Top 20 Cities for Tourists

Can’t decide where to go next? MasterCard’s annual Global Destination Cities Index shows you which cities are the most popular with tourists. Here are the Top 20 Cities:

1. London, England

Despite its high price—the pound is strong, making it one of the most expensive places to live and to visit—London continued its dominance in the tourism industry. Some 18.7 million tourists came through the British capital in 2014, putting it more than two million people ahead of its closest competitor. It also comes in at no. 1 in terms of total visitor spending, with tourists spending a grand total of $19.27 billion in 2014. That is a lot of cups of tea.

2. Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok came in at no. 13 on our readers’ choice list of the top 25 cities in the world, and current tourism numbers bear that out, with more than 16 million people visiting the Thai capital this year. It edged out London for the no. 1 spot in 2013, so we’ll see which city scores the top spot next year.

3. Paris, France

The city often called the most romantic place in the world is a perennial tourist favorite, with proposals in front of the Eiffel Tower a daily occurrence. The list of famous attractions—Notre Dame Cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre —seems endless, and the world-class cuisine attracts foodies of every stripe. The 15.6 million annual visitors can’t get enough. Unlike London, whose biggest group of tourists is from within the EU, Paris’s visitors are the opposite: 53 percent come from outside of Europe, especially the United States and Japan.

4. Singapore

Singapore may be a small country (its nickname is the “little red dot”) but its wide range of cultural offerings makes it a popular place to visit. There are cultural attractions like the National Museum of Singapore, beautiful outdoor spaces like the Botanic Gardens , boutique and mega-mall shopping, and both five-star and hawker center dining for a range of budgets. English is one of the country’s four official languages, so Western visitor numbers are on the rise. It’s also a popular jumping-off point for tourists planning to visit other parts of Asia.

5. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai has become synonymous with luxury; it’s no coincidence that this over-the-top city is a high-end playground for shopping fanatics and home to an indoor ski slope. Tourism is now such a big industry in Dubai, there are actually more visitors than residents—the city counted about 4.8 guests per local in 2014.

6. New York, USA

The only American city to land on the list, New York remains a big hit with tourists with nearly 12 million visitors coming through annually. It’s also unsurprisingly the most-visited city in all of North America, with Los Angeles, Miami, Toronto, and San Francisco rounding out the rest of the top five.

7. Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and its ranking on the list this year reflects its central location. Fifty-five percent of tourists in Istanbul come from outside Europe; the city is also becoming popular as an extended layover spot—it was the fastest growing international air hub in 2014.

8. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur has experienced slow but steady growth in tourism over the last few years. The majority of its visitors come from other parts of the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia (the fastest-growing group of visitors), Singapore, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Still, its relative affordability means that more North Americans are beginning to look to it as a potential destination in 2014 and beyond.

9. Hong Kong

Although Hong Kong is once again part of China, this semi-autonomous region is allowed to make many of its own rules. For example, tourists from the United States, Canada, and Great Britain can visit Hong Kong without a visa, although they will require one for the mainland. That relative ease makes Hong Kong a popular getaway in Asia and a way to get a taste of the country’s rich cultural heritage—minus the planning.

10. Seoul, South Korea Korea’s tourism numbers are on the rise, with 8.63 million visitors to the South Korean capital in 2014, up 4.7 percent from the year before. It’s also the eighth-biggest air hub in the world, making a visit to Seoul easy to combine with trips to nearby Japan and China.

11. Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona came in at no. 9 on Traveler’s readers’ choice list of the top 25 cities in 2014. The beachfront city beloved by art lovers is a perennial hit with travelers, with 7.37 million people passing through this year. Despite being lower on the list than Istanbul, Barcelona wins out in the amount of tourist money being spent: $11.2 billion compared to Istanbul’s $9.4 billion.

12. Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam is on the rise this year, overtaking Milan to hit no. 12 on MasterCard’s index. The Dutch capital is known for its easygoing, bike-friendly lifestyle and for its hip design scene, especially among its hotels.

13. Milan, Italy

Milan is home to Italy’s Fashion Week , but the fashion-conscious city slipped slightly this year, coming in at no. 13 overall and sixth in Europe. The reason for its slight decline? Although it had almost the same number of tourists in 2013 and 2014, the average amount spent per person went down.

14. Rome, Italy

Milan edged out Rome as the most popular destination in Italy, with 6.82 million visitors to Rome’s 6.79 million. Still, the Eternal City had an uptick in both the number of tourists and the amount of money spent per person, and it remains beloved by Conde Nast Traveler readers, who voted it their seventh-favorite city in the world.

15. Taipei, Taiwan

Taipei received 6.3 million visitors last year, more than double the city’s population of 2.6 million. Business travelers make up a big percentage of visitors to Taipei, but this emerging city is actively courting Western tourists and adding new air routes that make it easier to visit. We recently deemed Taiwan’s capital “the best Asian food city that no one is talking about,” so visit before it gets too crowded.

16. Shanghai, China

Shanghai is another up-and-comer on the list, moving up one spot from last year’s ranking. The Chinese metropolis offers a relative bargain compared to other cities on the list, as it ranks lowest in per-visitor daily spending, just $238. And although it’s popular with business travelers, Shanghai also claims a buzzy art scene.

17. Vienna, Austria

Vienna dropped one spot from last year, with just over 6 million tourists visiting. Still, it’s growing in visitor spending, beating out both Milan (no. 13 on MasterCard’s list) and Berlin (which didn’t make the cut). There’s much more to Austria’s capital than the classical music and art that made it famous—it’s one of the most eco-friendly cities in Europe.

18. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Many of the visitors to Riyadh travel from other spots in Saudi Arabia, particularly the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, the former of which every Muslim must try to visit to complete the hajj pilgrimage. At 5.6 million visitors in 2014, Riyadh beats out Abu Dhabi, Johannesburg, Cape Town, and every city in the Middle East and Africa except for Dubai.

19. Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo welcomed 5.3 million tourists last year, who spent about $7.4 billion altogether. Those numbers are bound to grow when Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics in 2020. Until then, visitors continue to flock to the city for its luxury hotels, incredible food, and hip neighborhoods.

20. Lima, Peru

A relative newcomer to the MasterCard index, Lima’s rise shows a growing interest in South American tourism. Many travelers who want to visit Machu Picchu begin their journey in Lima, but the city is a destination in its own right, with a burgeoning foodie scene and a historic city center that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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