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5 holiday destinations suffering from overtourism and how to beat the crowds

Category: News

Overtourism has been grabbing headlines lately, as popular holiday destinations struggle under the weight of increasing visitor numbers.

Most recently, the Alpine village of Hallstatt found itself coping with up to 10,000 visitors a day when it was revealed as a possible inspiration for the setting of Disney’s Frozen. The village’s population is just 780!

If you’re looking to visit a popular spot this year but worry about the effects of overtourism, where do you go and how do you avoid the crowds when you get there?

Here are five popular destinations struggling with overtourism and the steps you can take to ensure you get the most from your visit, plus some alternative destinations you might try instead.

  1. Barcelona

Around 20 million tourists visit the Catalan capital each year. They come for the art and architecture, the world-class cuisine and the stunning beaches.

The city’s 1.6 million inhabitants though, have been feeling increasingly swamped.

In the last few years, anti-tourism protestors have taken to the streets. Their main issues?

  • Demands for tourist accommodation have caused rents to soar
  • Expensive cafés and souvenir stands have replaced affordable local amenities
  • Surging crowds have made the city unliveable for Barcelona natives

What can you do as a tourist?

If you’re thinking of visiting Barcelona, try the off-peak season. October and November, and February to April, have the cheapest flights, though it may be too chilly for the beach. Alternatively, travel in May, June and September and you’ll likely see pleasant weather but few tourists.

Barcelona is a popular destination for weekend city breaks too, so consider a midweek trip.

There are hotels in all price ranges, all over the city, so you needn’t rely on Airbnb. Areas like Las Ramblas or the Gothic Quarter are close to the centre of the action so expect crowds. If you’re a seasoned traveller you might prefer an area away from the tourist traps, like Upper El Born or even El Raval.

Finally, decide on an itinerary each day and plan to hit the main attractions outside of peak times. Some sights – like La Sagrada Familia – let you buy tickets in advance, and for specific times, so you can choose a quiet period and skip the queues.

Try instead: Girona

If you really want to escape the crowds – and don’t mind forgoing the beach – try the slower pace of north east Catalonia. Admire Girona’s medieval architecture, walk its city walls and climb the regular watchtowers for beautiful views over the city.

  1. Dubrovnik

In 2019, visitors to the Croatian port of Dubrovnik topped 1.4 million as it continued to experience the ‘Game of Thrones effect’. The hugely popular TV show filmed some of its most iconic scenes here. Daily ‘Thrones’ tours trail through the city and its merchandise floods local shops.

Overtourism comes with problems here too. In 2016, UNESCO warned Dubrovnik that its World Heritage status was at risk. The city’s Mayor confirmed a need to ‘reset’ and a cap on the number of cruise ships permitted to visit the city followed.

The problems are the same as at other cruise ship ports. When cruise ships dock, thousands disembark at the same time, all with the same bucket-list sights to tick off and only a short time to see them. Huge crowds follow the same paths and then depart again, en masse.

What can you do as a tourist?

Peak season is July to August and cruise ships arrive daily during these months. Dubrovnik’s old town is small and quickly crowded. May to June and September to October are quieter, though it’s still worth avoiding cruise ship arrivals, maybe by enjoying the old town at the start and end of the day, before and after the swell of passengers.

Be sure to visit areas off the beaten track and frequent local restaurants and cafés. It gives you an authentic experience whilst giving back to the local economy. Take a ferry to the idyllic island of Lokrum and enjoy the tranquillity of a 15th century Benedictine monastery, and the island’s Botanical Garden.

Try instead: Split

Croatia’s second city can be busy too (it also featured in Game of Thrones) but visiting outside peak time should give you room to explore more freely. Visit Diocletian’s Palace, enjoy a stroll along the Riva Promenade, or climb nearby Marjan Hill for a stunning view over the city.

  1. Venice

Venice’s issues with overtourism are well-documented. With rising water levels causing the kind of flooding and infrastructure damage we saw at the end of 2019, the volumes of tourists are adding to the city’s woes.

Large cruise ships have been rerouted to prevent them docking in the centre of the city, and the #EnjoyRespectVenezia campaign has led to other bans. Loitering on bridges, sitting down in doorways and in front of shop windows, became fineable offences. As did littering, picnicking and riding a bike through the city.

What can you do as a tourist?

If you’re keen to visit the City of Bridges be careful not to fall foul of its new laws but also pick your travel dates carefully. Outside of peak season is best for avoiding crowds but be wary – flooding can occur at any time, but it is most likely between October and January.

Try instead: Padua

Only 40km from Venice, Padua is one of Northern Italy’s most ancient cities. It’s the setting for Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and its university once boasted astronomer Galileo as Professor of Mathematics.

  1. Angkor Wat

The UNESCO World Heritage site is Cambodia’s chief tourist destination, but increased visitor numbers have led to worries for the integrity of the 12th Century Buddhist-Hindu temple complex.

More than two million visitors a year arrive at the 160-plus hectare site (roughly 162 football pitches) and most head straight for the main Angkor Temple and Ta Prohm, featured in the film Tomb Raider.

Government attempts to tackle the issue of overtourism saw entry prices double in 2016. Ticket booths were moved away from the main entrance to prevent bottlenecks, and a cap was placed on the numbers allowed into the central tower at any one time.

What can you do as a tourist?

Watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat is on many bucket lists. Brave the 5am start though, and you’ll find it discourages many. Exploring in the cool temperatures of early morning also makes for a more comfortable trek.

A local guide will happily take you beyond the main complex. Scores of temples are dotted all over the site. Heading away from the main routes will give you the breathing space to enjoy them.

Try instead: Koh Ker

120km northeast of Siem Reap, Koh Ker was once the capital of the Khmer Empire. Off the beaten track, its temples are now heavily forested and not all are open to the public, but you can climb the seven tiers of the Prasat Tom temple and you’re unlikely to see huge crowds.

  1. Isle of Skye

Skye has seen tourist numbers increase rapidly over recent years. Overcrowding at peak sites is commonplace and has led to the island launching its #Skyetime campaign, urging visitors to ‘stay longer, see less and experience more’ of the Inner Hebridean island.

An increase in day trips to the so-called ‘big five’ – Old Man of Storr, Fairy Glen, The Fairy Pools, Quiraing and Neist Point – has left the island’s infrastructure struggling to cope. Processions of coaches trek its single-lane tracks and parking has become a problem too.

What can you do as a tourist?

Take your lead from #Skyetime and ‘stay longer, see less and experience more’.

Skye’s website suggests a list of 50 things to do, which includes coastal and mountain walks, boat trips and art gallery visits.

Try instead: Mull

As the second-largest island of the Inner Hebrides, the Isle of Mull is a great choice of alternative destination. Medieval castles, managed woodland parks and breathtaking wilderness mean there’ll be something for everyone.

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