Most Populous Countries
The countries with the largest amount of people are also some of the most interesting of all, offering the chance to join in the thrilling energy of bustling cities, while also promising off-the-beaten path places to get away from it all.
There are 7.7 billion people on the planet, and more than half of them live in the following 10 most populous locales. Here’s why these densely packed countries are worth a visit...and how you can still manage to find solitude within them.
Population: 126 million
Spanning only 145,000 square miles, Japan is not one of the world’s largest countries. But with its 126 million residents and 18 million tourists who visit annually, it is certainly one of the densest.
Fortunately, there’s enough to see and do here to make the country well worth a visit despite the ample crowds. Japan is one of the most stunningly beautiful and culturally distinctive countries on the planet, home to snow-capped mountain ranges, glimmering seascapes and, in the south, tropical-style islands. And it’s not a stretch to say the cuisine here can’t be beat. (Tokyo has more Michelin stars than any other city on earth.)
Plus, getting around Japan is supremely easy, thanks to its sophisticated rail system.
How to Beat Japan’s Crowds
Avoid the high holiday seasons like Golden Week in late April and the New Year, when Japanese people tend to return to their hometowns and trains often sell out.
Starting your days early in Japan is also another great way to avoid the throngs, especially if you want a photo-op without a thousand other people in the picture. Visiting sites like Kyoto's Arashiyama Bamboo Forest or the vermillion-colored Fushimi Inari Shrine are musts for trips to Japan, but you'll want to go as early as possible, because by 9 or 10 a.m. they are throbbing with locals and tourists.
While you'll want to (and should) visit cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, don't forget that there are dozens of other places in the country to visit, as well, and they are equally breathtaking and more sparsely populated. Consider the Tohoku region, which consists of six Prefectures and remains out of the hustle and bustle of larger cities. Visit a local hot spring, take in the blossoming trees during cherry blossom season, or relax at a local ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn.
Population: 142 million
Russia is not only one of the world's most populous countries, but the largest in the world in terms of square miles (an astonishing 6.6 million). That said, roughly half of the country is uninhabited — meaning the areas that are inhabited are densely packed.
The upside of this scale and size? The country offers everything, from thriving cities to tranquil countryside, architecture, history, art and, of course, vodka.
How to Beat Russia’s Crowds
Moscow will likely top most travelers’ lists, but with a population of 11.9 million, it is one of the densest cities in the country. Still, one would be remiss to skip the Kremlin, Red Square and St Basil's Cathedral, all located in the heart of Russia’s capital city. Arrive early in the morning to beat the tourists and locals.
St. Petersburg is another city that will likely be on an itinerary to Russia. Unfortunately, it's on the itinerary of thousands of other travelers, as well. One way to avoid crowds here is to book museum tours at set times, since many museums have long queues. Most tourist groups arrive early in the morning, but museums like The Hermitage and The Russian Museum have late hours on certain days, when they close at 9 p.m.
Population: 159 million
This packed country is also packed with rivers — more than 700 of them, to be exact. Because of this, Bangladesh is an emerald-colored jewel in the South Asia crown, and ideal for tours by boat. Travelers here can also visit historic mosques, shop in colorful bazaars and ride through city streets on traditional rickshaws.
The country's most populous city, Dhaka, has more than 10 million residents, and is among the most lively metropolises in the world.
How to Beat Bangladesh’s Crowds
While Bangladesh’s largest cities of Dhaka and Chittagong pulse with the energy of millions of residents and visitors, the rivers and waterways provide a hushed sense of calm and a reprise from the high intensity of the urban areas.
Visit the mangrove forests in Sundarbans National Park, and look for the famous Royal Bengal Tiger. Embark on a swamp safari in Ratargul. Or venture off the beaten path into verdant Srimangal, with blankets of tea plantations, small villages and deep forests. This is a prime spot to escape the hordes to hike hills, sip tea and search for wildlife.
For a dash of history and culture, UNESCO site Bagerhat is a treasure trove of medieval architecture. The Shait Gumbad Mosque, for example, is one of the most famous. Built in 1459, it is the largest traditional mosque in the country, with 81 domes and Turkish architectural influences.
