For nearly 500 years, the emperors living within Beijing’s opulent Forbidden City dictated who could enter and leave. Well, the gates have opened, and tourists are pouring in to see it all for themselves. Attendance is up by 2.5 million since 2010.

The Forbidden City is a dream destination for some Americans, but most have never researched a trip to Everland or Lotte World. Yet these South Korean theme parks also rank among the world’s 50 most-visited tourist attractions—beating out the Eiffel Tower (nearly 7 million), the Great Pyramids (4 million), and Stonehenge (1 million). And there are more surprises.

Where we choose to spend our vacation time says a lot about what we value. Despite—or perhaps because of—what the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) calls “global economic challenges,” more travelers are hitting the road than ever. International tourist arrivals increased by five percent in 2013, according to the UNWTO. That translates to a record of more than one billion trips. With its population of 1.36 billion, China has become the second-largest exporter of tourists. Russia, now the fifth-largest outbound market, increased travel spending by 26 percent.

Like it or not, theme parks clearly have worldwide appeal. France’s Disneyland Park draws about the same number of visitors (10.5 million) as Sacré Coeur, and four of the world’s 20 most-visited tourist attractions are Disney parks.

Many inspiring and iconic places can’t quite keep up. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum narrowly missed the top 50, as did the British Museum in London (6.7 million), the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (6.3 million), and the Roman Colosseum and Forum (5.1 million each). The Berlin Wall Memorial Site logged only 500,000 visitors in 2013, though extra crowds arrived in November 2014 for the 25th anniversary of its fall.

Accessibility can be a factor. It takes extra effort to reach Yellowstone National Park (3.2 million) or the Terracotta Army in Xi’an, China (4.8 million). And Peru’s Machu Picchu has restricted tourism to help maintain the site’s integrity; only 2,500 can enter per day, or 912,500 per year.

So what is the most-visited tourist attraction in the world? And can 91 million people be wrong? Read on to see the results—and an explanation of our methods for calculating it all.

The Methodology: To tally up the world’s most-visited attractions, we gathered the most recent data supplied by the attractions themselves or from government agencies, industry reports, and reputable media outlets. In most cases, it was 2013 data. Attractions that don’t sell tickets gave us estimates as best they could.

We defined “tourist attractions” as cultural and historical sites, natural landmarks, and officially designated spaces. So Boston’s shop-filled Faneuil Hall Marketplace (est. 1742) made the cut, but not Minnesota’s Mall of America, which, with 40 million annual visitors, would otherwise have tied for No. 4. Short walkways and plazas also fit our definition of tourist attractions; that disqualified the Blue Ridge Parkway. We also omitted beaches, bridges, and sites that draw almost exclusively religious pilgrims.

Reported by Kate Appleton, Rich Beattie, Adrien Glover, Lyndsey Matthews, April Orcutt, Joshua Pramis, and Ann Shields.

 

 

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

No. 1 Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

 

Annual Visitors: 91,250,000

Hand-painted ceramics, lanterns, intricately patterned carpets, copperware, gold Byzantine-style jewelry, and more eye-catching products vie for your attention within this 15th-century bazaar’s vaulted walkways. It has since expanded and become increasingly touristy, but locals, too, are among the millions of bargain hunters. To haggle like a pro, lowball your starting offer and don’t be afraid to walk away. And if it all gets overwhelming, break for a succulent doner kebab or strong cup of Turkish coffee. 

Source: Grand Bazaar management

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: The Zócalo, Mexico City

No. 2 The Zócalo, Mexico City

 

Annual Visitors: 85,000,000

Formally known as the Plaza de la Constitución, the enormous Zócalo thrums with activity. It hosts military parades, cultural and political events, concerts, exhibitions, fairs, and public art installations. Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Palace flank this historic public square, and an imposing Mexican flag, raised and lowered daily, waves over the scene.

Source: Mexico Tourism Board

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Times Square, New York City

No. 3 Times Square, New York City

 

Annual Visitors: 50,000,000

Tourists flock to New York’s neon heart for the flashing lights, Broadway shows, megastores, and sheer spectacle—including costumed characters eager to pose for photo ops. Pedestrian-only areas with café tables introduced a few years ago have made it easier and more appealing to hang out here. Times Square can even be a convenient, if chaotic, base, thanks to hotels at every price point and easy access to public transportation: subways, rails, buses, and more yellow taxis than you can count.

