Free visitor attractions in England saw a 6% rise in visitor numbers last year while paid-for attractions suffered a decline of 1%.

Most of the top 20 places of interest were museums or art galleries, with the British Museum retaining its top spot with 5.8 million visitors, up 5% on 2009.

The most popular non-charging attractions were the Tate Modern, the National Gallery and the Natural History Museum, all in London.

Other popular free attractions included the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Museums Sheffield and the World Museum Liverpool.

The Tower of London topped the paid-for category with 2.4 million visits, followed by St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Windermere Lake Cruises, and Flamingo Land Theme Park and Zoo, according to the survey of 1,082 sites by VisitEngland.

The tourism body’s chief executive James Berresford said: “England has a wealth of top class visitor attractions, many of which are free.

“We know Britons are even more worried about the economy and this will have an impact on their holiday choices.

“Competition on the world stage is tough and it is the quality of our attractions that will help to ensure that people come back time and time again to visit something new, exciting and unique to England.”