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Across Europe, concerns for Covid have been replaced by a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
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
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