Source: The Times Square Alliance

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Central Park, New York City

No. 4 (tie) Central Park, New York City

Annual Visitors: 40,000,000

New York has larger green spaces, but none is more famous than Central Park, which stretches across nearly 850 acres of prime Manhattan real estate—an oasis for both tourists and locals. You can ride in one of the horse-drawn carriages, check out the modest-size zoo, climb to the top of 19th-century Belvedere Castle, or take a break from pounding the pavement to sprawl on the Great Lawn, gazing at the skyscrapers above.

Source: Central Park Conservancy

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Union Station, Washington, D.C.

No. 4 (tie) Union Station, Washington, D.C.

Annual Visitors: 40,000,000

Opened in 1907, this busy station shuttles some 12,500 passengers daily in and out of the city. But it also handles millions of tourists who pass through to take in the impeccably mixed architectural styles throughout the colossal building: from Classical to Beaux-Arts to Baroque. More than 70 retail outlets make Union Station a shopping destination, and it’s also a jumping-off point for many D.C. tours.

Source: Union Station

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Las Vegas Strip

No. 6 Las Vegas Strip

 

Annual Visitors: 30,500,000

In 2013, 77 percent of Vegas tourists—30.5 million—chose to stay at hotels right on the four-mile-long Strip. And why not? Roll out of bed and onto the Strip to catch the Bellagio fountains in action, shop, gamble, and, of course, people-watch (which can get especially fun later at night). For a cool new vantage point, hop aboard the High Roller, a 550-foot-tall Ferris wheel that debuted in March 2014. It’s part of Linq, a flashy 300,000-square-foot shopping and entertainment complex by Caesars.

Source: Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority

 

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo

No. 7 (tie) Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo

 

Annual Visitors: 30,000,000

Built more than 100 years ago to honor the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, this Shinto shrine in bustling Tokyo is a peaceful haven surrounded by a holy forest of more than 100,000 trees. Seasonal gardens feature spring azaleas, summer irises, brilliant autumn leaves on Japanese maples and ginkgos, and black pines dusted with winter snow.

Source: Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO)

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Sensoji Temple, Tokyo

No. 8 (tie) Sensoji Temple, Tokyo

 
 

Annual Visitors: 30,000,000

Tokyo’s oldest temple was dedicated to the Bodhisattva Kannon, the most compassionate Buddha, in 628. Dramatic nighttime illumination highlights vermilion and crimson detailing in the Five-Storied Pagoda. Continuing centuries-long tradition, stalls along the temple’s Nakamise Street sell food and goods to pilgrims, whose numbers swell around New Year’s.

Source: Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO)

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Niagara Falls, New York and Ontario

 

No. 9 Niagara Falls, New York and Ontario

 

Annual Visitors: 22,000,000

Straddling the border of the U.S. and Canada, three massive waterfalls, together called Niagara Falls, spill about 6 million cubic feet of water—from a maximum vertical drop of 165 feet—every minute. While there are about 500 taller waterfalls in the world, Niagara Falls is spectacular for its sheer power. It’s also more accessible than many major falls, a short flight or drive for millions of regional tourists.

Source: Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp./Canadian Tourism Commission

 

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Grand Central Terminal, New York City

No. 10 Grand Central Terminal, New York City

Annual Visitors: 21,600,00

Unlike harried commuters, visitors take their time in the main concourse of this Beaux-Arts landmark, pausing to view its glittering ceiling painted with a map of the constellations from the night sky. Shops, an annual holiday market, special events, and restaurants also attract attention. Two of the grandest venues are the Campbell Apartment, serving craft cocktails, and the historic Oyster Bar—featured on AMC’s Mad Men—which shucks 2 million fresh bivalves a year.

Source: Grand Central Terminal

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City

No. 11 Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City

Annual Visitors: 20,000,000

The Old Basilica, begun in the 16th century and completed in 1709, stands in stark contrast to the massive new basilica, designed by the Mexican architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, which was built in the mid-1970s and looks like a sports arena. It is, in fact, intended to hold 50,000 people, who come for mass—celebrated several times a day—and to see an image of the Virgin Mary that is said to have appeared on an apron in 1531.

