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It seems that "make a visit" is not a common phrase, and I am not sure what is the difference between "make a visit to a friend" and "visit a friend". The following sentence is copied from The Guardian:

A huge 17.5m leisure trips are expected to take place on the roads between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, as drivers make visits to friends and family, although the absence of commuter and commercial traffic during this period means the roads will be relatively quiet.

Also Ngram suggests that the phrase "make a visit to" is used.

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    The author could have just written: as drivers visit A and B. make visits is fine. He made a visit to x. The drivers make visits to A and B. – Lambie Sep 22 '19 at 14:18
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I'm not sure why but, as a native English speaker, 'make a visit' in this sentence just sounds better to me. My guess is that it is because we tend to generalise these actions in newspaper articles, so the action 'make a visit' is referring to all people as a collective noun.

By saying 'drivers make visits', it makes me think that all drivers are making multiple visits throughout the day, whilst the reality is that most people will just go to one place on Christmas day, so it sounds strange to me. But perhaps that is just my experience of Christmas day!

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"Visit" can quite correctly be a verb or a noun, so either of these options is correct.

Note that (at least in British English) the construction "pay a visit" is often used as an alternative to "make a visit" with the same meaning. If you use "visit" as a noun, it needs "to", so "I am going to pay a visit to my mother tomorrow". When used as a verb, the "to" is not needed or correct: "I am going to visit my mother tomorrow".

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    pay a visit is used in AmE too. – Lambie Sep 22 '19 at 14:23
  • Also you can 'pay a call (on someone)'. When I was a boy (1950s England), old ladies sometimes said 'I'm going to pay a call' when they meant 'I'm going to the toilet'. – Michael Harvey Sep 22 '19 at 15:17

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