Living in: The world’s most visited cities
The same attractions that prompt people to love visiting a city – top-ranked restaurants, vibrant nightlife, diverse neighbourhoods, iconic sights – can entice them into staying longer term. In fact, many of the world’s most visited cities, as ranked by 2014’s Mastercard’s Global Destination Cities Index released in July, are also popular destinations for expats.
But being a resident of one of the world’s most visited cities is not without its unique set of challenges. “Coming from a smaller city in Canada, I was overwhelmed at first by how crowded certain areas of Paris were,” said Erika Belavy, who moved to the City of Light from Calgary, Alberta, seven years ago. “When I first moved to the city, I made the mistake of choosing an apartment right beside the Arc de Triomphe. No matter what time of day, or which month of the year, there were so many tourists it was a nightmare getting on the nearby metro.”
Still, it does not take residents long to learn how to navigate the crowds and find secluded spots. We talked to expats and natives to learn what it’s like living in some of the world’s most visited cities – and the secrets to steering clear of the constant crowds.
Great Britain’s capital came in as this year’s number one most visited city, with 18.7 million international tourists estimated to arrive in 2014. (Mastercard combines tourism board statistics, flight schedules and expected passenger loads to project the year’s arrivals.) London native Sophie Loveday said she hardly notices the influx. “You just get used to so many people being around,” she said. “It's what gives the city such a buzz!”
- Many of London's visitors find themselves at some point here, at the city's iconic Trafalgar Square. (Amanda Ruggeri)
Even so, she said she always tries to avoid the West End’s Leicester Square because the pedestrian plaza is too commercial – with or without tourists. However, she will brave the crowds of Covent Garden, a shopping district in the West End, thanks to its quirky shops and hip vibe. East London’s Brick Lane is also a must-visit, despite being “heaving full of people”; the neighbourhood’s Indian curries are considered among the best in the UK, and the restaurants and food stalls make finding a good meal easy.
- Shopping in Covent Garden, shown here decorated for Christmas, can be crowded -- but rewarding. (Stuart C Wilson/Getty)
To escape the city, Loveday travels to the southwest suburb of Richmond. “You can see deer running through the park or take a boat down the Thames river,” she said, then finish the day off with a meal at a waterfront pub like the Bavarian beerhouse Steins or the popular restaurant Gaucho, which serves Argentinian food and wine amid cowhide-fabric furniture.
There are no shortages of neighbourhoods (called districts) to fit any vibe. Loveday lives in the southwest district of Tooting, which she loves for its multicultural vibe and influx of young professionals who keep the area lively. She also recommended Angel, in northern London, due to its “cool and friendly” vibe.
Due to political protests and the Thai government shutdown in 2013, Bangkok slipped to number two in this year’s global rankings, yet is still expected to draw 16.4 million international visitors in 2014. Thankfully, residents say, the influx is seasonal, with most visitors coming November to February. Ketsara Chocksmai, a Bangkok native and tour director for Thailand’s smarTours, said she especially finds the city pleasant from June to September. “It’s our rainy season, so not many tourists come to visit this time of year,” she said. But since it usually does not rain all day, locals can still enjoy being outside.
- Tourists pose with sculptures at Bangkok's Grand Palace. (Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty)