You have saved up for months, maybe even years, to visit one of your bucket-list destinations. You wait patiently for the big day to come. When you arrive, you can hardly contain your excitement, but it turns out that you aren’t the only one who has been waiting to visit Venice, or Dubrovnik, or the Great Wall of China. Pushing your way through a seething mass of people, you make the most of your time at your long-awaited destination, but it just isn’t quite what you imagined.
Welcome to the world of mass tourism.
As access to affordable travel becomes a reality for more people across the globe, many tourist hotspots are at risk of being severely overrun. Some have already reached capacity, with local authorities introducing daily restrictions on visitor numbers, while others are bursting at the seams with tourists while struggling to cope.
The good news is that the world is a pretty big place. You might have had your heart set on visiting Barcelona, but how about popping over to the underrated European capital of Lisbon, Portugal? The Cinque Terre would look amazing in your Instagram feed, but Tropea would look just as drool-worthy. If you are looking for some more sustainable alternatives to the biggest destinations worldwide, read on to see where we suggest you visit instead.
1. Skip Dubrovnik, Croatia, and visit Kotor, Montenegro
So many people watch Game of Thrones, which was partially filmed in Dubrovnik, Croatia, that the TV series has catapulted the Croatian city into the spotlight, showing the way to an inevitable throng of tourists. In an effort to reduce overcrowding in the walled city, Croatian officials have announced that they will drop the daily visit limit from 8000 to 4000 over the next year. The good news? Just a three-hour drive away is Kotor, with its very own walled city. Visiting Kotor, Montenegro is like visiting Dubrovnik before it was taken over by Game of Thrones souvenir shops.
2. Skip Venice, Italy, and visit Annecy, France
Venice has long surpassed its tourist capacity, and it shows not only in the sagging infrastructure but in the attitudes of many locals. And who could blame them? With up to 60,000 tourists a day swamping the local population of 55,000, it certainly would make living in this beautiful city rather uncomfortable. If you are looking for a beautiful canal city alternative, try Annecy, France. Located close to Geneva, this alpine city offers a colorful alternative to Venice, and the pedestrian walkways between the canals are guaranteed to be a lot less crowded. The temperature is a little cooler than Venice, but the beautiful views from Lake Annecy (and the lack of crowds taking selfies) are worth it.
3. Skip Barcelona, Spain, and visit Lisbon, Portugal
Let’s be honest: nothing will ever compare to seeing the Sagrada Familia. Unfortunately, seeing it at the same time as 2000 other people, shoulder to shoulder, shuffling through its interior, makes the experience a little less special. Barcelona has long suffered from severe tourism overcrowding, and the locals are less than thrilled. With beautiful beaches, stunning architecture and a fascinating history, Lisbon is a great alternative to Barcelona that is often overlooked. If you really want to make the most of your visit, swap out a trip to Ibiza with one to the Azores — you won’t be disappointed.
4. Skip Santorini, and visit Hydra, Greece
Officials from Santorini, the most visited of all the Greek islands, limited the number of tourists visiting by cruise ship to 8,000 in 2016. While no one will deny the beauty of its white and blue architecture and volcanic vistas, there are plenty of other Greek island destinations that you can explore that offer equally stunning architecture and culture. Instead, check out Hydra, where most vehicles are banned. Well known for its art and culture, you’ll be able to enjoy a glass of mastiha liqueur — without having to share the experience with 200 others.
5. Skip Machu Picchu, and visit Kuélap, Peru
Visitor numbers at the ancient Mayan ruins of Machu Picchu have long exceeded the recommended 2,500 per day set by UNESCO. Never built to establish the huge numbers of people that descend on it daily, an attempt to limit visitors has been made by introducing a booking and guide system to gain access. An ancient settlement featuring over 400 stone houses, Kuélap is over 600 years older than Machu Picchu, and its partial accessibility by cable car makes it a great option for any on a quick trip — though it still offers a reasonable hike for those looking for a challenge.
6. Skip the Cinque Terre, Italy, and visit Tropea, Italy
The thing that people often forget about visiting the Cinque Terre is that some of the paths are pretty narrow, and quite steep. Navigating these paths when they are full to the brim with walkers is not fun, particularly when they have been damaged by heavy rain. The Southern Italian town of Tropea is another cliffside destination, one far less overrun with tourists in walking sandals. With narrow, winding streets; beautiful cathedrals and religious buildings; and a range of restaurants and cafes to keep you content, it’s a fantastic alternative to Cinque Terre.
7. Skip Iceland, and visit Trondheim, Norway
Iceland is gorgeous, but the sheer number of people visiting popular destinations on the Golden Circle and Ring Road is appalling. The environmental impact of so many tourists on beautiful sites such as Gulfoss and Skógafoss is shocking, and limits are being put in place to ensure their preservation. If you are looking for a secluded Nordic getaway, Trondheim has rows of colorfully-painted houses, beautiful hikes and scenery, great museums, and lots of quirky culinary offerings.
8. Skip Angkor Wat, Cambodia, and visit Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia
While seeing the sunset from Phnom Bakheng in Angkor Wat is a must-do for many tourists, a daily limit of around 300 people has made this a lot harder — and for good reason. Hordes of tourists scrambling in the dark don’t do wonders for ancient ruins. Even older than Angkor Wat, the ruins at Banteay Chhmar were reopened in 2014 following minesweeping exercises, and remain secluded and unspoilt. As mass tourism hasn’t taken hold, the lodgings nearby are fairly rustic, but they are worth it to experience ancient ruins in a peaceful setting.
9. Skip Amsterdam, Netherlands, and visit Hamburg, Germany
Ever tried to get a ticket to the Anne Frank House at the last minute? Don’t. With queues stretching down the road, the attraction — like many others in Amsterdam — is stretched to its limit. Though city officials have tried redirecting tourists to avoid congestion, there is a long way to go. If you’re looking for a canal destination with hip cafes, a trendy art scene, outdoor activities, and a red light district even bigger than Amsterdam, Hamburg is the way to go. Long overlooked for its trendier cousins Munich and Berlin, Hamburg is fast becoming a city of cool.