UK tourism statistics 2020

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.

The most popular city to visit in the UK is London, 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

  • In 2020, the UK is predicted to receive around 10.6 million international visitors, which is just over a quarter of 2019 levels.
  • The most international visitors to the UK in one year was 41.1 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: The impact of COVID-19

During the 19-year period from 2002 to 2020, the number of people visiting the UK has gradually changed. 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, it has been predicted that in 2020 the UK will only receive around 10 million international tourists. This is just over a quarter of the number of tourists from 2019.

Years Number of visits (millions)
2020* 10.6
2019 40.9
2018 40.3
2017 41.1
2016 39.1
2015 36.8
2014 35.3
2013 33.6
2012 32.2
2011 31.9
2010 30.4
2009 31.1
2008 31.9
2007 32.8
2006 32.7
2005 30.0
2004 27.8
2003 24.7
2002 24.2

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 (millions) %
Holiday 16.91 41.00%
Business 8.67 30.00%
Visiting friends or relatives 12.43 21.00%
Miscellaneous 2.86 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 4.50
France 3.56
Germany 3.23
Republic of Ireland 2.85
Spain 2.33
Italy 2.20
Netherlands 1.99
Poland 1.65
Belgium 1.14
Australia 1.06

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
China (excluding Hong Kong) 1.90
Germany 1.57
France 1.40
Australia 1.17
Italy 1.11
Spain 0.98
Republic of Ireland 0.96
United Arab Emirates 0.87
Netherlands 0.80

The most popular cities to visit in the UK

It comes as no surprise that London is the most popular city, with 21.7 million international visitors. London had almost eight 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 (millions)
London 21.71
Edinburgh 2.21
Manchester 1.66
Birmingham 1.11
Liverpool 0.85
Glasgow 0.77
Brighton/Hove 0.65
Bristol 0.64
Oxford 0.58
Cambridge 0.46
Bath 0.40
Cardiff 0.38
Leeds 0.34
York 0.30
Newcastle-upon-Tyne 0.28
Inverness 0.28
Stratford-upon-Avon 0.27
Nottingham 0.25
Coventry 0.25
Reading 0.24

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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