Please dad, can we go to Legoland instead?

Britain's top tourist attractions are drawing more visitors than ever before.

But, as Amanda Kelly discovered, it is not just the traditional choices that are pulling in the crowds.

The plastic world of Legoland is a more popular choice for an afternoon out than the grand walls of Buckingham Palace, according to a survey published today.

The toymaker's pleasure park beat off competition from 20 other leading sights opened between 1992 and 1996 to become Britain's top new tourist attraction.

In the year since it first opened its doors in1996, more than 1.4 million people went to see the model village in Windsor, Berkshire, which is made entirely out of the children's plastic building blocks.

Joanna Oswin, a spokeswoman for Legoland, Joanna Oswin said: "We are strongly rated by the kids themselves and playground cred is high. We have thrills of a different kind and rides on a different scale - providing excitement, adventure, interaction and fun. With parents, it's the strength and quality of the Lego brand."

The next most popular attraction was Deep Sea World at Queensferry in Scotland which had 403,319 visitors, while Buckingham Palace came in third place with 398,000 visitors, although it is only open to tourists for two months of the year while the Queen is at Balmoral.

The survey, carried out for the tourist boards in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, showed that overall there were 402 million visitors to attractions, with spending by trippers up 10 per cent to a record pounds 2.1bn. The average admission charge for adults was pounds 2.58.

Of the destinations which were open before 1992, Alton Towers came top for the fifth consecutive year with 2.7 million paying customers and the most popular free attraction was Blackpool Pleasure Beach, with 7.5 million visits.

But it is not just theme parks and fairgrounds that have enjoyed a successful year. Visits to museums and art galleries jumped 5 per cent to 79.6 million, visits to wildlife attractions were up 7 per cent to 22.4 million, while visits to farms rose between 1989 and 1996 by 65 per cent.

The growing popularity of period television dramas has also helped to boost the number of people visiting some of the country's most picturesque historical buildings. The appearance of Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire as the setting for the film of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice helped it to pull in 64,670 visitors, while Little Moreton Hall, Cheshire, where Moll Flanders was shot, attracted 64,935.

A spokesman for the English Tourist Board, said: "It has been a really good year for the industry. I think this is partly down to the large amounts of money being invested in better facilities. Thorpe Park, for example, hasd recently opened the darkest and first-ever backwards roller- coaster ... The attractions are also marketing themselves better so people are finding out about places they wouldn't otherwise know existed."

The top 20 new attractions

The top 20 attractions opened between 1992 and 1996, which charge admission, are:

Attraction 1996

visits

Legoland, Windsor 1,420,511

Deep Sea World, North Queensferry 403,319

Buckingham Palace, London 398,000

Birmingham National Sea Life Centre 390,000

Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds 382,000

Eureka Museum for Children, Halifax 365,000

Anything to Declare? HM Customs

Museum, Liverpool 349,059

World of Coronation St, Blackpool 250,000

Lost Gardens of Heligan, St Austell 200,000

Tate Gallery, St Ives 180,000

Loudoun Castle Theme Park, Galston 171,943

Shakespeare's Globe Exhibition, London 155,429

Amazonia, Bowness in Windermere 150,000

Exploris, Portaferry 137,023

Museum of Liverpool Life 117,799

Denbies Wine Estate, Dorking 115,000

Breadalbane Folklore Centre, Killin 109,939

Stapehill Abbey Crafts and Gardens, Wimborne 108,939

Fantasy Ireland, Portrush 103,453

South Lakes Wild Animal Park, Dalton in Furness 100,768

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