International tourist arrivals reached a record 1.087 billion (1087 million, in the international parlance used at the UN) in 2013, a 5% growth over the previous year, according to "UNWTO Tourism Highlights, 2014 Edition," the most recent data available from the United Nations World Tourism Organization. The report ranks the world’s top tourism destinations by country: For 2014, the top 10 were (starting with number 1) France, the United States, Spain, China, Italy, Turkey, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation and Thailand.
These nearly 1.09 billion travelers represent some $1.16 trillion in international tourism receipts. The United States ranks first in receipts with $139.6 billion, followed by Spain ($60.4 billion), France ($56.1 billion), China ($51.7 billion) and Macao ($51.6 billion – a notable 18% increase over the previous year).
To find out which cities in particular these billion-plus tourists visit, we turn to Euromonitor International’s annual "Top City Destinations Ranking," which covers 100 of the world’s leading cities in terms of international tourist arrivals. The report is based on results from Euromonitor’s global travel research program conducted in 57 core countries by in-country analysts, using city arrivals data from national statistics offices, airport arrivals and hotel-accommodation stays, among other sources (the figures reflect international visitors only: domestic visitors are not included). Here, we take a look at the top five results.
#1 – Hong Kong
Arrivals: 25.6 million
Increase over previous year: 7.6%
Hong Kong sits on the southern coast of China at the Pearl River Estuary and the South China Sea. Known for its impressive skyline, deep harbor and extreme population density – 7 million plus inhabitants live in only 426 square miles – Hong Kong tops the list as the most-visited city in the world.
Top attractions include:
- Star Ferry – a scenic boat tour between the Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong Island.
- Victoria Peak – the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island, which affords spectacular views of the city and its harbors.
- Ocean Park Hong Kong – an amusement park and world-class aquarium.
- Hong Kong Disneyland – a scaled-down version of its American counterparts.
- Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade – a waterfront strip that goes through the Hong Kong Cultural Center, Space Museum, Museum of Art, Avenue of Stars, and numerous bars and restaurants.
#2 – Singapore
Arrivals: 22.5 million
Increase over previous year: 5.4%
Singapore is an island country in Southeast Asia made up of 63 islands and home to one of the world’s largest ports. In a relatively short time, Singapore has grown from a small fishing village to a cosmopolitan city known for its stylish restaurants, vibrant night life, world-class shopping and emerging fashion scene. Top attractions include:
- Marina Bay Sands SkyPark – a boat-shaped resort with restaurants, bars, spas, gardens, a jogging path and a 150 meter-long infinity pool – all perched atop three, 55-story towers.
- Clarke Quay – a riverside development with restaurants, nightclubs and boutiques.
- Singapore Flyer – the world’s largest observation wheel outside of the U.S. (165 meters/541.3 feet high), which offers views of the Singapore River, Raffles Place, Marina Bay, Empress Place and the Padang.
- Gardens by the Bay – a futuristic, horticultural attraction that houses more than 500,000 plants from around the world in an architecturally inspiring setting.
- The Merlion – a water-spouting statue that is a mythical symbol of Singapore and, perhaps, the city’s most popular photo-op.
#3 – Bangkok
Arrivals: 17.5 million
Increase over previous year: 10.4%
Bangkok – the capital city of Thailand – has a population of more than 9 million, making it one of the world’s largest cities. It is known for its temples and palaces, canals (Bangkok has been called the Venice of the East), bustling markets and exciting nightlife. Top attractions include:
- Wat Arun (The Temple of Dawn) – a riverside Buddhist temple made of colorfully decorated spires, named after Aruna, the Hindu God of Dawn.
- Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew – an architectural and spiritual palace built in 1782 that was once a self-contained city of throne halls, royal chambers and ministries and, for 150 years, home to Thai Kings and the Royal Court.
- Damnoen Saduak – a floating market consisting of dozens of wooden boats filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and local food cooked right on the boats.
- Chinatown (Yaowarat) – a chaotic area with market stalls, street-side restaurants and the city’s highest concentration of gold shops.
- Wat Pho – a large temple complex with landscaped gardens, stone sculptures and a collection of murals and inscriptions.
#4 – London
Arrivals: 16.8 million
Increase over previous year: 8.6%
Situated on England’s River Thames, London is known for its history, architecture, galleries, libraries, museums and sporting events. One of the leading financial centers in the world, London is home to a diverse range of people and cultures, with 300+ languages spoken within Greater London. Top attractions include:
- British Museum – exhibits works of mankind from around the world, from prehistoric through modern times.
- National Gallery – a vast collection of Western European paintings from the 13th to 19th centuries, including works by Van Gogh, da Vinci, Botticelli and Renoir.
- The London Eye – Europe’s largest observation wheel comprised of 32 capsules, each holding up to 25 passengers, which rises 443 feet (135 meters) above the Thames.
- Tower of London – a castle on the north bank of the River Thames with a 900-year history as a royal palace, armory, treasury and prison. Her Majesty’s Crown Jewels remain on display, and the Tower is said to be haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn.
- Buckingham Palace – the official London residence and administrative headquarters of the Royal Family since 1837, housing 775 rooms, including 19 state rooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms.
#5 – Paris
Arrivals: 15.2 million
Increase over previous year: 4.6%
Paris, often called the City of Light (La Ville Lumière), sits on the banks of the Seine River in northern France. It is well-known for its art, landmarks, fashion and haute cuisine, and is home to the most visited art museums in the world. Top attractions include:
- The Louvre Museum – the world’s largest collection of pre-20th century works of art, including the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo.
- Notre Dame Cathedral – a gothic church built in the 12th century, considered one of Europe’s most beautiful cathedrals with towers, spires and stained glass.
- Eiffel Tower – an iron tower built for the 1889 World Exposition. It was originally so unpopular with the Parisians that it was almost demolished.
- Musée d’Orsay – the world’s most important collection of impressionist and post-impressionist painting, with works by Monet, Gaugin, Van Gogh, Delacroix and Manet.
- The Sorbonne, in the Latin Quarter – one of Europe’s oldest universities, founded in 1257 and host to some of the world's “great thinkers,” including philosophers René Descartes, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
Other Cities in the Top 10
Which locations fill out the rest of the top 10 list? The five cities below:
#6 – Macau, China. Arrivals: 14.3 million; Increase over previous year: 5.1%
#7 – New York City, U.S. Arrivals: 11.9 million; Increase over previous year: 2.0%
#8 – Shenzhen, China. Arrivals: 11.7 million; Increase over previous year: -3.0%
#9 – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Arrivals: 11.2 million; Increase over previous year: 5.0%
#10 – Antalya, Turkey. Arrivals: 11.1 million; Increase over previous year: 8.0%
The Bottom Line
If you want to visit the cities international tourists value the most, start with the ones listed here. You'll find plenty to do and a wide range of people to meet as you travel. To make your trip easier, see Choosing A Trusted Traveler Program. To save money, see Top Cheap Travel Websites and Best Ways To Purchase Cheap Airline Tickets.