Where is the most popular tourist destination in Europe?

24 May 2014, by
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As the summer holiday season draws nearer, the numbers of tourists travelling around Europe are visibly increasing. But what’s their most popular destination? Well, that depends on where you are coming from.

Tourists in Europe

In 2012 (the most recent year for which complete European data is available), residents of the European Union made 1.127 million trips (for work and play), staying 5.738 million nights and spending 378.140 million euros.

In all areas, Spain was far and away the most popular destination, with around one-fifth of all tourists heading there.

In the same year, there were over 534.17 million international tourist arrivals to Europe. Spain was still a very popular destination, number two in fact. But it was dwarfed by the numbers of tourists heading to France, the world’s most popular destination, with 83 million tourist arrivals.

For the Dutch, neighbouring Germany was the most popular, although people stayed the most nights in France. When it came to expenditure, however, the Dutch were the same as the average European: Spain was where they spent the most.

The Netherlands as a destination is increasing in popularity, however, with record numbers of tourists in 2013.

Europeans holidaying in Europe

Most holidays in Europe are in fact taken at home: three out of four trips made in 2012 were domestic ones, accounting for nearly half of a country’s total expenditure on travel.

Only Belgian, Luxembourgish, Maltese and Slovenian tourists prefer to leave their own country than stay home, with Belgians and Luxembourgians preferring France to all others, even their own.

Overall, neighbouring countries were generally the most popular foreign destination, except for Hungarians (who prefer Germany), Romanians (Italy) and Britons (Spain).

Europeans travelling abroad

More distant destinations were also more common, for both work and holidays, including those outside Europe, although they only made up 15 per cent of all outbound trips.

Most popular tourist destination in Europe

The most popular continent for Europeans was Asia (4,7 per cent), followed by Africa (4,3 per cent), North America (4,0 per cent), South America (2,0 per cent) and lastly Oceania (0,4 per cent).

Large differences lie behind these EU averages, however, as more than one in five outbound trips made by French, British or Spanish tourists had a destination outside Europe, compared to less than three per cent of Bulgarian, Slovenian or Romanian trips.

Most popular city in Europe

Despite the dominance of Spain and France in general tourist numbers, the most popular European city in 2012 for visitors by number of nights stayed was London.

Around 37 million nights were spent London that year, compared to runner-up Paris with 25 million. Rome was the third-most popular, while Amsterdam was ninth, only slightly behind Madrid.

Top countries for European tourists trips

1.Spain21,9%
2.France14,4%
3.Italy12,0%
4.Austria6,8%
5.Germany5,7%
6.Croatia5,3%
7.Greece5,2%
8.United Kingdom4,8%
9.Portugal3,9%
10.Poland2,9%
11.Netherlands2,6%
12.Sweden1,9%


Sources: Eurostat, Wikipedia, City Tourism Benchmark

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About the Author
Alexandra Gowling

Alexandra is an Australian citizen and an experienced expat, having spent (quite a bit of) time in A...

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