Region's visitor attractions bounce back with strong summer season

St Edmundsbury Cathedral viewed from the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Phil Morl

The Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds welcomed more than one million visitors last year - Credit: Archant

Visitor numbers at some of the region's attractions exceeded pre-pandemic levels over the summer as venues in Suffolk and Essex look to bounce back from the coronavirus crisis. 

Several key attractions across the two counties have reported a busy and successful summer season following the lifting of almost all remaining Covid restrictions on July 19. 

Sue Warren, from Bury St Edmunds and Beyond, the town’s official tourism brand, said an increased number of people wanting to holiday in Suffolk this year helped boost numbers. 

She said: “The majority of our attractions have reported a very good summer season with many seeing increased visitors on pre-Covid numbers.

"Many of our hotels were at 95%+ occupancy for the summer and are starting to see strong autumn and Christmas bookings and many of our self-catering accommodation were fully booked until September.

“We are delighted that we have had such a strong season which has no doubt been down to people wanting to holiday here in the UK, coupled with increased marketing by Bury St Edmunds and Beyond and our partners across the town."

But she also warned that businesses still face challenges ahead. 

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"There were significant periods last year and this year when they could not trade and Brexit is also causing issues with staffing and supplies," she added. 

Ipswich Borough Council said since its museums reopened on May 18, Ipswich Museum has had 18,216 visitors while 20,806 went to Christchurch Mansion. 

The Power of Stories exhibition at the mansion made August a record month for visitors, with 9,884 people attending. 

A spokesman for the council said there has been a significant increase in visits to the mansion and numbers are back to pre-lockdown levels at Ipswich Museum. 

Carole Jones, Ipswich Borough Council portfolio holder for museums, said: “It’s great that the numbers visiting Ipswich museum are now back to where they were before lockdown and that a record number of people attended the Power of Stories exhibition at Christchurch Mansion last month.

“I’m sure many more will want to see the free Power of Stories exhibition - with its three costumes from Marvel’s ground-breaking Black Panther film - before it closes on October 24.

"Of course, Ipswich Museum is full of fascinating old favourites, and next door in Ipswich Art Gallery, 'Meet Our Nearest Neighbour, the Moon' is an exhibition well worth seeing."

Christchurch Mansion is at the heart of the park, which has been shortlisted for an award. Picture:

Christchurch Mansion saw record visitor numbers in August - Credit: Archant

Colchester Castle, Europe’s largest Norman Keep and a key tourist attraction in the region, has also seen visitor numbers bounce back. 

For the period July 19 to the end of August 2021, the castle recorded 13,987 visitors compared to 12,958 for the same period in 2019.

Council bosses believe the increase in visitors can be attributed to several factors, with one of the main reasons being that although Colchester Castle is an indoor venue, it also has large open spaces - making it a safe considered choice for visitors. 

During this period, income was also up nearly 30%, as visitors spent notably in the castle shop, and many took advantage of extras on offer such as guided tours and other bespoke experiences. 

Colchester castle basks in the summer sun waiting for the invading armies to arrive for their Histor

Visitor numbers at Colchester Castle in 2021 were up on 2019 levels - Credit: Gregg Brown

Darius Laws, portfolio holder for economy, business and heritage for Colchester Borough Council, said: "Travel restrictions have forced many visitors to explore both local areas and further afield, and what they have discovered at the castle is a safe, fantastic museum with world class displays.

"The current exhibition and new interactives that were in put in place during lockdown have also been important in encouraging people back and engaging new visitors.” 

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