Source: Mexico Tourism Board

 

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Orlando, FL

No. 12 Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Orlando, FL

Annual Visitors: 18,588,000

The Most Magical Place on Earth is high on virtually every family’s to-do list and remains the most-visited theme park on the earth. Expanded Fantasyland now includes the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train family-style roller coaster and a chance to meet Anna and Elsa from the smash-hit Frozen in the Princess Fairytale Hall near Cinderella Castle. Time-tested attractions include the Jungle Cruise and Space Mountain, the daily Disney character parade down Main Street, USA, and a fireworks spectacular that lights up the sky many nights.

Source: TEA/AECOM Global Attractions Attendance Report

See more Disney travel tips

 

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston

No. 13 Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston

Annual Visitors: 18,000,000

Dating back to 1742, Faneuil Hall (“the Cradle of Liberty”) once hosted speeches by such greats as Samuel Adams and George Washington. Today, the downtown marketplace has more than 100 specialty shops and eateries and occupies a pedestrian-only, cobblestoned area that swarms with tourists and street performers. Each winter, Faneuil Hall also hosts Boston’s tallest Christmas tree, along with festive light displays and choirs.

Source: Faneuil Hall Marketplace

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Tokyo Disneyland

No. 14 Tokyo Disneyland

Annual Visitors: 17,214,000

Disney’s Tokyo outpost has become the second most-visited theme park in the world (beating out Anaheim, CA’s Disneyland, which held that title in 2010). It shares the sweetness of the original parks’ Fantasyland with Peter Pan’s Flight and Dumbo the Flying Elephant as well as Tomorrowland’s Space Mountain and Star Tours—The Adventures Continue. A musical soundtrack and other renovations have improved the Adventureland classic: Jungle Cruise Wildlife Expedition, while a new after-dark night cruise promises more surprises.

Source: TEA/AECOM Global Attractions Attendance Report

See more Disney travel tips

 

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Disneyland Park, Anaheim, CA

No. 15 Disneyland Park, Anaheim, CA

Annual Visitors: 16,202,000

Though not as massive as its Orlando counterpart, the original Disney park, which occupies about 85 acres of land, has retro charm and some better features. Here the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction lasts almost twice as long and ends in a humid southern bayou with fireflies (instead of a gift shop). The Indiana Jones Adventure ride careens over lava, past swarms of beetles, and under that 16-foot rolling boulder. Thrill-seekers will also appreciate that the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has reopened.

Source: TEA/AECOM Global Attractions Attendance Report

See more Disney travel tips

 

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Forbidden City, Beijing

No. 16 Forbidden City, Beijing

Annual Visitors: 15,340,000

It doesn’t have a street address—which is only fitting for a place that was once considered the center of the universe. Nowadays, tourists swarm this 178-acre walled compound of opulent halls, gardens, and winged pavilions. Attendance is up by 2.5 million since 2010. It can easily take half a day to explore the grounds, and history buffs will appreciate the self-guided audio tour—or a hired guide.

Source: Forbidden City Palace Museum and China Odyssey Tours

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco

No. 17 Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco

Annual Visitors: 14,289,121

Beaches, cliffs, hills, forts, and towering redwood trees make up the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, easily accessible from San Francisco. Many visitors come to embrace the outdoors, whether hiking, biking, swimming, birding, riding horses, or whale-watching. But this scenic area is also rich in history and includes landmarks like Alcatraz prison and the Presidio, an 18th-century military post. You can even base yourself within the recreation area; Cavallo Point’s rooms and suites occupy restored turn-of-the-20th-century Colonial Revival buildings that overlook San Francisco Bay.

Source: National Park Service

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Tokyo DisneySea

No. 18 Tokyo DisneySea

Annual Visitors: 14,084,000

DisneySea, the companion park to Tokyo Disneyland overlooking Tokyo Bay, took inspiration from aquatic myths, legends and the lore of the sea. Divided into seven “ports of call,” the park emphasizes water attractions with Venetian gondolas, a Mermaid Lagoon, a journey to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and an Aquatopia with quirky boats in a sea of rocks, whirlpools and water spouts. But it’s not all fountains and bubbles—the park also has scary rides like the Tower of Terror, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull.

Source: TEA/AECOM Global Attractions Attendance Report

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

No. 19 Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

Annual Visitors: 14,000,000

A masterpiece of Gothic architecture—all soaring buttresses, crouching gargoyles, and magnificent rose windows—Notre Dame has survived attacks of Huguenots, sansculottes, occupying armies, and questionable renovations since its completion in 1345. In spite of its often violent past, visitors flock to the cathedral for the hushed peace and reflection it provides, even in the midst of Paris.

