The Global Attractions That U.S. Tourists Rate the Highest
Craving a sunny vacation by the sea? Head to Hawaii. Or maybe a snowy ski adventure? Skip across to Colorado. What about a bustling city? New York has you covered. With so many different climates, national parks and world-famous destinations right here at home, it’s no wonder that just three decades ago, the vast majority of Americans didn’t own a passport.
But as the years have passed, it seems our wanderlust for the world beyond U.S. borders has flourished, with over 44 million U.S. residents traveling overseas in 2019. Some of them likely are millennials who have grown up to become expats — but many are tourists on their way to see sights you just can’t get in the States. Sorry, Las Vegas, but you can only see the real Eiffel Tower in Paris.
After stepping off the plane, U.S. citizens in their hordes are taking in the best attractions and experiences the world has to offer, soaking up the local culture by way of iconic landmarks and museums, beaches, national parks and shopping districts — but which of them all do our globetrotting compatriots recommend the most to future travelers?
In search of the answer, Casago explored how U.S. reviewers rate the top tourist attractions and experiences in 97 countries and ranked the best of the best by their average ratings.
What We Did
Focusing on countries with a population of at least 3 million people, we pulled the first five pages of a country’s “Things to Do” attraction page on Tripadvisor and isolated the top 20 most reviewed attractions for each country. For each attraction, we collected up to 100 pages of English-language reviews and isolated the reviews left by U.S.-based reviewers (as indicated by their location). We could then rank the tourist attractions globally, in each country and on each continent, by their average rating on Tripadvisor as given by American reviewers.
- The Irish Rock ‘N’ Roll Museum Experience in Dublin, Ireland, is the best tourist attraction in the world, according to U.S. tourists (average rating of five out of five)
- Three of the best tourist attractions in North America are in the States — led by Central Park in New York City (average rating of 4.86)
- The Matterhorn, Switzerland, is one of the best attractions in Europe, according to American reviewers, scoring an average 4.94 rating
- South America’s top tourist attraction is the Mi Teleferico cable car system in Bolivia, with an average rating of 4.97
The Tourist Attraction in Every Country That Americans Rate the Highest
Our map reveals the tourist attractions in every country with the highest average rating on Tripadvisor as given by U.S. travelers. What Americans find the ultimate vacation experience in every country ranges from picturesque spots in nature and historic towns to modern (and thoroughly quirky) establishments.
In Japan, for instance — where you’ll find the awe-inspiring Mount Fuji and countless charming temples — U.S. tourists are the most enthusiastic about the Owl Cafe Akiba Fukurou in Chiyoda (an average rating of 4.84), where visitors can hang out with and pet an array of owls of different species. “Owlmazing!!” writes one Georgia-based reviewer with a love of puns.
Meanwhile in Belarus, a more serious (and less owly) attraction takes the top spot, according to U.S. tourists — the National Library of Belarus in Minsk (4.43). One for fans of architecture, stateside reviewers are impressed by the unusual shape of the unique rhombicuboctahedron building, with a South Carolinian writing: “This architectural gem shines of knowledge and beauty.”
The Irish Rock ‘N’ Roll Museum Experience in Dublin Is The World’s Best Tourist Attraction, According to U.S. Tourists
One in ten people in the U.S. claim Irish ancestry, and rock is the most popular music genre in the country — so it checks out that a place that combines these two bedrocks of American culture is the best attraction in the world, according to U.S. reviewers on Tripadvisor. With an average rating of five, the Irish Rock ‘N’ Roll Museum Experience in Dublin’s hip Temple Bar district offers visitors exhibits on rock and roll history and a chance to play out rockstar fantasies onstage.
For one tourist from New York, the museum was a sentimental experience as well as one of rock and roll: “No matter who we are or where we come from we can all agree on music and the greatness of it.”
Also high on the list is an experience totally different from a man-made museum in a bustling city. Devil’s Pool in Livingstone, Zambia, has an average five-star rating from U.S. tourists, a natural swimming pool teetering 320 feet up on the edge of the world-famous Victoria Falls. Americans can’t get enough of this stomach-lurching spot, where brave souls can “relax” as some 132 million gallons of water a minute crash past them and over the edge. A Texan gone before calls it a “bucket list item.”
