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

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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.”

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