Humans have been on the move for thousands of years – and in no time in history has it been easier to travel than today. Tourism is forming an increasing part of the global economy, even making up 9% of GDP and employing 1/11 people globally.
Some countries are economic powerhouses bringing in millions of tourists to do business locally while others are pristine gems which draw in adventure-seekers and nature-lovers. Whether it be a country filled with thermal lakes or a tiny city-state with one of the world’s top economies, here we’ve dug up the most visited countries in the world according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) 2015 report.
All numbers are reported arrivals for the year 2014. Going from only 25 million international tourists in 1950 to 1,133 million in 2014, people are traveling more than ever and for reasons from business to marathon-tourism to adventure-tourism to more. Check out which global hot spots have made it onto our list of the 25 Most Visited Countries in the World.
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Croatia - 11.6 million
Starting off our list of the world’s most touristed countries is Croatia, a Mediterranean country which welcomed 11.6 million visitors in 2014. Most of these tourists came to enjoy Croatia’s long Mediterranean coastline dotted with inlets and bays throughout. Due to this natural beauty, the service sector is Croatia’s largest economic driver, especially during the summer when many Europeans make the short trip to the (mostly) still-cheaper-than-Italy country.
Singapore - 11.9 million
Ranked by Forbes as Asia‘s most influential city, Singapore is a city-state group of islands which is one of Asia’s most economically prosperous and important zones. Formerly owned by the East India Company then by the U.K., Singapore has strong ties with its former colonial power. Beyond this, it has made a tremendous name for itself, including as the “Easiest Place to Do Business” according to the World Bank and BERI’s “City with the Best Investment Potential”. Most of Singapore’s tourists come for business purposes.
Hungary - 12.1 million
World War I took a heavy toll on Hungary, with the country losing 71% of its land area and 58% of its population. Despite its time under the Eastern Bloc, Hungary has a highly successful and growing economy. Cheap prices and beautiful natural features such as the world’s second largest thermal lake and large grasslands have made Hungary an increasingly common Eurotrip destination. With over 12 million visitors, Hungary is the 23rd most visited country in the world.
Ukraine - 12.7 million
The largest country in Europe, Ukraine has long been a global breadbasket, providing a significant amount of global grains due to its fertile territory. Coming in after #9 on our list, Ukraine commands Europe’s second-largest military, especially called on in the past two years since the outbreak of civil war in 2013 and the deposition of former President Viktor Yanukovych. Despite the war (and in part because of it), Ukraine was the 22nd most visited country in the world in 2014.
Japan - 13.4 million
Japan can claim plenty of “bests”, including the world’s largest metropolitan area (Tokyo) with more than 35 million inhabitants. Boasting the highest life expectancy in the world, Japan is an economic powerhouse drawing in hoards of working people to do business with the technologically advanced island nation as well as leisure tourists to visits its breathtaking scenery including the famous cherry blossoms and Mount Fuji (and maybe eat a bit of sushi and drink some sake).
Netherlands - 13.9 million
The Netherlands received 13.9 million tourists in 2014, nothing short of amazing for its small size. The second-largest exporter of food and agricultural products in the world, this Dutch-speaking country (with overseas possessions in the Caribbean) is a powerhouse on the global stage with various courts and legal institutions located in The Hague and the largest European port (larger than the next three combined) at Rotterdam. Many tourists visit for the country’s liberal policies on a variety of social issues including abortion, same-sex marriage, and soft drugs.
South Korea - 14.2 million
South Korea’s rapid development is nothing short of a miracle, growing its economy by at least 10% each year from 1962-1994. One of the Asian Tigers, South Korea has become one of the most advanced countries in the world, especially in the economy, human rights, and innovation. Besides this, it has been rapidly exporting its pop culture, often referred to as K-Pop, around the world, a major reason for its influx of tourists from Asia.
Macao (China) - 14.6 million
Officially the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, Macao is the most densely populated area in the world. The last European colony in Asia, Macao was ceded by the Portuguese to China in 1999. (The area was originally leased to the Portuguese in 1557 by Ming Dynasty China as a trading port.) Today, Macao has the second highest life expectancy in the world and is mainly driven by its primary industry, gambling, which brings in most of its nearly 15 million tourists annually, making it the 18th most touristed country.
Canada - 16.5 million
Finally gaining full sovereignty from the U.K. in 1982, Canada is one of the most economically developed countries in the world. One of the only countries to border three oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, and the Arctic), Canada is an expansive country (second-largest in the world) whose economy, tourism and otherwise, is strongly based on natural resources and its natural beauty.
Poland - 16.6 million
Poland may come as a surprise on this list, but it shouldn’t give the country’s massive development since the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in the late 1980s. The only European Union member state to have not experienced negative GDP during the financial crisis, Poland has long had a tumultuous history due to its prime position in Central Europe but has experienced significant recent growth.
Despite the destruction caused by World War II, Poland has preserved and rebuilt many important monuments including 14 UNESCO World Heritage sites. It’s also cheaper than other primary European destinations.
Greece - 22.0 million
Being an ancient culture (and the cradle of Western civilization) gives Greece a host of cultural and architectural sites for tourists – 22 million and double its national population in 2014 – to visit. This heavily-touristed country was an assortment of independently-ruled city-states before their unification by Alexander the Great. A major maritime power then and now, Greece draws in most of its tourists to visit the pristine beaches, islands, and coastal cities’ historical monuments.
Thailand - 24.8 million
Officially the Kingdom of Thailand, former Siam is the most popular country on the Southeast Asian backpacker trail. King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand – also known as Rama IX – has been in power since 1946, making him the world’s longest-serving head of state.