Not all Americans are fans of extreme experiences like these, but a YouGov poll finds that the 26% who like or even love them do so mostly because they like experiencing new things.
Three of the Best Attractions to Visit in North America Are at Home, According to U.S. Tourists
When it comes to exciting vacation destinations right on the doorstep, Americans are spoiled for choice — but which of North America’s tourist attractions are rated the highest by U.S. tourists? In first place (with an average rating of 4.95 across American reviewers) is Tikal in Guatemala’s Tikal National Park, the ruin of an ancient city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A site much older than the United States, U.S. visitors are enamored with the history, architecture and wildlife to be found at Tikal.
But you don’t have to leave the country to visit some of the best attractions on the continent. Scoring an average rating of 4.86, Central Park in New York City is the top of the stateside spots, with reviewers from as far away as California gushing: “Such beautiful landscaping. A green oasis.” The National WWII Museum in New Orleans also makes the top ten rankings (4.84), for which one Minnesotan advises: “Prepare to spend hours there because there are so many things to see, read, watch.”
U.S. Tourists Rate a Cable Car Network in Bolivia as the Best South American Attraction
With an average Tripadvisor rating of 4.97, Americans think the Mi Teleferico cable car system in one of Bolivia’s capital cities is the best tourist attraction in South America. Meaning “my cable car” in Spanish, the Mi Teleferico transportation network runs 19 miles between the cities of El Alto and La Paz, allowing locals to move up and down the hill at a top speed of 13.4 miles per hour.
For born-and-bred Bolivians, gliding to and from work in these cable cars is surely a run-of-the-mill affair; for U.S. visitors, however, it presents more of an adventure. “I could have ridden it all day!” writes one reviewer from Missouri. “Highly recommended just for the scenery!”
National parks and natural landmarks make up the bulk of the rankings. In second place comes the Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina (4.94), a huge ice formation measuring 97 miles.2 For one tourist from Indiana, it’s a sight that just can’t be rivaled in the U.S.: “First class all the way. I am a big fan of Glacier National Park on the U.S.-Canada border, but this one is even better.” Brazil’s iconic Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro also makes the cut (4.81).
U.S. Tourists Rate Switzerland’s Matterhorn Mountain the Second-Highest Attraction in Europe
With so many things to do and places to explore, it’s no wonder Americans are clamoring to visit Europe — but what are the continent’s best attractions that U.S. tourists have gone before? After the Irish Rock ‘N’ Roll Museum Experience in first place comes the Matterhorn mountain in Switzerland, boasting an average rating of 4.94 across reviews left by U.S. tourists on Tripadvisor. A tourist from Maryland sums up her experience: “You cannot go wrong with a trip on a clear day to the Matterhorn.”
Reflecting Europe’s rich history and variety of landscapes, a smorgasbord of attractions — from memorials and national parks to old towns and cathedrals — make up the rest of the top ten rankings. Meteora in Greece comes third (4.94), a rock formation that hides a multitude of monasteries older than the United States. “You’ll never see anything like it,” writes a reviewer from Pennsylvania.
Poland claims two entrants on the list, both in Gdansk: the Museum of the Second World War (4.90) and the city’s Old Town (4.89), complete with très European cobblestone streets.
Ancient Temples and Landmarks in Asia Are the Most Admired by U.S. Tourists
Around 42 miles northeast of Beirut, Lebanon, lay the Temples of Baalbek, the best tourist attraction in the whole of Asia, according to U.S. tourists. Boasting an average rating of five, the complex is home to the ruins of ancient Roman temples, labeled “extensive, breathtakingly beautiful and rich in history” by one Californian reviewer. The Romans may be long gone, but writing for the Washington Post, Steele Brand argues that knowing their history is “key to preserving America’s future.”
A section of the Great Wall of China also features in the ranking. Boasting an average rating of 4.90, according to American reviewers, Mutianyu — situated within the city limits of Beijing — offers visitors a slice of ancient history with a side of modern convenience in the form of a cable car to hoist you up onto the wall itself. Going down is another matter; a Kentucky-based tourist advises: “I highly recommend taking [the] toboggan back down to the bottom…just don’t expect any belts or safety equipment.”
