Madrid - Spain received a record 65 million visits from foreign tourists in 2014, nearly a quarter of them British, the government said Thursday in a fresh boost for the country's recovering economy.
The overall number of visits by foreign tourists to Spain was the highest on record and rose by 4.3 million, or more than seven percent compared with 2013, the tourism ministry said.
Neighbouring Portugal also reported a welcome surge in tourist visits and revenues.
Just over 15 million of the international tourist arrivals in Spain recorded last year were from Britain - about 23% - according to the ministry's annual figures.
France meanwhile overtook Germany as the second biggest source of foreign visitors to Spain.
More than 10.6 million visits were made by French tourists and 10.4 million by Germans. The Nordic countries were in fourth place with five million visitors, 3.5% more than in 2013.
Spain's sunny beaches and historic cities make tourism one of its economic strengths.
Last year "was the best year in the history of tourism in our country", industry and tourism minister Jose Manuel Soria told a news conference on Thursday.
"This sector serves as an engine of the economy."
The region most visited by foreign tourists was Catalonia in the north east, followed by the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, home to clubbing hotspots such as Ibiza.
Spain climbed out of recession in 2013 after five years of economic crisis that destroyed millions of jobs.
The government estimates Spain's economy grew 1.4% last year.
The latest unemployment data, also released on Thursday, showed Spain's jobless rate at 23.7% in the final quarter of 2014.
One of the lingering legacies of the crisis, that was lower than earlier peaks above 25 percent, but still one of the highest rates in the eurozone.
In Portugal, hotels received 8.9 million foreign tourists between January and November, the central bank said, with the biggest numbers coming from Britain and Spain.
Spending by foreign tourists between January and November reached 9.6 billion euros ($11.2 million) -- more than for the whole of 2013.
"We have had a historic year in terms of the number of tourists, hotel stays and revenues," said the junior minister for tourism, Adolfo Mesquita Nunes.
"Tourism is helping us overcome the difficult period we have been going through."