Another year, another tourist boom is shaking the very foundations of the old continent as travelers from around the world descend upon the most visited cities in Europe.
Strictly statistically speaking, it’s mostly the same cities that get all the attention of the tourists year in, year out, but slight adjustments do happen. The reasons for these alterations are multifold, but mostly involve safety ratings of a specific country or a city going up or down, current political and economic events or simply some newly discovered place getting more traction than ever.
For this rendition of most popular cities in Europe, we’ll use data gathered over a three-year time span, naturally discounting 2019 as the results aren’t in yet. We’ll focus on 2018 and the number of international tourists that came to visit some of the most amazing cities that Europe has to offer. While you probably won’t be surprised at most of the results, there are some entries that will boggle the mind and give you an alternative idea on where to go this year.
International tourist arrivals in 2018: 20.72 million
Yes – London has had more visitors than Paris. This piece of information often comes as somewhat of a shock for those unaware of the fact, but now that we’ve got it out of the way, we can proceed with the top European destination.
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Featured in popular culture more than any other destination, it’s no wonder that tourists from all over the world continuously choose London as their number one European getaway. Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square and The Tower of London among others have attained legendary renown and reputation that reaches the farthest corners of the world. However, it’s not just these oldtimers that are garnering so much attention for London. Younger generations like to go on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour and see the making of Harry Potter and the magic that was unfolding behind the scenes. The Shard has also gained a lot of prominence over the recent years, a glass skyscraper of 1,016 feet, making it the tallest structure in London.
Other than that, it’s always much faster to get to other countries of the United Kingdom when you’re in London and see all the beauty of Britain.
International tourist arrivals in 2018: 16.84 million
The City that never sleeps. The City of Light. The City of Love. Paris goes by many names, more than we know, each given to it by those that prefer to engage with it in their own way. With so many aspects to it, it’s no wonder that Paris was, and still is, one of the most popular European cities.
Some praise it for its divine wines, some for food and others for fashion. Whichever walk of life you come from, you’ll find that Paris is more that acceptive and open-minded about who you are. If none of these things move you, which we doubt, there’s always a more touristy side to Paris. Is there a single person in the world that hasn’t heard of the Eiffel Tower at least once? How about the Luvr and Orsay? Or the Marais? One after another, the exquisite places of Paris have ensured its prominence as a tourist destination of choice for many.
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Unfortunately, the tragic events which led to Notre Dame being engulfed in flames have almost rendered this important heritage extinct. It persevered, it’s still standing proud and visitors are more interested in it than ever.
International tourist arrivals in 2018: 12.12 million
No one would expect anything less from a city that’s so deeply culturally and historically intertwined with that of major European empires. Istanbul is the city on two continents and center of one of the longest lasting empires of the world – the Ottomans.
Besides these interesting facts, it is also the attractions and the relics of the Ottomans that are luring all the travelers. With so much history and natural beauty all around, it’s easy to see why it’s ever so popular among the European cities.
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Don’t miss out on some of the most gorgeous, mind-blowing buildings that Istanbul has to offer, such as Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Galata Tower. The last one will provide a breathtaking view of Istanbul and probably give you some new ideas about what you’d like to see next.
Enjoy activities that locals do to get a glimpse of how life looks like on Bosphorus. Shope at the Grand Bazaar, or have a go at one of the many waterpipe lounges. Despite having a rich cultural heritage around every corner, Istanbul is first and foremost a city of hedonism and indulgence.
International tourist arrivals in 2018: 10.73 million
Before you go berserk over us including Antalya on a list of cities to visit in Europe, know that we’ve done so due to statistical data and travel organizations treating it as such.
Most travel trends forecast an excellent year for Turkey, especially Antalya and Istanbul. Even though this country is not deemed the safest one for visiting in 2019, large numbers of tourists, most of whom are Russian, have made it their city of choice this year.
Regardless of the current level of safety, Antalya is a gem of Asia Minor, a city overflowing with museums and historic landmarks such as Hadrian’s Gate and Yivli Minare. Antalya’s Old Town and Old Harbor are pure gold for anyone visiting this fine city, and on the outskirts, you’ll find endless ruins of ancient civilizations such as Perge and Termessos. Maybe it’s time you added Antalya on your bucket list. With ‘just’ 6.17 million and 6.46 million visitors in 2016 and 2017 respectively, we’re seeing an upsurge in tourism that isn’t likely going to stop. Explore Antalya before overtourism strikes again and wipes away the beauty of this Asian city on a European list.
International tourist arrivals in 2018: 9.53 million
Sometimes, Rome seems like it’s not getting nearly enough attention as Paris or London. While 9.53 million people that visited it in 2018 is a number that really speaks volumes about its popularity, it feels like it could do much better.
There’s no doubt about it – Rome is an essential part of a vacation in Europe. Steeped in so much history, with roots that stretch to the earliest days of Europe as we know it, this city has withstood so many trials that just standing there is a reward enough. Add the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trajan’s Column, Piazza di Spagna, Roman Forum and endless other glorious monuments to the mix, and you’ve got yourself a city worth visiting a dozen times over.
