Travel & Leisure
updated 11/12/2011 2:15:32 AM ET 2011-11-12T07:15:32

Ever heard of Everland or Lotte World? Most Americans have never planned a trip to these South Korean theme parks, yet they rank among the world’s 50 most-visited tourist attractions—beating out the Great Pyramids (4 million), the Taj Mahal (3 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, and despite—or perhaps because of—the lingering global economic crisis, we are traveling more than ever. International tourist arrivals were up 6.6 percent in 2010, according to the World Tourism Organization. China ousted Spain as the third most-visited country with 55.7 million foreign arrivals, while France and the U.S. held tight to their first and second place rankings.

Like it or not, theme parks are just as appealing in these countries as they are in South Korea. Disneyland Paris drew the same number of visitors (10.5 million) as Sacré-Coeur, and two of the world’s 10 most-visited tourist attractions are Disney parks. America also dominates our list. Some credit goes to the weak U.S. dollar, which drew 8.7 percent more foreign tourists in 2010 than the previous year—and likely persuaded many Americans to explore within our vast borders.

China and India are even bigger than the U.S., but their lack of dependable visitor statistics and limited domestic tourism markets help account for their few attractions on our list. Expect to see more of them over time; already attendance at Beijing’s Forbidden City has surged from 7 million visitors in 2007 to 12.83 million visitors in 2010.

So what is the most-visited tourist attraction in the world? And can 39.2 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. Whenever available we used 2010 data; however, in the case of theme parks and a few other attractions, the most recent attendance numbers were from 2009.

Attractions that don’t sell tickets gave us estimates as best they could. The Times Square Alliance was able to estimate that 80 percent of the 49 million tourists who visited New York in 2010 passed through Times Square. But Berlin’s East Side Gallery and London’s Trafalgar Square were excluded because their tourism bureaus couldn’t provide estimates that distinguished between visitors and locals.

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—with 40 million annual visitors it would otherwise have been number one. Short walkways and waterfront promenades also fit our definition of tourist attractions; that disqualified the Blue Ridge Parkway. We also excluded sights that draw almost exclusively religious pilgrims.

New attractions like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter lifted attendance at Universal’s Islands of Adventure Park in Orlando by more than 1.7 million visitors. Admission ticket sales beat out next-door neighbor Universal Studios, but since they’re all part of Universal Orlando Resort, we counted Universal only once. (We counted Orlando’s Disney parks separately since they are further apart than the other theme park resorts included.) —Lyndsey Matthews

Annual Visitors: 5,040,000

Not only is this a theme park, but it’s also a fully functioning movie studio—and just so happens to be the oldest Hollywood studio that is still actively filming new releases. Here, you can learn how special effects are created; take backstage studio tours; and hop aboard one of the many rides. (The Simpsons virtual roller coaster, anyone?) —Joshua Pramis

Source: Themed Entertainment Association/AECOM

Copyright © 2012 Amex


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