Whether you’re a casual vacationer, travel blogger or a company involved in the travel industry, it benefits you to study the most visited cities in the world. You can check off your “hottest destinations” and “famous cities” lists, and gain valuable insight on what kind of experiences people seek, and where they find them.
A study by Mastercard has yielded the Global Destinations Cities Index (pdf). It ranks cities based off total international overnight visitor arrivals and cross-border spending. By understanding international travel patterns and studying how it affects urban economies, the index can also predict visitor growth for the following year.
The review puts Bangkok as the most visited city in the world, with approximately 22 million international visitors. More detailed studies reveal visitor patterns, such as an average of 4.7 nights stay and average spending of USD $173 daily.
The famous Bali is also on the charts at the 19th spot, totaling 8.26 million international visitors. Its diverse regions and moody aesthetics prove to be popular among social media users; search for Bali on Instagram and you’ll be flooded with stunning photos.
Paris, a solid holiday destination, continues to lead alongside Bangkok and London at the 2nd place. This stresses how visitors seek cities that offer business opportunities, varied attractions and distinct culture. With 17.4 million international visitors, Paris is expected to host similar numbers in the coming year.
World’s Most Visited Cities
The differing charm points of these cities prove that people are no longer just following trends, but set them by seeking the fit.
Top tourist destinations are those that offer diversity in attractions and environment. This is also a confirmed trend we noticed in the most visited countries in the world list.
From slow and romantic to fast-paced and sleek, the world’s most visited cities have their own distinct pace and color.
I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list.
One of my favorite travel quotes.
Country: Thailand | Total International Visitors: 22.78 million | Last Year’s Rank: 1
Bangkok is the most visited city in the world thanks to a whopping 22 millions international visitors!
Wreathed in the noise of tuk-tuks and constant activity is the city of Bangkok, where map-less exploration always leads to fun discovery.
Enjoy the usual city comforts of megamalls and modern spaces before turning towards its collection of golden temples and shrines. Follow your nose to Bangkok’s countless street markets stuffed with spicy, sour, sweet, and salty flavors, then hop on a boat to reach their floating markets.
In the night, Chinatown and Sukhumvit reveals a vibrant nightlife that is both cosmopolitan and cultural.
Country: France | Total International Visitors: 19.10 million | Last Year’s Rank: 3 (⬆)
Paris is the second most visited city in the world and the most visited city in Europe!
Paris will arrest your attention with its classic buildings, arching Parisian bridges and elegant boulevards.
Take a cruise along River Seine for a quick look at the city’s historical monuments, or swing by individual neighborhoods for Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, and more.
And as an established art and fashion capital, visitors can’t go without seeing the collections of Musee d’Orsay and Centre Pompidou. Atmospheric bookstores, vintage shops and flea markets make their mark beside art nouveau department stores such as Galeries Lafayette.
Country: United Kingdom | Total International Visitors: 19.09 million | Last Year’s Rank: 2 (⬇)
London is clearly one of the most popular cities in the world! The gothic architecture in London is matched by splashes of innovation (such as the Shard, Tate Modern, and the Sky Garden), offering up grand and historical quarters.
You’ll be charmed by the taverns and all of West End and impressed by London’s contemporary art, theater and literature.
Greeting you with both the beauty of green parks and urban sprawl, the city will take you through a stunning historical journey.
Country: United Arab Emirates | Total International Visitors: 15.93 million | Last Year’s Rank: 4
Dubai rises out from the desert in all its futuristic glory.
High-rises dominate the skyline, housing mega-malls, and sleek office blocks.
City life is defined by lazy shopping, performance venues, serene places of worship, and fancy rooftop terraces.
On the fringes are beaches, pieces of nature in contrast to the man-made aquariums and botanical gardens.
And of course, you can sign up for a desert trip and experience riding a camel, or flying down the dunes on a four-wheeler.
Country: The Republic of Singapore | Total International Visitors: 14.67 million | Last Year’s Rank: 5
Green and innovative, Singapore is a city designed with the future in mind.
Hop from attraction to another with its efficient transportation system and hit up the diverse neighborhoods of Little India to Chinatown.
From hawker centers to street markets to fine dining, you’ll be eating your fill of multi-national cuisine – Singapore is a foodie must-visit.
When you’re not busy eating, you will be basking in the luxe Orchard Road shopping mall, or exploring the famous Botanic Gardens.
6. Kuala Lumpur
Country: Malaysia | Total International Visitors: 13.79 million | Last Year’s Rank: 7 (⬆)
Open your senses to absorb Kuala Lumpur’s lively energy!
Thanks to its multicultural mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian community, the city is home to mosques and temples that stand out from gleaming skyscrapers.
