Charting a return of visitors to some of Yorkshire's best-loved attractions including Whitby Abbey, Harewood House and York's National Railway Museum

From the dramatic ruins of Fountains Abbey to the heritage splendour of Harewood House, there is so much to celebrate within Yorkshire's landscapes.

Now, as new figures outline visitor numbers to some of the nation's best-known tourism settings, it confirms a movement towards the great outdoors.

While there is some way to go to mark a complete return to pre-pandemic levels, a number of attractions in the region have risen in the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA)’s visitor number rankings.

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They include York Minster, Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds City Museums. At Whitby Abbey, visitor numbers more than doubled between 2020 and 2021 to 144,246, according to the ALVA report.

Whitby Abbey. Image by Bruce RollinsonWhitby Abbey. Image by Bruce Rollinson
Whitby Abbey. Image by Bruce Rollinson

To Mark Williamson, English Heritage's property manager for the site, this has been a time of exploration, while 2022 marks a "big year" as the 125th anniversary of Bram Stoker's Dracula.

He said: "Last year so many people re-discovered beautiful places on their doorstep.

"The Abbey’s location on the Yorkshire coast made it the perfect day out for both local people and holidaymakers."

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Harewood House. Image by Tony JohnsonHarewood House. Image by Tony Johnson
Harewood House. Image by Tony Johnson

The total number of visits to the top 306 ALVA sites in 2021 was 67.8m, which was a 25 per cent increase on the previous year as restrictions eased.

Attractions still need continued support, the body warned however, with visitors numbers overall last year remaining 57 per cent below 2019's figures.

London saw the weakest returns, with visitor numbers up 17 per cent compared with 26 per cent for other areas of England, linked with settings in the capital being closed for more days.

Sites which were primarily outdoors welcomed back just 17 per cent fewer visitors in 2021 than in 2019, while museums and galleries saw visitor numbers around 73 per cent down.

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Fountains Abbey. Image by James HardistyFountains Abbey. Image by James Hardisty
Fountains Abbey. Image by James Hardisty

Bucking the trend for Yorkshire was York's National Railway Museum, which saw visitor numbers rise 56 per cent to 346,313.

Director Judith McNicol said it had been a "delight" to see visitors return, with the museum's Railway Heroes exhibition proving particular popular, and with free admission meaning it didn't break the bank.

She added: “We’re so grateful to our visitors for their continued support throughout the pandemic, but it has all been possible thanks to the incredible hard work of our staff and volunteers at the museum.”

Rise in visitor numbers

At Chatsworth, the historic house and gardens has risen 11 places to be the 30th most visited setting in the UK.

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Jonathan Fish, head of marketing at Chatsworth, said it had been wonderful to see so many people return as restrictions eased last year.

With limits on the number of people indoors, tickets had often sold out. He added: "However with 105 acres to explore in the garden, and over 1,000 in the park, we’re fortunate to have plenty of beautiful spaces that people were able to enjoy safely meeting friends and family."

This year will see significant additions to the estate's park, with 12 vast sculptures from Nevada's Burning Man event and accompanied free exhibitions opening to the public next month.

"With the cost of living increases in the UK at the moment, we want to ensure that Chatsworth is accessible for everyone, and hope that people will enjoy this free event," added Mr Fish.

Yorkshire attractions

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Among the key findings for Yorkshire was a significant return for a great number of ALVA site members, particularly those with outdoor and grounds access.

Harewood House, with its vast gardens and estate, rose 38 places to become the 85th most visited attraction with 247,761. York Minster rose to 80th place, from 102nd, with 266,183.

Nationwide, the most visited indoor attraction was London's Natural History Museum with more than 1.5m visits, and the top outdoor attraction was Windsor Great Park with 5.4m visitors.

One of the most significant increases was Beamish, which moved up nine places to 27th, while Chatsworth rose 11 places to 30th with a 94 per cent increase to 540,927 visits.

Policy call

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ALVA director Bernard Donoghue said this year's analysis was unique, charting a vast spectrum of tourism and of attractions still struggling which are more usually reliant on overseas visitors.

He has called for a reversal of policies that mean EU school and youth groups need to travel on a passport rather than ID cards, in hopes of boosting some of the nation's best-loved settings.

He added: "The decision to end tax free shopping should be overturned as it is making the UK uncompetitive in the highly lucrative retail tourism market; and the reduced level of VAT for accommodation and attractions should be retained for at least the next financial year."


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