland’s visitor attractions are a valuable part of our country’s outstanding tourism offering, showcasing our rich history and sharing Scotland’s story with visitors from far and wide.

"It is fantastic to see such strong growth in numbers for the fourth year running.

“The continued impact of the Outlander effect and the growing popularity of whisky tourism are also positioning Scotland as an unmissable destination for film and food and drink experiences."

HeraldScotland: Outlander Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan)
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Clea Warner, general manager of National Trust for Scotland North West said: "Investment by the trust in new attractions such as Brodie Castle’s Playful Garden and Inverewe House together with our wide ranging events offer are helping to attract new audiences to experience the fantastic stories, history and heritage of the area.

"Continuing to work in partnership across the region as we move forward is key to its ongoing growth and success."

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Overall, 77 per cent of attractions reported an increase over 2016 figures, with a significant number noting that 2017 was their "best year to date".

Businesses which fared particularly well in 2017 include castles and heritage sites - up 14.7 per cent - museums and galleries, up 7.5 per cent and and gardens which were up 13.6 per cent.

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The so-called Outlander effect continued to benefit many sites featuring in the cult TV series, as well as others with Jacobite connections, with large increases in visitor numbers recorded at attractions including Glasgow Cathedral 31 per cent), Castle Fraser (49 per cent) and Glenfinnan Monument (58 per cent) .

Distilleries and whisky-related attractions also enjoyed a successful year, with notable rises recorded at Blair Athol Distillery Visitor Centre (18 per cent), Caol Ila Distillery Visitor Centre (32 per cent), and Kingsbarns Distillery (30 per cent), while The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh welcomed 16 per cent more visitors through its doors.

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Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Tourism, said: “These latest figures demonstrate that our visitor attractions are continuing to create quality experiences, helping build our reputation as a premier tourism destination for people from around the world.”

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The North Coast 500. Image: Google/NorthCoast500.com

Douglas Walker, chairman of ASVA said: “These figures demonstrate that the visitor attractions sector in Scotland is in robust health.

"Attractions that have invested in their visitor offer by developing innovative new products and services and launching inspiring events and exhibitions programmes, supported by creative and effective marketing campaigns, are not only reaching new visitor markets but are actively encouraging their existing visitors to return time and again”.