WHISKY fans made a record 1.7 million visits to distilleries last year, it has emerged.

Traffic was up eight per cent on 2015 as more sites opened their doors to tourists, according to the latest annual survey by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).

Visits to pay-to-enter sites have increased by around a quarter since 2010 and more than half of the country’s 123 Scotch facilities are now open to the public.

Collectively, these rank among some of the most popular Scottish and UK attractions, with a similar number of visits annually to the likes of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Albert Hall and the Scottish National Gallery.

Visitors spent almost £53m in 2016, with an average spend of £31 a head.

The SWA expects the current Scottish Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology to encourage more such activity and, in the short term, many distilleries believe the fall in the pound after Brexit has attracted more holidaymakers and increased their individual spending.

Most foreign travellers came from Germany, America and France, with large numbers of “staycationers” from Scotland and the rest of the UK also attending.

However, the SWA warned “the longer-term impact of Brexit is not yet clear”.

Chief executive Karen Betts said: “Scotch Whisky, Scotland’s most popular export, is known throughout the world. It is produced right across Scotland, in some of our most beautiful landscapes and some of our remotest communities.

“It’s not surprising that more and more tourists are visiting Scotland’s distilleries to see how Scotch is made and to meet the people involved.”

Speaking ahead of Philip Hammond’s autumn Budget, she continued: “A welcome further boost to the whisky industry during this time of change would be to see a cut in excise duty in the UK autumn Budget. The high 80 per cent tax burden on an average-priced bottle of whisky means that foreign visitors often pay more tax for Scotch in Scotland than in their own countries. That can’t be the right way to encourage more visitors and to support an industry that plays such an important role.”

Tourism Secretary Fiona Hyslop said the figures are “good news”.