“Predator Capital of the World” Is One of Africa’s Best Attractions
Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens head to Africa every month for business and leisure, but what would they most recommend others do while on the continent? After Devil’s Pool in Zambia, the Seronera township of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania is the highest-rated African attraction, according to U.S. tourists, garnering an average Tripadvisor rating of 4.98. Nicknamed the “Predator Capital of the World” for its lions, cheetahs and leopards, Americans are impressed with the guided safaris offered here.
Fitting for a continent of astonishing natural beauty, landmarks of nature and wildlife hotspots dominate Africa’s top-attraction ranking, but the Amphitheatre of El Jem in Tunisia is one man-made site that makes the cut (4.95). The amphitheater — constructed in 238 AD — has a fascinating history, once serving as a fortress for the locals during an ancient attack. ”This place is pretty amazing,” writes one reviewer from Virginia. “I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was blown away.”
Most of Oceania’s Top Attractions, According to American Tourists, Are in New Zealand
Oceania may be the world’s smallest continent, but Americans just love to pay it a visit, with Australia alone receiving over three-quarters of a million U.S. visitors each year. According to U.S. tourists, Australia is also where you’ll find the continent’s best tourist attractions: the Kings Park and Botanic Garden in Perth, Western Australia (with an average rating of 4.94). U.S. reviewers love the native flora and fauna: “The wildflowers are in full bloom as are most of the native trees and shrubs. Just gorgeous.”
It’s New Zealand, however, that dominates Oceania’s ranking. Some attractions offer insight into New Zealand and Maori history and culture, like the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Dunedin (4.82). Others showcase the country’s scenery, like the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road (4.87). To many Americans, however, New Zealand will always be first and foremost known as the home of the Lord of the Rings movie series, which was largely filmed there.
In particular, the Hobbiton Movie Set in Hinuera (4.85) — where scenes in the Hobbiton were filmed — is rated excellently by U.S. tourists, with one calling it a “really unique and memorable experience.”
Not Every Vacation Needs to Be a Bucket List Bonanza
There’s no doubt that hitting up all these wonderful (and wonderfully rated) tourist spots would make an international vacation special — but you don’t have to fulfill bucket list adventures or visit iconic attractions to have a fantastic time abroad. You might even end up soaking up more of a country’s authentic culture and learning more of its history by going off the beaten path.
Take the Irish Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum in Dublin, the top attraction in the world, according to U.S. tourists; if you’re not a rock music fan, why not skip the crowds and explore the local Temple Bar district for hidden gems instead? Sweny’s Pharmacy — referenced in James Joyce’s Ulysses – is less than a 20-minute walk away and is ideal for fans of books and crafts. It’s also free to enter.
Speaking of, one of the downsides of many world-famous tourist attractions is that admission fees and their inevitable souvenir shops can be pretty tough on the wallet. If your heart is set on a particular attraction, activity or experience, research beforehand to see if there are any cheaper tickets available or off-peak times you can visit.
You’ll definitely also want to research whether the thing you want to do is even open during your vacation. Take the Devil’s Pool in Zambia (you know, the very scary clifftop experience we mentioned earlier). Finding that the Devil’s Pool’s water was too high during their winter visit, one Missouri reviewer had to find solace in another pool altogether. On the plus side: “Beautifully maintained and clean porta potties set right by the river with the best views you can imagine … I wish festival potties were like this in the States…”
What We Did
Our goal for this project was to discover which tourist attractions around the world tourists from the USA rate the highest.
We focused on the countries with at least 3,000,000 population and pulled the first five pages (if there are more than five pages) on every country’s “Things to Do” attraction page and isolated the top 20 most reviewed attractions for each country.
Then, for each attraction, we collected up to 100 pages of English reviews and isolated U.S.-based tourists since reviewers who display their location of origin typically have the city then state abbreviation or the name of the country.
Finally, we calculated the average rating from U.S.-based tourists for each attraction, as in what do U.S. tourists rate the Eiffel Tower on average?
We ranked the attractions and isolated the highest-rated attraction from U.S.-based tourists in every country, globally and by continent.
We excluded attractions with less than 1000 total reviews or less than 20 U.S.-based reviews.
Note: ties were separated by ranking the attraction with more U.S. Tourist reviews higher.
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