THE historic Palace Pier in Brighton is the most popular free tourist attraction outside London, according to new figures.

The quintessential seaside attraction had four million visitors tread its wooden boards in 2013 – the same as in 2012.

Only the Tate Modern, the National History Museum, the National Gallery and the British Museum attracted more non-fee-paying guests last year.

The new figures, from Visit England, paint a mixed year for other key venues in the county with Brighton Museum and Art Gallery and Wakehurst Place recording a small fall in visitor numbers compared with 2012.

A Royal Botanic Gardens Kew spokeswoman told the Argus: “Our visitor figures for 2012/13 were down by 3.4% at Wakehurst Place. As with any outdoor attraction we expect a small fluctuation in visitor numbers due to weather.”

Hove Museum and Art Gallery had a 14% drop in visitors. Council bosses said a refurbishment of its cafe was the main contributing factor for 6,000 fewer visitors compared with 2012.

It was better news for the Royal Pavilion, where more than 5,000 extra visitors paid to see inside the Chinoiserie masterpiece.

Janita Bagshawe, head of Royal Pavilion and museums for Brighton and Hove City Council, said visitor figures varied depending on weather and advance bookings.

She added: “We had a particularly strong summer for groups visiting in 2013 and this is reflected in the welcome rise in visitor numbers shown in the latest information available from Visit England.” Horsham Museum and Hastings Museum and Art Gallery also had a slight rise in visitor numbers compared with the year before.

The Grade II-listed Palace Pier, which owners The Noble Group put up for sale in June 2011 but then withdrew a year later after failing to find a suitable bidder, was the only attraction outside the capital to appear in the top 12 of most-visited UK free attractions last year.

It attracted four times the number of visitors than the second most popular attraction in the south east – Canterbury Cathedral.