More than 200 million people go on pilgrimage every year - sometimes for hours, sometimes for days, and some leave home for many months.
It is impossible to get fully accurate figures for the number of pilgrims to most sites as records are not necessarily kept. While the major sites have reasonably accurate estimates of annual visitor numbers, many of these are tourist destinations as well as pilgrimage sites which makes it difficult to identify those coming for spiritual purposes. Figures used for this document are not alway for the same time period due to lack of available contemporary statistics.
That said, however, it is possible to be reasonably confident that the numbers quoted below (and especially the total) are most likely to be an underestimate, given the enormous numbers of shrines and sacred sites that we have not been able to include.
• 30 million pilgrims - Ayyappan Saranam , India (Hindu -estimates for this vary with numbers up to 60 million being claimed)
• 30 million pilgrims – Tirupati
, India (Hindu)
• 30 million pilgrims – Amritsar (Sikh)
• 20 million pilgrims – Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico (Christian)
• 15 million pilgrims - Arba’een, Karbala , Iraq (Muslim)
• 14 million pilgrims - Ise, Japan (figure for 2013 from Jinja Honcho, the Association of Shinto Shrines) (Shinto)
• 10 million pilgrims – Kumbh Mela (takes place every three years, with some festivals attracting 10 million and others 50, 60 or 70 million - see below for notes) (Hindu)
• 10 million pilgrims - Nanputuo Temple , Xiamen, China (Buddhist)
• 10 million pilgrims – Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil (Christian))
• 6 million pilgrims – Western Wall , Jerusalem, Israel (Jewish/Christian)
• 6 million pilgrims – Vrindavan, Braj (Hindu)
• 5 Million pilgrims – Dwarka (Hindu)
• 5 million pilgrims – Jasna Gora monastery, Czestochowa, Poland (Roman Catholic)
• 4-5 million pilgrims – Fatima, Portugal (Christian)
• 4 million pilgrims – Lourdes, France (Christian)
• 3 million pilgrims to the Qadiriyyah shrine in Kano
• 3 million pilgrims – Hajj, Makkah (Mecca), Saudi Arabia (Islamic) (including 1.8 million from overseas)
• 2.1 million pilgrims – Wutai Shan (Daoist)
• 2 million pilgrims – Kadhmayn, Baghdad, Iraq (Islamic)
• 1 million – World Youth Day (Roman Catholic)
• 1 million pilgrims – Holla Mohalla Anandapur Sahib, India (Sikh)
• 1 million pilgrims – La Morenata (Black Madonna) Shrine Montserrat, Spain
• 1 million pilgrims – Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India (Hindu)
• 1 million pilgrims – El Rocio , Cadiz, Spain (Roman Catholic)
• 1 million pilgrims – Church of the Holy Sepulchre , Jerusalem (Christian)
• 635,000 Amarnath Cave, Kashmir (Hindu)
• Over 500,000 pilgrims – Taishan (Daoist)
• Over 0.3 million pilgrims – Hua Shan (Daoist)
• Around 0.3 million pilgrims – Qingcheng Shan (Daoist)
• 250,000 pilgrims – Emei Shan (Daoist)
• 250,000 pilgrims – Iona (Christian)
• 200,000 pilgrims – Huzhuan , Shandong, China (Roman Catholic)
• 200,000 pilgrims (or 'incense guests') - Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage Taiching, Taiwan (local traditional sea goddess)
• 180,000 pilgrims (receiving the compostela) – Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain (Christian)
• Over 100,000 pilgrims – Taizé , Burgundy, France (Christian)
• 100,000 pilgrims – St Bishoy Monastery, Wadi El Natroun (Coptic Christian)
• 100,000 pilgrims – Walsingham Shrine of Our Lady Norfolk, England UKChristian)
• 43,000 (roughly) pilgrims – Lumbhini (Buddhist)
• 30,000 pilgrims – Lough Derg, Donegal, Ireland (Roman Catholic)
• 20-25,000 pilgrims – Etchmiadzin (Armenian Apostolic Christian)
• 10,000 pilgrims – Qufu , Shandong, China (Confucianism)
• 2,500 pilgrims – St Albans, UK (Christian)
There are around 215 million pilgrimages a year to these 39 destinations alone.
To reach the 215 million we calculated a modest extra 10 percent to account for all other pilgrimages (including short day visits to shrines and pilgrim places all around the world including Africa, Spanish-speaking Latin America, Russia, Greece, many Indian shrines and Australia). We believe the total figure to be substantially higher.
Notes on Kumbh Mela numbers
Calculating numbers for the Kumbh Mela is complicated. The normal Kumbh Mela is celebrated every three years, the Ardh (half) Kumbh Mela is celebrated every six years at Haridwar and Prayag, the Maha (complete) Kumbh takes place every 12 years at four places (Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nashik).
The special Maha Kumbh Mela which comes every 144 years, is held at Allahabad. The most recent Maha Kumbh Mela, held in 2001, was one of these, and was attended by around 60 million people, making it at the time the largest gathering anywhere in the world in recorded history.
The 1998 Kumbh Mela saw over 10 million pilgrims visiting Hardwar, to take a dip in the holy Ganges river. So we calculated that every three and nine years there are up to 10 million, then every six and 12 years there are up to 50 million. Adding to 120 million every 12 years means average 10 million a year.