9 iconic destinations struggling with overtourism, and how you can help

Overtourism has become a major problem in cities and countries around the world. While tourism often leads to a welcome economic boost, overtourism – overcrowding from too many tourists – is incredibly damaging to the environment and local communities. But it’s not all bad news. Many overtourism destinations are now putting in measures to manage the crowds while protecting the rights of locals.

As a global tour company, we also play our part to try and combat the overtourism problem. From travelling in off-peak seasons to supporting local communities and lesser-known destinations, there are plenty of steps we take to travel responsibly and reduce the burden of overtourism. Read on to discover 9 iconic destinations struggling with overtourism, and what we can do to help.

1. Dubrovnik, Croatia

aerial view Dubrovnik Croatia overtourism destinations

Croatia has taken off in recent years and Dubrovnik is struggling to cope, due to an influx of cruise ships and Game of Thrones fans. The city’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there is concern that the thousands of tourists walking the ancient streets and defensive walls could damage the buildings.

The cruise ships are a huge problem, with 529 cruise ships bringing 799,916 passengers to Dubrovnik in 2016 alone. Thousands of passengers pour in and usually only stay for a few hours, so while they bring the noise and congestion, they spend very little money.

The noise and crowds are also forcing residents out. There were 5,000 residents in 1991 but in 2017 there were only 1,157 people living in the Old Town. The Dubrovnik city mayor Mato Frankovic has since announced the city will only accept two cruise ships a day in 2019, with a limit of 5,000 passengers allowed.

What you can do to help

  • Plan your visit to Dubrovnik during the shoulder seasons of May to June or September to October, instead of the peak summer season.
  • Try to visit for more than one night so you can experience the local food and culture.
  • Spread out your Croatia trip to also include visits to less crowded places like Zadar, a city on the Dalmatian Coast, Pula, a coastal city on the Istrian Peninsula, and Vis or Korčula, two beautiful islands in the Adriatic Sea.

What we’re doing to help

  • You can take our Croatia trips during the shoulder seasons including May, June, September and October.
  • We stay in Dubrovnik for at least two to three nights on our Croatia trips.
  • We visit lesser-known destinations in Croatia that aren’t suffering from overtourism, like Pula, Korčula and Zadar.
  • When we are in Dubrovnik, we only organise small group sightseeing walking tours to avoid clogging up the streets of this stunning medieval city.
  • We see the famous sights but we also get out of the main city to ‘Connect with Locals’. We’ll take you to Osojnik, a village in the Dubrovnik area, where you’ll join the Muhoberac family for a traditional ‘Be My Guest’ dinner. Their ancestors have lived in the village for over 500 years and you’ll get to hear some wonderful stories.

GET INSPIRED BY: Balkan Delight

2. Machu Picchu, Peru

ancient Inca ruins Machu Picchu Peru

This iconic destination in Peru has struggled with overtourism for decades. The number of tourists visiting Machu Picchu, has jumped from less than 400,000 tourists a year to over 1.4 million visitors in just 20 years, and this ancient Incan site isn’t built to handle it. After years of littering, eroding pathways and visitors climbing all over the ancient ruins, UNESCO threatened to put Machu Picchu on its “List of World Heritage in Danger” in 2016.

The Peruvian government has since announced a five year, $43.7 million plan to preserve the ruins. They’ve limited tickets to 5,600 per day, although that’s still more than double the number suggested by UNESCO. Tourists must enter in staggered time periods, all visitors must be accompanied by an approved guide and they must stick to the specific trails through the site.

What you can do to help

  • Always stick to the trails and never touch or climb the ancient ruins.
  • Try to stay in Machu Picchu and surrounding areas like Cusco and the Sacred Valley for more than one night so you can experience the local food and culture.