This celebration of historical and modern also shows itself in the contrasting high-fashion shopping malls and vibrant street markets.
Spend your holiday scouting out designer brands and hunting down the best hawker stalls for the best of two worlds.
7. New York
Country: United States of America | Total International Visitors: 13.60 million | Last Year’s Rank: 6 (⬇)
New York, or the city where dreams are made!
Following the city’s grid-like design, trawl the streets for private art galleries and world-famous the Met, MoMA, and Guggenhiem. Indie bookstores, brightly lit Chinatown, high-end boutiques and hipster cafés lead into grand office buildings and huge Central Park.
Enjoy lavish performances in Broadway or eat your way through rooftop restaurants and hole-in-the-wall eateries. New York is THE metropolitan city that will get you buzzing in excitement.
Country: Turkey | Total International Visitors: 13.40 million | Last Year’s Rank: 9 (⬆)
Istanbul is a historical trove, its strategic location having witnessed many ruling empires.
Tracing back to the Greeks, Romans, Venetians, and finally the Ottomans, the city is adorned with Byzantine churches and imperial mosques.
Recent decades have seen sharp spikes in the skyline as galleries, museums, and tall office towers grew alongside the old.
Visitors also praise Istanbul’s culinary diversity which is a mix of Asian and European flavor; but local kebab and mezze is the go-to.
Country: Japan | Total International Visitors: 12.93 million | Last Year’s Rank: 8 (⬇)
If there was a city that lived in the future, Tokyo is it!
Clean streets, chrome skyscrapers, and ever-moving crowds keep Tokyo running 24/7.
Smart electronics and convenient technology set incredibly high living standards.
Yet amidst the neon signboards and flashy urban sprawl are pockets of green and the spiritual; Tokyo remembers its past deeply. Visit the Edo-styled streets of Yanezen and serene Meiji Shrine.
To experience Tokyo, look past the trendy cafés and bold fashions to find under-the-tracks eateries, languid neighborhoods, and hidden shrines.
Country: Turkey | Total International Visitors: 12.41 million | Last Year’s Rank: 11 (⬆)
Set out for the stunning Antalya, a stylish city poised along the Turkish Riviera.
Combining the Mediterranean coastline with preserved Kaleici old quarters, Antalya is a romantic getaway.
Stroll through the city for finely restored Ottoman houses and wind up at the harbor.
With the scent of the sea in mind, explore the Suna & Inan Kirac Kaleici Museum or Antalya Museum for a walk down memory lane.
Country: South Korea | Total International Visitors: 11.25 million | Last Year’s Rank: 10 (⬇)
Seoul constantly upgrades with new trends – in fact, it is the trending holiday destination.
The city is a youth-driven hub, luring in K-pop fans, and fashion gurus with promises of cultural activities, idol sightings, and shopping.
But don’t just spend your time browsing the shops and feasting on midnight snacks; Seoul has plenty of heritage sites for you to see.
Sight-see its palaces in traditional hanbok and delve into dated markets for another piece of the puzzle.
Country: Japan | Total International Visitors: 10.14 million | Last Year’s Rank: 19 (⬆)
If you don’t dig the fast-paced Tokyo, hit up the friendly and sun-warmed Osaka instead.
The gateway to Kyoto and Kobe, Osaka is a cultural center that delights with both heritage sites and commercial fun.
Energetic Dotonbori is never empty of people, comprised of restaurants that range from okonomiyaki to standing ramen stalls.
Adjacent Shinsaibashi is kilometers of boutiques, bookstores and sweet shops; shopping malls are concentrated in Umeda.
Osaka Castle and Tennoji Temple are two of many historical structures, and Universal Studios Japan is a full-day distraction!
Country: Saudi Arabia | Total International Visitors: 10.00 million | Last Year’s Rank: 13
Highly symbolic Makkah is a key pilgrimage destination for all Muslims.
The city where Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was born, Makkah is a religious center with sacred Kaaba at its heart – it is Islam’s holiest city.
Only Muslims are allowed into this desert valley city, which dates back to 7th century.
Visitors (by millions per year) will find that Makkah is developed, modern buildings surrounding the religious hotspot; in contrast, cozy homes are nestled in rocky hills to reflect its traditional nature.
Country: Thailand | Total International Visitors: 9.89 million | Last Year’s Rank: 12 (⬇)
Phuket is beach bliss and karst islands, encompassing two national parks and too many islands to explore.
The range of beaches is spectacular, from part-central Patong to luxurious Surin and Ao Bang Thao. Meanwhile, stunning coral reefs invite scuba divers and snorkeling groups to explore the glittering waters of the Similan Islands.
You can also kayak into Ao Phang-Nga’s lagoons and wind around limestone karsts.
