Despite reports that tourism to the United States has slumped in recent years, reports from many American cities suggest that travel by Americans within the United States has greatly increased. This is great news for places like Louisville and Detroit — Midwestern cities located far from the coasts — or cities like Boston and San Francisco — great destinations that are often overshadowed by bigger neighbors like New York and Los Angeles, respectively. With so many cities recording record numbers of visitors for 2018, we wanted to know just which cities are the most popular for tourists.
Methodology: To put together our ranking of America’s most popular cities for tourists, we began by listing every major city or metropolitan area in the United States. We then consulted each city’s tourism bureau for their official 2018 count. Below are the 30 cities which welcomed the most visitors last year.
Note: Because not all city data differentiates between overnight tourists and day trippers, we also did not differentiate between the two in our rankings.
30. Honolulu, Hawaii
Visitors in 2018: 4.7 million
According to Hawaii Visitor Statistics, of the nearly 10 million people who visited the Hawaiian Islands in 2018, just around 4.7 million spent at least one night in Honolulu. Located on the island of Oahu, Honolulu is perhaps Hawaii’s best known destination. Popular tourist attractions include Waikiki Beach and Pearl Harbor. Honolulu is also a busy cruise ship port, and a common destination for conferences and other business-related events.
29. Portland, Oregon
Visitors in 2018: 8.7 million
The hip city of Portland, Oregon has seen a steady increase in tourism in recent years. In 2018, Portland welcomed 8.7 million visitors! As Oregon’s largest city, Portland has a lot to offer tourists. It sits in the shadows of Mount Hood, thus boasting tons of natural settings perfect for hiking, cycling, and Instagramming. A vibrant arts scene attracts theater and music lovers from all over, while foodies can get their fix at Portland’s many local microbreweries and coffee houses.
28. Savannah, Georgia
Visitors in 2018: 14.5 million
Bursting with Southern charm, the coastal city of Savannah has become a popular place for families and people of all ages. An historic downtown area has enough to offer foodies, history buffs, shoppers, and those intent on having a good time. Nearby Tybee Island offers vacationers a world-class beach. In other words, there’s a ton to see and do in Savannah. The number of visitors to Savannah in 2018 increased to 14.5 million — up from 14.1 million the previous year. According to Visit Savannah, about 6.2 million of those visitors were day trippers coming from nearby towns and beaches.
27. Nashville, Tennessee
Visitors in 2018: 15.2 million
A whopping 15.2 million people visited Nashville in 2018 — nearly 5% more than in 2017! Of course, Nashville has maintained a steady reputation as a popular go-to for a number of years now. This is thanks in part to attractions like bustling Broadway, a popular setting for bachelor and bachelorette parties, and the vibrant music scene which now encompasses far more than the country music for which the city is most famous.
26. Detroit, Michigan
Visitors in 2018: 15.9 million
Detroit is experiencing a renaissance, and that renaissance seems to be attracting tourists. Nearly 16 million people visited Detroit last year! Much of that has to do with the city’s efforts to lure in conventions and other sports- and business-related events. Lonely Planet also listed Detroit second on its list of the best cities to visit in 2018. “Motor City” has a lot to offer visitors, including Tigers games at Comerica Park, the zoo at Belle Isle, and the Henry Ford Museum.
25. Louisville, Kentucky
Visitors in 2018: 16.4 million
Louisville, Kentucky has always been a popular place to be on the first Saturday in May, the day the Kentucky Derby is traditionally run at Churchill Downs. But more and more, Louisville is proving itself to be a fantastic tourism destination at any time of year. Besides horse racing, Louisville offers visitors a slew of historic hotels, the Louisville Slugger Museum, a food scene that is quickly on the rise, and the Bourbon Trail, a collection of bourbon distillery tours and tastings throughout Louisville and the surrounding area.