An Asian Tiger, Thailand rapidly developed towards the end of the 20th century largely due to manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism. Thailand’s temples and beaches are so popular with young European tourists that travel to Thailand for many European countries is now visa-free.
Austria - 25.3 million
Bringing in just over 25 million tourists in 2014, Austria is one of the most popular countries to visit in Europe. One of the most mountainous countries in the world, only a third of Austria is below 1,640 feet (500 m) above sea level. Its high level of economic development has made Austria among the top fifteen richest countries in the world according to the World Bank. For Europeans and non-Continentals alike, it’s a popular classical music and winter ski destination.
Malaysia - 27.4 million
Did you know #24 (Singapore) on our list used to be part of Malaysia but was kicked out in 1965? Modern-day Malaysia is one of the most economically prosperous countries in the world, having achieved an average annual growth rate of 6.5% for nearly 50 years. Though its economy initially advanced due to natural resources, today Malaysia is strongly building its medical tourism, finance, and science-based industries, leading to ever-more visitors to the monarch-led country.
Hong Kong - 27.8 million
One of the major business hubs of the world, Hong Kong also has much to see for those interested in nature and culture. Holding the title of the most visited city in the world, Hong Kong is one of the world’s densest and most vertical cities. To get its citizens around, the country’s transit network is the most expansive in the world, covering 90% of its residents. Despite its density, Hongkongers have one of the highest life expectancies in the world.
Mexico - 29.1 million
Mexico boasts a long history as the founder of multiple civilizations including the Olmec, Toltec, Zapotec, Maya, and Aztec. Conquered by the Spanish in 1521, Mexico is the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world. The combination of colonial history and multiple former civilizations gives Mexican culture a great vivacity and has endowed the country with numerous important cultural sites which nearly 30 million tourists flock to each year, making it the tenth most visited country in the world.
Russian Federation - 29.8 million
Occupying over one-eighth of the Earth‘s inhabitable land area, Russia is by far the largest country on Earth. Its history has been complicated, first established by the East Slavs, conquered by the Mongols, and reunified by the Grand Duchy of Moscow. The third-largest empire in history, Russia has long been a cultural and economic megalith, especially during the 20th century. The ninth most visited country in the world, Russia brought in almost 30 million tourists in 2014 and likely more this year since the Russian ruble has depreciated significantly.
United Kingdom - 32.6 million
Though the sunset on the British Empire many decades ago, it hasn’t stopped the proliferation of British culture around the world and the United Kingdom from making our list as the eighth most visited country in the world with 32.6 million visitors. London – the economic powerhouse of Europe – brought in half of those numbers alone. Tourists looking for thrills beyond the fashion, museums, and overall culture of London headed further afield to the rugged serenity of the Scottish Highlands, the meadows and mountains of Wales, and the tumultuous city of Belfast: home to Titanic‘s shipyard.
Germany - 33 million
The second-most-popular destination for migrants after the United States, Germany is also the most populous country in Europe. Coming in at #8 on our list of the most touristed countries, Germany has a compelling history spanning thousands of years. Birthplace of the Protestant Reformation, Germany boasts beautiful churches such as the ones in Cologne and Berlin and is a world leader for industry, technology, and counter-culture.
Turkey - 39.8 million
Turkey’s Istanbul – the city straddles two continents and is the largest urban area in Europe and the Middle East with over 14.4 million residents. Though over 10 million tourists visited this crossroads-of-the-world, the rest of the country drew in at least another 30 million thanks to its myriad of World Heritage Sites such as Cappadocia and Troy and its two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Italy - 48.6 million
Italy is a favorite destination for millions of tourists (48.6 million, in fact) due to its temperate climate, extensive and dramatic coastline, strong culinary heritage, and host of archaeological sites. (It has 51 World Heritage Sites, the most of any country.) Experiencing one of the most fragmented histories of any country, Italy emerged from numerous conquests and invasions over thousands of years as the state we now know just after World War II. The Italian diaspora – largely from unindustrialized southern Italy – has fueled a global dispersion of an interest in Italian culture.
China - 55.6 million
Though seven of the top ten visited cities in the world are in Asia, only one East Asian country (bar Russia) has made it onto our top 10 most visited countries list. China‘s inclusion should come as no surprise. One of the original cradles of human civilization, the global powerhouse is the most populous country (1.35 billion people) on Earth.
China has been cited as one of the most complex economies (for over 2,000 years) due to its cyclical history of prosperity and decline. As the world’s largest exporter (and second-largest importer), it’s no doubt China will see substantially more than 55.6 million (in 2014) tourists year-over-year in the near future.
Spain - 65 million
One of only three countries boasting both Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines, Spain brought in 65 million tourists last year. Drawing in millions of tourists from its former colonies in Latin America and its position as the major European trade hub for Latin America. Such numbers have made Spain the second-largest tourism destination in the world in terms of spending: on average, each tourist spends $1,000 per visit and tourism makes up over 5% of Spain’s GDP.
United States - 74.8 million
The world’s largest economy by GDP (both nominal and real), America is also one of the world’s most multicultural countries due to hundreds of years of immigration. Despite being the second most visited country, the United States had tourists spending more than in any other country – 177.2 billion dollars in 2014 compared to 65.2 billion in number two Spain.
France - 83.7 million
Paris’ place as the fifth most visited city in the world hasn’t stopped the country of France as a whole from clinching the top spot – and by a hefty margin. Receiving almost 10 million more tourists than the U.S., France held the second-largest colonial empire in history, a major factor in her close relations with many countries and territories around the globe. Despite the 15 million who visited Paris, France holds deeper appeal for tourists in its lush wine regions, coastal resorts, and small villages dotted throughout the country, bringing in a cumulative total of 83.7 million visitors.