In this post, we’re going to hop around the world to find the most popular places on Earth with travellers. From historic European capitals to emerging Asian destinations, below you will find the top ten most visited cities in the world.
The data comes from Mastercard’s Global Destinations Cities Index (2019) – figures relate to 2018 data. Recent reports on the matter have been halted and clearly would serve up very different figures due to the pandemic which massively reduced travel across the globe in both 2020 and so far in 2021.
What are the most visited cities in the World?
1. Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok stands alone as the only city in the world with more than 20 million international visitors annually. The main travel hub in Southeast Asia and gateway to Thailand’s many islands and beach destinations, Bangkok draws in all kinds of visitors from all four corners of the globe.
Few streets in the world have as international a feel as the city’s famous Khao San Road – a hub for budget travellers, street food and nightlife. Bangkok also has its seedier sides which attract visitors for very different reasons but it is also a city of stunning temples and palaces, and world class cuisine.
Once the pandemic passes, travellers are likely to once again flock to the Thai capital which has been a considerably quieter place over the past year or so with Thailand imposing strict restrictions on people coming in.
International Visitors in 2018: 22.78 million
2. Paris, France
Paris is another of the most popular cities in the world with travellers. The French capital retains its romantic reputation and draws in millions of couples each year despite also being one of the world’s most expensive cities for visitors.
Iconic sights such as the Eiffel Tower, Louvre and Arc de Triomphe ensure it will always lure travellers in and weekends in Paris, like many of Europe’s famous capitals, are full of snap-happy tourists mostly visiting the same three or four places.
The city has its subtler sides where it’s easier to get a feel for French culture and modern Parisian life. Turn off your mobile data and follow your nose and you’ll find quirky neighbourhoods, traditional cafes and hidden passageways in a city full of lesser known locations blessed with real character.
International Visitors in 2018: 19.10 million
3. London, UK
By far the most visited city in the UK, London has a host of well-known tourist attractions which make it one of the world’s most popular city break destinations. From Buckingham Palace to Hyde Park and the Tate Modern to the British Museum, there’s so much to see and do that you’ll struggle to fit it all into a weekend.
Increasingly visitors are also venturing out of Central London to discover the alternative atmosphere of districts such as Camden Town, the East End and Greenwich. A hub for major sports events, concerts and conferences, London has many faces and many world class venues which ensure visitors continue to flock in from far and wide.
London actually ranks as the most visited city in Europe according to Euromonitor’s figures – they use a slightly different method to decide what constitutes an international visitor. According to Mastercard, it is just pipped by Paris.
Note – We have used Mastercard’s data for this post as Euromonitor appears to class visitors to Hong Kong and Macau from mainland China as international visitors. Those cities would both be in the top five according to that criteria.
International Visitors in 2018: 19.09 million
4. Dubai, UAE
In at number four we have Dubai – perhaps the great 21st Century success story, purely in terms of a city transforming itself into a global travel hub.
Clearly it lacks the historic attractions of other cities featured in this post but fuelled by oil cash, world class travel facilities have been built over the past couple of decades with everything from luxury hotels to state-of-the-art shopping malls pulling in huge numbers of visitors from around the Middle East and beyond.
Its 16 million annual international visitors doesn’t include the many millions more who fly in and out of Dubai Airport to make air connections. The growth of Dubai-based airline Emirates has also played a big role in its growing popularity with visitors and despite some strict local laws, Dubai has successfully marketed itself to draw in the rich and the famous.
International Visitors in 2018: 15.93 million
At number five, we have Southeast Asia’s other major travel hub besides Bangkok. The wealthy city-state of Singapore boasts a reputation for both safety and cleanliness, and is a popular destination with both business and leisure travellers.
It is a city where various cultures meet with Malay, Indian, Chinese and British influences helping shape the modern Singapore – which is still a relatively young country having only gained independence from Malaysia in 1965.
Like Dubai, shopping is a big draw for visitors with a ridiculous number of malls and department stores in the city. Singapore also boasts a stunning marina, a lively Chinatown district and some wonderful gardens which provide an escape from the vast urban landscape.
International Visitors in 2018: 14.67 million
The Top 10 most popular cities in the World with Travellers
These were the top ten most visited cities in the world 2018:
|Ranking||City||International Visitors (2018)|
|1||Bangkok, Thailand||22.78 million|
|2||Paris, France||19.10 million|
|3||London, UK||19.09 million|
|4||Dubai, UAE||15.93 million|
|5||Singapore, Singapore||14.67 million|
|6||Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia||13.79 million|
|7||New York, USA||13.60 million|
|8||Istanbul, Turkey||13.40 million|
|9||Tokyo, Japan||12.93 million|
|10||Antalya, Turkey||12.41 million|
The ten most visited cities in the world are relatively spread out, with destinations in Europe, the Middle East, North America, Southeast Asia and the Far East. While Bangkok was the most visited place in the world in 2018, it’ll be interesting to see whether we get any significant shifts in terms of global travel trends in the post pandemic era.
These figures are of course just for international visitors. Including domestic travellers too and visitor numbers soar for places like New York which draws in tourists from around the USA.
This list of most visited cities in the world was published in June 2021.