Wondering which countries are the most popular travel destinations? Every year, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) compiles a list of the most visited countries according to the number of international tourist arrivals for every country. In recent years, European destinations like France, Spain and Italy have been leading the list, but China surpassed Italy a few years ago, coming in at fourth place after France, the United States, and Spain. Since 2010, Russia and Thailand have entered the top ten list, while Malaysia and Mexico have slipped below the top ten rankings. It’s a pity none of the African and Middle Eastern countries have made it to the list! Here’s a look at the top 10 list as compiled in 2012.
1. France: 83.0 million visitors*
With numerous world-known monuments and museums, it’s really no surprise that France has topped the charts over and over again. Whether you’re traveling to visit the famous Musée du Louvre or Eiffel Tower in Paris, or going wine-tasting in Bordeaux and castle-hopping in the Loire Valley, France has plenty to offer for the curious traveler. As a European country, France is also relatively compact – it’s easy to travel from one region to the next on budget car rentals and go from city sight-seeing to relaxing on the beach within a short time frame.
2. United States: 69.8 million visitors
Stretching from California in the West to New York in the East, the United States of America covers an area of 3.79 million square miles – that’s a whole lot of country to explore. The U.S. is as diverse as it is huge: with expansive national parks and vibrant cities visited by foreign tourists, local visitors and business travelers alike. We think New York City, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and San Francisco are the most visited cities in the U.S., with their array of attractions and popularity. What do you think?
3. Spain: 60.7 million visitors
As a mainstay in tourism, Spain has always attracted hordes of European tourists to its shores. In summer, Costa del Sol and many of its islands are often flooded with German, British and Dutch tourists. But the country’s tourist board has also been branching out to the international market, drawing in global visitors to the cultural capital of Barcelona and traditional towns in Andalusia and Castilla la Mancha. Whatever the case, Spain makes for an excellent travel destination with its world-class cuisine, centuries-old history and vibrant, characteristic cities – whether you’re a backpacker or luxury traveler.
4. China: 55.7 million visitors
In recent years, the number of visitors to China has skyrocketed, largely due to an increase in global business dealings and cultural exchange. A large number of companies has moved their production chains to China, so have banks and big-name franchise stores. At the same time, China is becoming more and more popular as a travel destination, with its ancient cities, historical sites and good food veering for the tourist limelight.
5. Italy: 47.7 million visitors
From the romantic canals of Venice to the history-rich piazzas of Rome and pebbled beaches in the Amalfi Coast, Italy’s attractions are bountiful. The country provides a diverse travel experience – no wonder it’s a dream destination for many. Italy’s one of our favorite countries in the world, and it’s obvious we’re not the only ones who have fallen for its charms. As far as tourism trends go, we predict that Italy’s tourism numbers will only keep rising.
6. Turkey: 37.8 million visitors
Spanning across Europe and Asia, Turkey is famed for its distinctive cultures, age-old traditions and varied landscapes – ranging from the snow-peaked mountains of Nemrut to the unique valleys of Cappadocia. Historically, Turkey was home to distinctive civilizations through the centuries, with impressive Roman ruins and Ottoman architecture to bear witness. Most importantly, Istanbul is the crowd-puller, attracting business travelers and tourists alike with its extreme characteristics: with futuristic skyscrapers alongside traditional mosques and boutique hotels next to street food stands.
7. Germany: 31.5 million visitors
On UNWTO’s ranking of world tourism expenditure, Germany comes in at number one – it looks like all these money spent on boosting its tourism is well worth it. Many of Germany’s major cities are tourist magnets especially in festive season – drawing in visitors with their Christmas markets, beer festivals and summer events. Munich’s Oktoberfest itself accounts for a big percentage of the annual visitors, while Berlin and Frankfurt attract mainly European city lovers.
8. United Kingdom: 31.2 million visitors
Although its numbers are a far cry to that of Italy, the UK also has quite a lot to offer on its shores – such as the old-world charm of England, the dramatic landscapes of Scotland and the lesser known coastline of Wales. Let’s not forget that London is a miniature world, where global cultures converge and where headquarters of almost every international company is located.
9. Russian Federation: 28.4 million visitors
In recent years Russia has joined the top tourism contenders, just under the United Kingdom in numbers. Tourism to the country has grown tremendously, as the country boasts spectacular natural attractions like Lake Baikal as well as marvelous historic cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg. Moreover, Russia’s interesting culture and language make it appealing to foreign tourists looking for a unique experience.
10. Thailand: 26.5 million visitors
Thailand’s influence in the tourism sphere has been steadily growing, and just recently it surpassed Malaysia as the top Asian country for tourism. Spotted with beaches, national parks, rainforests, and of course booming cities, Thailand draws in adventure travelers and beachgoers alike. With its rich cuisine, fascinating history, and strong Buddhist influences, Thailand attracts many travelers curious to learn more about the Southeast Asian way of life.