DURHAM Cathedral has been named as one of the country’s most visited free attractions.

The 900-year-old Norman shrine was the 20th most visited free attraction in England and the only one in the North East to make the list, which was compiled by Visit England after surveying around 1,500 places.

Meanwhile Flamingo Land, in North Yorkshire, was the sixth most popular paid for attraction.

Though visitor numbers to churches dropped nationwide Durham Cathedral had more people visiting in 2015 than the previous year, rising to around 755,000.

Philip Davies, chapter clerk at the cathedral, said: “Durham Cathedral attracts over 700,000 visitors each year and we are delighted to be amongst the top 20 most visited attractions in the UK.

“This summer we opened the doors to Open Treasure, our new world-class exhibition experience which will encourage even more people to visit this wonderful cathedral and enjoy its history, heritage and spirituality.”

The top three free attractions were the British Museum, National Gallery and Natural History Museum, while 14 of the top 20 were in London.

While fewer people were visiting churches, more people went to gardens, farms and theme parks.

Flamingo Land, in Kirby Misperton, near Pickering , had 1,470, 828 visitors in 2015.

The most popular paid-for attraction in the country was the Tower of London.

Visit England chief executive Sally Balcombe said: “The attractions sector is an integral part of our national tourism offer and plays a crucial role in driving economic growth across all of England’s regions.

“It’s great to see that more people explored the country’s stunning gardens and scenery in 2015, and we will be further highlighting gardens to visitors this year as we celebrate 2016 as the Year of the English Garden.”

Tourism Minister Tracey Crouch said: “Year after year, our world-class tourist attractions continue to draw millions of visitors not just into London, but to the country as a whole.

“It is fantastic to see such strong growth across the regions, particularly in rural and coastal communities.

“Tourism contributes around £60 billion to our economy every year and these results show that the benefits of this thriving industry are being spread more evenly around the country.”