Scotland’s top 20 most-visited attractions

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Did you know that over 32 million visits were made to Scotland’s visitor attractions last year?

That’s not surprising to us, as we know about the wealth of amazing sights spread right across the country, from a fantastic range of awe-inspiring museums and galleries, grand heritage properties and crumbling ruins to rich and malty-smelling distilleries and fun-filled outdoor activity centres. Scotland truly is packed with fascinating places to visit.

In 2013, there were over 225,000 more visits to sites across the country than in 2012. We’ve compiled images of some of the most-visited attractions below. If you find that there are some that you haven’t been to yet, why not make 2014 the year that you discover them for yourself?

1. National Museum of Scotland

Set on Edinburgh’s Chambers Street, this museum is a treasure trove of ancient artefacts and precious objects. It’s the most popular attraction in the UK outside of London and offers a great, year-round programme of temporary exhibitions.

The Grand Gallery in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

2. Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is a true icon of Scotland and has dominated the skyline of the capital for centuries. Unusually, it’s set atop of an extinct volcano. It takes the title as Scotland’s most-visited paid-for attraction.

Edinburgh Castle

3. Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum

You’ll want to keep coming back to this museum time and time again. Set next to a classic Victorian park by the River Kelvin in Glasgow’s west end, it houses a staggering 8,000 objects in over 22 beautiful galleries.

Heads - sculptures by Sophie Cave on show in the Expression Court of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow

4. St Giles’ Cathedral

Located halfway down the historic Royal Mile, the framed crown spire of St Giles’ Cathedral is one of the most recognisable features of Edinburgh skyline.

A visitor takes a picture inside the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle, in St Giles' Cathedral, Royal Mile, Edinburgh

5. Scottish National Gallery

 The gallery houses Scotland’s national collection of fine art from the early Renaissance to the end of the 19th century. The walls are adorned by masterpieces, from Raphael, Velázquez and Vermeer to Monet, Cézanne and Van Gogh, as well as works of Scottish artists.

Visitor look upon pictures in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

6. Edinburgh Zoo

With over 1,000 animals from every corner of the globe, including giant pandas, a visit to Edinburgh Zoo is a fantastic family day out. Meet the penguins at the famous Penguin Parade and get closer than ever before to chimpanzees at the new state-of-the-art Budongo Trail.

Tian Tian, the female giant panda at Edinburgh Zoo

7. Riverside Museum

Opened in 2011, the spectacular Riverside Museum sits on the River Clyde and is home to the Glasgow Museum of Transport. It is full of fascinating objects and vehicles which tell the story of Scotland’s past and present.

Riverside Museum - Scotland's Museum of Transport and Travel on the River Clyde, Glasgow

8. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Founded in 1670 and considered to be one of the finest gardens in the world, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh offers 72 acres of peace and tranquility and is only a stone’s throw from the bustling city centre.

Inside one of the Glasshouses in the Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden

9. National War Museum

Set within the walls of Edinburgh Castle, this museum is filled with exhibits and artefacts that tell the tale of the impact of war on Scotland’s history, identity and reputation abroad.

A display from the National War Museum, which is housed inside Edinburgh Castle

10. Gallery of Modern Art

In this stunning neo-classical building in Glasgow’s Royal Exchange Square, gaze upon contemporary artworks that are the result of the interests, influences and working methods of artists from around the world.

The exterior of the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) in Exchange Square, Glasgow

11. Edinburgh Bus Tours

The third most popular paid-for attraction in Scotland, Edinburgh Bus Tours provide a selection of themed open top tours that take you to some of the city’s most remarkable sights and attractions.

A MacTours Sightseeing Bus on George IV Bridge with the National Museum of Scotland visible beyond, in the city centre of Edinburgh

12. Stirling Castle

This historic castle is one of the finest and best-preserved Renaissance buildings in the whole of the UK and was the favoured residence for many of Scotland’s kings and queens.

The exterior of Stirling Castle

13. The Falkirk Wheel

A feat of engineering, the Falkirk Wheel is the world’s only rotating boatlift, and is used to connect the Forth & Clyde and Union canals in central Scotland. Take a boat trip on it and experience soaring through the air.

The engineering wonder of the Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boatlift, and the visitor centre

14. Glasgow Science Centre

Discover science and technology in unique and fun ways at the Glasgow Science Centre. There are two acres of interactive exhibits, workshops, shows, activities, a planetarium to explore and an IMAX cinema.

The Glasgow Science Centre with the IMAX cinema beyond, west of the city centre of Glasgow

15. The Scottish Parliament

Set in a unique modern building in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town World Heritage Site, visit and see the debating chamber or take a tour of the building and learn about its architecture, the parliament system and see some of the art collection.

The exterior of teh Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh

16. Urquhart Castle

The fairy tale-like Urquhart Castle sits in a dramatic location on the banks of Loch Ness. These ruins date back thousands of years and the events that have played out on this site have shaped the history of the Highlands.

The majestic ruins of Urquhart Castle on the bankc of Loch Ness, near Drumnadrochit, Highlands

17. The People’s Palace Museum

Situated on Glasgow Green, the People’s Palace is filled with relics and interactives which tell the story of Glasgow and its people, while the adjacent pretty Winter Gardens is filled with exotic palms and plants.

The People's Palace at dusk. with the restored Doulton Fountain in the foreground, in Glasgow

18. The Scotch Whisky Experience

Improve your whisky knowledge at the Scotch Whisky Experience, Scotland’s 5-star premier whisky attraction. Take a barrel ride through a replica distillery and discover how whisky – uisge beatha meaning ‘the water of life’ is made, and learn about the whisky regions.

The Collection Room at the Scotch Whisky Experience, Edinburgh

19. Our Dynamic Earth

Take a fascinating journey back through space and time at Our Dynamic Earth. Sitting in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat in the capital, at this attraction you can discover the history of our planet and glimpse into the future – great family fun.

The exterior of science-based attraction Our Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh

20. New Lanark World Heritage Site

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, visit idyllic New Lanark and uncover the absorbing story of this former cotton mill village which was founded in the 18th century.

Looking down across New Lanark, a conservation village with UNESCO World Heritage Site status

In 2013, hundreds of thousands of visitors were drawn to our great special exhibitions and events which took place across the country. Read our blog post on some of the best temporary exhibitions in Scotland which will take place in the upcoming months and pop the dates of those must-see exhibitions in your diary.

If you’re planning on visiting some of Scotland’s fantastic attractions, we’d love you to share your experience with us. Post your snaps on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and don’t forget to use the hashtag #brilliantmoments!

Find more ideas and inspiration for things to see and do in Scotland.

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Amy Robertson

Amy is media executive at VisitScotland. Hailing from the west coast of Scotland, she's rather fond of music festivals, coastal walks, whisky and coal fires.

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