24. Austin, Texas
Visitors in 2018: 19.8 million
Raking in an approximate 19.8 million visitors in 2018, Austin is Texas’s 5th most visited city — though we have a feeling it will be climbing up the list in the near future! Those who know Austin know that Texas’s capital has a whole lot to offer visitors, starting with its increasingly popular South by Southwest (SXSW) music and film festivals held place each spring. There’s also a blossoming foodie scene, lots of parks, and a number of historical sites.
23. Boston, Massachusetts
Visitors in 2018: 21.8 million
According to Boston’s official tourism website, about 21.8 million visitors spent at least one night in Boston in 2018. This number is up from 2017, and the city plans to welcome even more guests in 2019. Of those 21.8 million, 19.2 million were domestic visitors, many of whom were no doubt interested in the many historical sites Boston has to offer. A stronghold during the days of the American Revolution, Boston is famous for sites like the Freedom Trail, the Faneuil Hall Marketplace, and Boston Common. The Boston RedSox baseball team is another strong draw.
22. (Tied) Phoenix, Arizona
Visitors in 2018: 22 million
Nearly 44 million people visit Arizona each year, and about half of those visitors spend at least one day in the Phoenix metropolitan area. While many of these visitors are northerners escaping cold winters, America’s 5th largest city has lots more than year-long warmth going for it. Indeed, Phoenix is one of the few cities with a team in all four major professional sporting leagues. The city also plays host to baseball’s Spring Training, an increasingly popular sporting event which draws baseball fans to Phoenix from all over the world.
22. (Tied) Washington, D.C.
Visitors in 2018: 22 million
2018 marked Washington D.C.’s eighth consecutive year of record visitation! The nation’s capital welcomed 22.8 million visitors last year — one million more than in 2017. According to the tourism bureau Visitation D.C., 20.8 million of those visitors were American travelers keen to get up close and personal to the headquarters of government. Interestingly, the average stay for an American tourist to D.C. was 2.5 nights, while international visitors tended to stay an average of six nights. Popular sights in D.C. include:
- the National Mall
- the slew of interesting Smithsonian museums
- the collection of monuments
- various government buildings such as the U.S. Capitol and the White House.
20. Houston, Texas
Visitors in 2018: 22.3 million
Houston, Texas is another city which broke its record for number of visitors last year! Apparently, tourists haven’t been too deterred by Houston’s recent weather-related woes. A whopping 22.3 million people visited Houston in 2018 — about 2% more than in 2017. Houston has lots to see and do, including:
- nearly 200 golf courses
- four of the country’s 50 largest parks
- a top-ranked zoo
- lots of space-related sights like Space Center Houston and the Johnson Space Center.
19. Miami, Florida
Visitors in 2018: 23 million
Miami, Florida welcomed an incredible 23 million visitors in 2018! According to The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, 16.5 million of those were overnight visitors. The rest were day trippers from cruise ships and nearby cities. Most of Miami’s biggest tourist draws are beach related, including the aptly named Ocean Drive and Miami Seaquarium. The Vizcaya Museum & Gardens offers an historical look at this fascinating city, while Jungle Island is a great place to see nearly 3,000 exotic plants, animals, and birds.
18. Anaheim, California
Visitors in 2018: 24.4 million
There’s one very good reason the city of Anaheim receives a whopping 24.4 million visitors each year, and that reason is Disneyland! It’s estimated that roughly 44,000 people visit the Disney park every single day, which largely contributes to Anaheim’s overall tourism number. Of course, Disney isn’t the only thing this Orange County city has to offer. Anaheim plays host to hundreds of conventions and sports competitions each year. It’s close to the beach, and is home to popular professional sporting franchises like the Angels of baseball and the Ducks of hockey.
17 (tied). St. Louis, Missouri
Visitors in 2018: 25.8 million
Sure, St. Louis’s position smack dab in the middle of the country provides a pretty good reason as to why it’s America’s 17th most visited city, but that’s definitely not the only reason! St. Louis welcomed nearly 26 million visitors in 2018, the average of whom spent 2.7 nights during their trip. Four million visitors made it up to the top of the Gateway Arch last year, while myriad others enjoyed St. Louis’s famed BBQ, attended a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game, or took a riverboat ride down the river.