What we’re doing to help

  • All our Machu Picchu trips are led by expert Local Specialists who take you on an incredible tour through the temples, terraces and palaces of the Incas.
  • All our trips to Machu Picchu stay in the area for at least two nights.
  • We ‘Dive into Culture’ on our Machu Picchu trips and learn about the natural dyeing techniques used by native weavers. We’ll take you to the Pisac handicraft market where you can sample the sweet flavours of chicha, the beloved drink of the Andes. 
  • We stay local with our ‘Stay with a Story’ experience, where you’ll sleep in a centuries-old mansion located in the historic centre of Cusco.

GET INSPIRED BY: Land of the Incas

3. Santorini, Greece

blue domes coastline santorini greece

Greece’s tourist numbers have more than doubled in less than a decade, jumping from 15 million in 2010, to 33 million in 2018. The little island of Santorini is one of the most popular destinations, but it also suffers from overtourism, with millions of visitors flocking to its shores each year. Cruise ships can drop off up to 18,000 passengers a day in peak season. That’s an alarming number considering there are only around 15,000 residents on the island.

The island is famed for its gorgeous sunsets, whitewashed buildings and iconic blue domes, but sunset is now like rush hour. Santorini’s streets are typically packed with thousands of people waiting to capture the scene on their smartphones. The island has been pushed to its limit and is struggling to keep up with the increasing waste disposal and water and energy consumption. In response, the city has limited cruise ship visitors to 8,000 per day since 2019.

What you can do to help

  • Consider spending more than a day or night in Santorini. The drawback of a cruise is that visitors usually only spend one day there and the island doesn’t benefit from the income of an overnight stay. If you are cruising to the island, consider staying in a local hotel and eating at local restaurants.
  • Try to venture further inland to smaller villages, rather than just the main towns of Fira and Oia.
  • Travel in the shoulder seasons of April to early June or September to October, rather than the peak summer season.

What we’re doing to help

  • All our Santorini trips spend at least two to three nights on the island.
  • You can take our Santorini trips in the shoulder seasons from April to June and September to October.
  • We stay at local hotels and eat at local restaurants, including an acclaimed winery in Baxedes where you can sample the locally-produced wine and meze.
  • We visit smaller villages like Pyrgos, where you can see beautiful blue-domed churches and classic Cycladic architecture.
  • You’ll ‘Connect with Locals’ at a traditional Greek wedding show. Observe the ceremony, meet the family, and take part in all the customs like eating, dancing and breaking plates.

GET INSPIRED BY: Best of Greece with Santorini

4. Barcelona, Spain

parc guell barcelona overtourism destinations

Barcelona is one of the most well-known destinations suffering from overtourism. An estimated 32 million tourists visit Barcelona each year, yet the city has a population of just 1.6 million. The city is overwhelmed with visitors, largely due to the fact that Barcelona has the largest port in the Mediterranean. It’s also one of the most polluted in Europe. Millions of cruise ships dock in the port each night, yet the passengers don’t spend the night in the city. They tend to stay for a few hours, hit the congested hot spots, then leave without spending much money.

In 2019, Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau pledged to reduce the number of tourists in Barcelona by capping cruise ships and limiting airport expansions. They’ve also banned large coach buses in the city centre and cut the number of beds available in hotels and tourist apartments.

What you can do to help

  • Stay in a local and licensed hotel during your stay in Barcelona.
  • Discover some of the hidden treasures like Gaudi’s lesser-known masterpieces or the El Born area, where you can take a tapas walking tour.
  • We know you’ll still want to visit the famous sights like La Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell, but try to visit them during off-peak times and seasons.

What we’re doing to help

  • Our Barcelona trips always use local and licensed hotels for our guests.
  • We travel to Barcelona throughout the year so you can take a trip during the off-peak season.
  • We’ll take you to the iconic sights but we also venture to the lesser-visited gems like the mountain town of Montserrat, the Sant Antoni market, and the UNESCO listed Roman ruins at Tarragona.

GET INSPIRED BY: Barcelona Explorer

RELATED CONTENT: 5 alternative things to do in Barcelona that take you off the tourist trail

5. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

buddhist monks angkor wat temple cambodia

This iconic 12th-century Hindu temple complex in Siem Reap saw nearly 2.6 million people in 2018. While the city of Siem Reap is happy to receive visitors all year round (and largely depends on tourism income), the issue is that visitors are only flocking to the main Angkor Wat temple and Ta Prohm (the temple made famous in the Tomb Raider film).

