Over the past several years, leisure travelers have suffered a widespread spike in travel-related expenses like airfare, checked baggage fees and hotel rates. However, the World Tourism Organization (UNTWO) reports that a whopping 940 million travelers went on vacation in 2010. This goes to show that, when it comes to traveling with touristic intentions, nothing is holding us back!
But where is everybody going? In its annual round-up of international tourism data, UNTWO cites France the most-visited country based on the number of international tourist arrivals in 2010. The U.S. clocks in as the second most-visited country, while China places third with about 55.7 million travelers coming through customs.
When it comes to specific cities, however, many big names like Rome and San Francisco are taking a back seat to up-and-coming tourism destinations. To learn more about where the travel spotlight is shining, check out our list of the most-visited cities (based on the UNTWO's 2010 data on international arrivals). Who knows? Maybe you'll be inspired.
[See a photo recap of the World's Most Visited Cities]
Istanbul comes in 10th on our list of the most popular tourist destinations after welcoming 6.9 million international visitors in 2010, according to the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. It's easy to see why this city attracts so many out-of-towners: Istanbul exudes an exotic aura, complete with aromatic foods, bustling marketplaces and stunning architecture. Religious sites like the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque attract visitors in droves, while an afternoon spent haggling at the Grand Bazaar is just one of the many ways to experience Istanbul's rich culture firsthand.
Avoid the Crowds: You'll find the city relatively tourist free between September and November. By traveling in these months, you'll also avoid fairly high room rates and steamy July temperatures.
Thailand's bustling capital welcomed 7.2 million international visitors in 2010, according to the Thai Tourism Board. Whether travelers are in search of a big city experience or a taste of authentic Thai culture, a trip to Bangkok promises a variety of sà-nùk (fun). The city caters to what Lonely Planet calls "unapologetic consumerism and multi-flavored hedonism." But Thai traditions thrive amidst the towering shopping centers and dizzying nightclubs; vendors sell aromatic bowls of rice, veggies and even edible insects from boats along the city's canals, while a reclining Buddha watches over faithful denizens from the Wat Pho temple.
Avoid the Crowds: Most travelers choose to visit Bangkok between November and April to avoid the hot and humid weather of July and August. But you'll find comfortable temperatures, fewer crowds and lower room rates in September and October.
Like a luminary attracting moths, Dubai lures visitors thanks to its glamorous environment. Shimmering skyscrapers tower over the warm Persian Gulf, housing glamorous hotels, high-end shopping venues and gourmet restaurants. The Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing reports that this UAE city welcomed 8.3 million international visitors in 2010, beating regional heavyweights like Cairo and Tel Aviv to earn the number-eight spot in this popularity contest. While the high-end lifestyle is certainly a draw, Dubai also offers a taste of contemporary Arab culture, with flourishing marketplaces and smoky sheesha cafés.
Avoid the Crowds: Like Bangkok, Dubai's subtropical climate makes the summertime unbearably hot. The city sees a spike in tourism between November and April. Visit in May or September to avoid the crowds and the unfavorable weather.
The World Tourism Organization reports that between 2009 and 2010, China saw a 9.4 percent increase in international tourism. And according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, 8.4 million people visited Hong Kong in 2010 alone. This city-state has grown from a modest British Colony into a thriving metropolis that rivals bigwigs like New York City and Los Angeles. Upon first glance, Hong Kong can seem overwhelming: Neon signs illuminate narrow sidewalks, while street vendors' and businessmen's constant chatter offer the perfect soundtrack for a city always on the go. But once the culture shock settles, visitors will discover a vibrant city suspended between the desire to grow and the determination to stick to tradition.
Avoid the Crowds: Hong Kong is almost always crowded. But you can sidestep some hordes of tourists by visiting in March or September. These two months fall between the city's multiple high seasons, and the weather is pleasant.
Gone are Kuala Lumpur's days as a humble shanty town for tin-miners. Malaysia's then-modest capital is now a living tribute to the country's resourcefulness and determination to stand with other Eastern city. And the effort has paid off: Tourism Malaysia reports the city welcomed 8.9 million foreign visitors in 2010. Like the rest of the Far East, Kuala Lumpur showcases a balance between the old and the new. On the one hand, it boasts some of the tallest skyscrapers in Southeast Asia; on the other, historic sites like the Jamek Mosque offer insight into Malaysian heritage.
