5 mins

World's friendliest nations – do you agree?

A new report by the World Economic Forum has listed the world's friendliest and most welcoming destinations for tourists. Here's what makes them so hospitable...

Meeting friendly locals in Marrakech, Morocco (Image: Craig Howe)

1. Iceland

The cool Scandinavian island came top of the world's list of friendliest nations for visitors. We want to know why. Wanderlust's editorial assistant Clare Wilson visited twice last year (once to explore inside a volcano, the other to follow in the footsteps of elves...) and explains what makes them so damn pally.

“There’s a real sense of community to the island, especially in the isolated areas where everyone depends on each other, and a tradition of hospitality that goes with it. I found that most people I met had a dry, matter of fact sense of humour (they’ll tell it like it is!) and everyone was really switched on about the issues facing the country – the environment, the economy, that volcano… so they’re interesting to talk to as well.”

Iceland features on many travellers' wish lists. And why not? The island has stunning scenery with heart-pumping hikes to soak it all up in. A capital city with an artistic side keeps culture-vultures happy, while whale-watching and aurora-sightings are potential 'must-sees' for any visitor. But there are also waterfalls, ice caves and natural wonders to explore, plus many more Icelandic adventures to be had. And, of course, all with a friendly local at hand, if you lose your way.

2. New Zealand

Great hikes, remote mountains, eccentric wildlife and more – New Zealand's isolation and small population makes us query this listing. The country is packed to the rafters with adventures for all types of travellers: whether it's sea kayaking, glacier hiking, sky diving or road tripping. But maybe it's the people that make these adventures all the more thrilling...?

Emily-Ann Elliott has featured as Blogger of the Week, for her experience swimming with dolphins off NZ's South Island. She explains her opinion of New Zealand's land-dwelling populations: "I didn't love New Zealand when I first arrived. The people are nice. But no more or less than anywhere else really. I've met some absolutely lovely people, like the lady who gave me a free night in her hostel because I couldn't stand the one I was staying in; but I've also met some really grumpy people – particularly it seems bus drivers and tourist information centre workers. It just wasn't quite what I expected. I've spent years and years listening to people tell me how great New Zealand is and I was kind of expecting more."

However, Emily-Ann goes on to say that the country finally made an impact: "And slowly but surely – like one of those people you meet who is so different to you that you swear you'll never be friends but then over time you start to see all the good things in them – I fell in love with New Zealand."

3. Morocco

Morocco is a country full of magic and mystic, where souks burst with fragrant spices and trinkets, mountains loom in the Anti-Atlas region, and relaxing retreats line the Atlantic coast. Travellers have varied opinions of Morocco, but we weren't surprised to see it on the world's friendliest list.

Renata Roge travelled to Marrakech with Wanderlust Journeys to improve her travel writing. On the city's locals she said: “Moroccans are an extremely friendly and open bunch, which can feel a bit odd for tourists at first. Greetings can take several minutes, in which Moroccans ask each other about their lives, jobs and families, and it's common to invite someone they've just met into their home for a meal.

“These customs might be a little off-putting for some tourists, given our penchant for privacy in the western world. But don't be one of them; being aloof only keeps you from enjoying one of Morocco's top highlights – its people.”

Solo female traveller and budget reporter Jennifer Smith thinks some areas are more welcoming than others. On a recent trip to the lesser-known areas of the country she explained: “I love Morocco but one side I don’t like is the hassle female travellers usually get. When a group of construction workers called out to me, I thought, uh oh, here we go… But instead of eyeing me up, hissing or yelling that they loved me, they just wanted to welcome me to Sidi Ifni. Similarly, almost no one tried to lure me into a shop; it was like a different country.”

4. Macedonia

Having travelled the world, Wanderlust's associate web editor, Peter Moore, knows what it's like to be welcomed by the locals (check out his recent super-friendly stay in Kosovo). Having visited Macedonia twice, we thought he'd know a thing or two about the country's welcoming traits, but he said: “They didn't strike me as being friendlier than anyone else.”

Whether they are a happy bunch or not, Macedonia has plenty to offer the traveller looking to break away from the well-beaten-track. Visit for mighty mountains – catering for hikers, climbers and skiers – interesting history, quirky culture and (potentially) hospitable locals.

Tony Kelly visited on assignment for Wanderlust in 2006 and said: “I have spent many happy hours in the souks of Cairo, Marrakech and Istanbul, but as I sat in the street sipping my coffee, [Macedonia] felt more authentic than any of those. There were few tourists and none of the hassle, just ordinary people going about their business – and all the better for it.”

5. Austria

“German-speakers call it Gemütlichkeit – that not-quite-describable-in-English feeling of warmth and cosiness and conviviality," Wanderlust's associate editor, Sarah Baxter, explains "And it hits you full frontal when you walk into an Austrian mountain hut. While wandering amid the awesome Alps one time, I remember the door of one particular warm, wooden chalet opening, and a great gust of laughter bursting out; immediately, I was smiling too. And before long, I was attempting – in my poor German – to answer the friendly questions my fellow walkers were aiming my way."

"I can quite easily see how Austrians have scored high in this poll: they always seem happy welcome you into their 'Gemütlich' too,” she added.

The country's not just welcoming in the Alps though. Travellers can set foot in flower-filled meadows, rolling hills and fairy-tale woodland, while city-slickers can visit the beautiful cities of Salzburg and Vienna for short breaks, and be sure of a warm smile and friendly face on their arrival.

The best (and worst) of the rest...

This research on the world's friendliest nations comes from the World Economic Forum's recent Travel and Tourism Competitiveness report. The study asked participants to score countries from one ('very unwelcome) to seven ('very welcome'). The UK ranked 55th and the US scored 102nd place out of 140 nations listed.

Following the top five countries the list goes: 6. Senegal, 7. Portugal, 8. Bosnia & Herzegovina, 9. Ireland, 10. Burkina Faso.

The findings suggested that the world's unfriendliest nations are: 1. Bolivia, 2. Venezuela, 3. Russia, 4. Kuwait, 5. Latvia.

Do you agree? Is Iceland the friendliest nation in the world? Are Bolivians really unwelcoming? Or did your experience differ? Post your thoughts below.

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