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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.