The large crowds are damaging the ruins, and in an attempt to protect the ruins, the Cambodian government has doubled ticket prices and moved ticket booths further away to stop human traffic jams. A cap of 100 people at a time has been put in place in the central tower of Angkor Wat, but no limit has been enforced on the number of tourists coming in and out of the complex.

What you can do to help

  • Consider spending more than one night in Siem Reap to support the local economy.
  • Spend more time exploring the whole Angkor Wat complex rather than crowding around the main attractions. You can also venture beyond Angkor Wat to the lesser-visited, but equally beautiful, temples in Siem Reap.

What we’re doing to help

  • We spend four nights in Siem Reap on all of our trips to Cambodia, where we delve into the culture, famous sights and hidden treasures.
  • Our expert Local Specialist in Siem Reap, a renowned Khmer scholar, will take you on a special journey through Angkor Wat. They’ll bring to life the stories behind the carvings and murals, and take you to lesser-visited stops like the 10th-century Banteay Srei Temple.
  • We ‘Make a Difference’ in Siem Reap by visiting Artisans d’Angkor, an organisation that supports the lives of rural youths through the revival of Khmer arts and crafts.
  • We ‘Dive into Culture’ in the nearby Peak Seng Village where you’ll gain insight into ancient craft traditions. See locals weaving Cambodia’s national hats from palm leaves or folding Lotus flowers into pretty works of art.

GET INSPIRED BY: Thailand and the Temples of Angkor

6. Amsterdam, Netherlands

bridge illuminated night amsterdam netherlands

Amsterdam received 19 million visitors in 2018, which has overwhelmed its population of around one million people. Visitors tend to congregate in areas like the Red Light District and the Museum Quarter, while disrespectful behaviour from some tourists has led to an outcry from locals.

The city has taken measures to alleviate the burden, like banning new tourists shops from opening in the city centre and encouraging visitors to visit less busy areas with apps. They’ve also limited Airbnb rentals and banned beer bikes. Police officers can now deliver on-the-spot fines for littering, public drinking and disorderliness.

What you can do to help

  • Consider staying longer than a night, stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants.
  • Go to iamsterdam to discover all the less-visited sites and destinations you should visit.

What we’re doing to help

  • Our expert Local Specialists will show you around all the hidden treasures of Amsterdam. From the Royal Palace in Amsterdam (built in 1648 and still in use by the Dutch Royal Family), to Museum Van Loon (the grand former private residence of artist Ferdinand Bol built in 1672), there are plenty of lesser-known gems to explore.
  • We take you just outside Amsterdam, to special destinations like Haarlem, Zaanse Schans, Volendam, Gouda, Delft, Rotterdam, Kinderdijk and The Hague.
  • We take you on a tasting tour led by a Local Specialist. You’ll learn about all the beloved Dutch foods, sampling flavours from a family restaurant, local cheese shop and a beer garden.

GET INSPIRED BY: Amsterdam Explorer

7. (Some) US National Parks

road mountains zion national park usa

While some parks in the US see very few visitors, other national park destinations are suffering from overtourism. Of the 59 national parks in the US, 27 parks receive half the total national park visitation.

Some of the most popular are Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Yosemite National Park, with millions of visitors passing through each year. The US national parks received over 330 million travellers in 2017 and visitors spent more than 1.4 billion hours across the parks.

What you can do to help

  • Consider visiting during the off-peak seasons of autumn, spring and winter, as the summer season brings the largest crowds. You’ll enjoy milder temperatures, quieter parks and gorgeous autumn foliage, spring blooms or winter snow. If you are visiting in winter, be sure to check NPS sites to make sure it’s safe to visit.

What we’re doing to help

mountains lake wrangell st elias national park alaska

We visit the most famous US national parks but we also venture to some of the lesser-known gems. Here are some of our favourite off-the-beaten-track national parks.

