This European Country Had Record Visitors Last Year

Spain saw 19 percent more foreign visitors in 2023 than in 2022.

<p>Pol Albarrán/Getty Images</p>

Pol Albarrán/Getty Images

From Antoni Gaudí’s architectural wonders in Barcelona and Frank Gehry’s modern wonder of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to the royal palace of Madrid and the sandy getaways of Majorca, Spain has long lured visitors with its wide breadth of intrigue. Never before has that appeal been more enticing than last year, when a record-breaking 85.1 million international travelers visited the European nation.

According to a recent report by the Madrid-based National Statistics Institute, that accounts for 19 percent more visitors in 2023 compared to the previous year, which had 71.7 million visitors. The numbers also surpass the pre-pandemic record of 83.5 million in 2019. (Mid-pandemic years of 2020 saw 18.9 million and 2021 with 31.2 million.)

Most people are heading to Catalonia, which accounts for 21.2 percent of international visitors. The northeastern coastal region is anchored by Barcelona and also includes the beaches of Costa Brava.

Next up, 16.9 percent went to the Balearic Islands, best known for the lively Mediterranean scene in Ibiza. Off the coast of northern Africa, the Canary Islands drew 16.4 percent, while Andalusia attracted 14.3 percent, the Valencia area with 12.3 percent, and perhaps surprisingly, the capital region of Madrid with just 9.2 percent.

The bulk of visitors are heading to Spain in the cooler months, with January seeing the most international visitors, followed by December, February, March, then December.

Most of those travelers are coming from within Europe, with the United Kingdom accounting for the highest number, with 17.3 million, followed by France with 11.8 million, and Germany with 10.8 million. The Netherlands and Italy each also account for 4.9 million visitors.

The National Statistics Institute cautions that the initial report is still preliminary and that final numbers will be released in March.

Overall, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization data, France is the most visited country by foreign tourists, with Spain in second and the U.S. in third.

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