The 15 Most Visited Cities Around the World
According to a new report, these are the destinations travelers journeyed to the most last year. Some of them may surprise you!
The Global Destination Cities Index, released each year by Mastercard, analyzes international travel data, including number of visitors, spending, length of stay, and a growth forecast for the upcoming year, to rank the most visited cities in the world. Bangkok tops 2018’s list for the third year in a row, with just over 20 million overnight visitors. A vibrant and friendly city, Bangkok boasts some of the best cuisine in the world, including a flourishing street food scene. It’s thoroughly modern, as evidenced by its thriving nightlife, but the city is also known for authentic architecture and fascinating historical sites, such as the Grand Palace and Wat Arun temple. Visitors must experience the street market culture as well, with its floating markets (in wooden boats on the water) and Chatuchak Weekend Market. Travelers also flock to the city because of its affordability—although it’s number one in popularity, it only ranks at number six based on average spent per day.
For Americans, the appeal of visiting another country whose people speak the same language is not surprising—but the rest of the world also loves London, ranking at number two in the latest report with just under 20 million international visitors. London also tied for second place for length of stay, with travelers enjoying the city for an average of 5.8 days. Like Bangkok, London is an exciting mix of old and new. The iconic architecture of Parliament and Big Ben, the Tower Bridge, and Buckingham Palace never disappoints; and London’s multiculturalism makes for a particularly exciting food scene. Plus, from West End theaters and Royal Albert Hall to the National Gallery, Tate Modern, and British Museum, it’s hard to beat London for the arts. An incredibly walkable city, London is simply lovely to wander around, with plenty of green spaces such as Hyde Park and St. James’ Park to match its charming buildings. And did we mention the pubs?
The second most popular city in Europe and the third overall is sophisticated Paris, which lured 17.4 million overnight visitors. The City of Light has an enduring appeal, thanks to gorgeous landmarks like Notre Dame cathedral, the Louvre Museum, and (of course) the Eiffel Tower. Other can’t-miss Paris experiences include climbing the steps of the Montmartre neighborhood, enjoying Impressionist art at the Musée d’Orsay, shopping on the Champs-Élysées, dining at a French bistro or café, and strolling along the banks and bridges of the river Seine. Be prepared to spend, though: Paris ranks second on dollars spent per day.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
This city and emirate on the Persian Gulf has worked diligently to increase tourism over the past decade, with a goal of reaching 20 million visitors by 2020, when Dubai will host the World Expo 2020. So far, it has lured nearly 15.8 million travelers, who come for its white sand beaches, gorgeous weather, and record-breaking modern tourist attractions: Dubai has the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall is the largest on the planet, and the architecturally stunning Burj Al Arab hotel is one of the world’s tallest. But visitors can also experience Arabic culture and history—visit the old Bastakiya Quarter and Al Fahidi Neighborhood, haggle at the Gold and Spice Souks (bazaars), and take a camping trip via camel to the desert. But don’t expect it to come cheap: Dubai ranks at number one at most dollars spent per day, $537. Here are the most affordable times to visit expensive destinations.
This island city-state just off the coast of Malaysia is a melting pot of Asian culture that blends green urban spaces with a modern skyline. In its efforts to become the greenest city in the world (for which it is succeeding, with 47 percent of the city covered by greenery), Singapore proudly features gorgeous parks, including its majestic Gardens by the Bay. The Botanic Gardens and Singapore Zoo are also must-sees. Also known for its food, Singapore encourages its nearly 14 million yearly visitors to check out its hawker centers (food courts) for authentic and affordable eats. Travelers to the city can choose from modern shopping destinations at Orchard Road, sparkling hotels and restaurants on Marina Bay, cultural Chinatown, and Little India, and the beaches and resorts of Sentosa Island. Efficient public transportation helps visitors get around.
New York City
The only North American city on the list with just over 13 million visitors last year, New York City is the quintessential metropolis. Its towering buildings feel both modern and classic, and the hustle and bustle can hardly fail to create a sense of energy and excitement. Although you should make a stop in the tourist-heavy Times Square, get off the beaten path (as much as is possible in NYC) with strolls through Manhattan’s Upper East and Upper West sides, Soho, High Line walkway, Greenwich Village—and maybe even over the Brooklyn Bridge. Take in a Broadway show, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History, check out views from the Empire State Building (or the more affordable and less crowded Top of the Rock in Rockefeller Center), pay your respects at the September 11 Memorial, and spend time wandering the beautiful Central Park. When it comes to dining, nightlife, and culture, the possibilities are pretty much endless here. With so much to do, New York topped the list for the longest average stay, at 8.3 nights.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Head back to Southeast Asia with a trip to the temples, food stalls, colonial buildings, and skyscrapers of Kuala Lumpur. Attracting 12.58 million visitors, KL (as locals call it) is currently dominated by the imposing Petronas Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world; new projects such as the Exchange 106 tower may surpass it. Explore on foot to avoid traffic jams, and soak up the most of the city’s flavor at the Central Market, Jalan Alor street eats, and Chinatown’s Petaling Street—but be prepared for hot tropical weather. For history and cuture, visit the Batu Caves, Thean Hou Temple, National Mosque, and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. To experience the area’s natural beauty, check out KL Bird Park, KL Forest Eco Park, and KL Butterfly Park. Don’t miss the most stunningly colorful natural wonders on earth.
