I have been very fortunate to have spent many years travelling to different destinations around the world. During my 20s and 30s, I lived, worked, and visited countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.
I have been lucky enough to travel to many of the 15 world’s most visited cities in this list. FYI – the data was compiled by MasterCard based on research of overnight travellers in 2018.
This list will give you an insight into the locations and destinations many tourists visit – and why they travel to those cities. I know it made me thirst for my next international trip to a far-flung tropical destination or a weekend city break. Some of the cities on the list may surprise you, while other locations are a no-brainer.
Have a read through and see if you agree with me.
Top Cities In The World
15. Pattaya, Thailand
Annual International Visitors: 9.44 million
Pattaya isn’t a particularly large city in Thailand, but it still draws millions of travellers each year from around the world. Located on the east coast of Thailand, most visitors are attracted to Pattaya thanks to its vibrant nightlife.
One big aspect of the city’s nightlife is the sex industry, (which you may or may not like) – but it thrives in Pattaya. It goes back to when American soldiers on R&R during the Vietnam War helped to make the sex industry in Pattaya famous.
Yet, the Thai destination is far more than just about nightlife and sex.
Pattaya’s floating market is one of the most popular tourist attractions – and a place you must visit. Here you will find food, souvenirs, and stalls selling all kinds of items. Pattaya’s ancient wooden temple, known as the Sanctuary of Truth, is a peaceful religious structure that needs to be seen to be believed.
Pattaya is a city with extraordinary cuisine, culture, and history for travellers to indulge in. However, the seedier side of things might not be to everyone’s taste – that’s why it only makes no. 15 on the list of the world’s most visited cities.
14. Phuket, Thailand
Annual International Visitors: 9.89 million
One of the most apparent aspects of modern travel, is the people travelling to the most visited cities. Chinese tourists make up many of the people travelling, as China now ranks as second behind the United States as the country that produces the most international tourists.
If you want a tropical holiday adventure, then look no further than Phuket (Thailand’s largest island).
Phuket offers secluded beaches that gives you the chance to get away from large crowds. You will discover plenty of white sandy beaches across the island, with lovely warm tropical water to swim, dive, and play in.
Phuket is located near other islands off the coast of Thailand, allowing you to hop from one island to another. You can rent a sailboat and cruise through the calm seas. Phang Nga Bay is a popular cycling destination to ride around. If you are a movie buff, in the middle of the bay is James Bond Island, which rises high out of the waters.
The problem with Phuket is it is geared toward tourists, so you will notice high prices and crowded bars compared to other parts of the country.
13. Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Annual International Visitors: 10 million
Mecca’s appeal isn’t universal. It isn’t a tropical destination, nor is it a location for a wonderful weekend city break. The vast majority of tourists to Mecca are there for a religious experience. Mecca is Islam’s holy city, and each year, Muslims make the journey to the city during Hajj. Regardless of finances, Muslims are mandated by the religion to visit Mecca at some point during their lifetime.
Saudi Arabia is attempting to raise its profile as a travel destination. I’ve never been there and have no desire to try it. It isn’t like the more popular middle Eastern travel destinations like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or Doha. If you aren’t Muslim, visiting Mecca is illegal, so you shouldn’t even try.
12. Osaka, Japan
Annual International Visitors: 10.14 million
Tokyo is the city most travellers visit on a trip to Japan. Why wouldn’t it be? Tokyo is a futuristic-looking city with an incredible combination of history, culture, and commercialism.
If you want something different on your Japanese vacation, then Osaka (Japan’s third-largest city) is the place to go.
Its location makes it possible to visit some of Japan’s other top tourist destinations, including Kyoto and Nara, which are easy to reach. Osaka has plenty of family-friendly attractions, perfect for kids and parents alike.
Osaka city is called the Nation’s Kitchen thanks to its famous street food scene. There is nothing like a Japanese street food stall – you can have plenty of great nights out nibbling on food and sipping drinks as you hop from one stall to the next. Go there and try it, you will enjoy and it’s why it’s no. 12 on the most visited cities list.
11. Seoul, South Korea
Annual International Visitors: 11.25 million
I spent three fantastic years of my life living in Seoul. The city is incredible with its neon lights that light up Seoul at night. Seoul’s nightlife is second to none. You will find karaoke bars, beer bars, wine bars, and much more on a night out in the city.
