Tourist hubs Over­booked v over­looked

So many cities are buck­ling un­der the weight of too many feet. Try these spots in­stead. They could use more tourists, writes An­drea Sachs.

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Dur­ing a trip to the Czech Repub­lic this sum­mer, Bret Love des­per­ately wanted to es­cape the crowds at Prague Cas­tle but couldn’t.

‘‘There were thou­sands of peo­ple jostling for space,’’ said the co-founder of Green Global Travel. ‘‘You start to feel like cat­tle be­ing herded.’’

No mat­ter what you call it – over-tourism, over­booked or a for­eign in­va­sion – it’s the same squeeze: A hand­ful of des­ti­na­tions around the world are un­der siege. The stam­pede is hav­ing a dele­te­ri­ous ef­fect on the cul­ture, en­vi­ron­ment and spirit of these places.

‘‘You try to keep these cities liv­able for the res­i­dents,’’ said Martha Honey, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Cen­tre for Re­spon­si­ble Travel, ‘‘but over­tourism is killing these neigh­bour­hoods and the rea­sons we go there.’’

The is­sue is not the in­dus­try it­self but the hordes of peo­ple who de­scend on one place in the same time pe­riod (of­ten sum­mer). Des­ti­na­tions that are ill-equipped for the masses can’t keep up with the de­mand, and ev­ery­one suf­fers for it.

Trav­ellers can help ease the pres­sure by tweak­ing their trips. For in­stance, visit off-sea­son, book tick­ets to ma­jor at­trac­tions in ad­vance and ven­ture beyond the historical core.

To fur­ther help be­lea­guered des­ti­na­tions, we sin­gled out 10 prized spots buck­ling un­der the weight of too many feet and pro­vided less touristy al­ter­na­tives.

Over­booked: Venice

As if sink­ing wasn’t enough, the Ital­ian city of canals and mas­quer­ade balls is drown­ing in tourists. More than 30 mil­lion peo­ple visit an­nu­ally, swamp­ing the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion of 50,000 and caus­ing rifts be­tween the two camps. Sev­eral years ago, Un­esco warned Vene­tian of­fi­cials that the city could end up on its en­dan­gered list of her­itage sites if they did not curb their en­thu­si­asm for tourists. Of­fi­cials re­sponded with a raft of ini­tia­tives, such as re­lo­cat­ing the cruise ship port to the main­land and banning new ho­tels in the historical city cen­tre. The city is also pro­mot­ing De­tourism, urg­ing vis­i­tors to avoid beaten-toa-pulp routes and to be­have like a lo­cal.

Over­looked: Verona

To visit or not to visit, that is such a silly ques­tion. Of course you should. The Ital­ian city 120 kilo­me­tres west of Venice is the set­ting of two Shake­speare plays. Sim­i­lar to Venice, the Un­esco World Her­itage site comes with the req­ui­site Old World charms, such as a pi­azza pop­u­lated by stat­ues of Greek gods, a per­form­ing arts venue in­hab­it­ing a Ro­man am­phithe­atre and a 13th­cen­tury cas­tle built to de­fend the Veronese from in­vaders. The desti­na­tion is also known for its Euro­pean Union-pro­tected va­ri­ety of rice. Fol­low the grain along La Strada del Riso Vialone Nano Veronese IGP – the Rice Route. For a wilder ride than a gon­dola, go raft­ing down the Adige River.

Over­booked: Machu Pic­chu

The 15th-cen­tury In­can site has sur­vived the Span­ish con­quest, a scan­dal in­volv­ing a Yale ex­plorer, and flood­ing, but its down­fall could be tourists. In 2013, Un­esco aired its con­cerns about the degra­da­tion of Peru’s top at­trac­tion. Among its myr­iad of­fences: ‘‘Im­pacts of tourism/vis­i­tor/ recre­ation.’’ In re­sponse, the num­ber of daily vis­i­tors was capped at 2500. How­ever, last year, 1.4 mil­lion peo­ple toured the ruins, a clear breach of the di­rec­tive. To con­trol the chaos, the gov­ern­ment an­nounced new re­stric­tions last July, such as re­quir­ing ac­cred­ited guides to ac­com­pany all vis­i­tors and no more stay­ing all day.

Over­looked: Cho­que­quirao

Machu Pic­chu and Cho­que­quirao might as well be twins – both are sim­i­lar an­cient In­can cities in Peru’s An­des Moun­tains, though the Cho­que­quirao Hike is more ar­du­ous than the Inca Trail. Despite the sim­i­lar­i­ties, lesser known Cho­que­quirao, which is three times larger than Machu Pic­chu, re­ceives a tiny frac­tion of vis­i­tors – a dozen to 30 ad­ven­tur­ers a day. Ar­chae­ol­o­gists did not start ex­ca­vat­ing the ruins un­til the 1970s, more than a half-cen­tury af­ter Machu Pic­chu was cleared. As part of an ini­tia­tive to dou­ble tourism by 2021, the gov­ern­ment has floated plans to build a road con­nect­ing the two sites, which sit about 65 kilo­me­tres apart, and in­stall a ca­ble car.