Population: 203 million
More than half of Nigeria's population lives in rural areas, but this is changing quickly as local residents opt for urban environments, which tend to have better conditions. Many of Nigeria's cities have populations that exceed 1 million people, with Lagos having the most at 9 million. Tourists head to these cities for the excellent cuisine found at their bukas (snack stands), dynamic art galleries and museums, and traditional markets.
Still, the cities of Nigeria can be exceedingly overwhelming due to the sheer volume of people and the developing conditions.
How to Beat Nigeria’s Crowds
To find some semblance of solitude in Nigeria, head toward the natural wonders that lie in more remote locations instead. Ikogosi Warm Springs, for example, is one of the most naturally beautiful spots in the country, known for the healing powers within its springs.
In the center of Azure, the capital of Ondo State, is the ancient town of Idanre, which is nestled among rolling hillsides. The highest peak, at the top of more than 650 steps, reveals the history of early civilization, including a palace courtyard and a mausoleum.
Population: 207 million
You likely are not booking a vacation to Pakistan right now — and the crowds don't have anything to do with that. Unfortunately, the State Department issued a travel advisory in August urging U.S. citizens to reconsider travel to the destination due to terrorism.
Despite the current state of affairs, the country of Pakistan is a beautiful and fascinating one, packed with a vibrant history, distinctive architecture, festivals, culture and cuisine. Travelers would be wise to keep an eye on advisories, preparing to visit when conditions improve.
How to Beat Pakistan’s Crowds
Relatively unexplored by travelers, and just the 55th most densely populated country in the world, Pakistan is mostly free from the crowds that plague some of the other spots on this list. (One exception: the city of Karachi, with 63,000 people per square mile.) As such, many of its attractions are easy to explore without dealing with throngs of people.
The Shalimar Gardens, completed in 1641, is one of the most iconic landmarks in Pakistan. Once the possession of a noble family, the gardens today sit on three descending terraces, each with large pools placed in the middle. Inside the gardens are pavilions, audience halls and marble basins.
Wazir Khan Mosque inside Old Lahore is a visually striking mosque with four minarets and five domes, covered from head to toe in beautiful mosaics. Also in Old Lahore is the Lahore Fort, whose date of construction is still unknown. Inside the fort are a range of different buildings, each rooted in a distinct phase of Pakistani history.
Badshahi Mosque is one of the most gorgeous holy sites for Muslims. Built in the 17th century, it was the world's largest for more than three centuries, until the Faisal Mosque (also in Pakistan) was built in the late 20th century. The courtyard stretches an area of nearly 280,000 square feet and can host up to 95,000 worshippers.
Population: 208 million
Brazil represents a spectacular cross-section of interests, landscapes, people and culture. The country is home to diverse metropolises like Sao Paulo, sexy beach towns like Rio de Janeiro, a rich culinary tradition, the jungles of the Amazon, windsurfing and so much more.
As such, this South American hot spot is not only one of the most populated and densely packed countries in the world, but among the most heavily visited, welcoming 6.6 million visitors a year.
How to Beat Brazil’s Crowds
Cities like Sao Paulo and Rio are populated (and expensive) year-round, and especially packed over New Year's Eve and Carnival. (It’s also wise to skip Recife, Olinda and Salvador over these holidays.)
To escape the hustle entirely, head into the jungles of the Amazon, ideally in May or June, which is shoulder season between the rainy and dry seasons. This is the best time to cruise the river on a boat trip to take in the exceptionally diverse flora and fauna.
Population: 262 million
Indonesia may be one of the most heavily populated countries in the world, but the good news is that its hordes of people are spread across more than 17,000 islands. So, if you really want to escape, you can easily find an isolated island or two across the archipelago. But more than likely you’ll be headed to one of the more populated tourist islands like Bali, Lombok, Sumatra or Java.
First, let's talk Bali, likely the island you've heard the most about in Indonesia. Unlike the rest of the country, which is predominantly Islamic, Bali is Hindu, meaning it has an entirely different ambiance and vibe from the other islands. Plus it's packed with all the #beachporn Instagrammable shots, blue water and volcanic scenery you could hope for. Alongside its mass of visitors, it’s home to 4.3 million residents.
Also wildly popular is Java, the most populated island in the world, home to more than 60 percent of Indonesia's population. The island is home to Jakarta, a fascinating Southeast Asian cultural capital with 9.6 million dwellers.
