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Wake up to and walk away from overtourism

Wake up to and walk away from overtourism

If you live in a place where tourism rules, you will understand the concept of overtourism. Try falling asleep in your home city of Amsterdam as a beer bike with 15 people ride past, with a flowing keg on board and an in-built sound system blasting Beyonce. Imagine having a mid-morning coffee on your street in Dubrovnik as a thousand cruise passengers parade past you, all intent on an Insta-grapple. Or trying to rent a flat in Barcelona when investors push up the prices to extortionate levels in order to then profit from city break apartments. So, if you’re a person living in a place where tourists flock in, overtourism is rarely an overreaction.

Crowd and cruise control

The cruise ship industry is usually the first target when condemning overtourism, but coach trips, stag or hen weekends, student spring breaks, sporting events and even charity treks have also created unhappiness and unrest amongst local residents, many of whom gain nothing from them. The film industry should also be highlighted for contributing to overtourism with crowds seeking to follow a Game of Thrones route in small villages in Ireland, or the Greek islands of Skiathos and Skopelos which are still pulling in Mamma Mia fans. Whatever the cause of the crowds, it’s nearly always local people who have to sweep up after them, or steer clear of them. We can, however, help steer you away from the problem areas on our walking and cycling holidays, and it’s part of our responsible tourism policy to do so. 

We also recognise that, in some places, you can’t always avoid the hellish honeypots, and nor do you want to. In spite of the cruise ships Dubrovnik is still stupendous, Venice continues to be a must-see and, of course, we will always have Paris. We may not be able to affect strategy at national levels to control cruises and carousers, but we can help steer you away from the crowds, and into regions that are sparsely populated and open to sustainable tourism of a more natural kind.

Some destinations, such as Dubrovnik in Croatia, are cruising for a bruising if they don’t start limiting cruise ship numbers.

Drought versus floods of tourists 

Having a dry January took on a whole other meaning in Catalonia recently where, in February 2024, a state of emergency was declared caused by drought and it’s looking like, water may have to be shipped in if the reservoirs stay dry. Meanwhile, the region’s capital city, Barcelona, home to 1.6 million residents, receives over 20 million visitors every year. And those visitors create a lot of waste and pollution. All of which needs to be cleaned up, by local people, with water. Barcelona does have a desalination plant, but it’s been working at full capacity. And ironically, some of its many cruise ships also have their own desalination plants on board to serve passengers. The incongruities of this picture are bound to cause conflict with local people. And there are, sadly, many such incongruities in places of mass tourism. 

Peak places in off-peak periods

Iconic trails such as the Tour du Mont Blanc, the Camino de Santiago and the Amalfi Coast can feel a bit like Las Ramblas to ramblers in July and August, so much so that many of our busiest walking holidays aren’t available for booking in these months anyway. However, the Amalfi Coast becomes a floral fest in early spring, with wisteria filling the air of Positano and Ravello around the end of March and mid-April, and the yellow flowers of broom, and sweet-smelling euphorbia covering the clifftops. Read our blog on the best time to go to the Amalfi Coast and wake up and smell the flowers rather than the coaches. Another example of staying away from the crowds and extreme Celcius readings is in Corfu, where our Corfu Trail holiday isn’t open for bookings during July and August. And in France, we stay clear of summer crowds in Provence while walking the Hidden gems of Provence, Van Gogh’s Provence, following in Cezanne’s footsteps, or in the Alpilles and Luberon

Boats, bikes and bulbs in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is one of Europe’s finest capitals, but not when the stags, hens and clubbers come to town. Swap beer bikes for a boat and bike tour in the Netherlands, where you are able to visit the city at a time of your choice and then head back to your boat for the night to just go with the flow. Our boat and bike holidays or cycling holidays that bring you to Amsterdam start as early as March, ahead of spring break frenzies, but just in time for the tulips. 

Explore Amsterdam on a boat and bike holiday, rather than on a booze bike one.

