The country's "dramatic countryside" such as the West Highland Way and Rob Roy Way walking routes were listed among the attractions.
The travel section of the CNN website highlights events planned around the Year of Natural Scotland, such as Dumfries and Galloway Wildlife Festival, Heb Celt music festival and Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight.
Tourism bosses said it is a "tremendous accolade" and a great start to 2013.
Mike Cantlay, VisitScotland chairman, said: "Undoubtedly the global success of Brave and the awe-inspiring images of Scotland in Skyfall will have whetted the appetite of many potential visitors from home and around the world. Throughout 2013 we must capitalise on this success and position the majesty and magnificence of natural Scotland on the world stage.
"Despite the tough economic environment, momentum is building ahead of 2014 where we will welcome the Ryder Cup, the Commonwealth Games and of course Scotland's second Homecoming. Endorsements such as this really help to secure Scotland's leading position on the global tourism map as a must-see destination."
CNN says it reached its decision after accounting for factors such as bargains, significant events and airline routes.
Scotland emerged at the top of the world travel destinations list, ahead of six others including Rabat in Morocco, Colombia and Amsterdam.
SNP MP Angus MacNeil said: "Our combination of natural beauty, as well as increased number of air routes direct to Scotland, and the fantastic events of the Year of Natural Scotland have given Scotland even more appeal as a place to take a great holiday this year.
"Whether it is outdoor pursuits like walking and climbing, a city break or visiting Scotland's many cultural destinations, tourism is a major industry across the country from Shetland to the Solway shores.
"CNN are joining a long list who realise the potential of Scotland's natural beauty, and add to that the recent exposure from movies like Skyfall which show off our magnificent scenery."
Year of Natural Scotland is a government iniative to showcase the country's scenery and natural heritage.