Skip to main content

London beats Paris as top tourist city. Really?

By Simon Busch, CNN
updated 3:53 PM EST, Mon January 20, 2014
London's claim to be the most visited city in the world is
London's claim to be the most visited city in the world is "boastful" and "irrational," says Paris.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Figures show London beating Paris as most visited city by tourists last year
  • Olympics legacy, royal baby and "Book of Mormon" all possible reasons
  • Paris decries statistics as "boastful" and misleading

London (CNN) -- Amid leaden wintry skies, it may come as a surprise to Londoners but new figures suggest the city has beaten its arch rival, Paris, to become the world's most popular city for tourists.

However, a growing spat between the the two cities' administrations suggests that, when it comes to comparisons between London and Paris, there are only lies, damn lies and statistics.

Figures released this week by the UK's Office for National Statistics show that 4.9 million people visited London from July to September 2013.

That was an increase of 20% on the same period in the previous year -- during which London hosted the Olympics -- and a new quarterly record.

Taking a wider view, for the first nine months of 2013, 12.8 million visitors flocked to the British capital, an increase of 12% compared with the previous year.

The figures prompted the city's promotional body, London and Partners, to proclaim that London was "on course to welcome over 16 million visitors in one year."

That in turn has led to reports in Britain and abroad that London has trumped Paris as the most visited city in the world.

The two cities have actually swapped the top spot on various lists in recent years.

According to the MasterCard Global Destinations Cities Index for 2012, London narrowly beat out Paris for the top spot with 16.9 million visitors.

'Greatest city on the planet'

For the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, the statistics only underlined the obvious.

"These incredible figures prove that London is without doubt the greatest city on the planet," he said.

"With so many fascinating museums, the best theater scene in the world, more green space than any other European city, numerous top sporting venues, a low crime rate and much else besides, it's no wonder that people from all over the globe are flocking to London in record numbers."

MORE: 50 reasons London is the world's greatest city

A long, hot summer, Andy Murray's Wimbledon win, the birth of Prince George and blockbuster West Ends shows including "The Book of Mormon" were put forward as potential reasons for the surge in tourist numbers, along with the legacy of the Olympics from the year before.

Top London attractions such as the Tower of London and St. Paul's Cathedral said visitor numbers were "through the roof" last summer, with an increase of 17% on 2012, the London Evening Standard reported.

St. Paul's welcomed 353,463 visitors between May and August, up by almost half on 2012.

READ: The most welcoming European city is ...

The royal baby \
The royal baby "bump" may have helped London's tourist numbers.

Spat turns nasty

All pretty impressive, but it turns out that the source of London's promotion to top tourist spot was none other than ... French.

Proclaiming "London dethrones Paris," the conservative daily Le Figaro had compared London's projected 16 million visitors with a 2012 figure of 15.9 million visitors to Paris.

Things have only got nastier since.

Seizing on the comparison, Paris's right wing mayoral candidate, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, claimed the numbers showed Paris's Socialist administration as failing the city.

That's just Paris bashing, one of those Socialists, Paris's deputy mayor Anne Hidalgo, retorted.

Other figures, her office said, revealed Paris still to be beating the sprawling, unsophisticated pretender over La Manche when it comes to pulling in tourists.

Indeed, London is in some ways just a "suburb" of the far more attractive French capital, she told reporters.

Paris 'still No. 1'

"Like it or not, while London may have attracted more visitors around the Olympic Games, Paris remains the number one world tourist destination, even if we only include foreign visitors and not national ones," Hidalgo said.

London was "boastful" about its strengths, even deceptive, whereas the French were "rational" in their self assessments.

"London aggressively sells itself ... in a way that goes beyond the truth. We are more rational in our communication when speaking about Paris's strengths," Hidalgo said.

In 2012, 29 million domestic and foreign tourists visited the wider city of Paris, Hidalgo's office said.

MORE: Bored with Europe? Try the 'new Europe'

By contrast, Greater London -- 10 times larger -- pulled in only 27.6 million tourists of all nationalities.

While clearly superior intellectually to Londoners, Parisians could, Hidalgo conceded, appear "arrogant."

"We could be a bit more amiable," she said.

"I often tell people they must smile more. It costs nothing."

MORE: Paris issues tourist 'charm manual'

Paris may have romance, but what about its curries?
Paris may have romance, but what about its curries?

Gordon Ramsay weighs in

Parisian spluttering be damned, London and Partners has used its figures to promote a new video campaign, The London Story, in which well known Londoners reveal what they most love about the city.

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay says: "You can't beat a good London curry. I've been to India but I find curries in Brick Lane [in the East End] better.

It's not just curries.

"There's nowhere better in the world to eat than in London," says Ramsay.

"A great thing about London is shopping," adds Sixties It girl Twiggy. "What girl doesn't love shopping? London is the best -- we've always been the best in fashion."

READ: 20 most annoying things people do on planes

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:09 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
What's New York's most popular attraction? Which world city gets photographed the most? Answers are revealed by a new photo-tagging ranking.
updated 9:13 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
The lessons we learned and changes we made as a result of previous airline accidents.
updated 1:14 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Bontá mia! An Australian chef takes home top honors at the Pizza World Championships in Italy.
updated 4:06 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Easter break packing tip: pants with elastic waistbands.
updated 4:46 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Thailand is now celebrating Songkran, the Thai new year. But along with the watery revelry come deadly roads.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Inspired by the Masters? Playing these courses will make you feel like a pro, even if you don't swing like one.
updated 3:30 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
A mother-of-two explains how to fly with kids without making everyone else on the plane hate you.
updated 8:49 PM EDT, Wed April 2, 2014
As the new season of "Game of Thrones" approaches, we pick out 20 stunning spots in one of its most oft-used locations.
updated 5:40 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
They're hot, they're popular, they're stylish. Now they're your tour guides to Italy's fashion capital.
updated 12:10 AM EDT, Tue April 8, 2014
A quarter of the year's flown by, it's time to plan a vacation. TripAdvisor's list of Top Destinations should help.
updated 1:23 AM EDT, Tue April 8, 2014
You may not have those $10 Heinekens and $6 bags of M&M's to kick around anymore. Happy now?
updated 3:25 AM EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
Japan isn't a country to which you just show up and wing it. Here's how to arrive prepared.
updated 10:02 AM EDT, Thu April 3, 2014
The Economist is latest to dogpile on the reputation of U.S. airports; one industry leader says he knows why.
updated 2:23 AM EDT, Fri April 4, 2014
Laojun Mountain Natural Reserve gave out bags of mountain air to Chinese residents. After seeing these photos, you'll want some too.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Wed April 2, 2014
Forget space. Our very own planet is ripe for investigation. Here are some of the spots we know least about.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT