A record number of visits were made to Ireland last year, the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office show.

A total of 6,977,000 overseas visits were made in 2005, up 6% on the figure of 6,574,000 the previous year.

The CSO figures reveal that the number of overseas visits on continental Europe routes jumped by 21%. The number of overseas visits on cross channel air routes grew by 5%, while visits by sea fell by 9%.

Although the number of visits on transatlantic routes last year grew by 6% on 2004, the number of visits by residents of the US and Canada actually fell by 2%.

Today's CSO figures also show that the number of overseas visits by Irish residents last year grew by 13% to 6,113,000 from 5,409,000 in 2004.

Visits by Irish people to continental Europe rose by 17%, while the numbers on transatlantic routes grew by 16%. However, overseas visits by Irish people on cross channel sea routes fell by 17%.

The expenditure figures for 2005 show a net outflow of €501m. Earnings from visits to Ireland accounted for €4.272 billion, while spending by Irish visitors abroad amounted to €4.773 billion.