Who Went Where? 2023 Busiest Cities, Routes, Airports

For all of us who travelled, we have seen the crowds of people in airports, train stations and in cities. Reportedly, air travel reached 99% of 2019 figures in November 2023. It sure feels like it!

Most Visited Cities, 2023

The Top 100 City Destinations Index 2023, published by market research company Euromonitor International looks at the world’s key cities and evaluates them based on a range of characteristics.

In terms of international arrivals in 2023, Istanbul had the most arrivals, followed by London and Dubai. The cities with the highest year-on-year rise were Bangkok (with a 142% increase in arrivals) and Hong Kong (2,495%). They were among the last to fully re-open following the Covid-19 closures and were both affected significantly by the restrictions on mainland Chinese travellers.

Most Attractive City Destinations

Based on tourism facilities, sustainability, economic performance and health and safety, Paris was crowned the world’s most appealing metropolitan destination (again). The top ten most appealing destinations in 2023 were as follows.

a table with a list of cities

I have been to all of them in my life and was fortunate enough to revisit six of them last year.

Tokyo entered the top ten for the first time. Largely because a falling Yen had made things much more affordable. Other Asia cities in the Top 20 “best” cities include Singapore (11), Seoul (14), Osaka (16), and Hong Kong (17).

Four new cities in the top 100, were: Washington DC (48), Montréal (68), Santiago (88) and Vilnius (92). I am surprised Montréal had not been included previously.

The report’s author Nadejda Popova, Senior Project Manager at Euromonitor International, highlighted that many cities are now increasingly dealing with the problem of overtourism. She noted that “Some destinations are imposing restrictions, steep taxation or reduction of hotel capacity to help limit the influx of tourists and preserve cultural heritage, while others embrace dispersion strategies that promote alternative or off-the-beaten-path destinations

We have seen this with Venice’s tourist tax, and the closure of Boracay to all tourists for a year. The Kingdom of Bhutan has resisted mass tourism, capping tourist visas and requiring high minimum daily spending by visitors.

World’s Busiest International Routes

OAG has crunched the numbers to find the top ten international air routes globally. There were a total of 41 million seats available on the world’s ten busiest air routes in 2023. Even though they were international flights, these flights were generally short hops between two close cities. The check/tick marks indicate which of these sectors I have ever flown which turns out to be six of the top ten.

1Kuala Lumpur — Singapore ChangiKUL-SIN4,891,952
2Cairo — JeddahCAI-JED4,795,712
3Hong Kong — TaipeiHKG-TPE4,568,280
4Seoul Incheon — Osaka KansaiICN-KIX4,218,484
5Seoul Incheon — Tokyo NaritaICN-NRT4,155,418
6Dubai — RiyadhDXB-RUH3,990,076
7Jakarta — Singapore ChangiCGK-SIN3,910,502
8New York JFK — London HeathrowJFK-LHR3,878,590
9Bangkok — Singapore ChangiBKK-SIN3,478,474
10Bangkok — Seoul IncheonBKK-ICN3,362,968

On two of these sectors (Singapore-Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to Bangkok), a high-speed rail (HSR) project reducing the travel time to 90 minutes has been on again/off again for almost three decades. I have taken the current rail service from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur twice. It takes 11 hours, with a frustrating border crossing and three changes of train. Singapore through Bangkok took me seven trains, crossed two borders and required 24 hours minimum. Fun long journey. A high speed train would transform that and significantly impact those air routes.

World’s Busiest Domestic Routes

There are a staggering 95 million available seats just on the top ten domestic routes across the globe.

RouteKMCity CodesSeatsFlown
Jeju International – Seoul Gimpo450 kmCJU-GMP13,728,786
Sapporo New Chitose – Tokyo Haneda819 kmCTS-HND11,936,302
Fukuoka – Tokyo Haneda883 kmFUK-HND11,264,229
Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City1,155 kmHAN-SGN10,883,555
Melbourne – Sydney706 kmMEL-SYD9,342,312
Beijing – Shanghai Hongqiao1,074 kmPEK-SHA8,355,225
Tokyo Haneda – Okinawa Naha1,554 kmHND-OKA7,982,218
Jeddah – Riyadh853 kmJED-RUH7,902,142
Mumbai – Delhi1,135 kmBOM-DEL7,276,430
Jakarta – Denpasar-Bali983 kmCGK-DPS7,190,961
a map of the world

The busiest domestic route in the world is an hour and ten-minute ride from the beautiful island of Jeju (known as the “Island of Gods“). Five airlines compete on this route along with ferries from multiple South Korean ports. I have not been on this route and not visited the island. Have you been to Jeju?

The second busiest route may change in 2030 when the new Hokkaido Shinkansen will connect Tokyo to Sapporo by 2030 making it an appealing air route alternative.

US Domestic Routes

1Honolulu – KahuluiHNL-OGG3,612,212
2Atlanta – OrlandoATL-MCO3,515,882
3Las Vegas – Los AngelesLAS-LAX3,496,170
4New York JFK – Los AngelesJFK-LAX3,241,663
5Denver – Las VegasDEN-LAS3,198,098


With 2.8 million passengers, the busiest European route are as follows. I have never flown any of them.

a table with black text

Of these cities, Lisbon to Madrid could have and should have a high speed rail link. It has no direct rail service at all. Elsewhere in Europe, trains have strongly competed with air travel.

Busiest Airports in 2023

Half a billion people flowed through the ten busiest airports in the world. I have been to all of them except Guangzhou. I managed to only go to London and Dallas in 2023!

1ATLAtlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Intl Apt61,226,50711
2DXBDubai International56,504,04224
3HNDTokyo Intl (Haneda)52,692,48743
4LHRLondon Heathrow Apt49,370,85977
5DFWDallas Dallas/Fort Worth Intl Apt48,083,921313
6DENDenver Intl Apt46,743,622521
7ISTIstanbul Airport46,399,2381016
8LAXLos Angeles International Apt44,482,63385
9ORDChicago O’Hare International Apt43,708,79666
10CANGuangzhou (CN)43,425,9161612


Popova of Euromonitor International believes that growing living costs and geopolitical unpredictability will result in consumers seeking value-for-money travel options closer to home. I also personally think, a lot of people travelled more in 2023 as a counterbalance to the restrictions of 2020-2022.

What do you think? What are your 2024 plans?

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *