Research released by VisitBritain reveals that in 2011, 6.7 million international tourists visited a religious building and those whose visit included this activity spent nearly £5 billion during their stay.
Figures show that 22 per cent of the total visits to the UK last year visited a religious building with 35 per cent of that collective on holiday.
Visiting churches and cathedrals consistently rates highly as one of the top priorities for international tourists.
Whether it’s enjoying the sumptuous architecture at Glasgow Cathedral and St Paul’s or retracing the steps of Will and Kate’s wedding at Westminster Abbey – Britain’s religious buildings are in high demand.
Evensong is a great way to listen to music for free, with Christmas coming up the Carol service from King’s College Chapel Cambridge, broadcast since 1928, is popular around the world (A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols).
Or if you want some real history, admire St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire which dates back to the sixth century or discover the treasures of Mappa Mundi in Hereford.
When looking at a market by market breakdown we see some interesting trends developing.
Of all the countries on holiday, visiting a religious building is most prevalent with the Brazilians (55 per cent), followed by Australia and USA (49 per cent) then Russia (45 per cent) and China (45 per cent).
Churches remain an important part of the British tourism product with many visiting a church while on holiday.
Research suggests that although churches and cathedrals are not seen as a deciding factor when choosing a break, they have an important impact on the visitor’s experience – offering a ‘hidden opportunity to explore’.
Sandie Dawe, chief executive, VisitBritain, said: “Whether it’s for the glorious architecture, stained glass windows, connections with famous people or just some peace and quiet – religious buildings have become a fundamental part of our tourism offering.
“Overseas visitors rate Britain 4th out of 50 nations for built heritage – it is one of the major drivers for international visitors and an asset where Britain is truly world-class.”
Britain’s greatest cathedrals are often used for theatrical productions, TV and film (Harry Potter, Da Vinci Code), choral concerts and festivals which are all of great interest to tourists across the world.