Wrangell St. Elias, Alaska

The most visited US national park is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which received 11,421,200 tourists in 2018. In comparison, Wrangell St. Elias is one of the ten least-visited parks in the US, with only 79,450 visitors in 2018. At 13.2 million acres, it’s also the biggest national park in the US, filled with all kinds of landscape from rainforest to frozen tundra.

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado

This unique park received just 442,905 visitors in 2018. We explore the epic dunes towering up to 750 feet high with a Local Specialist and expert geologist.

Kenai Fjords, Alaska

We’ll take you on a cruise through the Kenai Fjords National Park to spot Humpback whales and glacial icebergs. With only 321,596 visitors in 2018, you won’t have to share the scenery with many other people.

Mesa Verde, Colorado

It’s hard to believe this spectacular national park received just 563,420 visitors in 2018. Our Local Specialists will show you the ancient cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloan people at this UNESCO-listed park. You can also explore several other protected archaeological sites in the area.

GET INSPIRED BY: Majestic Alaska

8. Iceland

blue lagoon iceland overtourism destinations

In 2018, Iceland received around 2.3 million visitors. That’s over six visitors per resident of Iceland. With an infrastructure that’s built to serve a population of fewer than 400,000 people, it’s easy to see how this destination is struggling with overtourism.

There are also big concerns for the environment, with natural attractions like the Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and the Blue Lagoon suffering under the swell of visitors. The Iceland government has started to put in measures to disperse the tourists away from the hotspots, like adding infrastructure to lesser-visited areas.

What you can do to help

  • Consider visiting during the off-peak seasons like autumn or winter. It may be much colder but you won’t have to compete with as many crowds. Plus it’s the best time to see the dazzling Northern Lights.
  • It’s okay to hit the famous sights, but consider branching out to lesser-known, but equally stunning, places like Stykkishólmur and Breidafjordur Bay.

What we’re doing to help

  • You can take our Iceland trips all year round including the off-peak seasons of autumn and winter.
  • Our tours venture to lesser-visited destinations like Stykkishólmur, where you can board a cross past the tiny coves of  Breidafjordur Bay. We also visit the pretty fishing villages, lava fields, glaciers, volcanoes, hot springs and black sand beaches of Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
  • We ‘Connect with Locals’ with a ‘Be My Guest’ dinner experience near Selfoss. You’ll join a local storyteller and her songwriter husband as they share their colourful family history.

GET INSPIRED BY: Iceland including the Blue Lagoon

9. Venice, Italy

sunset gondola canal venice italy overtourism destination

Venice is one of the worst-affected destinations from overtourism, with tourist numbers (and water levels) steadily rising each year. The city receives more than 35 million visitors each year, and less than a third of them stay overnight in Venice (many stay on cruise ships and spend only a day in the city). There are just 50,000 residents but that number is quickly dropping as rising rent prices leave many locals unable to afford a home in the city.

The crowds and cruise ships are also damaging the surrounding coastlines. The Venice council has started to take serious measures including introducing a tourist tax (tourists must pay a fee to visit the city). They’ve also banned people from sitting or lingering too long around famous attractions like the Rialto Bridge.

What you can do to help

  • Plan your Venice trips for the shoulder seasons of April to June or September to October to help reduce the summer congestion.
  • Consider staying more than one night in Venice and spend your money at local hotels and restaurants.
  • Try to spread out your itinerary and visit some lesser-known sights so you’re not contributing to the crowds.

What we’re doing to help

  • You can take our Venice trips all year round, including the off-peak seasons like winter.
  • We spend at least two to three nights in Venice on all our Italy trips.
  • We ‘Dive Into Culture’ on Giudecca Island, where you can learn about the delicate Venetian art of glassblowing and support local artisans.
  • You’ll discover Venice in a Small Group Sightseeing walking tour. Your expert Local Specialist will show you all the secrets of Venice, like hidden alleyways and markets.

GET INSPIRED BY: Contrasts of Italy

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