Lonely Planet Writer

Planning a city break? These destinations saw the most travellers last year

If you’re itching to explore a brand new city and don’t know where to go, why not follow the lead of the millions of travellers who flocked to the most visited destinations of 2016.

Bangkok saw the most overnight visitors of any city in the world in 2016, according to research from Mastercard. It’s the second year that the Thai capital has held the title, beating out London last year.

Wooden boats busy ferrying people at Amphawa floating market on April 13, 2011 in Bangkok. A traditional popular method of buying and selling still practiced in Amphawa canals of Thailand
Bangkok is the most visited city in the world. Image by ©nimon/Shutterstock

The financial services company has released its annual Mastercard Destination Cities Index, which looks at tourist numbers to help cities understand the drivers and value of tourism. With tourism driving economic growth and development, Mastercard notes that since 2009, “international travel and spending by overnight visitors to cities have grown faster than real GDP.” The index ranks the top destinations based on visitor volume in 2016, and Bangkok beats out London, with 19.41 million international overnight visitors, compared to the UK capital’s 19.06 million.

A view of the outside of the Churchill Arms in London. Large amounts of flowers and UK decorations can be seen on the exterior.
London comes in second place in the most visited cities in the world. Image by ©mikecphoto/Shutterstock

Unsurprisingly, as France is often cited as the most visited country in the world, Paris came in third place, with the City of Lights luring in more than 15.45 million visitors last year. It narrowly beat out Dubai, which saw 14.87 million overnight visitors. The top 10 was rounded out by Singapore, New York, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo and Istanbul.

Overall, the most visited destinations in Asia are: Bangkok, Singapore, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taipei, Osaka, Shanghai and Chennai. In Europe, the most visited cities are: London, Paris, Istanbul, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Milan, Rome, Vienna, Prague and Dublin. In Latin America, Punta Cana is the most popular among international travellers, followed closely by Mexico City and then Lima. In the Middle East and Africa, Dubai proves most popular, followed by Johannesburg and Riyadh. In North America, the most popular cities amongst travellers are: New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Toronto, San Francisco, Vancouver, Washington, Chicago, Montreal and Boston.

Bukchon Hanok Village and Seoul city skyline, Seoul, South Korea.
Seoul made the top 10 most visited cities in the world. Image by ©Noppasin/Shutterstock

Across the top 20 destination cities, the majority of travel is for leisure, except in Shanghai where nearly half of visitors are travelling on business. Kuala Lumpur has the greatest percentage of visitors there on vacation, at 92.2%.