TOURISM chiefs and businesses in the region are celebrating a record-breaking year of visitor numbers to major historic attractions in the north.
The government agency Historic Environment Scotland (HES) reports a 22 per cent rise in numbers drawn to iconic Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness. Close to half a million visitors made a beeline for the castle during the year while Fort George had a 24 per cent surge in footfall.
More than five million people visited HES attractions across the country, which was up by 17 per cent.
The boost has been attributed to growth in UK, European and overseas visitors but also an increase in Scots visiting the sites.
Hailing the increase, Allan Henderson, chairman of the council’s environment, development and infrastructure committee, said: "The figures come as no surprise to me. We experienced this visitor surge right across the Highlands last year and have continued to do so this year, even with an early Easter.
"While, no doubt, there’s a surge of European visitors due to the good value for the Euro, the attractions across the Highlands have upped their game by making them more attractive and opening longer hours as well as turning into year-round attractions."
He said he particularly welcomed an HES £1 admission offer to youngsters.
HES tourism director Stephen Duncan said: "It’s a tremendous achievement for Scotland’s heritage tourism sector, reflecting the continued interest shown by tourists and home-grown visitors to learn more about our rich Scottish heritage.
"The exchange rate and strong airport numbers have contributed to the growing figures."