The most visited tourist attractions in the world

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For nearly 500 years, emperors living in the opulent Forbidden City of Beijing dictated who could enter and leave. Well, the doors have opened and tourists are flocking to see it all for themselves. Attendance has increased by 2.5 million since 2010.

The Forbidden City is a dream destination for some Americans, but most have never researched a trip to Everland or Lotte World. However, these South Korean theme parks are also among the 50 most visited tourist attractions in the world, ahead of the Eiffel Tower (nearly 7 million), the Great Pyramids (4 million) and Stonehenge (1 million). And there are more surprises.

Related: The most visited tourist attractions in Europe

Where we choose to vacation says a lot about what we enjoy. Despite – or perhaps because of – what the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) calls “global economic challenges”, more travelers than ever are hitting the road. International tourist arrivals increased by 5% in 2013, according to UNWTO. This translates to a record of over a billion trips. With its population of 1.36 billion, China has become the second largest exporter of tourists. Russia, now the fifth largest source market, increased its travel spending by 26%.

Like it or not, theme parks clearly have global appeal. Disneyland in France attracts roughly the same number of visitors (10.5 million) as Sacre Coeur, and four of the world’s top 20 tourist attractions are Disney parks.

Many inspiring and iconic places can’t quite keep up. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum narrowly missed the top 50, as did the British Museum in London (6.7 million), the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (6.3 million) and the Roman Colosseum and Forum ( 5.1 million each). The Berlin Wall memorial site recorded just 500,000 visitors in 2013, although additional crowds arrived in November 2014 for the 25th anniversary of its fall.

Accessibility can be a factor. It takes extra effort to reach Yellowstone National Park (3.2 million) or the Terracotta Army in Xi’an, China (4.8 million). And Peru’s Machu Picchu has limited tourism to help maintain the integrity of the site; only 2,500 can enter per day, or 912,500 per year.

Related: America’s Most Visited Tourist Attractions

So what is the most visited tourist attraction in the world? And can 91 million people be wrong? Read on to see the results and an explanation of our calculation methods.

Methodology : To tally the most visited attractions in the world, we have gathered the most recent data provided by the attractions themselves or by government agencies, industry reports and reputable media. In most cases, this was 2013 data. Attractions that do not sell tickets gave us estimates as best they could.

We have defined “tourist attractions” as cultural and historical sites, natural sites and officially designated spaces. So Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace (est. 1742) made the cut, but Minnesota’s Mall of America did not, which with 40 million annual visitors would otherwise have tied for No. 4. and plazas also fit our definition of tourist attractions; which disqualified the Blue Ridge Parkway. We have also omitted beaches, bridges and sites that attract almost exclusively religious pilgrims.

Reported by Kate Appleton, Rich Beattie, Adrien Glover, Lyndsey Matthews, April Orcutt, Joshua Pramis and Ann Shields

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