Phuket Town also offers museums, cooking classes, Chinese shrines, and wildlife sanctuaries to keep things fresh.
Country: Thailand | Total International Visitors: 9.44 million | Last Year’s Rank: 18 (⬆)
If it is heat you want, hit up touristy Pataya for endless beach fun and a party-themed central area.
There are of course, Thailand’s stunning temples and shrines, but Pataya is known for its seaside resorts.
Sign up for a harried tour of the city before settling in along the coast for more sun and relaxation. This is a city that embraces hedonist attitudes to the max.
Country: Italy | Total International Visitors: 9.10 million | Last Year’s Rank: 15 (⬇)
Elegant Milan is all about creativity and the arts.
Breaking free of Italian wars to pave way for post-war development, Milan impresses with art deco and futuristic architecture.
Its main draw however, remains in its art and fashion.
Marvel at the city’s art collection and strike up conversation with gallery owners; Triennale design museum will wow you.
Stop by fashion houses, showrooms, boutiques and all the stylish spaces you can think of.
To round off, indulge in the rich and Mediterranean-influenced Milanese cooking.
Country: Spain | Total International Visitors: 9.09 million | Last Year’s Rank: 17
Barcelona is generous with its fresh sea bounty and world-class architecture.
You can expect as many flavors of architecture as there are tapas – too many to see in a week.
From Roman-era subterranean spaces to the Gothic Quarter of the Middle Ages, to Gaudi’s modernism masterpieces, the city is dotted with magnificent architecture.
Sandy beaches, rolling Collserola hills, majestic Montjuic and sculpture gardens add to the picturesque layout. With endless museums, galleries, taverns and green spaces to visit, you’ll be on your feet from day to night.
18. Palma De Mallorca
Country: Spain | Total International Visitors: 8.96 million | Last Year’s Rank: 16 (⬇)
Spain’s Palma De Mallorca has witnessed its share of rulers.
From 13th century Christian leaders to the preceding Moors and Romans, this historical chain of empires are seen in the city’s mixed architecture and historical sites.
Start with the Gothic Catedral and branch out into the medieval streets.
You’ll see lively public squares, noble townhouses, imposing baroque churches and colorful street markets.
The bohemian vibe is also strong in suburban neighborhoods, teeming with craft studios and galleries.
By the main reason why people visit Mallorca are its famous cristal clear beaches!
From Alcudia to Cala d’or, you’ll find plenty of wonderful spot where you can relax and swim with the fishes (literally) in the Mediterranean sea.
Country: Indonesia | Total International Visitors: 8.26 million | Last Year’s Rank: 20 (⬆)
Another trending location that has taken over social media feeds, especially Instagram, is Bali, featuring lush jungles and seaside villas. These recent years, it’s beauty made Bali one of the most popular tourist destinations!
Traditions reign as locals march to temple ceremonies and hosts incredible dance performances; the island celebrates the spiritual with colorful displays.
Bali is also diverse – you can treat yourself at lavish Bukit Peninsula, explore the mysterious Ubud or party hard at Kuta.
Diving sites, ancient monuments, city comforts, and seaside retreat in one, Bali is potential!
As millennials would say, “it is a mood”!
20. Hong Kong SAR
Country: China | Total International Visitors: 8.23 million | Last Year’s Rank: 14 (⬇)
The harbor might not be as fragrant as its name proclaims, but Hong Kong’s busy streets and sky-high buildings will linger in your senses!
The city’s skyline hides much of its unique cultural-scape, international brands and sleek malls existing beside haggling vendors and garish goods.
There’s always something to see or do, whether it is taking a ferry across the harbor or snapping panoramic shots on Victoria Peak.
Fill your itinerary with dimsum eats and temples visits. Enjoy retail time and water-themed Ocean Park. Treat yourself to challenging hikes and spellbinding coastal views for Hong Kong is more than concrete and steel.
Business ventures and growth opportunity aside, these cities gained their title of the most visited cities in the world due to strong local culture and variety in attractions.
This list of the world’s most visited cities has shown that travelers choose their destinations based off what unique experiences it can give them, opposed to spending potential or first-world comforts.
Diverse geography is a plus too.
The most visited countries in the world list confirms this observation.
Bali, for instance, is trending for its choice of jungle stay, seaside resorts, and city dwellings. Similarly, the sharp contrast between metropolitan Istanbul and Dubai versus their desert settings offers one-of-a-kind sights.
The trend carries over to more urban cities as well; Bangkok is visual cacophony of golden temples, unusual floating markets, sleek shopping malls and old villages. London and Paris too offer neighborhoods with distinctive style.
So here you have it, 20 interesting cities to visit. Leave a comment on which cities you think will top the list in the next few years!