Over­booked: Barcelona

The cap­i­tal of Cat­alo­nia is the most-vis­ited city in Spain, draw­ing 32 mil­lion peo­ple. In one mu­nic­i­pal sur­vey, res­i­dents blasted tourism as the sec­ond­worst ur­ban ill af­ter un­em­ploy­ment. In ad­di­tion to land trav­ellers, nearly 3 three mil­lion pas­sen­gers ar­rive by cruise ship an­nu­ally, a surge of­fi­cials hope to stem by re­lo­cat­ing the port out­side the city cen­tre by 2025. The cur­rent mayor, Ada Co­lau, won the elec­tion on her pro­pos­als to con­trol unchecked tourism.

Over­looked: Seville

Trade one Span­ish cap­i­tal for an­other. Seville is the cul­tural and busi­ness cen­tre of the An­dalu­sian re­gion, plus a great place to take fla­menco for a spin. The city goes big with the world’s largest Gothic church, the Seville Cathe­dral, which brings guests closer to the heav­ens on a rooftop walk. If pressed for time, go straight to the Royal Al­cazar, a palace com­plex with a strong

Mude­jar streak. Moor­ish in­flu­ences – chick­peas, cumin, aubergine – ap­pear in the tapas. Of course, the primo in­gre­di­ent is ja­mon Iberico. Or eat a Seville or­ange.

Over­booked: Ice­land

Go ahead and wag a fin­ger at Ice­landair. The bud­get air­line pop­u­larised the prac­tice of adding a free stopover in Ice­land en route to con­ti­nen­tal Europe. More re­cently, Wow Air, which started ser­vice in 2011, ex­tended the perk to its pas­sen­gers. Most tourists con­gre­gate in Reyk­javik and the south-west re­gion, clog­ging the cap­i­tal and the Golden Cir­cle, the driv­ing loop fizzing with geo­ther­mal fea­tures. The gov­ern­ment has placed re­stric­tions on Airbnb prop­erty own­ers. Closer to the air­port, the Blue La­goon, which at­tracts nearly a mil­lion guests each year, can feel very crowded.

Over­looked: Baf­fin Is­land

Baf­fin Is­land, in the north Cana­dian ter­ri­tory of Nu­navut, is the fifth-largest isle in the world. The land mass in the North At­lantic ocean shares sev­eral char­ac­ter­is­tics with Ice­land, such as fjords, the mid­night sun, North­ern Lights, Arc­tic Cir­cle and, ac­cord­ing to re­cent ar­chae­ol­ogy digs, Vik­ings. Though the Nu­navut cap­i­tal of Iqaluit is mi­nus­cule com­pared with Reyk­javik, vis­i­tors can soak up the north­ern cul­ture at the Nu­natta Su­nakku­taan­git Mu­se­u­mand, dur­ing the Toonik Tyme Fes­ti­val, a spring­time cel­e­bra­tion of tribal tra­di­tions in­clud­ing igloo-build­ing, dog sled­ding and ski­jor­ing. Out­side the city, plunge into the out­doors at sev­eral na­tional parks. At Auyuit­tuq Na­tional Park, you can ski, hike on glaciers and ice fields, and climb Mt Thor, which has the world’s long­est ver­ti­cal drop. Or scour Sir­mi­lik Na­tional Park for nar­whals, cari­bou, po­lar bears, ringed seals, bel­u­gas, and killer whales.

Over­booked: Mt Ever­est

The world’s tallest moun­tain, which strad­dles Nepal and Ti­bet, suf­fers from the same ills as

ur­ban cen­tres: trash and traf­fic. To reach the sum­mit, trekkers some­times have to wait in lines as long as those for Dis­ney World’s Space Moun­tain. Base camps can re­sem­ble a beach on In­de­pen­dence Day, the brightly coloured tents blan­ket­ing the snow-packed ground. The crowds are en­dan­ger­ing the en­vi­ron­ment as well as them­selves. And yet the trekkers still come. Last year, the gov­ern­ment is­sued a record num­ber of climb­ing per­mits, nearly 375 per­mis­sion slips for 43 in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­di­tion teams. That fig­ure does not in­clude the porters and guides, who more than dou­ble the num­ber.

