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May 16, 2023

What are the most visited cities in the world?

Since the pandemic, the travel industry has had to reboot itself, with some countries still playing catch-up. So as the world is opening up, which cities are hosting the most visitors?

By Silvia Pellegrino

After turbulent years because of the pandemic, global tourism is finally starting to recover. As reported by the World Tourism Organisation, international arrivals have returned to 80% of pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2023.

Even pre-pandemic global tourism trends were already changing in 2019, from all-inclusive resorts to spiritual retreats, for example, as travellers, holidaymakers, and mobile businesspeople have been searching for different experiences. With the advancement of social media and the entertainment industry, in addition, the motives and reasonings behind the choice of holiday destination are seeing an everchanging trend. 

Plane flying over Singapore
Many things have changed in the tourism industry since the pandemic, but how? / Image: Shutterstock

Audrey Hendley, president of American Express Travel, wrote: “Travellers are getting inspiration from a number of places. Whether it’s engaging with local communities, recreating favourite onscreen moments, or planning an entire trip around a specific restaurant, one thing that’s clear is that people continue to value and feel passionately about travel.”

Since the lockdown and the impossibility of travelling freely for over two years, the American Express 2023 Global Travel Trends report showed that 78% of respondents to the survey agree that they see leisure travel as an important budget priority, and 74% agree that they care more about creating a travel experience that meets their expectations rather than the cost. 

With this in mind, Mastercard’s 2023 Travel Industry Trends report found that 2023 so far saw these countries to be the most popular for international travel:

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The world’s most visited cities

The information regarding the tourism numbers for each city was taken from the Euromonitor International 2021/2022 Top 100 City Destinations Index.

Dubai, UAE – 6.9 million

Bird eye view of Dubai's skyscrapers
Dubai was the most visited city in the world in 2021 / Image: Shutterstock

Dubai is breaking tourism records in 2022; in the first quarter alone, the hotel occupancy rate soared to 74%. In 2021, the city received close to 6.9 million international visitors, according to the Euromonitor International report. On the other hand, in the same year, it only saw one million domestic arrivals.

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The opulent capital of the Emirate of Dubai, which is situated in the desert, is adorned with skyscrapers and malls. Dubai is one of the most lavish cities in the world, with a stunning view of sand beaches and even artificial snow.

The Burj al Arab, which has a private beach and a restaurant on the top floor with views of the entire city, is Dubai’s most famous hotel.

Shanghai, China – 6.1 million

Shanghai's skyline at dusk
Shanghai has one of the biggest seaports in Asia / Image: Shutterstock

With an impressive 155.2 million domestic travellers and 6.1 million international tourists in 2021 alone, Shanghai deserves the second position.

The city has one of the biggest seaports and it is also a major industrial hub; however, these are not the reasons why its tourism is so advanced. With several museums and cultural artefacts to choose from, Shanghai offers many tourist opportunities.

The Temple of Confucius is probably one of the most famous attractions, as well as the Museum of Shanghai, which houses bronzer, ceramics and other ancient relics typical of Chinese culture.

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Paris, France – 5.5 million

Wide angle view of Paris at twilight
Paris’s most famous attraction is the Eiffel Tower / Image: Shutterstock

According to the 2021 Top 100 City Destinations Index, France is the third most-visited country in the world, with 6.1 million international visitors and 14.4 million domestic trips. Paris alone saw almost 20 million visitors in 2019, making it the most visited city in Europe.

Since the pandemic, Paris lifted Covid-19 restrictions in March 2022, meaning that tourists no longer need to have a health pass or vaccination proof.

With its timeless architecture and historical monuments like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe, the city of love has a lot to offer. 

There is no doubt that strolling along the River Seine and exploring the Louvre is on many people’s bucket lists, but Paris is also the perfect destination for book shop lovers and, most importantly, food lovers.

Guangzhou – 4.7 million

Guangzhou's apartment buildings with a red roof
Guangzhou is one of the most densely populated areas in China / Image: Shutterstock

Conventionally called Canton, Guangzhou is among the most densely populated cities in China. The city is very active and vibrant, with parks and greenery all around.

According to the 2021 Index, Guangzhou received 4.7 million international visitors and 55 million domestic trips.

Its historical nature and cultural past (and present) make it the perfect touristic destination: the annual Spring Festival, modern lifestyle, Yue and Chao operas are all important for the cultural personality of Guangzhou. Another factor that attracts tourists is the culinary life of the city, which focuses on fresh ingredients and exotic dishes like fried shark fin.

New York City, New York – 4.6 million

Central Park in New York City, bird eye view
New York is also called the Big Apple / Image: Shutterstock

In 2021, the Index reports that New York City saw 4.6 million international tourists and 39.4 million domestic ones, with a substantial rise since 2020.

New Amsterdam, the Big Apple or the city of dreams… New York City has multiple personalities – the perfect melting pot of cultures, spread out over the five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island.

The various elements that make up New York City are known all around the world, like Wall Street, Greenwich Village and Broadway. There are many touristic hotspots and, even if the city halted its rumbling because of the pandemic, it is now lively again.

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