The Top 10 Cities to Visit in Florida, According to Data
Noah Holtgraves is a data journalist at Trips to Discover, where he utilizes his expertise in analyzing extensive datasets to derive significant implications and subtle differences in the hospitality industry that he presents in an easily understandable manner. He joined the team in June 2021 and has since been instrumental in creating insightful travel data reports.
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Known for its pristine beaches and ravenous parties, celebrated sunsets, and unimaginable theme parks, Florida is the #1 most visited state in the U.S. by overseas tourists. Over 4 million overseas travelers visited the Sunshine State in 2021, an estimated 44.6% of the nation’s total that year, according to data from the International Trade Administration’s National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO).
Using NTTO data, we found the ten most visited metropolitan areas in Florida as ranked by the total estimated overseas visitors to each city in 2021 (excluding Mexico and Canada). These ten cities support the lion’s share of overseas tourism in the state and, by some extension, the country! See our methodology for a full explanation.
From deep sea fishing in Cape Coral, Florida, to the indefatigable nightlife of Miami, Here is a breakdown of the cities foreigners choose most when setting their travel sights on Florida:
Secondary Research: To complete this project, we used the latest National Travel and Tourism Office’s Inbound Market and Sector Profiles for Overseas Visitors to the United States data. This dataset is based on the NTTO’s ongoing Survey of International Air Travelers (SIAT) to estimate overseas visitation to 91 U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) or Metropolitan Divisions (MDs) and 45 U.S. States and Territories.
Survey Details: Overseas visitation to the U.S. are estimated by the NTTO. It uses the jackknife cross-validation statistical method to estimate visitation only for metros and states with enough sample responses to reach a 95% confidence interval. Due to this, some unreported destinations could have a higher proportion of total visitation than those reported. U.S. Overseas Visitor % is based on the 2021 U.S. visitor market share as reported by the NTTO and is a weighted estimate of the share of visitations to each MSA or state of all overseas visitors to the U.S.
Destinations: At the most-granular level, the NTTO only breaks down visitor data into Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) or Metropolitan Divisions (MDs), which often include more than one city. We simplified MSAs and MDs in this piece for easier comprehension. For example, the North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota MSA became the North Port Metro.
Rankings: City ranks in this article are based on the 2021 estimated overseas visitation to the U.S. as reported by the NTTO. All data were collected and analyzed between 2/28/23-3/2/23.
Replicability: The original data from the NTTO can be found via the link here under the Statistics and Research Programs, Market and Sector Profiles, Inbound Market Profiles: Overseas Visitors to the United States, U.S. States, Territories and Cities Visited xlsx file. The data Trips to Discover used was uploaded by the NTTO in June 2022 and contains overseas visitor estimates for 2021 and 2020, growth between the two years, and market share for 2021 and 2020. Our rankings were based solely on the estimated 2021 overseas visitation volume.
Contact Us: If you have any questions about this study or are looking to build a similar project and would like to know more about our process, please don’t hesitate to contact us at [email protected], and we can walk you through the steps.
Not only is Miami the most visited metro in Florida, but more overseas tourists also came to the Magic City in 2021 than anywhere else in the country. In fact, the NTTO estimates over 30% of all overseas visitors that year were destined for Miami. From endless beaches and nightlife to the endless Everglades, fine dining, and shopping malls, people come from around the globe to the city because it genuinely has something for everyone.
2. Orlando: 1,223,000 Visitors
Hosting four theme parks, including Walt Disney World® Resort and Universal Studios, two water parks, and countless other amusement parks, Orlando, Florida, has rightly earned the title of The Theme Park Capital of the World. Over 1.2 million foreign tourists experienced the magic of the Orlando metro in 2021, making it the third most visited city in the nation that year. Besides the parks, Orlando, Florida, also draws visitors to its Kennedy Space Center, excellent shopping experiences, and great nature expeditions.
