With the Olympics about to commence and around 15 million tourists expected to visit this summer only, drawn to a twinkling Eiffel Tower, the award-winning gastronomy, and high culture, you’d expect Paris to be the most visited city in the world right now.

Or perhaps New York and its iconic Brooklyn Bridge, verdant urban parks, and endless clusters of glistening skyscrapers, or even Cancun, with its world-renowned hospitality, luxury stays, and waters of the shiniest blue.

It may come as a surprise to some that, while those do feature in the extended top 10, they are nowhere near the podium, as confirmed by Euromonitor International, which recently looked into international arrival figures for different destinations globally.

If you’re wondering which ones made it to the upper chart, we’re about to give you a quick rundown of the top 3, and we’re not sure you’ve seen this year’s number one coming:

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Young Couple Raising Their Arms While Taking A Picture At A Lookout In Dubai Overlooking Burj Khalifa, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Middle East

A futuristic metropolis where ski stations in the heart of the desert and spearing buildings that rise over 2,716 feet high are not inconceivable feats, Dubai is the third-most visited city globally, having hosted 16.8 million guests last year.

With its innovative hotels, including a soon-to-be-opened moon-shaped resort, and big plans to increase the length of public beaches by 400%, the Middle Eastern gem is set to attract a growing number of visitors in the coming years.

Other than relaxing at an all-inclusive, strolling the lively Dubai Marina and experiencing the very Western Emirati nightlife, tourists are also flocking into Dubai for shopping and leisure, with many of them visiting Dubai Mall, the leading attraction in town, famous for its numerous retail outlets.

London, United Kingdom

red double decker busses in london

London is the second most visited city in the world.

Its host of Victorian landmarks, including architectural icons like Big Ben and Tower Bridge, seems to be on every travel enthusiast’s bucket list lately, so much so that 18.8 million of them landed here in 2023.

Yes, the weather can be rather poor, but this is still a capital with a fascinating History spanning over two millennia, and a cosmopolitan feel like no other in Europe.

London ticks all the boxes, and come rain or come shine, you’ll find yourself falling in love with it in no time, especially if you’re looking to get off the beaten track and experience the English capital like a local: trust us, there’s no shortage of incredible hidden spots to discover.

Now, for the moment you’ve been patiently waiting for.

Drum roll…

The most visited city in the world currently is…

Young Woman Admiring A View Of The Historical Peninsula Of Istanbul From Galata Bridge, Istanbul, Turkiye Or Turkey Western Asia, Eastern Europe.jpg

Istanbul, Türkiye

Nestled between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, claiming territories across both continents and constantly torn between its European roots and oriental flair, Istanbul is the leading tourist destination globally, attracting 20.2 million guests in the most recent count.

That’s a significant 26% growth year-on-year, as Euromonitor International states, and though its placing here may seem unexpected to some, particularly Europhiles who are yet to get over a dethroned Paris, we’re not exactly surprised ourselves:

Why Is Istanbul So Popular?

Hagia Sophia Istanbul Turkiye

As the largest conurbation in Türkiye, and the country’s cultural heart, Istanbul is well-known for its rich Byzantine and Ottoman heritage, majestic imperial mosques, and cross-continental reach: name another city located not in one, but two continents.

We’ll wait.

Other than soaking up the ancient culture, tourists are coming here for the postcardy Balat and Fener districts, where the skinny houses with protruding wooden balconies are painted in vibrant colors, the bustling bazaars, and of course, the high affordability:

Colorful homes of Balat district in Istanbul

Istanbul Is Affordable For Westerners

Though prices have undoubtedly increased in recent years, as a result of Türkiye’s less-than-conventional economic policies, Istanbul remains a relatively affordable destination: those on a limited budget should plan on spending $31 on meals per day, according to Budget Your Trip.

For the $7 kebabs and $3 Turkish coffees, steer clear of the overpriced restaurants just off Sultanahmet and Taksim, and head instead to the offbeat Asian side, in Kadiköy, where curving streets are lined by laid-back Anatolian eateries and hippy cafes that continue to cater to more local crowds.

As for accommodation, prices have definitely risen, too, and the average hotel price now sits at $94, in line with most European cities, but you will still be able to find more affordable room rates from as cheap as $43 in central areas like Beyoğlu and Fatih.

Woman tourist enjoying the view Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet Camii, Istanbul, Turkey

Open-Visa Policy

Though that’s often understated, Türkiye’s generous visa policy has greatly contributed to Istanbul’s placing at number one on Euromonitor International’s latest ranking, as a far greater number of foreign nationals are able to visit visa-free compared to most European countries.

Whether you’re Russian, American, Canadian, Mexican, Thai or a European citizen, you can travel to Istanbul visa-free for up to three months, making it an incredibly attractive destination for bureaucracy-wary vacationers who simply can’t be doing with visa formalities.

As tourism grows, the visa policy is being relaxed even further, as seen with the recent addition of ordinary U.S. passports to the visa-exemption list; since December 2023, Americans have been formally exempt of applying for an entry permit ahead of traveling to Türkiye.

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