Two of the most-visited cities in the world are in Turkey – this one is the unsung hero – Stacey Leasca / BBC

Must read

Two of the world’s four most-visited cities are in Turkey. With the recent lift of visa requirements, the country is likely to welcome even more tourists in 2024.

Februray 7, 2024, Stacey Leasca, BBC

Travel has nearly returned to its pre-pandemic glory. In November 2023, the UN World Tourism Organization noted that international travel was on track to reach 90% of pre-pandemic levels, with some 975 million people going abroad throughout the year. And many of those international travellers have one shared destination in mind: Turkey.

In December, Euromonitor International released its own report, the Top 100 City Destinations Index 2023, which detailed the top 10 cities around the world for international arrivals. Surprisingly, two of the four most-visited cities on Earth are in Turkey – Istanbul and Antalya.

« Istanbul tops the list for the number of international arrivals in 2023 with 26% growth year-on-year, followed by London in second place (up 17%) and Dubai in third (up 18%), » the report notes. This may not come as a huge surprise, considering Istanbul is a sprawling 15.5-million-person megalopolis (the largest in Europe). More curious, however, is how Antalya, a city tucked on the Turkish Riviera home to 1.3 million people, managed to welcome 16.5 million international visitors – more than Paris (population: 2.1 million), Hong Kong (7.4 million), Bangkok (11 million) and New York City (8.5 million), and more than 12 times its own population.

Antalya has long been a popular travel destination for Germans, Russians and Brits – who make up the large majority of its international arrivals. Its turquoise waters, its mild winters, sizzling summers and 300 days of sunshine have historically led it to be a beach destination, but its dramatic setting atop a limestone plateau facing Roman walls and Ottoman-era homes led Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, to once proclaim, « There is no doubt that Antalya is the most beautiful place in the world. »

Istanbul tops the list for most international arrivals – followed by London (Credit: Getty)

Istanbul tops the list for most international arrivals – followed by London (Credit: Getty)

Thanks to a massive increase in available flights, more people from around the globe are getting to experience Antalya’s beauty. According to the Euromonitor International report, the city enjoyed a 29% increase in international visitors in 2023 compared to 2022.

« Antalya is not only an important tourism centre for Turkey, but also for the world. It meets the expectations of visitors with its natural beauty, rich history, waterfalls, mountains, beaches and delicious cuisine, » said Banu Aydoğdu, a retired schoolteacher who now hosts Turkish cooking classes in the region. « I believe people fall in love with Antalya because it offers more than just a vacation. »

But travellers aren’t just headed to Istanbul and Antalya. According to data by the State Airports Authority Directorate General, domestic and international flight landings across Turkey jumped 16.3% year-over-year in 2023, and the nation seems poised to welcome even more international visitors this year.Tourists flock to Antalya, Turkey's second most-visited city, for its beaches and ruins (credit: Getty)

Tourists flock to Antalya, Turkey’s second most-visited city, for its beaches and ruins (credit: Getty)

In January 2024, Turkey eliminated the need for US, Canadian and Mexican travellers to obtain an e-visa for visits lasting fewer than 90 days. This recent relaxing of entry requirements is likely to only increase the number of international travellers to Turkey, which soared by 10.4% in 2023 to more than 49 million visitors. Turkey also remains a relatively affordable place to visit for Americans, with cost of living estimated to be 54% lower than in the US. 

Another aspect attracting visitors to Turkey is its growing medical tourism industry. According to data by the Turkish Statistical Institute, some 1.2 million people travelled to Turkey in 2022 for medical tourism – a 308% increase compared to 2021. An additional 746,290 medical tourists visited Turkey in the first half of 2023 alone. Antalya happens to be a particularly popular spot for dental tourism, with many local dentists and all-inclusive dental tourism operators offering to pay for patients’ travel accommodations, too.

But according to locals, visitors aren’t just flocking to Istanbul and Antalya to see their money go further. They’re coming to feel revived.

« Antalya … has a wide range of natural beauties, thousands-of-years-old historical ruins, action sports events and health tourism, » said Antalya tour guide Avni Coşar. « The Mediterranean calmness and serene life of the city promises peace.

More articles

Latest article