South Korea’s capital has plenty of great outdoor adventures to get stuck into. You can climb Namsan Mountain or take the cable car to the top. The Han River trails snake alongside the vast river on both sides. You can spend all day outdoors enjoying physical activity before cleaning up for a night of Korean BBQ, Hite Beer, and dancing.
One of the great things about Seoul is that the party never stops. It is truly a city that never sleeps. Sinchon and Hongdae are two vibrant districts of Seoul, with young local dining options, shops, and a simply cool art scene.
10. Antalya, Turkey
Annual International Visitors: 8.26 million
Antalya is known as the “Riviera of Turkey”, yet it might be more like Spain’s Costa Del Sol instead. The city was a destination for wealthy Istanbul residents seeking a break from the overcrowded city.
Many of the tourists that descend on Antalya these days are from Russia or China. However, European travellers also visit the city in search of low-priced holidays.
The beaches of Antalya are breathtaking. When you arrive at the beaches, you will notice some are wide open, while others are hemmed in with large rocky outcrops.
The city’s Old Town is quaint with its ancient architecture and a nice place to wander through looking at the nick knacks for sale.
Antalya has something for culture vultures and beach bums in the same package.
9. Tokyo, Japan
Annual International Visitors: 12.93 million
There is no city in the world like Tokyo – it is an incredible city with a beautiful cityscape featuring futuristic high-rise buildings.
However, you will find more than just futuristic skyscrapers for multinational companies. Tokyo has parks for residents and tourists to escape the concrete and powerlines of the city. You can get lost in the greenery and forget you are in one of the world’s largest metropolises.
I love Tokyo for its atmosphere (I would place it higher than no.9 on this list of most visited cities). You can find ancient temples just around the corner from modern shops selling the latest anime. The noodle restaurants are fun and perfect for a meal any time of day.
If you want to experience Japanese pop culture, then you cannot miss Harajuku. It is a combination of comic books, video games, anime, and fashion. It is unique and totally Tokyo.
8. Istanbul, Turkey
Annual International Visitors: 13.40 million
Istanbul is heaving with people. It is a city you can feel suffocated in due to the pace of life. Istanbul is situated on the European and Asian continents. Its location makes it an important city in the world, as it connects the two continents. Istanbul’s location helps add to its feel and flavour.
The city has some fantastic tourist sites, and culture vultures will love a trip around town. The Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque, and Hagia Sophia are perfect for exploring and snapping selfies in front of. Once the sun goes down, you can enjoy Istanbul’s thriving nightlife.
The Bosporus runs right through Istanbul. You can book a cruise down the river during the day or night and see Istanbul from an entirely different point of view.
7. New York, USA
Annual International Visitors: 13.60 million
New York is America’s most popular travel destination, and why wouldn’t it be?
Its main attractions are known around the world from a stroll through Central Park, climbing to the top of the Empire State Building, and seeing a show on Broadway. It’s got something for everyone.
Sports fans have plenty to love about New York too, which is home to the Yankees, Mets, Knicks, Giants, Jets, and Rangers, just to name a few.
New York isn’t for everyone. It is busy and crowded, and New Yorkers have a reputation for being extremely rude. If you are travelling on a budget, then forget about visiting New York City – it is expensive, and accommodation and food don’t come cheap.
Despite being expensive, New York is one of those cities you must visit at least once in your lifetime ( I’ve been there three times myself). It has some truly iconic sites that you are likely familiar with from television and film.
6. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Annual International Visitors: 13.79 million
Kuala Lumpur is another Asian travel destination that benefits from the large number of Chinese travellers exploring the world. Malaysia’s capital may not be the first city that comes to mind when considering the 15 most visited world cities, yet it continues to grow as a tourist destination.
Kuala Lumpur, known locally as KL, is thriving with skyscrapers that kiss the clouds. Over the years, the city has grown thanks to the incredibly tall buildings that have been erected. The Petronas Twin Towers kicked off the building boom and remain the tallest twin towers in the world today.
Some might say KL has lost its culture; however, a trip around town will show you that isn’t true. Temples, parks, and food stalls keep the city’s culture alive and well. If you are looking for an Asian city full of history, KL may not be your cup of tea. However, there is still plenty to enjoy.
Annual International Visitors: 14.67 million
Singapore is a sunny tropical city-state in Asia that continues to grow as a travel destination. It is very similar to KL as a growing destination. Singapore is the tiger of Asia in terms of finances. It was a poor country in a marshy swampland before exploding into one of the biggest success stories.
Singapore is known as the safest city in the world. So, you won’t have to worry about too much danger when walking around. Perhaps the only danger you need to watch out for is cars when crossing the busy streets.
You don’t want to book a trip to Singapore if you are on a budget. Everything in Singapore is expensive, from food and drink to accommodation and clothing. I can’t stress how expensive Singapore can be. If you have the money, Singapore is a great playground with its high-end stores, beaches, and Disney World.
4. Dubai, UAE
Annual International Visitors: 15.93 million
Dubai is an overrated travel destination. I always hear people brag about booking a holiday to Dubai, yet once they return, many of them seem disappointed. There isn’t much to do in Dubai compared to other European beach destinations. If you want a beer, it is expensive and difficult to come by. You can’t just walk into a shop and buy one.
It is also oppressively hot. The beach is the ideal break on a hot day, but a day at the beach can often feel very sterile. You can also get a reprieve from the heat by visiting one of the giant malls. You can get lost inside; it feels like being in a Las Vegas casino.
I’ve been to Dubai twice and cannot really remember anything special about it. The city felt artificial, and there was a complete lack of history, most likely because there isn’t any. Like Abu Dhabi and Doha, Dubai wants to look flashy and expensive, but there isn’t any substance to it.
3. London, UK
Annual International Visitors: 19.09 million
London is like New York City, as it is a city you must visit at least once in your life. The English capital is not cheap either, so you better have plenty of money on hand for accommodation, food, nights out, and taxis.
If you do have a bit of money in your pocket, then London has plenty of incredible places to see, including Big Ben, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, and London Bridge.
Culture vultures will love a day out in London. Along with the great destinations, London is filled to the brim with museums. And the great thing is, many of the museums are free to enter, so you can see art and history without spending a penny.
Personally, I’m not a fan of London, simply because it is too busy, and I have worked in London too, so perhaps that puts me off it. I prefer the northern cities of England. With that said, its history and culture make it perfect for a vacation.
2. Paris, France
Annual International Visitors: 19.10 million
Paris is the city of love, and its reputation for romance is one of the main reasons travellers head to the French capital. I’ve only been to Paris once, and it was for a short time as part of a school exchange trip in my late teens.
It was okay, had I been there longer (and not with the school) – I would have probably been more impressed.
Paris isn’t cheap, and many restaurants will have prices for tourists. If you want to save some money, then try to find local cafes and bars located back from the main tourist streets, the prices will likely be half of those on the main strips. If you want to take a tour of the city, it can be expensive, so try exploring the city on your own, or look for one of the free city walks. The tourist guides do these walks for free in the hope that you will tip them at the end.
One of the must-do experiences is visiting the Eiffel Tower. Although I am afraid of heights, going to the top of the tower is an experience I won’t forget. The Louvre is another must-visit location, even if you just snap photos outside. The queue to get inside is long, so be prepared to wait.
Given the romantic connotations surrounding Paris, it’s no wonder it is the second most visited city in the world.
1. Bangkok, Thailand
Annual International Visitors: 22.78 million
I will admit that I have never visited Bangkok. I honestly have no desire to visit the Thai city, as it simply doesn’t appeal to me like other destinations in Europe. Perhaps it is because so many people have visited Bangkok. I’ve met plenty of people who have travelled to the Thai city, and everyone had a different story ranging from fantastic to awful.
Bangkok can be whatever you want it to be. It can be a cheap location for backpackers and bloggers. Yet, travellers with plenty of money can find luxury hotels and gourmet restaurants. Bangkok is a mix of all things for travellers, which helps attract people.
The city is full of chaos, but once you cut through it, you find a city teeming with superb cuisine and gorgeous ancient temples. Bangkok combines old and new into an intriguing package. It isn’t for everyone, but for those who enjoy it, they will never want to leave.
The stats don’t lie, with over 22 million people visiting Bangkok, it makes it to the top slot of the list of most visited cities in the world!