3. Fort Lauderdale: 506,000 Visitors
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is the third-most visited metro in the state and fifth in the nation, attracting a different kind of crowd from Miami and Orlando. The beaches are quieter and more relaxing, the shops more eccentric and distinct, and the overall vibe more laid back but also fashionable. Water taxis are more common than water parks because, with over 300 miles of inland waterways, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has rightfully earned the nickname and the city seal of “Venice of America.”
4. Tampa: 190,000 Visitors
Back to the central state, at the western edge along a Gulf Coast inlet, sits Tampa, Florida. The metro drew almost 200,000 visitors in 2021 who came to experience its numerous offerings, including access to beaches like Clearwater and Fort De Soto. The NTTO estimates that one in every 50 overseas visitors who came to the U.S. in 2021 was headed to Tampa, Florida. Many tourists are also drawn to the city’s abundance of museums like the Tampa Museum of Art, Museum of Science and Industry, and Salvador Dalí Museum.
5. West Palm Beach: 169,000 Visitors
While it only gets 6% of the number of visitors as Miami, West Palm Beach, Florida is not to be underrated. The metro still places #15 for the most visited city in the nation, a testament to Florida’s global appeal. Moreover, overseas tourism grew twice the national metro average in 2021, doubling its visitation over 2020. West Palm Beach, Florida’s coastline, is a hidden gem with plenty of destinations to avoid the more well-known Florida beaches. The city is also a central fishing hub.
6. Naples: 84,000 Visitors
World-renowned for its pristine powdery white sand beaches, Naples, Florida, also draws tourists for being one of the best cities in Florida for moving around on foot. With outstanding beach sand that stretches far north of the metro, a dedicated food truck park, and literally over 700 restaurants in the city alone, Naples, Florida, is a city that keeps tourists on their feet! With an estimated 84,000 overseas visitors in 2021, Naples draws nearly one out of every 100 tourists that come to the U.S.
7. Jacksonville: 70,000 Visitors
With nearly a 150% increase in overseas visitors in 2021 over 2020, Jacksonville, Florida, is a rising tourist destination. It’s the perfect location for those looking to enjoy the beaches, food, and Floridian culture in the northern part of the state. Its overseas popularity is soaring, jumping from #42 to #22 most-visited metro in the nation in 2021. Aside from the typical Florida appeal, it has over a dozen craft breweries you can crawl by following the Jax Ale Trail and a thriving public art scene.
8. North Port: 56,000 Visitors
The abundance and diversity of nature experiences surrounding North Port, Florida, are just one of the many reasons 56,000 overseas visitors chose the metro as their destination in 2021. The culinary scene in the metro area also does not disappoint! Although it only drew 2% of the tourists as Miami, the North Port, Florida metro still welcomed more overseas visitors than Phoenix, Honolulu, and Pittsburgh in 2021, making it the 27th most visited metro in the nation!
9. Cape Coral: 53,000 Visitors
The Cape Coral, Florida metro is a home base peninsula for tourists to explore the vast stretches of islands nearby. The waters near Pine Island and Sanibel Island provide some of the best deep-sea fishing in Florida. The snow-white sands of Fort Myers Beach entice travelers to relax or play by engaging in one of the many watersports offered on the barrier island, like parasailing, kayaking, and wave runners. It may be #9 in the state, but the Cape Coral, Florida metro drew more overseas visitors than San Antonio, Baltimore, and Nashville, Tennessee, in 2021.
10. Key West: 47,000 Visitors
Rounding out Florida’s ten most visited cities is the Key West “metropolitan area” that stretches from Everglades National Park to the North and Key Largo to the East. The island is home to over a dozen luxury hotels and the famous Duval Strip, where partygoers flock in spades yearly. The four-mile-long island hosts an astounding ratio of aquatic experiences per square mile (so to speak). Overseas tourism to the metro fell by nearly 60% in 2021, making it the only city on our list with negative growth that year. It could be an opportunistic time for those who prefer to go without the usual crowds!