Why Britain’s finest attractions need visitors like never before — and those who go will be rewarded: ‘You are likely to never see them so quiet again’

A huge drop in visits to the best museums, zoos and houses in Britain has prompted calls for an extra day's holiday at the end of summer to help us all enjoy them.

The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) is calling for an extra Bank Holiday this year, in September, after last week’s release of dismal 2020 figures. Over the past 14 months, most visitor sites have been closed for every single Bank Holiday and the total number of visits to ALVA’s top 294 sites in 2020 was 45.4 million, down 70% compared with 2019’s 151.3 million.

Unsurprisingly, outdoor attractions have fared well in the rankings, such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which moved up seven places to become the fourth most-visited attraction of the year, and RHS Garden Wisley, which leapt 21 places to seventh. Kew’s Wakehurst in Sussex jumped 86 places to 28th and Longleat, Westonbirt Arboretum and Horniman Museum and Gardens didn’t do badly either.

Sadly, visits to Royal Museums Greenwich declined by 96% and Edinburgh Castle 87%. ALVA director Bernard Donoghue points out that, although the extension of the furlough scheme and 5% VAT has been hugely helpful, the latter may need extending beyond the current September deadline.

The Tulip Stairs at The Queen’s House, Greenwich. Credit: Alamy

‘Although many of our members are still physically closed, they have been digitally open. Via innovative “virtual” activities, our members have continued to inspire, teach us and remain at the forefront of our minds,’ says Mr Donoghue, who is keen to promote the wonderful things ALVA members have planned, such as a UK-exclusive exhibition on nightclub design from the 1960s to today at V&A Dundee, ‘Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits’ at Royal Museums Greenwich in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery (May 28 to October 31), the opening of a new, fifth RHS Garden Bridgewater in Salford, Greater Manchester, and the V&A’s unveiling of newly refurbished Raphael Court.

‘When they reopen in April, May and June, we urge you to visit them, whether they are in the city or in the country. You are likely to never see them so quiet again and be able to get so close to wonderful art, animals and performances,’ adds Mr Donoghue.

‘Our museums and galleries, historic houses and gardens, cathedrals and palaces, castles and zoos, safari parks and heritage sites, theme parks and churches need your support more than ever before.’