UK tourism statistics

How many people visit the UK? What are the most popular tourist attractions? Find out the latest inbound tourism statistics to the UK here.

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 2019.

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

Quick facts

  • In 2020, the UK only received around 11.1 million international visitors, which was 73% less than in 2019.
  • International spending in the UK dropped from £28.49 million in 2019 to £6.21 million in 2020
  • London is the most popular city for international visitors with 27.71 million visitors in 2019, over 9 times as much as Edinburgh in second place at 2.21 million
  • The most international visitors to the UK in one year was 41.1 million in 2017.
  • US visitors were the largest group to visit the UK with 3.9 million visitors in 2019.
  • The British Museum, Tate Modern and The National Gallery are the three most popular attractions for visitors in London
  • International visitors described a potential trip to the UK as educational above anything else.

The number of overseas visitors to the UK: The impact of COVID-19

During the 19-year period from 2002 to 2020, the number of people visiting the UK has gradually increased. The highest number of visitors to the UK in one year was 41.1 million in 2017, meaning the number of visitors was almost two-thirds of the whole population of the UK. Overall, there has been a 69% increase in visitors to the UK, from 24.2 million in 2002 to 40.9 million in 2019.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has brought a shock to the travel industry with travel bans and lockdowns being imposed all around the world. As a result, there were only 11.1 million visitors to the UK in 2020, representing a decrease of almost 73% from 2019.

Years Number of visits (millions)
2002 24.2 million
2003 24.7 million
2004 27.8 million
2005 30 million
2006 32.7 million
2007 32.8 million
2008 31.9 million
2009 31.1 million
2010 30.4 million
2011 31.9 million
2012 32.2 million
2013 33.6 million
2014 35.3 million
2015 36.8 million
2016 39.1 million
2017 41.1 million
2018 40.3 million
2019 40.9 million
2020* 10.6 million

What are the reasons people visit the UK?

In 2019, with 16.9 million (41%) coming on holiday to the UK, this was the top reason internationals visited the UK. The next top reason was to visit friends or relatives (12.4 million, 30%), followed by people visiting on business (8.7 million, 21%).

Purpose Number of visits (million) Percentage
Holiday 16.91 million 41.00%
Business 8.67 million 30.00%
Visiting friends or relatives 12.43 million 21.00%
Miscellaneous 2.86 million 7.00%

The top tourist countries by visits

Tourists from the United States have contributed the most to the UK’s travel market, both by the number of visitors and amount spent while visiting. In 2018, 4.5 million American tourists visited the UK. French tourists were the second most common, with 3.7 million visiting the UK, followed by Germans (3.3 million), Irish (2.8 million) and Spanish (2.5 million) tourists.

Top 10 tourist countries to the UK by number of visitors

Country Number of visits (million)
USA 4.5 million
France 3.56 million
Germany 3.23 million
Republic of Ireland 2.85 million
Spain 2.33 million
Italy 2.2 million
Netherlands 1.99 million
Poland 1.65 million
Belgium 1.14 million
Australia 1.06 million

Top 10 tourist countries to the UK by spending

Tourists from the USA were the biggest spenders when visiting the UK, forking out £4.2 billion. This is over double the next biggest spenders, tourist from China (£1.9 billion). Following China, Germans were the next biggest spenders (£1.6 billion) and then French (£1.4 billion).

Country Spending (billion)
USA 4.18 billion
China (excluding Hong Kong) 1.9 billion
Germany 1.57 billion
France 1.4 billion
Australia 1.17 billion
Italy 1.11 billion
Spain 0.98 billion
Republic of Ireland 0.96 billion
United Arab Emirates 0.87 billion
Netherlands 0.8 billion

It comes as no surprise that London is the most popular city, with 21.7 million international visitors. London had over nine times the number of visitors in 2019 than the next most visited city, Edinburgh (2.2 million). Following the Scottish capital, other large cities like Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool were the next most popular destinations to visit. These three cities had an average of 1.2 million visitors each.

City Number of visits (million)
London 21.71 million
Edinburgh 2.21 million
Manchester 1.66 million
Birmingham 1.11 million
Liverpool 0.85 million
Glasgow 0.77 million
Brighton/Hove 0.65 million
Bristol 0.64 million
Oxford 0.58 million
Cambridge 0.46 million
Bath 0.4 million
Cardiff 0.38 million
Leeds 0.34 million
York 0.3 million
Newcastle-upon-Tyne 0.28 million
Inverness 0.28 million
Stratford-upon-Avon 0.27 million
Nottingham 0.25 million
Coventry 0.25 million
Reading 0.24 million

The most popular attractions in London

The sizes of the names below represent how many visits each attraction had in 2019, with the British Museum being the most popular attraction (6.2 million visitors). Following closely is the Tate modern with 6.1 million visitors and the National Gallery with 6 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.

Attraction 2019 - Number of visitors
British Museum 6,239,983
Tate Modern 6,098,340
The National Gallery 6,011,007
Natural History Museum 5,423,932
V&A Museum 3,992,198
Science Museum 3,301,975
Tower of London 2,984,499
Somerset House 2,841,772
Kew Gardens 2,316,699
Tate Britain 1,808,637
St Paul's Cathedral 1,716,417

Cultural products associated with the UK

With almost half (47%) of all respondents saying 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.

Following museums, an average of 38% of respondents considered music, films and sport to be closely associated with the UK.

Cultural products Share of respondents (%)
Museums 47%
Music 39%
Films 39%
Sport 37%
Modern design 30%
Pop videos 29%
Opera 25%
Sculpture 25%
Street carnivals 15%
Circus 13%

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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