10 most popular holiday destinations around the world

Debating booking a last minute holiday to a tried and tested destination? You aren’t alone. Holidaymakers flocked in their millions last year to overseas countries with the greatest allure in culture, cuisine and cost.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s rankings, the tourism giants that commanded the industry in 2022 welcomed an estimated 450 million tourists; the most-visited destinations spanning Europe, North America and South America.

Ongoing disruption to travel since Covid-19 has seen a serious decline in international tourist arrivals since 2019, but the provisional data for 2022 shows levels are on the rise, climbing to nearly 63 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in the first nine months of last year.

European countries dominate the top 10, with seasonal periods of snow and sunshine huge selling points for diverse summer and Christmas holidays as travel trends start to mend.

Here are the countries that topped the list and the best time to visit them, from charming Austria to the sunny shores of Spain.

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10. Austria

Hallstatt Village in the Austrian Alps, a bucket-list spot for Frozen fans

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Yearly visitors (2022): 26.2 million

Austria welcomed the 10th most international visitors in 2022, the landlocked country’s fairytale villages and richly cultural cities understandably enticing tourists. With alpine resorts full with festive charm, lake districts great for glacial swims and hiking paths through ancient woodland regions, it’s easy to embrace nature in Austria. Find the birthplace of Mozart, Sound of Music bus tours and summer concerts in Salzburg, a heritage of royal Habsburgs and a Unesco-listed centre in the capital, Vienna, and the delights of the Wachau Valley wine region on the Danube River fruitful with vineyards, castles and monasteries. Even better, Austria is only a train ride away from London and Vienna can be reached in just a day – what’s not to love?

When to visit

Austria’s versatile climate sees hot summers from June to August that city dwellers tend to escape. Alternatively, comfortable springs with highs of 21C in Vienna and the east accommodate hiking and days spent lakeside, with gastronomy and arts festivals taking place in May. Christmas markets and winter sports are at their best come November, with skiing on the Alpine pistes ideal until April.

9. Greece

Athens’ ancient landmarks draw in millions of tourists each year

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Yearly visitors (2022): 27.8 million

Just shy of 28 million tourists explored Greece’s party islands, ancient cities and rustic hilltop villages last year. From the glamour of the Cycladic Islands – such as Santorini, famed for its electric blue and white stone churches and luxe vibe – to the earthy Ioanians like Kefalonia and beach-strewn Dodecandese (including Kos), island hopping between tranquil bays and ports buzzing with tavernas are a must on a Greek holiday itinerary. On the mainland, history buffs will be enamoured with the ode to mythology and archaeology in Athens, best viewed from a rooftop bar with views of Acropolis Hill while indulging in fresh fish, souvlaki and taramasalata.

When to visit

The warm, breezy shoulder seasons of early spring and autumn in April and September bring reliable daily highs in the low 20Cs, a welcome refuge from the sweltering highs of summer – especially in Athens. Some of the top islands, such as Santorini and Mykonos, close accommodation in late autumn and winter.

8. Germany

The authentic charm of Bavaria, Germany’s largest state

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Yearly visitors (2022): 28.5 million

Germany, with its world-class cuisine, museums and nightlife, has consistently ranked in eighth or ninth place for international tourist arrivals for the last four years. The traditional atmosphere of timbered medieval towns in Bavaria meets the hip urban hub of Berlin’s nightlife, budget hostels and historical echoes (the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie). It’s craft beer and folk music in Düsseldorf, carnivals in Cologne, and cake and thermal spas in the dense valleys of the Black Forest. A popular way to tour the country is to take the Romantic Road to baroque palaces, castles and alpine meadows.

When to visit

Between April and October is the best time to visit Germany, with shoulder spring seasons and the height of the summer warmth bringing the best weather. In late April and May, beer gardens open and flowers bloom in front of limited crowds; in late September, Oktoberfest beer festival takes over in Munich. If it’s the enchanting Christmas markets you desire, there’s a chance of snow in November and December.

7. UK

The village of Mousehole in Cornwall

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Yearly visitors (2022): 31.2 million

In the top 10 for the first time since 2019, the UK greeted over 30 million tourists to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Adventures await with wild swimming, coasteering and hiking plenty in rural Snowdonia and the Lake District, and family-friendly breaks to Cornwall’s fine sand beaches and stately homes built to shine in the rain. Think casual fish and chip meals in quirky Brighton, fancy afternoon teas or evenings spent at the Michelin-class restaurants that pepper London, Manchester, York and beyond. If a road trip is more your speed, take the North Coast 500 ring road to the Scottish cultural centres of Aberdeen and Inverness for the ultimate drive. There’s a reason the Brits are clinging on to staycations.

When to visit

The UK’s weather is predictably unpredictable, but from May to September visitors to the British Isles have the best chance at being welcomed to warm, dry days and the occasional late 20Cs. July and August are peak months for tourism, weather and festivals, but remote beaches and metropolitan cities can be enjoyed whatever the weather – yes, even during the frigid winters.

6. Mexico

The vibrant character of Mexico proved irresistible for tourists

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Yearly visitors (2022): 38.3 million

With its balmy palm-fringed beaches, Mayan ruins and exuberant hospitality, it’s no wonder Mexico is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world. The dynamic Mexico City is bursting with colour, movement and flavour. Leafy parks, street food churros, the ancient pyramids of Teotihuacan and lucha libre wrestling matches entertain amid colonial towns, handwoven craft stools and cacti-dotted deserts. On the east coast, the Quintana Roo region’s white beaches and turquoise waters have made Cancun and Riviera Maya a holidaymaker’s haven of all-inclusive resorts, while Jalisco’s fusion of mountains and rugged coastline is a surfer’s haven of high swells, thatched roof hostels and ceviche lunches.