In addition to its place as the eighth most visited, this bustling city has been rated the best city in the world this year, as evidenced by its nearly 12 million visitors. Tokyo also earned the most Michelin stars (awarded to top restaurants) of any city this year and is poised to take the world stage for the 2020 Summer Olympics. From the futuristic neon cityscapes of the Shibuya and Shinjuku neighborhoods to the quiet forest paths of the Meiji shrine, the juxtaposition of old and new never fails to surprise. Check out the Harajuku shopping district for all that’s fashion-forward, watch the largest seafood market in the world, Tsukiji, in action, wander the peaceful Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, and don’t forget to sample sushi and try your hand (or voice) at karaoke.
With the highest growth forecast for the next year, a whopping 19.7 percent, and the lowest average spending per day ($108), Istanbul looks toward a tourist boom (although as the U.S. now has a travel advisory to the country, many visitors are coming from the Middle East and Russia). This city has traditionally been the center of East-meets-West, and visitors can even take a ferry ride between Europe and Asia on the Bosphorus Strait. The mix of cultures resonates in the historic sights and architecture, including Hagia Sophia (first a church, then a mosque, and now a museum) and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (also called the Blue Mosque). Travelers should also check out the lavish Ottoman Topkapi Palace, and bargain at the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. Check out the most underrated travel destinations in the world.
Seoul, South Korea
Fresh off its successful 2018 Winter Olympics, South Korea continues to welcome visitors from around the world, with its capital of Seoul rounding out the top 10 cities with 9.54 million visitors. Like many cities on our list, Seoul is an intriguing blend of old and new. On the modern side, this tech capital boasts the most efficient airport in the world, a thriving music scene called “K-pop,” buildings such as the futuristic Dongdaemun Design Plaza and N Seoul Tower, and the fastest internet speeds in the world. On the traditional side, visitors to Seoul can find markets, shrines, royal palaces including Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung, and the historic Bukchon Hanok Village.
That this resort city made the list might be surprising—considering many Americans have probably never heard of it—but 9.42 million international visitors enjoyed Antalya last year. On Turkey’s southern Turquoise Coast (named for its dazzling blue water and also known as the Turkish Riviera), Antalya is still an undiscovered and undeveloped Mediterranean gem. Lodging in the preserved historic district of Kaleiçi, nestled next to a picture-perfect Roman harbor, offers a quaint alternative to the high-rise beach resorts. Ancient ruins abound, and visitors can check out more historical artifacts at the Antalya Archaeological Museum. Adventures in nature, including biking, rafting, and scuba diving, await nearby. Check out these jaw-dropping photos of the world’s most beautiful counties.
The gorgeous island of Phuket offers its 9.29 million yearly visitors a slice of paradise, with beautiful beaches, friendly people, and yummy food. Travelers can explore more offshore islands such as Phi Phi and Similan Islands, cruise Phang Nga Bay with its dramatic rock formations, search out sea caves, go on a rainforest hikes, and dive, snorkel, or kayak in crystal clear water—or chose to simply lay on the sand and soak up rays on one of Phuket’s many free beaches. For further relaxation, get a traditional Thai-style massage; for livelier activities, check out the island’s night markets, or experience the energetic nightlife of Patong town. The cultural sights of Old Phuket Town and the island’s 147-foot-tall Big Buddha are also not to be missed. Here are the best budget travel destinations for 2019.
Makkah, Saudi Arabia
You might know it as Mecca, but the correct (and official) name for the holiest city of the Muslim people is Makkah. Although it attracted over nine million people last year, all visitors who enter this sacred place must be of the Muslim faith, so it’s not open to all tourists. During the yearly pilgrimage event called the Hajj, people gather around the Kaaba, a black stone structure inside the Grand Mosque, the religion’s most important place of worship. 2018’s Hajj drew over two million worshipers. The pilgrimage is required at least once in a lifetime for all Muslims who are physically and financially able.
This autonomous territory is a densely populated, global financial center with the largest number of skyscrapers in the world. Visitors may be overwhelmed by Hong Kong‘s frenetic pace, but can take a break to admire the city’s skyline from the water on the historic Star Ferry boats, along the harbor’s edge at Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, or from atop the lush Victoria Peak. Historic and cultural sights include the Tian Tian Buddha and Po Lin Monastery, Man Mo Temple, Tai O Fishing Village, and Wan Chai historic district. For family-focused tourist attractions, check out Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park. Find out more under-the-radar places to visit in 2019.
We head back to Europe with our final top city: Milan, a center of fashion and design, where 8.8 million visitors to this cosmopolitan city find high-end restaurants, hotels, and galleries. You can’t go wrong with Italian food, but Milan has an impressive array of dining establishments that blend northern Italian fare with international flavors. Although the city is decidedly forward-looking, with dominating skyscrapers, sustainable development, and plans to make it a hub for tech companies as well as creative businesses, travelers also find a treasure trove of Gothic and Renaissance art and architecture. History and culture buffs should make stops at Milan Cathedral (Duomo), Castello Sforzesco, the La Scala opera house, and Santa Maria delle Grazie church, which houses Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, “The Last Supper” Next, read on for 15 top places to visit in 2019, according to experts.