Avoid the Crowds: The largest influx of tourism -- along with a spike in hotel rates -- occurs from November to March and from June to September. For pleasant weather, fewer crowds and lower rates, you should consider visiting in April, May or November.
This city-state -- located on an island at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula -- is like other megalopolises thanks to massive skyscrapers and a variety of shopping and dining. But don't shrug it off as a "been there, seen that" type vacation; Singapore's stunning architecture, food and traditions are influenced by East Asia, India and the countries of the Western Hemisphere. According to the World Tourism Organization, 2010 saw 9.2 million international visitors indulging in the Lion City's mouthwatering cuisine, splurging in tony shopping areas and relishing its top-notch entertainment. Tourists also come to mingle with the wildlife; Singapore Island's leafy forests echo with the excited chatter of monkeys.
Avoid the Crowds: So close to the equator, Singapore's climate is hot, hot, hot. Most visitors plan their trips between November and April when the weather is cooler, but you can find agreeable temps and cheaper rates if you visit in May or October.
Antalya, the gateway to the Turkish Riviera, has trumped Istanbul as the country's most popular destination. According to the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Antalya tied with Singapore City, welcoming 9.2 million international visitors in 2010. So what's the draw? For one thing, Antalya offers tourists a break from the hustle and bustle of a metropolis: Traditional Turkish culture thrives here, not urbanization. And this Mediterranean city's perch on the Gulf of Antalya also appeals to sun-seekers, as it has for centuries. History-buffs visit Antalya to revel in the Ancient Roman ruins, many of which were constructed for sun-worship.
Avoid the Crowds: November to March is the most popular time to visit Antalya thanks to the promise of warm, beach-friendly weather. And temperatures can be stifling between June and August. So consider visiting in April, May, September or October when the climate is pleasant and the tourists are few.
While Asian tourism is the next big thing in the travel market, New York City has kept the States in the running. According to NYC & Company, the Big Apple attracted 9.7 million international visitors in 2010. The reason why is really a no-brainer: New York is America's cultural hub. Visitors have access to world-class museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, high-end shopping districts like Fifth Avenue and SoHo and exciting entertainment like Broadway's plays. Add to that a variety of gourmet restaurants and bumping nightclubs, not to mention opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors, and it's easy to see why New York draws a crowd. It really does have it all.
Avoid the Crowds: Despite its freezing winters and sweltering summers, New York City is jam-packed year-round. However, you're likely to avoid sky-high room rates if you avoid holidays.
Legendary fog isn't enough to keep Londontown out of the tourist limelight: According to Visit Britain, 14.6 international tourists passed through in 2010. Like New York, London boasts a vibrant blend of the conventional and the contemporary. Attractions like the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace showcase both a rich heritage and a devotion to tradition, while neighborhoods like Piccadilly Circus and Camden Town appeal to those looking for an edgier experience. London also wins over visitors with its variety of restaurants -- offering everything from Indian to Italian cuisine -- world-class shopping and an exhilarating nightlife scene.
Avoid the Crowds: For the best weather and the fewest tourists, your best bet is September and October. When these months roll around, the summer tourists are long gone and the chilly winter temperatures have yet to arrive.
This should come as no surprise: Paris is the most-visited city in the world. According to the Paris Tourism Office, the City of Love welcomed 15.1 million international travelers in 2010. And while its cobblestone streets and cozy cafés are oftentimes associated with doe-eyed romantics, picturesque Paris caters to a wide variety of tourists. Breathtaking sights like Notre-Dame and the Sacré-Coeur and the world-class Louvre and Musée d'Orsay museums offer a healthy dose of culture, while gourmands can indulge in creamy cheeses, rich sauces and aromatic wines at any of the city's delectable restaurants. And let's not forget the spectacular scenery: A simple stroll along the River Seine will lead to some memorable photo ops.
Avoid the Crowds: Between June and August, Paris is literally choked with crowds, while the rainy weather between November and April can dampen your trip. May and September bring about warm temperatures and significantly fewer crowds.
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