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What's the most popular vacation destination on Earth -- and why?

France -- Most Popular Destination on Earth

The Top 10 Most Visited Tourist Attractions in the World
  1. Times Square, NYC
  2. National Mall & Memorial Parks, Washington, D.C.
  3. Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Orlando
  4. Trafalgar Square, London
  5. Disneyland Park, Anaheim
  6. Niagara Falls, Canada and US
  7. Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco
  8. Tokyo Disneyland, Japan
  9. Notre de Dame, Paris
  10. Disneyland, Paris

The most popular vacation destination in the world -- for several years running -- is France. In 2008, France had more than 79 million visitors. Tourism accounts for more than 6 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). 2009 tourism numbers aren't quite as strong -- but just about every country is suffering from the same downturn in the industry.

France is located in Western Europe, nestled between the Mediterranean Sea, the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay. It's bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Andorra and Spain. France is one of the largest countries in the European Union.

So what draws people to France? Its many regions -- the French Alps, Rhone Valley, Burgundy, Champagne Country and Provence, to name a few -- offer activities like antiques shopping, biking, boutique shopping, fine dining and visiting museums.

France has four different climate zones, which make it a diverse country to visit. The Oceanic zone has average weather with cool summers. The Central/Eastern zone has hot summers and harsh winters. The Mountain zone has snow three to six months out of the year, and the French Alps are popular for skiing, snowboarding and other winter diversions. The Mediterranean zone has mild winters and very hot summers. The French Riviera in the Mediterranean zone is a hotspot for glamour and A-list parties.

Foodies flock to France to enjoy the wine and the food. With more than a dozen wine regions, oenophiles have plenty from which to choose. France is also famous for its haute cuisine and regional styles of cooking. Most meals in France consist of several small courses, and dining is a ritual where people take the time to enjoy and savor their food.

The biggest tourist destination in France is, of course, Paris. Known as the City of Lights, many consider Paris the ultimate romantic getaway. Classic spots like the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Champs- Elysées and the River Seine attract millions of visitors each year.

An enduring stereotype about the French is that they hate tourists and treat them -- especially Americans -- badly. But is this really true? The label is sticky enough that the Paris Tourism office recently hired "smile ambassadors" to foster a more welcoming environment to tourists [source: Sky]. Ironically, a survey of thousands of hotel employees recently named French tourists among the most "obnoxious" in the world. Citing an unwillingness to attempt the local language as well as being bad tippers, the French landed at the bottom of the list -- well below Americans.

For more on tourism, vacations and France, check out the links on the next page.

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