DestinationsTourists are overwhelming European sites like St Mark’s Square, forcing some destinations to implement restrictions.

Europe is packed like sardines

Overtourism is a major issue in Venice.
Overtourism is a major issue in Venice. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/Jaroslav Moravcik

On a fiercely hot Sunday morning, hundreds of tourists are queuing to enter the World Heritage site of Jerónimos Monastery in Belém, a district of Lisbon.

The queue is some 40 metres long and moving slowly, giving time for a man selling bottles of cold water to enjoy brisk business.

Portugal is this year’s must-see destination and at one of the country’s most visited attractions, the 19th century fairy-tale Pena Palace in Sintra, visitors are regulated by time slots.

In Galicia, north-west Spain, the main square of Santiago de Compostela is populated by pilgrims, recognisable by their heavy boots, backpacks and walking poles.

These are the pilgrims who have walked the Way of St James, a network of pilgrims' ways leading to the shrine of the apostle James in Santiago de Compostela’s stunning cathedral.

Space at tables in cafes around the main square is at a premium, filled by tourists who come to watch the pilgrims, who have become part of the city’s attraction.

Alarmed, Santiago de Compostela is planning to launch a tourist tax as a way to combat over-tourism and ease fears by authorities that the city is turning into a theme park.

Across Europe, concerns for Covid have been replaced by a travel-at-all-costs mentality that has seen travellers shrug off higher airfares and rising hotel rates, so much so that tourists are putting destinations – big and small - under ever-growing stress.

In Austria, locals in the small lakeside town of Hallstatt, another World Heritage site, are protesting mass tourism, which sees as many as 10,000 visitors a day during high season.

Hallstatt’s popularity was enhanced when it featured in a South Korean romantic drama with a replica of the town later being built in China.

Elsewhere, Dubrovnik, which has had a love-hate relationship with cruise ship visitors, is launching a series of measures aimed at curbing the impact of thousands of tourists cramming the city centre. Among the measures is the introduction of a luggage drop-off system to reduce the noise of wheeled suitcases on the city’s cobbled streets.

In Holland, Amsterdam is banning cruise ships from docking in the city centre and is cracking down on bad behaviour by young tourists. One measure is a €140 (US$152) fine for “peeing in canals”. The Dutch capital is home to about 800,000 people but attracts 20 million tourists a year,

In Rome, city authorities are restricting access to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps and have begun to charge entry fees to visit the Pantheon, while Greece has implemented a time-slot system for visitors to the Acropolis.

Venice was one of the first cities in Europe to place restrictions on tourists and now another Italian city, Florence, is banning short-term private vacation rentals.

Meanwhile, global airlines that suffered badly during Covid are keen to recoup their huge losses – and they’ll do that by continuing to pack their planes with tourists and wave them off to all parts of Europe.

For a while, at least, Europe’s most popular destinations will have to grin and bear the crowds and count the economic benefits of mass tourism.

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