MANY of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions are unable to fully re-open due to continuing restrictions and the need to make cost savings.

A survey has laid bare the devastating impact of the pandemic on the country’s historic venues, art galleries and heritage sites, which contribute £11 billion to the Scottish economy.

One in eight sites said they will be forced to remain closed for all of 2021 without further easing of coronavirus restrictions, such as social distancing, while smaller attractions, many of which are staffed by older volunteers, are at risk of shutting for good.

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Tourism experts said with the risk of a possible third wave of Covid and further lockdowns, many operators will be facing “real problems”.

Attractions are at the heart of tourism

Two-thirds of Scottish attractions due to open this week expect to operate with either reduced hours, some facilities closed, or at weekends only to keep costs down.

They include ticketed landmarks such as Edinburgh Castle – which saw visitor numbers plummet by 87.2 per cent last year – Linlithgow Palace, and free attractions such as the V&A Dundee and House for an Art Lover in Glasgow.

Other smaller venues said they were not expecting to reopen until late summer, including the Skara Brae site in Orkney.


(Table shows re-opening capacity and dates)

Overall visitor numbers slumped by almost 34 million in 2020, a fall of 63.2%, with 153 sites closed for the full 12 months, according to data from the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism at Glasgow Caledonian University.

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Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow and the National Museum of Scotland saw visitor numbers drop by  85.8% and 79.9% respectively. 


Perhaps unsurprisingly, attractions with large outdoor areas such as country parks outperformed museums, art galleries and castles.

Edinburgh Zoo was Scotland’s busiest paid-for site last year, attracting 292,631 visitors, a drop of 46.4% on the previous 12 months. 

Culloden Visitor Centre attracted 182,496 visitors as it recorded battlefield-only visits for the first time while the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh was the most popular free site with 452,479 visits.


The stark figures prompted a call from tourism leaders for 'staycationers' to support Scotland’s attractions, which have been held up by the Government for excellence in Covid safety.

Professor John Lennon, director of the Moffat Centre at GCU, said: “Normally at this time of year I’d be reporting continued growth.


'“Now what you are looking at is an overwhelming drop of 63% – literally millions of people not attending.

“Attractions are at the heart of tourism, they are the iconic representation of the country.

“The pandemic has created problems for many attractions with social distancing – often heritage buildings don’t adapt well to two-metre social distancing. 

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“A lot of the smaller attractions are really struggling to work out the economics of operation and really considering whether to reopen – and remember a lot of them are staffed by volunteers, who are perhaps over 50 or 60 so there are risks for them.

“Even with vaccinations people are anxious. And with the possibility of a third wave and further lockdowns, many are facing real problems.

“Realistically these indoor attractions are doing their best to comply with Government regulations. They have been branded exemplary in terms of their practices.”

Prof Lennon added: “Visitors should be comfortable and I would hope that domestic tourists will make the best of the time to visit the range and variety of attractions that Scotland has to offer at a time when they won’t be overcrowded and over-busy. It will be a good experience.”