If money was no object, what’s the number one place on your ‘must see’ list? We’re sure you have your own thoughts and ideas but what about the billion or so tourists who travel every year? Where do they all go? Google ‘world’s top tourist destinations’ and you’ll find list after list, but would you be surprised not to see one British tourist site or even the Eiffel Tower? Of course you would, and we bet you’ll NEVER guess what’s at number one!
Every year, dozens of tourist websites publish lists of the world’s most popular and most visited tourist destinations and you’d think that places like the British Museum (6.7m annual visitors), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (6.3m) and the Colosseum in Rome (5.1m) would be way up the list but they don’t even make the top 50.
Colosseum in Rome © Gary Ullah
Not surprisingly, there are four Disney parks in the top 20 (Orlando, California, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea) as well as 15 other theme parks in the top 50 and the list we are referring to was published by tourism site Travel + Leisure.
The numbers are based on data supplied by various government agencies and industry reports such as the Global Attractions Attendance Report. The report came hot on the heels of the annual ‘state of global tourism’ report by the World Tourist Organisation which (for 2013) said that there was a 5% y-o-y growth (an additional 52m tourists) bringing the total up to a staggering 1.087bn – around 1 in 7 of the world’s population.
Disney World Magic Kingdom © Joe Penniston
The report said that the biggest growth in international tourism came from Asia, Africa and Europe but not surprisingly the most visited region in the world is Europe with 563m visitors in 2013 (52% of the world’s tourist market) followed by the Americas with 169m visitors and Africa with 56m.
There are a few caveats. Travel + Leisure define tourist attractions as ‘cultural and historical sites, natural landmarks, and officially designated spaces’ so whilst specific areas such as the Las Vegas Strip make the list, shopping malls, beaches, bridges and sites that attract almost exclusively religious pilgrims such as Mecca for the annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage and Sabarimala for the Ayyappan Saranam Hindu pilgrimage to Kerala, India were omitted despite welcoming many tens of millions of annual visitors.
Some sites are naturally restricted by their accessibility. Yellowstone National Park (3.2m) takes a special effort to get to, as does the Terracotta Army in Xi’an, China (4.8m) and Machu Picchu in Peru which has a restriction of 2,500 entries a day, or 912,500 annually.
Machu Picchu © Dennis Jarvis
From 50 to 25, you’ll find the usual suspects of the Taj Mahal (7-8m); Bourbon Street in New Orleans (7.47m); the Sydney Opera House (8.2m); the Louvre in Paris (9.33m) and the Great Wall of China (10.7m), but what sites make the coveted Top 25? How many have you been to? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
25. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City – 11m
24. Epcot, Disney World, Florida, USA – 11.2m
23. San Antonio River Walk, Texas, USA – 11.5m
22. South Street Seaport, New York, USA – 12m
21. Balboa Park, San Diego, USA – 12-14m
20. Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, USA – 13m
19. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France – 14m
18. Tokyo DisneySea, Tokyo, Japan – 14.1m
17. Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco, USA – 14.28m
16. Forbidden City, Beijing, China – 15.3m
15. Disneyland, Anaheim, USA – 16.2m
14. Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo, Japan – 17.2m
13. Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, USA – 18m
12. Disney World, Orlando, USA – 18.5m
11. Basilica of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, Mexico City, Mexico – 20m
10. Grand Central Terminal, New York, USA – 21.6m
9. Niagara Falls, New York, USA & Ontario, Canada – 22m
=7. Sensoji Temple, Tokyo, Japan – 30m
=7. Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo, Japan – 30m
6. Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, USA – 30.5m
=4. Union Station, Washington DC, USA – 40m
=4. Central Park, New York, USA – 40m
3. Times Square, New York, USA – 50m
2. The Zócalo, Mexico City, Mexico – 85m
1. Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey – 91.2m
Grand Bazaar Istanbul © Pedro Szekely
See, we told you you’d never guess what was at number one! The Grand Bazaar is a 15th century market famous the world over for hand-painted ceramics, beautifully intricate carpets, Byzantine jewellery, copperware and of course Turkey’s famous coffee. A drink so important to the country it has been designated a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Turkey, described as ‘the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage’.