The World's Most Visited UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The Forbidden City in Beijing, China, is the world's most visited World Heritage Site.
The Forbidden City in Beijing, China, is the world's most visited World Heritage Site.

There are over 1,000 World Heritage Sites scattered around the world. These sites have outstanding universal value and are grouped into cultural, natural, and mixed sites. Oftentimes, when places are chosen as World Heritage Sites they are able to be preserved when they would otherwise be destroyed through human and animal activities.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites are often important tourist draws. The most popular of sites can receive up to 10 million visitors annually. This article focuses on some of the most visited World Heritage Sites in the world.

UNESCO Sites With the Most Visitors

Forbidden City - 15 Million

Forbidden City is the most visited UNESCO World Heritage Site in the world, having averaged around 15 million visitors annually since 2012. In 2016 alone, the site received more than 16 million visitors. The Forbidden City, which is located in Beijing, China, is a palace complex that was in use from the Ming Dynasty in 1420 to the end of Qing Dynasty in 1912. It was the home of the emperors and families and was the political and cultural center of the Chinese government. The Forbidden City was constructed between 1406 and 1420 on 180 acres and consists of 980 buildings in total. The palace has influenced much of the architectural development in East Asia. The site currently houses the Palace Museum which is opened to the public.

Kulangsu - 12 Million

The pedestrian-only island of Kulangsu, located in Fujian Province of China, is one of the most visited places in the world. Although the island is less than one square mile and has fewer than 20,000 residents, it receives over 12 million visitors annually. Interestingly, cars and bicycles are banned from the Kulangsu and only permitted cars can access the parameter. The island can be accessed by ferry from Xiamen. Kulangsu is popular for its beaches and the varied architecture. It also hosts China’s only piano museum.

The Great Smoky Mountains - 11 Million

The Great Smoky Mountains in the southeastern United States receive over 11 million visitors annually. The mountain range, which rises along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, is part of the Appalachian Mountains. Commonly known as the Smokies, the Great Smoky Mountains is home to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which was established in 1934 and is the country’s most popular national park. The mountain range is home to about 187,000 acres of old growth forest which is the largest on the eastern side of the Mississippi River.

Great Wall Of China - 10 Million

The list of popular World Heritage Sites is incomplete without mention of the Great Wall of China. Built to protect the Chinese against raids and invasion from the Eurasian Steppe, the wall is made of stones, wood, bricks, and other material. The walls were built by different dynasties and stretch from Dandong to Lop Lake. The Great Wall of China was designated a World Heritage Site in 1987 and currently receives over 10 million visitors.

Impact Of High Number Of Tourists Visiting The Sites

Although the high number of tourists visiting these UNESCO World Heritage Sites translates to high revenue for the receiving country, the cost of maintaining these sites is also significantly high. The sites are prone to constant wear and tear with some artifacts and collections disappearing from the sites. Controlling traffic to the site is also a major challenge, especially during the peak season. However, more and more people are encouraged to visit these sites and sample their rich history.

The World's Most Visited UNESCO World Heritage Sites

RankUNESCO World Heritage SiteLocationVisitors (Millions)
1Forbidden City China14
3Great Smoky MountainsUnited States11
4Great Wall of ChinaChina10
5Gyeongju South Korea9
6Banks of the SeineFrance8.1
7Sydney Opera HouseAustralia8
8Taj MahalIndia8
9Par Force Hunting LandscapeDenmark7.8

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