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.

Every year, MasterCard puts together its Global Destination Cities Index, which tracks airline ticket purchases, souvenir purchases, and other travel spending data to figure out which cities are the most popular with tourists.

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

ARC28M Wat Phra Kaew, the temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the Grand Palace at dusk in Bangkok, Thailand, Asia

ARC28M Wat Phra Kaew, the temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the Grand Palace at dusk in Bangkok, Thailand, Asia (Robert Harding World Imagery / Alamy)

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

(Roland Nagy / Alamy)

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 Skyline and view of Marina Bay

Singapore Skyline and view of Marina Bay (iStock)

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, NY


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

modern Hong Kong

modern Hong Kong (iStock)

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

D5EK16 Downtown cityscape of Seoul, South Korea. Image shot 2013. Exact date unknown.

D5EK16 Downtown cityscape of Seoul, South Korea. Image shot 2013. Exact date unknown. (Sean Pavone / Alamy)

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.

If you want to be a tourist on your next vacation, visit one of these tourist-friendly cities.

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