In what was a memorable year for Britain, new analysis released by the national tourism agency show that 2012 continued the rise in the number of overseas visitors looking to experience the very best of what Britain has to offer.
Unsurprisingly, London was the star performer in a year in which it became the first city to ever host three modern Olympics.
A year of celebrations, which included the Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, provided visitors with a myriad of activities to enjoy alongside the capital’s already impressive tourist offer, with nearly 15.5 million visitors from around the world came to London in 2012.
This accounted for half of all visits to the UK and reconfirmed London’s status as one of the most visited cities on the planet.
Scotland’s two biggest cities see the Scots well represented. Edinburgh - home to more Michelin starred restaurants than any other part of the UK outside London - was in second place on the table with 1.3 million visits, while Glasgow (521,000) at sixth gained nearly ten per cent more visits compared to 2011.
Inverness (213,000) and Aberdeen (208,000) also feature in the Top 20 most visited destinations.
South of Hadrian’s Wall, Manchester (932,000) maintained its solid overseas visitor numbers, followed by Birmingham (713,000) and then a resurgent Liverpool (550,000), who have visitor numbers last witnessed when it was European City of Culture.
In the battle of Oxbridge, Oxford (430,000) repeated its feat in this year’s Boat Race by staying ahead of Cambridge (398,000), although a three per cent rise in visits means Cambridge has narrowed the gap to just 32,000 since 2011 and means it just pips Bristol (395,000).
Along with Team GB, the Olympic year saw Brighton & Hove witness a record haul with 345,000 international visitors heading to the laid-back south coast beach front also famed for its superb shopping, vibrant nightlife and eclectic royal palace.
The Royal County of Berkshire rounds out the Top 20 table, with Reading (196,000) heralding its return to the upper echelons by overtaking Windsor (182,000).
Across in Wales, Cardiff (301,000) has moved up the leader board, with 41,000 more visits to the Welsh capital than in 2010.
Bragging rights with neighbours Swansea (67,000) will undoubtedly intensify as Cardiff City get set to play in the Barclays Premier League for the first time next season.
Meanwhile, the Dorset town of Bournemouth (178,000) will be hoping that its healthy gains in 2012 can be replicated again this year.
The coastal retreat welcomed a 38 per cent increase in overseas visits last year, propelling it up the table and only just being edged out from returning to the Top 20, something it hasn’t been in since 2000.
Elsewhere, Penzance welcomed a 68 per cent rise in visits from 2011, and Ipswich was up 43 per cent.
As well as providing overall visitor numbers, analysis of the 2012 figures also provides useful insight on the appeal of Britain’s regions, towns and cities among key inbound markets.
Last year proved to be a good year from the highly sort after BRIC markets.
There was a 30 per cent rise in the number of BRIC visits to Scotland (82,000 overall).
Of this, Edinburgh witnessed a ten per cent rise and Glasgow 54 per cent.
Wales saw an 18 per cent rise from the BRICs and south-west England welcomed a 12 per cent increase.
London recorded a four per cent rise, although this still equated to a substantial number of visits (706,000).
Remaining the top market, nearly double the amount of visitors from the US (198,000) went to Edinburgh than those from France (101,000), this despite a 26 per cent increase in the number of French visiting the Scottish capital.
Glasgow saw a 31 per cent rise in visits from the US.
Minister for tourism Hugh Robertson said: “We showcased the very best of Britain last year encouraging overseas visitors to come and see for themselves what our great country has to offer.
“I am encouraged that destinations across Britain have seen visitor numbers rise and we will do all we can to keep up that momentum.
“Tourism spend is up and I am confident that the industry can continue to grow and increase its contribution to the economy further.”