How to Beat Indonesia’s Crowds
While we hate saying you shouldn’t go to Jakarta, it’s not the spot for those seeking time away from crowds. So if solitude is your preference, it’s probably best to skip.
If you're going to Bali, you can beat the crowds by avoiding the southern peninsula and Seminyak, which is where the majority of surf partiers and luxury travelers venture off, seeing as it has the most tourism infrastructure. Ubud, the capital, is a famous Hindu cultural center, but is also frenetic with locals and tourists.
To the east of Bali is Lombok, often thought of as “Bali light.” It touts all the natural beauty with half the crowds and half the price, though that is rapidly coming to a close as the government promotes it as the next tourism hot spot.
Sumatra is the largest island in Indonesia, and is prime for adventurous travelers. Most of the tourism is in the northern part of the island near Lake Toba, which is the largest volcanic lake in the world. So go south for smaller crowds.
3. United States
Population: 329 million
We likely don’t have to tell you the wonders of the U.S. We also don’t have to tell you just how vast and diverse it is in every sense of the word, from people and beliefs, to landscape, food and ideologies. From the peak of the Statue of Liberty to the depths of the Grand Canyon, the heart of wine country to the chilly, seasalt-soaked New England coast, it can take a lifetime to explore everything that the United States has to offer.
Also the third-largest country in the world, the U.S. is home to both bustling cities and more remote natural oases.
How to Beat the United States’ Crowds
One way to avoid the throngs is to bypass the major metropolises, like New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles. But you’d be doing yourself a disservice to skip these integral parts of the great American landscape.
Instead, stick to neighborhoods that are far less touristy. Opt for Queens over Manhattan in New York City, or Silverlake over West Hollywood in L.A. Dine at hole-in-the-wall restaurants versus Wolfgang Puck.
Or you can opt for the nature route and visit one of the country’s 58 national parks (the least-visited include Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and Pinnacles in California).
And, as with any other destination, avoid popular places during peak seasons like Christmas or school breaks.
Population: 1.2 billion
India is sensory overload. Bright, colorful, fragrant. Dirty, crowded, loud. Lavish palaces, centuries-old monuments, chaotic city centers. This is a country to be experienced in every sense of the word.
For most people, and certainly first-timers, India will pack a punch of culture shock. It will be disorienting at first because of the sheer volume of people.
For comparison’s sake, consider that India is only the seventh-largest country in the world, but one of only two countries with more than a billion residents. The next country on this list, the United States, is home to less than a third of its population.
How to Beat India’s Crowds
Still, there are ways to not get overwhelmed by people here. If you're planning to visit tourist attractions like the Taj Mahal (and surely you are), skip going during the months of December and January, when tourism is at its height. Enter the Taj Mahal from the lesser crowded East Gate, and try to arrive around 7 a.m., when it opens.
Steer clear, too, of the holiest days in the country, and the holy places associated with them. For example, the last day of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in Mumbai is one of the biggest street parties in the world. That said, if you're up for the adventure, it's also one of the most exciting events on earth, with loud music, vibrant dancing and bursts of colored powder thrown into the air.
You can also forsake the packed cities (Mumbai and New Delhi are the most bustling) for the secluded beaches of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, or go boating along the peaceful canals and lagoons of Alappuzha.
Population: 1.3 billion
China is not only the largest country population-wise, but also one of the largest in terms of square miles (3.7 million, to be exact).
No surprise, then, that it is jam-packed with fascinating places to go and things to see. Each year, some 55 million tourists flock to China for its main attractions, from the Great Wall to the Forbidden City to the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an.
How to Beat China's Crowds
Above all, the rule of thumb is to avoid traveling during Chinese public holidays and the summer peak season. This is when prices skyrocket and hordes of national and international tourists hit the pavement.
Other tips? Pick sections of the Great Wall that are less populous (there are 14 Great Wall sections to choose from). Visit the Forbidden City before 10 a.m. or in the later afternoon. When visiting the Terracotta Army, most people enter around Pit 1 first; to beat them, enter from the opposite side, near the Bronze Chariot Exhibition Room, and circle around to Pit 1 last.
There are also lesser-known draws throughout the country, from the fiery cuisine in the Sichuan province to the natural beauty of the waterfalls and sea of mountains in Guizhou.