Source: Atout France, the France Tourism Development Agency

 

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

No. 20 Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Annual Visitors: 13,000,000

Cascading three miles from the Panhandle down to the Pacific, Golden Gate Park serves as playground and haven for this diverse city. The park’s offerings include museums (the de Young Museum and the Academy of Sciences), botanical wonders (the Conservatory of Flowers, the Japanese Tea Garden, a rhododendron forest, and more than 75,000 trees, among others), sporting fields and courts, playgrounds, and even a small herd of buffalo.

Source: San Francisco Recreation & Park Department

 

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Balboa Park, San Diego

 

No. 21 Balboa Park, San Diego

 

Annual Visitors: 12,000,000 to 14,000,000

Balboa Park’s 1,200 acres form a mini-city with 15 accredited museums, 19 gardens, nine performing arts groups, a miniature railroad, a golf course, tennis courts, lawn bowling, a gymnasium, a historic carousel, and a Super Sonic Samba School. Not to mention the world-famous San Diego Zoo, with three crowd-pleasing giant pandas. Balboa Park also features the Spreckels Organ, whose 4,518 pipes range from the size of a pencil to 32 feet tall.

Source: Balboa Park

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: South Street Seaport, New York City

No. 22 South Street Seaport, New York City

Annual Visitors: 12,000,000

This 12-block historic East River site in lower Manhattan dates back to the 1600s, and its cobblestoned streets are packed with shops and restaurants. Pier 17 will reopen in 2016 after undergoing extensive renovation. Commercialism aside, the history runs deep here and is perhaps best experienced on one of the two 1800s tall-masted schooners the South Street Seaport Museum maintains. Go for a sunset sail with Gotham as a backdrop.

Source: The Howard Hughes Corporation

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: San Antonio River Walk, San Antonio, TX

No. 23 San Antonio River Walk, San Antonio, TX

Annual Visitors: 11,500,000

Cypress-lined cobble-and-flagstone paths meander for four miles along both sides of the narrow San Antonio River. Locals and visitors come to the River Walk’s horseshoe-shaped loop downtown to browse shops and hang out at restaurants like Boudro’s for a prickly-pear margarita and guacamole prepared tableside. The Museum Reach river walk section stretches an additional 1.7 miles north, past art installations under every bridge and the San Antonio Museum of Art.

Source: San Antonio River Walk (Paseo del Rio)

 

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Epcot, Walt Disney World Resort, Lake Buena Vista, FL

No. 24 Epcot, Walt Disney World Resort, Lake Buena Vista, FL

 

Annual Visitors: 11,229,000

Built to honor the late Walt Disney’s utopian ideal of the innovative future (the name is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), Epcot attracts guests who skew a little older than those of its neighbor, the Magic Kingdom. Restaurants are aimed at more sophisticated palates, and annual celebrations include a flower and garden show and an international food and wine festival. Perennial favorite rides like Soarin’, Mission: SPACE, and The Seas with Nemo & Friends keep the kids and kids-at-heart happy. Expect visits to the Norway pavilion to spike when a Frozen-themed ride debuts in 2016.

Source: TEA/AECOM Global Attractions Attendance Report

 

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Italy

No. 25 St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Italy

Annual Visitors: 11,000,000

One of the holiest Catholic sites, St. Peter’s teems with ornate gold, marble columns, paintings of angels, iconic statues, and works created by a who’s who of Renaissance artists, including Raphael, Brunelleschi, Bernini, and Michelangelo, who sculpted the marble Pietà and designed the massive dome. For a nominal fee, you can climb 320 steps to the top and soak up the most famous panorama of Rome.

Source: Italian Government Tourist Board

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Great Wall of China

No. 26 Great Wall of China

Annual Visitors: 10,720,000 (Badaling and Mutianyu areas combined)

Once used as a wartime defense, the Great Wallwinds “like a dragon tail” from eastern China to western, spanning some 5,500 miles. While much of what is visible today was built during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), construction began on various sections as far back as 770 B.C. Credit goes to the million slaves and prisoners of war who carried blocks of granite, bricks, stones, and dirt on their backs up to the top of the ridgelines. The Badaling section, closest to Beijing, draws thebiggest crowds. Word has gotten out, inspiring some travelers to make the longer drive to the more serene Mutianyu section.