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Oh, and you’ve probably heard about this little enclave called the Vatican City! The smallest sovereign country in the world, the Vatican should be a part of any remotely serious visit to Rome. Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica await exploration, both of which contain magnificent works of Michelangelo and attract millions of tourists on their own merit.
Prague, Czech Republic
International tourist arrivals in 2018: 9.04 million
Prague, or Praha, as it’s called internally by its population, is one of the tourist cities that have maintained steady following throughout the last decade or so. Never a moment’s rest for the local people, as many a tourist won’t turn a blind eye to this eye candy of central Europe.
To put it bluntly – Prague is one of the most beautiful cities to visit on your round of Europe. Its constant influx of tourists is not due to some unforeseen randomness – no, Prague has a charm that is too difficult to resist. Whether it’s historic landmarks you’re after, or just a good time getting to know the locals, the ‘City of a 100 Spires’ delivers. Most people claim you’ve never experienced Praha unless you take a stroll across the Charles Bridge, or climbed the Prague Castle and observed the city from on high. You’ll see the best that Gothic and Baroque have to offer, all while drinking some of the finest beer in all of Europe.
You’ll want to see the more artistic side of Praha as well, including an art installation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis and John Lennon’s Wall.
International tourist arrivals in 2018: 8.48 million
All these people that came to Amsterdam last year must have heard of its unique liberal climate and decided to witness all the freedom first-hand. Truth be told, you haven’t even scratched the proverbial surface of freedom until you’ve visited this incredible city.
Not only is Amsterdam one of the most open-minded places you’ll come across in Europe (not that others aren’t), but it’s also rich in culture and education. Take Rijksmuseum for example – it is a vault of combined human history, art and the largest collection of literature imaginable. It’s not the only museum to check out though. Anne Frank’s Museum should be a must on any travel through Amsterdam, as it serves as a stark reminder of what happens when humanity shuts down. Van Gogh Museum, Westekerk, and the National Monument are also directly responsible for all the people coming here.
On the other hand, Amsterdam has a rich palette of nationalities, sexualities, and legalizations that make it so irresistible. Red Light district is an entire tourist branch on its own, just make sure to drop by at night. People in Amsterdam speak excellent English and you’ll never have any trouble getting around and learning more about this picturesque place.
International tourist arrivals in 2018: 6.73 million
A city of insubordinate Gaudí architecture and some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, Barcelona is one of the most visited cities in Europe, but also the one that’s taken a minor hit to the number of inbound tourists. From 7.62 million tourists in 2017, it’s shed some of its visitors as a part of a trend that doesn’t seem to improve.
Whatever the case for this decrease may be, Gaudí’s insanity still roams the streets of Barcelona, taking the shape of many structures that we’ve grown to love over the years. From La Sagrada Família, the most inadequate of all the churches still unfinished to this day, to curvey Casa Mila and Casa Batllo, Barcelona is brimming with marvels to uncover. Barcelona City History Museum claims one of the few Roman sites, while Fundació Joan Miró will open some of the more contemporary doors for you.
Last but not least, real football fans (and probably even regulars) will be able to appreciate the grand scale of Camp Nou, home of FC Barcelona that can seat 99,000 souls!
International tourist arrivals in 2018: 6.51 million
Exploring Europe will sooner or later lead you to the magnificent city of Milan in Italy. While it’s taken a blow in terms of travelers from abroad when compared to the previous years, it’s still one of the most visited cities in Europe by foreigners.
As, quite obviously, many people know, Milan is a city of timeless beauty that even those less traveled will be able to appreciate fully. Milan Cathedral is overwhelming enough that you could stay in Piazza del Duomo and gaze at it for the rest of your stay here. Its immense size and all the attention paid to the tiniest of details are working wonders for Italian tourism. Grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Pinacoteca di Brera, Piazza del Mercanti, Basilica di San Lorenzo – these are just an icing to the cake.
It’s impossible to describe how each and every one of these places is incredible in one short article tackling numbers of visitors, but between Milan and Rome, you should definitely be inspired to add Italy to your itinerary.
International tourist arrivals in 2018: 6.3 million
Overall, the number of international tourists arriving in Europe has increased by 6% from 2017. This growth is also noticeable when looking at how many people visiting Europe stopped by in Vienna, the gorgeous capital of Austria and the final entrant on our list.
Stories of Vienna’s beauty are the stuff of legends, much like in the case of London. The Neo-Gothic Rathaus from the 19th century is a good example of how spectacular entire Vienna is. Its five towers dominate the landscape, but don’t get carried away just yet – there’s still a lot of Vienna to be seen, tasted and otherwise experienced. St Stephen’s Cathedral and Hofburg Palace are equally stunning and historically important, favorites of many people coming to see the largest, most beautiful city in Austria (yes, we know about Graz).
It’s still too early to talk about how 2019 is going to turn about, but all the trends are predicting a continuous increase in the number of international tourist visitors to European cities. It remains to be seen whether the same cities will remain on the pedestal, or if Spain is going to stop the decline of the number of tourists.
The data used for this article can be found at Statista.com.