London tourist sites suffer in wake of Paris attacks and Calais crisis

Strikes and the Calais crisis also hit Kent, as visitors chose to go further north

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The Independent Online

Major tourist attractions in London and the South-east suffered last year in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and the travel chaos caused by the Calais crisis.

Many popular museums including The National Gallery, Natural History Museum, Southbank Centre, Tate Modern, the Science Museum and the Tower of London experienced a decline in numbers in 2015, according to new figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva).

Anecdotal evidence suggests many would-be tourists were put off visiting the capital in the aftermath of November’s Isis attacks on entertainment venues in Paris. 

Attractions in Kent also suffered as a result of the disruption caused by a combination of strikes by French port workers and attempts by migrants to reach the UK from Calais. Police were forced to convert stretches of the M20 into a near-permanent lorry park in an attempt to mitigate the chaos, which put off day-trippers to the county.

Bernard Donoghue, director of Alva, said: “Our members told us that the poor weather had an effect, and our members in the South-east did see a decrease during Operation Stack in Kent as well as following the Paris attacks.”

Overall, visits to London attractions increased by 1.6 per cent from 2014 – a significantly smaller rise than in other regions of the UK.

Last year there were 124.4 million visits to top sites across the UK, up 3.2 per cent since 2014. A total of 65.2 million visits were made to London attractions. Of these the British Museum was most popular, and a 2 per cent increase to 6.8 million visitors meant it was the top site in the UK for the ninth year in a row.

In second place was The National Gallery with 5.9 million visitors, attracted by exhibitions such Goya: The Portraits. But the numbers were down 8 per cent after it was hit by closures following a number of strikes by employees. 

Mr Donoghue said: “More people visited the British Museum and the National Gallery, combined, than visited Barcelona.” 

Tate Modern visits dropped almost a fifth to 4.7 million, as the gallery failed to match the success of its 2014 Henri Matisse exhibit. A spokeswoman said the gallery remained “the world’s most popular gallery of modern and contemporary art”, attracting on average between 4.5 million and 5 million visitors a year.

Scottish attractions rose 5.5 per cent and Edinburgh Castle, the most popular, had 1.6 million visitors. The most popular attraction outside London was the Library of Birmingham in 11th place with 1.8 million visitors. Chester Zoo, which saw an 18 per cent increase to 1.7 million visitors, was the most visited paid-for attraction in England outside London.

There was a 3.5 per cent increase in visits to gardens, and it was a record year for the Royal Horticultural Society, with an increase of 6.1 per cent to more than 1 million visitors to RHS Garden Wisley.

Culture club: Success stories

Victoria and Albert Museum

An exhibition of the work of Alexander McQueen, the British fashion designer, last year became the most popular ever staged at the V&A. It sold more than 480,000 tickets for Savage Beauty and for the first time opened the museum overnight for an exhibition. 

Somerset House

Visitors to Somerset House in central London rose by almost a third, which Alva put down to the success of its temporary exhibitions and public programmes. There was strong demand to watch PJ Harvey recording her ninth album at the venue over a four-week period. 

Library of Birmingham

Despite its financial problems, the library – which opened in April 2013 – remained the most visited free attraction outside London, with 1.83 million visitors.