Source: National Tourism Administration of the People’s Republic of China and China Odyssey Tours

 

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Sacré Coeur Basilica, Paris

No. 27 Sacré Coeur Basilica, Paris

Annual Visitors: 10,500,000

Sacré Coeur lures visitors to the summit of Montmartre for a litany of reasons—while some come to pray and meditate, most come for the remarkable 360-degree views of the City of Light from its highest vantage point. The construction of the basilica, which started in 1871, was intended to restore peace to a site stained by violence during the Paris Commune. 

Source: Atout France, the France Tourism Development Agency

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Disneyland Park, Marne-la-Vallée, France

No. 28 Disneyland Park, Marne-la-Vallée, France

Annual Visitors: 10,430,000

When Disney’s first European theme park opened in 1992, many French protested the “cultural imperialism” of such an American symbol opening 40 minutes outside of Paris. Today it’s one of the most-visited locations in Europe. So be prepared to queue for popular rides like It’s a Small World, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast. A 3D ride inspired by the film Ratatouille opened in 2014; enter through a replica of Gusteau’s restaurant.

Source: TEA/AECOM Global Attractions Attendance Report

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World Resort, Lake Buena Vista, FL

No. 29 Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World Resort, Lake Buena Vista, FL

Annual Visitors: 10,198,000

Since 1998, this animal-themed park has successfully marketed Mickey Mouse and silverback gorillas under one all-inclusive “roof.” If it has four legs or wings or a tail, chances are you’ll find it at this zoo/museum/school theme park. Don’t miss the Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, or the 14-story Tree of Life sculpture carved with some 325 animals. Fun fact: at one point park creators also wanted to include a section for mythological creatures called “Beastly Kingdom.”

Source: TEA/AECOM Global Attractions Attendance Report

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Resort, Lake Buena Vista, FL

No. 30 Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Resort, Lake Buena Vista, FL

Annual Visitors: 10,110,000

Disney describes this park (est. 1989) as “the Hollywood that never was and always will be.” Laid out much like a real-life motion picture studio, with a 154-acre network of streets and buildings and miniature replicas of famous landmarks, it showcases the golden age of film. But most kids make a beeline to Toy Story Midway Mania! at Pixar Place and Star Tours—The Adventures Continue.

Source: TEA/AECOM Global Attractions Attendance Report

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Universal Studios Japan, Osaka, Japan

No. 31 Universal Studios Japan, Osaka, Japan

Annual Visitors: 10,100,000

Opened in 2001 and a near twin to its Orlando sibling—albeit one with more sushi—this popular movie theme park is one of four operated by Universal in Japan. Highlights include a Jaws-like shark encounter, Jurassic Park roller-coaster ride, Sesame Street in 4-D, and now the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Interesting fact: investment banking firm Goldman Sachs is the park’s largest shareholder.

Source: TEA/AECOM Global Attractions Attendance Report

 

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood, CA

No. 32 Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood, CA

Annual Visitors: 10,000,000 to 12,000,000

Nothing says Hollywood like the (literally) star-studded Walk of Fame, with each star bearing the name of a celebrity with enough cachet to be immortalized on the street. That means stars from James Dean and Marilyn Monroe to, more recently, Tina Fey and Neil Patrick Harris.

Source: Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Pike Place Market, Seattle

No. 33 Pike Place Market, Seattle

Annual Visitors: 10,000,000

One of the oldest continually operating farmers’ markets in the U.S. (est. 1907), this nine-acre National Historic District is famous for kitschy Seattle souvenirs, salmon-throwing fishmongers, and its “gum wall” installation art. The many seafood restaurants include Market Grill and Emmett Watson’s for oysters. It’s just down the street from one of the original Starbucks—complete with an early-edition logo featuring a more, er, risqué mermaid.

Source: Pike Place Market

 

World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

 

No. 34 Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Annual Visitors: 9,345,695

Originally Cherokee homeland, America’s most-visited national park first opened in 1940 and covers some 520,000 acres of protected Tennessee and North Carolina forestland that’s bisected by the Appalachian Trail. Whether hiking Chimney Tops (or any of the 800 miles of trails) or driving the super-scenic U.S. Highway 441, visitors are sure to get an eyeful of the mystical haze that inspired the park’s name. To escape the crowds, park ranger Caitlin Worth recommends heading to Balsam Mountain Road, a high-elevation gravel road accessible from the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Source: National Park Service