The most visited cities in the world

Hong Kong, Bangkok and Dubai made it to the list
The most visited cities in the world
Global tourism has seen a strong resurgence in 2023

With around 1.3 billion international arrivals, 2023 was a milestone year for the global tourism sector. This figure is 88 percent of pre-pandemic levels, according to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. UNWTO stands for United Nations World Tourism Organization. But where did all these travelers go in the past year? This article rounds up the 10 most visited cities in the world in 2023.

Where the tourism sector is headed

In 2023, the tourism sector came back strong. The Middle East, in particular, was the only region to have already overcome pre-pandemic levels. It hit 22 percent above 2019 figures. 

UNWTO estimates that the world will fully recover and return to pre-pandemic figures by 2024. This is on the back of consumers releasing any remaining pent-up thirst for travel, coupled with increased air connectivity. The stronger recovery of Asian destinations, some of the most visited globally, will also contribute to this development.

“The latest UNWTO data underscores tourism’s resilience and rapid recovery, with pre-pandemic numbers expected by the end of 2024,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.

“The rebound is already having a significant impact on economies, jobs, growth and opportunities for communities everywhere. These numbers also recall the critical task of progressing sustainability and inclusion in tourism development,” he added.

Most visited cities in the world in 2023

These are the cities that welcomed the most tourists last year. Figures are based on the latest available reports from prominent firms such as Mastercard. Note that these numbers don’t fully reflect 2023 data.

1. Hong Kong, China

most visited cities

Tourist arrivals: 26.6 million

Hong Kong, a special administrative region (SAR) of China, boasts a stunning skyline and vibrant street markets. With an efficient transport system, the city — made up of different islands — is a premier destination for tourists who want to taste rich cultural heritage and culinary world. Annually, holidays like Labor Day and National Day Golden Week attract substantially more tourists. According to Hong Kong Tourism Board Executive Director Dane Cheng, the “Hello Hong Kong” campaign has helped the city revitalize its tourism sector post-pandemic. 

2. Bangkok, Thailand

most visited cities

Tourist arrivals: 21.2 million

The Thai capital has been the most visited city in the world in recent years. Though it fell to the second spot, Bangkok remains attractive, enticing over 21 million tourists in 2023. Most of its visitors are from Malaysia, China, South Korea, India and Russia. Last year, tourists spent $33.6 billion in the county, according to data from its Ministry of Tourism and Sports. A thriving night scene, delectable cuisine, and affordable prices are some of the things that make it appealing to travelers. It also has several historical sites, including Buddhist temples. Checking out floating markets and riding elephants are also must-try experiences.

3. London, United Kingdom

most visited cities

Tourist arrivals: 19.2 million

Home to the Big Ben, London Eye and Buckingham Palace, London is a leading destination in Europe and globally. Historical and cultural spots such as the Westminster Abbey and the Royal Opera House are also found here. With its bustling tourism scene, its hospitality sector has also grown. In fact, it recorded a value of $59 billion, surpassing pre-pandemic levels and outperforming the rest of the UK. One major driver is live music, wherein millions have watched Harry Styles and Beyoncé concerts, among others. 

4. Singapore

most visited cities

Tourist arrivals: 16.6 million

The city-state of Singapore is one of the most famous Asian destinations. It’s a tourist magnet, attracting over 16 million foreigners — a figure substantially higher than its total population, which is under 6 million. Chinese, Indonesians and Australians are among the most frequent visitors. Besides tourism, the city’s business landscape and medical system are also commendable, making it even more enticing for foreigners. The “Garden City” has several innovative attractions, including Gardens by the Bay, Merlion and the world-class hotel Marina Bay Sands.

5. Macau, China

most visited cities

Tourist arrivals: 15.4 million

Another SAR of China, Macau offers architectural wonders and mouthwatering cuisine. Some of their must-try foods are egg tarts and pork chop buns. However, most of its tourists come to Macau for one big reason: its entertainment scene. In particular, its casinos are huge contributors to its tourism boom. With its gambling galore, the megalopolis has rightfully earned the moniker Las Vegas in the East and Monte Carlo in Asia.

6. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

most visited cities

Tourist arrivals: 14.9 million

Dubai is the most visited city in the Middle East and the only city from the region to enter the list. From its beginnings as a desert port, Dubai has become a sprawling city with an iconic skyline, famous landmarks (including  Burj Khalifa), vibrant neighborhoods, and world-famous shopping centers. It’s also home to the world’s largest traditional gold market or souk. Thanks to its well-built infrastructure and transportation system, navigating the city as a tourist is efficient. It also takes pride in being a constant in various lists of top global destinations. According to Tripadvisor’s 2023 Travellers’ Choice Awards, the city is the most popular spot for holidaymakers. 

Read: Dubai’s tourism sector key to economic expansion, says Sheikh Mohammed

7. Paris, France

most visited cities

Tourist arrivals: 14.4 million

Paris, the city of light and love, is among the most attractive destinations worldwide. It has a slew of popular landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, The Louvre Museum and the Notre Dame Cathedral. Apart from its romantic ambiance, it has an epic nightlife where good food and good music blend. During the day, tourists can explore charming cafés and several other historical sites. However, in time for the Paris Olympics, the city has begun charging tourism taxes, making traveling there even more expensive. 

8. New York, USA

most visited cities

Tourist arrivals: 12.7 million

As one song describes, New York is a “concrete jungle where dreams are made of.” Skyscrapers and landmarks grace its skyline‚ from the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center to the One World Observatory and the Statue of Liberty. It also has something for everybody: Art and culture enthusiasts can get their fill at The Metropolitan Museum of Art while nature lovers can stroll around Central Park. For food lovers, Chinatown and Little Italy are the places to go. Fifth Avenue covers shopping, while music venues dot several neighborhoods in the city. Tourists who are into sports can check out the likes of Yankee Stadium, Citi Field and other notable venues.

9. Shenzhen, China

most visited cities

Tourist arrivals: 12.6 million

Located in the Chinese province of Guangdong, Shenzhen is adjacent to Hong Kong. It’s known as the first Special Economic Zone in the country. And with its natural beauty and pleasant weather, it isn’t surprising that many travelers want to experience its allure firsthand. The city boasts 271 kilometers of stunning coastline. It also has a bustling metropolitan scene filled with entertainment hubs, cultural attractions and food streets. It has also earned the nickname “China’s capital of theme parks,” helping it attract tourists with a family-oriented itinerary.

10. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

most visited cities

Tourist arrivals: 12.3 million

Malaysia’s capital and largest city rounds up this list of the most visited countries in the world. It’s a melting pot, welcoming different races and cultures. Years ago, the city was a British colony. And until today, this history manifests in the kind of buildings that lace its thoroughfares. Thanks to its being a multiracial city, travelers can also indulge in several types of cuisine. Apart from temples, Kuala Lumpur also takes pride in other famous sites, such as Petronas Twin Towers and Batu Caves.

Other notable cities where tourists flock include:

  • Madrid, Spain
  • Tokyo, Japan
  • Amsterdam, the Netherlands 
  • Seoul, South Korea
  • Berlin, Germany 
  • Istanbul, Türkiye
  • Milan, Italy
  • Bali, Indonesia
  • Makkah, Saudi Arabia
  • Taipei, Taiwan

Final thoughts

With the most visited cities in the world drawing millions of tourists, it’s safe to say that the global tourism sector has had a stellar 2023. Though Hong Kong, Bangkok, London, Singapore, and Macau are some of the most popular, many other gems are waiting to be discovered. This continued interest in diverse destinations sets the stage for an exciting future in travel. The year 2024 is poised to be a landmark one, with the UNWTO expecting the industry to hit pre-pandemic figures.

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