17 (tied). San Francisco, California
Visitors in 2018: 25.8 million
San Francisco is a consistent favorite among tourists both domestic and international, and in 2018 the city welcomed 25.8 million guests! Though this number is a record for San Francisco, it’s also a bit lower than the city’s tourism bureau had predicted. Still, San Francisco attracted plenty of people looking to ride cable cars, tour Alcatraz, and relish in the city’s top-ranked food scene.
15. Indianapolis, Indiana
Visitors in 2018: 29 million
2018 marked the sixth straight year Indianapolis experienced a rise in tourism. Last year, the city recorded a whopping 29 million guests! Although Indy has done a lot in recent years to attract conventions (it’s hosted the largest gaming convention in America every year since 2003), its main tourism draw is sports. Nine major auto racing events take place in Indianapolis each year, including the famous Indianapolis 500. Indy also hosts big-draw events like the Big Ten Football Championship Game, the Circle City Classic, and the NFL Scouting Combine.
14. Niagara Falls, New York (& Ontario, Canada)
Visitors in 2018: 30 million
The massive titular waterfall of Niagara Falls has always been a major tourist attraction, and that was no different in 2018. According to Niagara Falls USA Tourism, the small town (which straddles both the United States and Canada) welcomed 30 million tourists! Besides the waterfall and its related activities, visitors to Niagara can gamble, hike, take a guided historic tour of Old Fort Niagara, and even visit the fascinating Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center.
13. Denver, Colorado
Visitors in 2018: 32 million
Of the 86 million visitors to Colorado in 2018, a whopping 32 million visited Denver. Like so many other cities on our list, this marked a record number for the Mile High City. Of those, the vast majority were domestic visitors traveling for leisure. Popular things to see and do in Denver include:
- the zoo
- the Denver Art Museum
- concerts at the Red Rock Amphitheatre.
12. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
Visitors in 2018: 34.5 million
According to Meet Minneapolis, a record 34.5 million people visited the Twin Cities in 2018. This number is up nearly 4% from 2017, great news for Minnesota’s largest urban area. Minneapolis and St. Paul have long been known for their microbrewery scene, which is a big draw for avid foodies. The Mall of America is chock full of family friendly activities, while nature lovers can enjoy hiking in Minnehaha Park.
11. San Diego, California
Visitors in 2018: 35.8 million
California’s second most-visited city is San Diego, which welcomed an incredible 35.8 million tourists in 2018 — another record! There’s little doubt that many of San Diego’s visitors are drawn to the city’s beautiful beaches and outdoor spaces. Others flock to San Diego to enjoy places like:
- the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park
ComicCon, the country’s most famous convention for all things entertainment, also takes place in San Diego each year and draws quite a few movie and video game buffs.
10. San Antonio, Texas
Visitors in 2018: 37 million
Looks like there are at least 37 million people who remember the Alamo! This popular Texas destination is postcard perfect, with a fun RiverWalk area complete with restaurants and guided boat tours. The Alamo and San Antonio Missions National Park offer excellent tours for a glimpse into the past, while Six Flags Fiesta Texas makes for a great family day out.
9. Seattle, Washington
Visitors in 2018: 40.9 million
Seattle’s tourism numbers increased nearly 3% from 2017 to a whopping 40.9 million! As the #1 destination for tourists in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle has a ton to offer. The towering Space Needle checks off a bucket list item for a lot of people, as does Pike Place Market and Chihuly Garden and Glass. Seattle is also a popular cruise port, with many people leaving from the city for cruises to Canada and Alaska.