Over­looked: Mt Toubkal

The tallest peak in Morocco’s At­las moun­tains is a mouse com­pared with Asia’s li­ons, but it does dwarf most of the ma­jor moun­tains in the Amer­i­cas, Europe and Ocea­nia. But the 4167-me­tre moun­tain is the high­est point in North Africa. Lee Thomp­son, co-founder of Flash Pack, a Lon­don­based tour com­pany, says Toubkal is as men­tally chal­leng­ing as the as­cent to the Ever­est base camp but is more ac­ces­si­ble to hik­ers with less ex­pe­ri­ence and more mod­er­ate fit­ness lev­els. The climb takes about two days, and half­way up the moun­tain, you can carb- and mint tea-load in Sidi Chamharouch, a Ber­ber set­tle­ment with a Mus­lim shrine. Over­booked: Camino de San­ti­ago One of the world’s most pop­u­lar pil­grim­age routes, which dates to the Mid­dle Ages, seems like an un­likely can­di­date for over-tourism. The Way of Saint James com­prises a spi­der’s web of routes that take weeks to com­plete by foot, bike or horse­back. How­ever, more than half of the pil­grims – re­li­gious and sec­u­lar – fol­low the French Way, a 805km jour­ney that starts in Sain­tjean-pied-de-port in the French Pyre­nees and ends at San­ti­ago de Com­postela Cathe­dral in Gali­cia, Spain, where the saint is al­legedly buried. Ac­cord­ing to the Pil­grims’ Wel­come Of­fice in San­ti­ago de Com­postela, more than 300,000 peo­ple com­pleted the pil­grim­age last year. The crowds cause lodg­ing short­ages in the small vil­lages and in­flated prices.

Over­looked: St Cuth­bert’s Way

Es­tab­lished in 1996, the long-dis­tance walk in Scot­land is much younger than Camino de San­ti­ago, but it too has an old soul. The 100km trek fol­lows the life tra­jec­tory of St Cuth­bert, the ven­er­ated pa­tron saint of North­ern Eng­land. The so­journ starts in the Scot­tish Bor­ders town of Mel­rose, where Cuth­bert set off on his re­li­gious call­ing in AD650, and ends on Holy Is­land, his burial place and site of his orig­i­nal pil­grim­age shrine off the Northum­ber­land coast. The route takes four to six days to com­plete. For the fi­nal leg across the Pil­grims Path sands or the is­land cause­way, check the tide charts in ad­vance or you will be pray­ing for a mir­a­cle. Depend­ing on the sea­son, you might see more baby an­i­mals than peo­ple.

Over­booked: Dubrovnik Game of Thrones

has been a boon for fan­tasy fic­tion fans but a bur­den for the Croa­t­ian city. The on­slaught has even trou­bled Un­esco, which had des­ig­nated the Old City a World Her­itage site in 1979. The or­gan­i­sa­tion rec­om­mended lim­it­ing vis­i­tors to 8000 peo­ple a day – mayor Mato Frankovic coun­tered with a lower fig­ure of 4000. He has also promised to tackle the cruise-ship jam. The plan could al­le­vi­ate pres­sure on such key at­trac­tions as the Stradun, a pedes­trian prom­e­nade, and the me­dieval walls. The city has also con­sid­ered cre­at­ing an app that will pro­vide crowd up­dates and sug­gest al­ter­na­tives with more wig­gle room.

Over­looked: Rov­inj

The Croa­t­ian fish­ing port shares the same coast as Dubrovnik, but doesn’t draw as many tourists and cruise ships as its south­ern neigh­bour. The town sits on the Is­trian Penin­sula in the Adri­atic and was an is­land be­fore the Vene­tians filled in the chan­nel in 1763. The Ital­ians, who twice con­trolled the city, have left their mark ev­ery­where. You can see their in­flu­ence on the Church of St Euphemia and the town square clock, as well as in the many restau­rants serv­ing pas­tas and pizza laced with truf­fles for­aged from the nearby Mo­tovun For­est. To visit the ar­chi­pel­ago is­lands or the Is­trian port town of Porec, catch a wa­ter taxi or ferry.

Over­booked: Am­s­ter­dam

Tourists out­num­ber res­i­dents by dou­ble-digit mil­lions. To re­claim the Dutch cap­i­tal, of­fi­cials are mulling or have ex­e­cuted sev­eral laws, such as dou­bling the tax on hotel rooms and banning short­term Airbnb rentals and sou­venir shops in the historical cen­tre. In the red-light district, law en­force­ment of­fi­cers have started tick­et­ing bad be­hav­iour such as pub­lic drink­ing and lit­ter­ing. To lure vis­i­tors out of the choked cen­tre, the tourism or­gan­i­sa­tion re­spon­si­ble for the City Card ex­panded ben­e­fits to in­clude day trips out­side the city, such as to Haar­lem, Zaanse Schans and Keukenhof.