When to visit

Generally, the best time to holiday in Mexico is during the dry season from November to April, when temperatures are bearable and rainfall is low. However, this is high tourist season, so look out for elevated prices and fully booked accommodations.

5. Italy

Italy and her Mediterranean waters claimed fifth spot for international visitors

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Yearly visitors (2022) : 49.8 million

Who could resist embracing la dolce vita? Not the nearly 50 million international visitors in 2022. Famed for its cuisine, ancient sites and romantic aura, Italy fuses iconic foods with distinct fashion, art and architecture. The capital, Rome, is filled with Vespa-laden cobbled streets, operas, and landmarks such as the Colosseum and Pantheon (plus the Vatican City microstate). The shimmering beach islands of Sicily and Sardinia, the sophisticated shores of Lake Garda and Como and the cypress tree-lined wine country of Tuscany are also jewels in the versatile Italian landscape.

When to visit

The Italian climate welcomes year-round, as hot summers spent on the beach meet lively Easter celebrations and a fusion of snowsports and cultural delights including museums and music in winter. In the south, high summer temperatures can get uncomfortable, so head to the vineyards during the shoulder seasons of late spring or autumn for enjoyable averages of 24C.

4. Turkey

Holiday hotspot Cappadocia, in Turkey

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Yearly visitors (2022): 50.5 million

Cosmopolitan Istanbul’s intoxicating charm can be found in street markets, opulent mosques and must-see sights like the decadent Topkapi Palace come wrapped up in a delicious cuisine of rich Turkish breakfasts, spiced kebabs and sweet filo pastries. Alternatively, the Cesme peninsula is ideal for some quality beach time and a traditional blue cruise on a wooden gulet boat is a highlight of internationally beloved resorts in Alanya. For Greco-Roman ruins, visit Ephesus’s Library of Celsus theatre or head to the skies via hot air balloon to see towering volcanic rock formations in Cappadocia.

When to visit

Turkish summers are hot and humid, with average highs of 36C, and winters are often cold and wet – especially in Istanbul and Bodrum– making the spring and autumn months of May and October the ideal time to take in all that Turkey’s coastal delights and vibrant cities have to offer.

3. USA

The North American giant welcomed over 50 million tourists

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Yearly visitors (2022): 50.9 million

With its vast scale and so many states to choose from, there’s an experience for everyone in the USA. Viva Las Vegas for a nightlife that welcomes party animals or visit Golden State California’s eco-cafes for a health gurus paradise. You’ll find neon lights, Broadway shows and a soaring skyline in New York, wine tasting in Napa Valley and prolific national parks like Yellowstone down each coast on an American adventure. That’s not forgetting the sports scenes of baseball, basketball and the NFL, golden beaches and thrilling theme parks in the “land of the free”.

When to visit

The vast scale of the United States means most climates are encompassed within its 50 states. Think ever evolving seasons in deserts in the southwest and the tropics in Hawaii. March to June is tornado season in the Midwest and from June to November, hurricanes are common on the Atlantic coast. Come summer, California’s beaches and music festivals (such as Coachella) come alive; in winter, Colorado’s snowy slopes and New York’s Christmas magic in Central Park welcome thousands.

2. Spain

Buzzing cities and idyllic islands attract millions to Spain’s shores

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Yearly visitors (2022): 71.7 million

A whopping 71.7 million people visited Spain’s shores last year, making it the second most popular holiday destination in the world. A favourite with the Brits, the idyllic Balearic Islands of Mallorca and Ibiza are hotspots for beautiful beaches, super clubs and quaint mountain towns. City breaks to Barcelona’s Catalonian art museums and the architectural marvel of the Sagrada Familia meet Madrid’s hip neighbourhoods, such as Chueca, and the history-packed (and usually scorching) Seville, and the wonders don’t stop there. Thousands partake in tomato fights in Buñol during August and there’s a red wine fight in La Rioja during June. You can’t say Spain doesn’t have character.

When to visit

Spain’s cities and islands vary massively in climate between seasons – the Canary Islands tend to stay a mild 24C year-round while the Balearics face cold winters. If you can, avoid the high sunny season of July and August when prices soar, and crowds descend on the beaches and uncomfortably warm cities. Spring brings mild and pleasant temperatures and more reasonable prices to the Mediterranean coast.

1. France

France is the leading destination for international tourism

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Yearly visitors (2022): 79.4 million

Taking the top spot for the most popular holiday destination worldwide, France saw 79.4 million visitors in 2022. From the history of the D-Day landings and Unesco-listed Mont St Michel in Normandy to Paris, the city of love, home to the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and Louvre museum, and the Alps, a playground for skiing, hiking and mountain biking, it’s no shock France is the leading the way. Whether its weekend wine tasting in Burgundy or enjoying the fizz of champagne in a Loire Valley chateaux, there’s always something new to be found. Even better, the proximity of our Gallic neighbours means the delights of the Cote d’Azur seaside towns and coastal campsites in Brittany are just a train ride away.

When to visit

The largest country in Western Europe has Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines, with hot summers and mild winters. In the summer, southern beaches buzz with crowds and Bastille Day is celebrated nationally on 14 July. During French winters, snow coats the cool mountain regions (and lasts for up to six months of the year), ideal for snowsports trips and cosy chalet stays.

Read more on the best Paris hotels

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