Purpose – The purpose of this study is to identify research perspectives/clusters in the field of urban tourism (city tourism) in narrow sense and tourism cities (cities and tourism) in the broader sense to examine the complex relationship through the optics of science mapping. This paper believes that the existing qualitative assessments of this field can be experimentally verified and visualized. Design/methodology/approach – First, the key conceptual dilemmas of research perspectives in urban tourism are highlighted. Based on the Web of Science (WOS) Core Collection and the VOSviewer (computer program for visualizing bibliometric networks), the data will be analyzed. Clustering is used to evaluate information retrieval (inclusivity or selectivity of the search query), publication patterns (journal articles), author keywords, terminology and to identify the respective cities and author collaborations between countries. Findings – Terminological specificities and their contextuality (authors' preferences) are elaborated, as the topic is studied by authors from different disciplinary fields. Compared to other specific tourisms, urban tourism includes geographic terms (variations of city names) and terms with different connotations (travelers, visitors). Recent Spanish (also Portuguese) linguistic/geographic contexts are noticeable and a strong presence of WOS Emerging Sources Citation Index papers. Research perspectives are represented in the network of clusters of connected terms. If the search is based on a narrower sense of strict urban tourism, then tourism-business topics predominate. If tourism and cities are less closely linked, socio-cultural and environmental-spatial perspectives emerge, as does tourism/cities vulnerability (climate change and health issues). Research limitations/implications – The construction of a search syntax for the purpose of retrieval is always marked by compromises, given different terminological usages. A narrow search query will miss many relevant documents. On the other hand, if the query is too general, it returns less relevant documents. To this end, this paper tested queries on three different levels of inclusivity or selectivity. More consistent use of terms would benefit authors in the field of urban tourism when searching for references (information retrieval) and, as a consequence, would allow better integration of the field. Practical implications – This study provides a practical method for evaluating cities and tourism in combining the expertise of an information scientist and a sociologist. It points out numerous caveats in information retrieval. It offers an overview of publishing just prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, thus providing an opportunity for further comparative studies. Originality/value – This study is the first to examine urban tourism using such a method and can serve as a complement to the existing systematization of qualitative approaches. The findings are consistent with numerous qualitative assessments of weak the research interconnection between the specifics of cities and tourism in terms of broader socio-spatial processes. However, the study suggests that such research linkage is increasing, which is noticeable in relation to issues of social sustainability (e.g. overtourism, Airbnb and touristification).