UK tourism statistics

37.9 million people came over for a pint and pie 2018

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From the rolling countryside to Buckingham Palace, there’s plenty to see and do in the UK, so it’s no surprise that the UK made it into the top 10 for most international tourist arrivals in 2018.

The most popular city to visit in the UK, London, beats every other city, with at least eight times the number of visitors. Within London, the biggest attractions are museums and galleries like the Tate Modern, the British Museum and the National Gallery, so it’s no wonder that international visitors have described the UK as “educational” first and foremost.

If you’re planning on visiting the UK, check out our guides on how best to cover yourself while exploring the country.

Quick facts

  • The most international visitors to the UK in one year was 39.2 million in 2017.
  • Last year, US visitors were the largest group to visit the UK with 3.9 million visitors.
  • International visitors described a potential trip to the UK as educational above anything else.

The number of overseas visitors to the UK

During the 16-year period from 2002 to 2018, the number of people visiting the UK has gradually changed. The highest number of visitors to the UK in one year was 39.2 million in 2017, meaning the number of visitors was almost two-thirds of the whole population of the UK.

Years Number of visits
2002 24.2
2003 24.7
2004 27.8
2005 30.0
2006 32.7
2007 32.8
2008 31.9
2009 29.9
2010 29.8
2011 30.8
2012 31.1
2013 32.7
2014 34.4
2015 36.1
2016 37.6
2017 39.2
2018 37.9
The number of visits increased in 2007 to 32.8 million before decreasing to a low of 29.8 million in 2010. Following this, the number of visits increased every year by an average of 1.3 million visitors until 2017.

The top tourists by numbers and spending

Tourists from the United States have contributed the most to the UK’s travel market, both by number of visitors and amount spent while visiting. In 2018, 3.9 million American tourists visited the UK and spent a collective £3.4 billion.

Top tourists to the UK by number of visitors

Country Number of visits
United States 3.9mill
France 3.7mill
Germany 3.3mill
Republic of Ireland 2.8mill
Spain 2.5mill
Netherlands 2mill
Poland 1.8mill
Italy 1.8mill
Belgium 1.1mill
Australia 1mill
Romania 0.99mill
Canada 0.85mill
Sweden 0.83mill

Top tourists by spending

Country Spending
United States £3.4bn
Germany £1.5bn
France £1.4bn
Spain £1.1bn
Australia £1.0bn
Republic of Ireland £0.9bn
Italy £0.78bn
Netherlands £0.72bn
Canada £0.68bn
China (excluding Hong Kong) £0.66bn

Closely following the United States, France had 3.7 million people visit the UK in 2018. The third-largest number of visitors is 3.3 million from Germany. Despite there being more French tourists than German, German tourists spent £1.5 billion compared to £1.4 billion spent by French tourists. The amount spent by US tourists is the greatest and is almost double (2.3x) the next-largest amount. As they are coming from outside of Europe, it’s likely that US visitors are spending more time and money in the UK.

The most popular cities to visit in the UK

It comes as no surprise that London is the most popular city for international visitors to the UK.

City Number of visits
London 19.0
Edinburgh 2.40
Manchester 1.40
Birmingham 1.10
Glasgow 0.84
Liverpool 0.80
Bristol 0.60
Cambridge 0.55
Oxford 0.53
Brighton and Hove 0.46
Bath 0.35
Leeds 0.34
Cardiff 0.34
Inverness 0.31
York 0.28

London had almost eight times the number of visitors in 2018 than the next most visited city, Edinburgh. Following the Scottish capital, other large cities like Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow were the next most popular destinations to visit. These three cities had an average of 1.1 million visitors each.

The most popular attractions in London

The sizes of the names below represent how many visits each attraction had in 2018, with the Tate Modern being the most popular attraction.

Attraction Number of visitors
Tate Modern 5,900,000
British Museum 5,800,000
The National Gallery 5,700,000
Natural History Museum 5,200,000
Southbank Centre 4,500,000
V&A Museum 4,000,000
Science Museum 3,200,000
Somerset House 3,100,000
Tower of London 2,900,000
Royal Museums Greenwich 2,500,000
Kew Gardens 1,900,000

With 5.9 million visitors in 2018, the Tate Modern is the most popular attraction in London. Following closely is the British Museum with 5.8 million visitors and the National Gallery with 5.7 million visitors. With the top seven attractions in London being museums and galleries, it’s clear that visitors are keen to learn while in the UK’s most popular city.

Cultural products associated with the UK

With almost half (47%) of all respondents voting that they associate the UK with museums, and with museums also being the most popular type of attraction in London, it’s likely that international visitors would treat a visit to the UK as an educational trip.

Cultural products Share of respondents
Museums 47%
Music 39%
Films 39%
Sports 37%
Modern design 30%
Pop videos 29%
Opera 25%
Sculpture 25%
Street carnival 15%
Circus 13%
Following museums, an average of 38% of respondents considered music, films and sport to be closely associated with the UK.

Click here for more research. For all media enquiries, please contact:

Matt Mckenna
UK communications manager
T: +44 20 8191 8806

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