London overtakes Paris to become world’s most popular destination for foreign tourists

City builds on successes of 2012 to achieve record year for oversees visits

London has overtaken Paris to become the most popular city with foreign tourists in the world, after a bumper 2013 saw it receive more visitors than ever before in its history.

According to the latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) today, there were 16.8 million visitors to London in 2013, spending a combined total of more than £11.2 billion.

This was the highest recorded number since records began in 1961, and an increase of more than a million on the previous record of 15.6 million people set in 2006.

Paris, which previously claimed the title of most visited city in the world, recorded 15.7 million foreign visits in 2012, its most recent published figure.

Yet Paris isn’t giving up without a fight – an aide for the city’s Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo told the London Evening Standard: “The new British figures will be analysed, but they sound fanciful. Visitor numbers to Paris are impressive and unrivalled.”

London’s own mayor Boris Johnson said that the figures were a tribute to “the outstanding mix of culture, art, music and sport” on offer in the UK’s capital.

He said: “With major international sporting events including the Rugby World Cup and the Tour de France and spectacular exhibitions at the Tate and the British Museum this year, it is clear that this wonderful city will not rest on its laurels.”

The British Museum was the most popular individual attraction for 2013, achieving its own record year with more than 6.7 million visitors.

Figures were boosted by a particularly popular exhibition about the history of Pompeii, and museum director Neil MacGregor said: “London is and always has been a global city. The world collection at the British Museum belongs to and is used by a global citizenship in London.”

The ONS said that the top three countries to have their people come to London were the US, France and Germany, which contributed more than five million visitors between them.

On spend per visitor, however, they were all beaten by people from Middle East countries who, despite not coming in the top 10 for visitor numbers, spent almost £900 million between them.

Tourism bosses said that the increase for 2013 was helped in part by the legacy of having London beamed across the world for the 2012 Olympics.

Kit Malthouse, chairman of the mayor’s promotional organisation London & Partners, said: “London is continuing to build on its success and is offering world class exhibitions and attractions that people are prepared to travel from all corners of the globe to see.”

Top five “dream” holiday activities for overseas visitor, according to Visit Britain

Visit Buckingham Palace

Unsurprisingly perhaps, taking a peak at where the Queen of England’s digs is in at the top of most visitor’s wishlists, with American, Russian and Chinese tourists most likely to put this on top of their holiday to-do list, according to a Visit Britain survey.

Enjoy the view from the top of London’s Shard Tower

The high-end bars and restaurants of the capital’s highest skyscraper are big draws for South Korean visitors, 45 per cent of whom make the trip up them.

Visit Edinburgh Castle

Tourists from America, Canada and Australia in search of their Scottish heritage are most likely to head to this historic attraction perched above Edinburgh.

Wildlife spotting in the Scottish Highlands

It’s the gastronomy-loving French and Germans who are most likely to travel north is search of game and whisky.

Shopping on Oxford Street

Londoners will tell you it’s packed with chain stores and tacky tourist shops, but Swedish and Spanish visitors can’t get enough of this low-rent part of the capital.

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