Europe is one of the world’s busiest regions in terms of travel and tourism. Travellers flock to the continent from far and wide to get a taste of its history and culture, while many Europeans make multiple foreign trips each year thanks to the ease of finding budget flights. In this post we will run down the five most visited countries in Europe according to official UN figures for global tourism.
The numbers quoted are for 2018 as some countries have not published their data for 2019 yet. The picture given in the data may not be fully accurate given the EU’s internal borders are not patrolled, while some countries record ‘tourist arrivals’ differently. However it’s still clear that Europe remains as popular as ever, home to 6 of the 10 most visited countries in the world in 2018.
Top 5 Most Visited Countries in Europe
1. France – 89.4 million visitors (in 2018)
France tops the rankings again, and it is not just the most visited country in Europe, but the most visited in the world. There are actually many things that make France one of the more difficult countries to visit in Europe including a general inability or reluctance to converse in English and the overall cost of travel there.
However that doesn’t appear to be putting off the visitors and what sets France apart from other European countries is the diverse range of destinations and different types of trips it has to offer.
Paris, perhaps along with Venice, remains the leading global city for romantic breaks while the Mediterranean climate of the southern coast helps draw in beach-lovers during the summer months. During the winter, attention turns to the slopes of the French Alps, a popular location for skiing holidays while wine connoisseurs are attracted to several of the country’s other regions and their famous vineyards.
2. Spain – 82.8 million visitors
Spain is hot on France’s heels in 2nd place, both in Europe and the world. It’s closing the gap too, having quickly jumped from 52.7 million visitors in 2010 to 82.8 million in 2018. The ever increasing popularity of Barcelona accounts for a significant portion of that rise while cities such as San Sebastian, Madrid, Valencia and Seville are also popular with weekend visitors.
In the summer months, its beaches and party resorts draw in millions of tourists, mostly from parts of Northern or Central Europe such as the UK, Germany and Scandinavia. Meanwhile the year-round mild climate of the Canary Islands makes them just about the only viable European beach destination during the winter months.
3. Italy – 61.6 million visitors
Italy is the 3rd most popular European destination with visitors. The historic city of Rome is understandably popular with tourists and will be as long as it stands given the abundance of history that lies within its old walls. Venice is another world famous and quite unique city destination while the Lombardy region is famed for its dramatic alpine scenery and beautiful lakes.
Throw in a couple of large islands, an array of historic sites like Pompei and cities such as Milan, Florence and Pisa, and it’s no surprise that Italy continues to be one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations.
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4. Turkey – 45.8 million visitors
Turkey’s travel industry has grown significantly during the 21st Century and it is now Europe’s 4th most popular destination. To some extent that’s a bit deceptive given most of the country, including the majority of its popular beach resorts, lie in the larger Asian part of Turkey. However it is largely viewed as a European holiday destination competing with neighbours Greece and Cyprus for visitors so it’s probably more fitting to include it here rather than in our rundown of the most popular Asian travel destinations.
As well as its coastal regions, the city of Istanbul is a big draw for visitors with some iconic buildings such as the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.
5. Germany – 38.9 million visitors
Germany completes the top five and that may come as a surprise to some given it lacks the climate or coastlines of countries like Spain, Italy and Turkey. It doesn’t even really have a city like Paris or Rome, that draws in huge numbers of visitors throughout the year, although Berlin is fast growing in popularity, particularly with younger travellers.
What Germany does have though is a range of cultural events and festivals with the most famous from an international perspective being Munich’s Oktoberfest. The country also has some of the best Christmas Markets in Europe, making it a popular destination during the winter months, despite the chilly temperatures.
The top ten most popular destinations in Europe concludes with the UK (36.3 million), Austria (30.8 million), Greece (30.1 million), Russia (24.6 million) and Portugal (22.8 million). Poland, the Netherlands, Hungary, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Denmark, Switzerland and Ireland were the only other countries to register more than 10 million visitors for tourism reasons in 2018.
This article was published in May 2020 although the figures relate to the 2018 calendar year.
Featured Photo of Paris by Tom Eversley on Wunderstock (public domain).