8. Las Vegas, Nevada
Visitors in 2018: 42.1 million
Surely, Sin City is not a surprise addition when it comes to the most popular cities in America for tourists. Las Vegas has long been a popular destination for weddings, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and weekends away with friends. Add in Spring Breakers, convention goers, and families on road trips, and it’s no wonder that Las Vegas welcomed 42.1 million visitors last year. Of course, the list of things to do and see in the cities is practically endless, and include impressive hotels, concerts and shows, and sporting events.
7. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Visitors in 2018: 43.3 million
Philadelphia welcomed 43.3 million tourists in 2018! According to VisitPhilly, 2018 was the eighth consecutive year in which the City of Brotherly Love experienced an increase in visitors. While one explanation for the increase is the fact that Philadelphia’s very own Eagles football team became the Super Bowl champs, that certainly isn’t the only reason for the city’s success. Philadelphia oozes fascinating American history, and common tourism attractions include Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the delightfully creepy Eastern State Penitentiary.
6. Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas
Visitors in 2018: 49 million
The metroplex that is Dallas and Fort Worth consistently ranks as a popular tourism destination, and 2018 was no different. Last year, the two cities collectively welcomed 49 million visitors! While conventions and sporting events occur every year in DFW, 2018 was an especially busy year, as the region hosted:
- the NFL Draft
- the National Cheerleaders Association championship
- the Big 12 Conference Football Championships
- the NRA annual meeting
- the Mexican National Team’s U.S. tour
All of these brought in a ton of visitors, according to the tourism bureau VisitDallas.
5. Los Angeles, California
Visitors in 2018: 50 million
Los Angeles is California’s most visited city. In 2018, the City of Angels welcomed an incredible 50 million guests! The list of things to see and do in L.A. at any given time is endless, but popular sights include:
- the Griffith Observatory
- Hollywood and the Hollywood sign
- theme parks like Universal Studios
Disneyland isn’t too far, and neither are a number of fun beach towns. Los Angeles also has a number of professional sports teams, including baseball’s L.A. Dodgers.
4. Atlanta, Georgia
Visitors in 2018: 53 million
Not only is Atlanta home to one of the country’s busiest airports, it’s also one of the most visited cities in America! Filled with Southern charm, Atlanta has quite a lot to offer the overnight visitor. The massive Georgia Aquarium is a fun activity for the whole family, as is a tour of the World of Coca-Cola. The Atlanta Braves baseball team knows how to draw a crowd, while parks like the Centennial Olympic Park and the Atlanta Botanical Garden are nice places to slow things down and enjoy the city.
3. Chicago, Illinois
Visitors in 2018: 57.6 million
According to The Chicago Sun Times, 2018 was a record year for tourism in Chicago. The Windy City welcomed a whopping 57.6 million visitors, 4.3% more than in 2017. The ebb and flow of tourism trends partly explain the renewed interest in Chicago, as does the long list of iconic sights to see in the city. These include:
- Millennium Park, with its very Instagrammable “bean”
- Navy Pier
- Willis Tower
- a slew of interesting museums.
Interestingly, the number of domestic tourists increased dramatically last year, up 4.4% from 2017.
2. New York, New York
Visitors in 2018: 65.2 million
New York City is easily the most famous city in America, and ranks number two on our list of the most popular cities for tourists having welcomed 65.2 million visitors in 2018. Not only is it a capital for finance and other business-related industries, it’s also a common port for both cruise ships and international flights. Those visiting New York City for leisure purposes can pack their itineraries with things like Broadway shows, tours of The Met museum and Statue of Liberty, and walks around Central Park, among countless other things.
1. Orlando, Florida
Visitors in 2018: 75 million
If anyone is surprised to see Orlando topping the list of the most popular American cities for tourists, then they should consider the following:
- Walt Disney World
- Universal Studios
- The Holy Land Experience
Orlando’s slew of theme parks alone go a long way to explaining the fact that the city welcomed a massive 75 million tourists in 2018. Orlando is also near one of the country’s busiest cruise ports, and a short drive to some of Florida’s most stunning beaches.
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