New Fáilte Ireland figures show that some of the country’s best-known free attractions are losing out to those that charge.
Details revealed by the tourist body show that last year Ireland’s 10 most popular fee-paying sites were visited by more than 6.158m people.
The figure is up almost 25%, from 4.67m, since 2009, with all of the sites showing increases during the recession.
However, when it comes to the number of people visiting free attractions a very different picture emerges, with four of the top 10 locations in this category witnessing a drop in visitors.
These sites saw 3.529m people arrive at their gates last year, half the rate for charging locations during the same period and just 104,000 visitors higher than in 2009 — raising questions about whether Irish people and tourists are searching hard enough for the best deals.
According to the latest annual figures, the Guinness Store House, Dublin Zoo, the Cliffs of Moher, the National Aquatic Centre, and the Book of Kells remain our more popular attractions, with the Store House and the zoo combined attracting more than 2m people last year.
Other locations, including Fota Wildlife Park and Blarney Castle, are also high on the list, while historical sites such as Kilmainham gaol are continuing to grab attention from home and abroad.
Among the most popular free locations are the National Gallery of Ireland, the Botanic Gardens, Farmleigh, the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin, and the Natural History Museum.
Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar said the figures are “a good reminder of the huge range of visitor attractions that we have in Ireland. As our tourism strategies become ever more focused on different types of visitor, this list is a useful guide of where they are going during their visit.”
* Guinness Store House (1.087m visitors in 2012, up from 1.019m in 2009);
* Dublin Zoo (1.029m in 2012, up from 932,000 in 2009);
* Cliffs of Moher (873,988 in 2012, up from 763,758 in 2009);
* National Aquatic Centre (813,406 in 2012, up from 723,974 in 2009);
* Book of Kells (561,259 in 2012, up from 478,304 in 2009).
* National Gallery of Ireland (660,486 visitors in 2012, down from 782,469 in 2009);
* National Botanic Gardens (544,685 in 2012, down from 612,000 in 2009);
* National Museum of Ireland — Archeology (409,275 in 2012, up from 370,965 in 2009);
* Farmleigh (375,064 in 2012, up from 245,937 in 2009);
* Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin (302,171 in 2012, up from 245,000 in 2009).