The Five Most Popular Cities in the World

In the globalized, interconnected modern world, people are traveling more and going further than ever. In fact, every year 10 million more people spend at least one night in a different country than did the previous year. But the question everyone wants to know is — who is number one? Which is the most popular city in the world? Place your bets now, please — here are the top five most visited cities.

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Note: these figures, taken from Mastercard’s 2018 Global Destination Cities Index, are based on international visitors staying for at least one night in the city and do not include airport layovers or domestic tourists.

5) New York

Visitors 2016: 12.75 million

Peak visiting months: July to August

Population: 8.2 million

Visitor Spend: $18.52 billion

As well as being the fifth most-visited country in the world, New York is also the fifth fastest-growing destination in North America, with 5.4% visitor growth. It also boasts the highest proportion of leisure visitors in this top five most popular cities list, at 86.4%. From Broadway and Times Square to the Statue of Liberty and Central Park, there are enough attractions to see why. But on top of that, there’s just a certain magic to New York that you can’t explain unless you’ve been there.

4) Dubai

Visitors 2016: 15.27 million

Peak visiting months: December and January

Population: 2.8 million

Visitor spend: $31.3 billion

Global brand, business hub of the Middle East, and home to the world’s tallest building, one word sums up Dubai: growth. Dubai has seen year-over-year increases in visitors since 2009 when Mastercard started researching global travel. However, despite being a major business and transport hub, 80% of Dubai’s visitors are there for leisure. Regarding expenditure, Dubai is in a class of its own, at 50% higher than second-placed London’s $19.8 billion. Most of this goes toward shopping (31%) and accommodation (27%). Indeed, only Geneva has higher average hotel prices than Dubai.

3) Paris

Visitors 2016: 18.03 million

Peak visiting months: December, March to May

Population: 2.2 million

Visitor spend: $12.88 billion

Paris is a true metropolis but has managed to hold on to its unmistakable character; it’s a huge city with the community spirit of an intimate village. When considering its iconic attractions like the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Disneyland Paris, it’s perhaps surprising that the city has the lowest proportion of leisure visitors in the top five at 70.3%. In fact, of the top 20 most-visited countries, only Shanghai has a smaller proportion of leisure visitors at 45.4%. Paris’s most important feeder country is the United Kingdom, which sends Paris 11% of its visitors.


2) London

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Visitors 2016: 19.88 million

Peak visiting months: July to August

Population: 8.7 million

Visitor spend: $19.76 billion

Although London is the world’s largest financial center, 79.1% of its visitors are there for leisure purposes. Many, although drawn to London’s four World Heritage Sites, incredible nightlife, and world-famous museums, save their pounds for the city’s primary attraction. Visitors to London spent 46.7% of their money on shopping. In the top 20 most visited cities, only Seoul’s visitors spent a greater proportion of their money on shopping (58.7%).

1) Bangkok

Visitors 2016: 21.47 million

Peak visiting months: April and January

Population: 8.2 million

Visitor spend: $14.84 billion

The most popular city in the world, according to overnight stays by international visitors, is Bangkok. Thailand’s capital is renowned for delectable local cuisine, sprawling streetlife, and super-cheap prices by Western standards. Bangkok is a fascinating city of contrast, where the deeply religious live side-by-side with the purely hedonistic, where traditional street stalls and river markets sit beside hyper-malls and high-end restaurants. So despite being Thailand’s business hub and an influential economic power in the region, it’s no surprise that 85.6% of visitors come for leisure purposes.

Bangkok is often a starting point for vacationers traveling South-East Asia, which may explain why a substantial 32% of its visitors come from outside the Asia-Pacific region. However, at 37%, the vast majority of Bangkok’s visitors come from China, followed by Japan at 8%, and the United States in third at 4%.

Of the top five cities that attract the most visitors that contribute to their economies, two are in Europe and one each in North America, the Middle East, and Asia — the winner. Bangkok is the most popular city in the world. Did you guess right?