If I asked you to guess some of the world’s most popular tourist attractions, what would be on your list?
The Eiffel Tower? The Great Wall of China? The Taj Mahal would probably rate a mention, along with the Pyramids? Oh, but hang on, what about Angkor Wat, Vatican City, Machu Picchu, the State of Liberty, the Tower of London?
There are so many big-name attractions around the globe and trying to rank them is always going to be controversial; some are impossible to measure, while we have to take those who collect visitor statistics at their word.
Disneyland no doubt knows exactly how many people go through its gates, but who’s counting heads in Central Park?
We also need to make a distinction between biggest and best, especially with natural or historical attractions where visitor numbers are deliberately restricted or access is difficult.
Number one … drum roll, please … is apparently the Las Vegas Strip, with about 39.7 million visitors a year, followed by New York’s Times Square, with about 39.2 million.
Nine of the top ten attractions on the list are in the US, which seems a bit suspicious, but sheer numbers of tourists give the US a huge advantage.
I would argue that Machu Picchu is a hundred times more interesting than Times Square, but it’s a lot harder and more expensive to get to.
I’d also go back to Africa’s Victoria Falls before I’d re-join the crowds at Niagara, but again there are greater barriers in terms of access and cost.
Other US attractions in the top ten are New York’s Central Park, Washington DC’s Union Station, Niagara Falls, New York’s Grand Central Terminal and Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace (wouldn’t have picked that one).
Not surprisingly, both Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando and Disneyland in Anaheim are in the top ten, with more than 17 million and nearly 16 million visitors respectively.
The power of the Disney brand is somewhat scary, with eight other Disney attractions around the world in the top 50.
Universal Studios also features strongly, with four of its attractions on the list, along with Hong Kong’s Ocean Park, Japan’s Nagashima Spa Land and South Korea’s Lotte World and Everland parks.
Does anyone else find it disturbing that more than a third of the world’s most-visited attractions are theme parks?
The only non-US attraction in the top ten is Beijing’s Forbidden City, which is not far behind Disneyland - there’s hope for the world - with 15-plus million visitors a year.
Only one Australian attraction, the Sydney Opera House, made it onto the list. However, in 31st place, it was ahead of the Eiffel Tower and not far behind The Louvre, with more than eight million visitors a year.
I was surprised to see the Eiffel Tower so far down the list (except the queues are enough to drive many away), behind Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, but again you have to wonder how on earth they come up with the visitor numbers for some of these places.
Another surprise was the Great Wall of China in only 28th place, three places behind the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina – what?
I wouldn’t have been shocked if it was Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, but I had no idea the Great Smoky Mountains drew so many people.
According to the figures collected by Love Home Swap, nearly 9.7 million people a year head to the park for outdoor adventures such as hiking and wildlife viewing.
I’ve been to dozens of national parks in the US and can’t believe I’ve somehow missed the most popular one.
Falling outside the top 50 are the Taj Mahal, Egypt’s Pyramids, the Colosseum, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Petra, Uluru and many other ‘must-see’ sights that don’t have the numbers to match their fame.
As I said, biggest is not always best.
Best of the freebies
• Explore outstanding Smithsonian museums and institutions in Washington DC.
• See artefacts from all over the world at the British Museum in London. Make time for the groovy Science Museum, too.
• Find a quiet corner of Golden Gate Park’s 400-plus hectares of gardens or watch sea lions from the pier in San Francisco.
• Visit the grand Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
• Indulge in first-class people watching in New York’s Grand Central Terminal, then take a 20-minute stroll to Central Park.
Have you been to the Las Vegas Strip? Do you agree it's the biggest attraction? Would you go there? What is the best attraction you have been to? Post your comments below.