London receives 16 million international visitors as it prepares for blockbuster 2014 cultural season

LONDON — London welcomed over 16 million international visitors in one year for the first time in history, making the city one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world.

Following the hugely successful London 2012 Olympic Games and Diamond Jubilee, the city has experienced a massive boom in visitors as 16.8 million people arrived in 2013, up 9% compared to 2012, according to figures released today by the Office for National Statistics’ International Passenger Survey.

International visitors also spent a record £11.2 billion on shopping, hotels, restaurants and visiting attractions last year, over £1 billion more than in 2012.

London welcomed 2.3 million North American visitors in 2013, accounting for almost 14% of all international visits representing a 2.7% increase compared to 2012. North American visitors are London’s largest market by spend, with £1.8 billion being spent in 2013 equating to 16% of the total international spend.

The positive picture for last year is reflected across Britain which welcomed nearly 33 million visitors, a 6% increase compared to 2012, who spent £21 billion, an increase of 13% compared to the previous year.

Early figures for the first two months of 2014 also show there was a 9% increase in tourist numbers across Britain.

According to the International Passenger Survey (IPS) London’s previous best year was in 2006 when the city welcomed 15.6 million visitors, just exceeding the 2012 number.

Tourists from around the globe have been flocking to London in record-breaking numbers to experience world-class exhibitions and theatre, explore the city’s rich culture, pageantry and history, dine at renowned Michelin-starred restaurants, visit iconic royal palaces, and watch and take part in major sporting events.

The British Museum, boosted by exhibitions such as ‘Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum’ was the most popular London attraction, drawing over 6.5 million visitors and making 2013 the museum’s most successful year on record.

The National Gallery and Natural History Museum also experienced high increases in visitation. The Historic Royal Palaces, including the Tower of London, Kensington Palace and Hampton Court Palace also celebrated a record-breaking year, welcoming over four million visitors for the first time following successful exhibitions like ‘Fashion Rules’ and ‘Secrets of the Royal Bed Chamber’.