Over­looked: Ljubl­jana

Tulips, bikes and wa­ter­ways de­fine Am­s­ter­dam, but the trio also de­scribe Ljubl­jana. The cap­i­tal of Slove­nia shares many of the same at­tributes as its west­ern neigh­bour, such as the Vol­cji Po­tok Ar­bore­tum, which holds a tulip ex­hi­bi­tion ev­ery April; a bike-share pro­gramme with rentals and more than 5450 cy­cling routes; and the Ljubl­jana River. Ljubl­jana is more green than red. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion crowned the city the Euro­pean Green Cap­i­tal in 2016. You can in­hale the fresh air aboard Kavalirs (Gen­tle Helpers), the free, elec­tric pub­lic trans­port sys­tem, and in Tivoli Gar­den, the city’s largest park. The Cen­tral Mar­ket is a feed­ing frenzy. At the Open Mar­ket, which runs April through Oc­to­ber, more than 30 chefs pre­pare lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional dishes.

Over­booked: Rome

In Euromon­i­tor In­ter­na­tional’s 2017 list of the top 100 cities, four Ital­ian metro cen­tres made the cut. Rome took 12th place – Mi­lan, Venice and Florence were far be­hind. The mar­ket­ing re­search firm ex­pects vis­i­tor num­bers to sur­pass 10 mil­lion by 2020. In 2015, the Span­ish Steps closed for a year to re­verse dam­age caused by too many touchy peo­ple. The lines to en­ter the city’s Ro­man ruins and mu­se­ums are no­to­ri­ous. More than 2000 foun­tains add a cool splash to the ci­tyscape. To keep the wa­ter fea­tures clear of snacks and limbs, a new rule will fine any­one caught eat­ing or drink­ing on the edges of 40 foun­tains or tak­ing a dip in its wa­ters.

Over­looked: Turin

Like Rome, the ghosts of Ro­man civil­i­sa­tion haunt this Piemonte city in north­ern Italy. You can find them un­der your feet, on the cob­ble­stone streets, and loom­ing over­head, in the 16-sided tow­ers book­end­ing the Pala­tine Gate. Quadri­latero Ro­mano, or the Ro­man Quar­ter, show­cases the pe­riod’s sig­na­ture grid as well as an­cient wall ruins and the ex­ca­vated re­mains of a Ro­man theatre. Turin was the first cap­i­tal of Uno Italy. Among the com­plex’s cul­tural at­trac­tions: the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum; the Royal Gar­den, Ar­moury and Li­brary; and the Chapel of the Holy Shroud, which re­opened in Septem­ber af­ter a 28-year clo­sure. The Na­tional Au­to­mo­bile Mu­seum has amassed a col­lec­tion of more than 200 ve­hi­cles from through­out Europe and the United States.

Over­booked: Cinque Terre

The daisy chain of five me­dieval vil­lages along the Ital­ian Riviera is wilt­ing. Hordes of peo­ple ar­riv­ing by train, cruise ship and mo­tor coach are cram­ming into towns with lim­ited space and mod­est ameni­ties. The 2.4 mil­lion an­nual vis­i­tors are stul­ti­fy­ing Riomag­giore, Ma­narola, Corniglia, Ver­nazza, and Mon­terosso, which cu­mu­la­tively sup­port about 4000 res­i­dents. The rugged hik­ing trails that con­nect the dots are heav­ing un­der the foot traf­fic and sev­eral routes are tem­po­rar­ily closed. There has been chat­ter about lim­it­ing the num­ber of hik­ers on routes that charge a fee and up­dat­ing the park’s app to in­clude Cinque Terre pedes­trian traf­fic re­ports.

Over­looked: Porto Venere

The Ital­ian vil­lage near Cinque Terre is one of three towns that stands guard over the Gulf of Poets, a muse for many writ­ers and painters. The train does not ser­vice Porto Venere, so most peo­ple ar­rive by ferry or car, which keeps the crowds at a min­i­mum. Most of the din­ing, drink­ing and shop­ping is cen­tred along the water­front and on the pedes­trian street, Via Capellini. If you’re lucky, you may cross paths with the lo­cal celebrity, Taran­tolino – Europe’s small­est gecko in Porto Venere Re­gional Park.

You’ll en­joy a more re­laxed vibe with a stun­ning sun­rise in Rov­inj, than you’ll get vis­it­ing Banje beach in Dubrovnik, Croa­tia.

Barcelona’s La Sagrada Fa­milia, in­set, is im­pres­sive but a visit to Tri­ana Bridge, the old­est bridge of Seville, is more re­lax­ing.

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