Don’t be blind to Venetian crowds

We have a number of natural adventures that start, finish or pop into Venice, such as cycling from the Dolomites to Venice, although your time in the city is spent on mainland Maestre, so away from the crowds. Or you can avoid the crowds around both Lake Bled in Slovenia and Venice by cycling between the two cities on a tour that operates as early as March and as late as October. 

Catalonia without the cruises

While Barcelona is teeming you can go trekking, as the Catalonian capital has extraordinary walking trails on its doorstep. Seek solace on Catalonia’s trails for calm and cultural vitality and, if you want to throw Barcelona into the mix, our holidays are available from March onwards, when temperatures can be as high as 15C, but tourist numbers haven’t hit the millions yet. Tours such as our Coastal trails of Catalonia or Costa Brava walking holidays aren’t available in July and August, not only to avoid the crowds, but also to ensure you don’t sizzle while you saunter. And for winter sun, when most cruise ships don’t bother Barcelona, our Walking the coast and mountains of Costa Brava tour runs as early as January and February. 

Dubrovnik without the drama

Cruise ships come into Dubrovnik pretty much every month of the year now, although there are many more in summer months, as you can see from this clever cruise calendar. This also shows that, for some reason, February seems to be the only month when there isn’t a ship in town. The great thing about those cruise calendars, and the fact that we offer self-guided, flexible holidays, is that you can plan your trip to fall on a day when the cruisers aren’t a dominant force. However, we do have several Croatian holidays that include Dubrovnik as part of the itinerary in October, when ships have slowed down a little. These include cycling from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik and Walking the Dubrovnik coast and islands

A packed ferry to the Greek Islands. We take you to some of the quieter ones, and to trails off the beaten path.

The Tour du Mont Blanc can get tricky

The iconic Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), a long-distance trail that circumnavigates the great mountain can only really be trekked between June and September because you’re dealing with serious alpine terrain here. So there are parts where it can get busy, although you will always find peaceful moments on the trail, of course. The main issue with mass mountain tourism is getting a bed for the night, so you need to book well in advance. Read more in our blog on the TMB, but do also consider spreading your love of trekking to other similar greats, as listed in our blog on alternatives to the TMB

Crowds on the Camino de Santiago 

The Camino de Santiago can get busy, but it depends which route you choose, the Camino Frances being the most popular and populated, although May and September are quieter while still favourable in terms of weather. The same months apply to the Camino del Norte, which is the coastal camino, and not quite as busy as the French one. Our Camino Portugues tours are available as early as March, and their trails are much quieter then. And last but not least, the Camino Primitivo is one of the quietest of the caminos, and also available between March and November. We’ve given you much more detailed information in our blog, The best time to walk the Camino de Santiago. And we also offer some good alternative caminos to the traditional Camino de Santiago in this blog

Places without people

A French company that specialises in gathering data about the environmental impact of tourism, called Murmuration, states that 80% of travellers visit just 10% of the world’s tourism destinations. Like a murmuration of birds, people flock together and head to one place and then, when the wind changes, a movie comes out or an influencer makes their mark, they all change direction and fly somewhere else. 

Luckily, we are experts in sending people to some of the planet’s quietest spots and, although we appreciate that this is a fine line, given that we send people there at all, there is still a limit as to how many people we can actually book in. For example in exquisite, empty landscapes such as the Accursed Mountains in Albania, the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria or Rondane National Park in Norway, there are only a certain amount of mountain lodges or guesthouses, and when the beds are gone, the holidays are too. For more sparsely-populated destinations, check out our walking holidays along the Peaks of the Balkans Trail, the Via Dinarica in Kosovo, Ireland’s Beara Peninsula or some of the Greek Islands, such as Andros. 

Not another soul in sight for miles on the Peaks of the Balkans Trail in Kosovo.

We hope that this blog has given you some food for thought about overtourism, how none of us can stick our heads in the sand about it, but also given you some ways in which you can avoid contributing to it. Other blogs that help take you away from the madding crowds include Walking holidays to combine with city breaks, Hiking holidays with some of the best mountain walking, Our top lesser-known lake districts in Europe, and Our lesser-known national parks.