These days, I’ve noticed that Americans have become very “follow the crowd” in their travels. Our appetite for bucket-list, crowdsourced, Instagrammable travels is funneling countless tourists into the same few places. Consequently, popular cities are feeling crushed by mass tourism, and popular sights are congested to the point where many find them not only less enjoyable… but actually dangerous.
Citizens of over-touristed cities like Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Venice are getting grumpy about mass tourism. And “must-see” sights like the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, the Gaudí buildings in Barcelona, and Michelangelo’s David in Florence come with discouraging lines.
What to do? The “bad tourism” that residents of overcrowded cities complain about is mostly a result of blitz travelers — those who day-trip in (from cruise ships and in big buses), congesting streets and squares and leaving more litter than money. I find that travelers who stick around to have dinner and spend the night are still appreciated by locals (and valued as part of the economy).
As for the overwhelmed sights: Whenever possible, make a reservation in advance online. Then you won’t be frustrated with crazy lines at ticket offices that close for the day as soon as they sell out. I was just at the church in Milan that holds Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. It would be a chaotic mob, if not for their very smart program of reservations: Only 25 people are allowed inside every 15 minutes. When I arrived, there was total peace and sanity, as about 800 people a day come in at a steady and organized pace. The trick: Book in advance. Be thankful when that is required!
Another tip: Realize for every Anne Frank House, there’s usually a Dutch Resistance Museum a few blocks away — less trendy, never crowded, and often actually offering a richer travel experience. Remember, ninety percent of Europe has no crowd problems.
Finally, we tourists can be a little more considerate in the way we travel. Here’s a video created by an organization in Venice that offers a good reminder for people traveling anywhere to be more thoughtful guests. In fact, that’s a great practical tip: If you want to be warmly welcomed, be deserving of a warm welcome.