/ Travel & Leisure

Over-tourism: are you fed up with crowded destinations?

Crowds and cities are often inseparable, but have some holiday destinations become just too crowded?

When you finally arrive at the destination you’ve long dreamed of, there’s nothing worse than finding everyone else is already there.

Budget flights and budget Airbnbs have made it cheaper than ever to see the most popular places in the world – but some cities now seem overwhelmed with visitors.

Just look at the crowded streets and squares of Venice and Florence in the high season, and it’s clear that some destinations have reached peak tourist capacity.

And it’s a trend that’s showed in our recent best world cities survey of our readers – not one city that received one star for crowds appeared in the top 10 of our list.

Crowd complaints

Popular destinations, such as Hong Kong, Beijing and Las Vegas, all received a damning one star rating for their crowds.

Instead, our readers are heading to quieter places that attract fewer visitors, such as Boston, Perth and Vancouver.

We don’t blame them, either: huge crowds mean longer queues, higher prices and ultimately a worse time on holiday.

So where should you head for all the benefits of a city break while beating the crowds? Five cities in our top 10 – Boston, Chicago, Vancouver, Perth and Melbourne – all received four stars for lack of crowds.

While Kyoto, Cape Town, Washington and Sydney (also in the top ten) received a respectable three stars.

Go off-season

Of course there are very good reasons why you would want to ride the Star Ferry in Hong Kong, see the Forbidden City in Beijing or stroll the casinos along the Strip in Las Vegas.

But if you are planning a trip to some of the world’s most visited destinations, consider going out of high season when it might be quieter.

Have you been put off a destination by crowds? Or can’t you get enough of the hustle and bustle of the street? Should restrictions be put in control the number of tourists in already crowded cities – like those in place to restrict cruise ships in Venice?

Let us and the rest of the Which? Travel team know your thoughts.


“Every crowd has a silver lining.” 🙂
(P. T. Barnum)

I fear I will never make it to Venice. Does the mythology of places ever match the reality anyway? I will never go to Rome either.

For us, anyway, Rome certainly did. But then we were more than happy simply to wander through the forums – both of them – and let our imaginations run riot. Spent an afternoon simply gazing at the detail in the Michaelangelo statuary that you encounter when rounding a corner, and an entire day in the larger forum. Of course, even in the off season it’s plagued by pickpockets and Ethiopian street urchins, but somehow I doubt it was much different 2000 years ago.

Venice in summer is somewhat smelly. And packed. And smelly – did I mention that?

You do not go because it is an effort. You like your home comforts and they sway you. I went to Venice aged 61 and worrying a little about my arthritis and the hole in my pelvis. Venice is a moment in history that freeze framed and yes the tourist ships are too big with passengers fed on board and not overly keen to part with their money to keep the city afloat, and every other tourist wants ANOTHER selfie .When ever you go there will be that strange and sometimes uncomfortable feeling that many people go to Venice for a selfie and little else. I went, by choice, in misty February and off the main thoroughfares I found myself in empty avenues with above me gargoyles and angels I gazed and heard the odd echo of a footfall and I was slipping in and out of history in a spine tingling way. The museums helped during the day and the moon and shadows at night The museums are many, one on every corner it felt like, all of which were uplifting; quality, class, knowledge; I went to a museum of perfume and was mesmerised. I went to another, four floors of fascination and was exhausted, I had to steal a guard’s chair and sit panting for ten minutes. If I had been more mobile, and I walked every day to something new I may have found the cheaper but quality restaurants on the outer rim or in some of the less visited, worker based, areas. I paid for a fish in one restaurant near to the main canal and asked if I had just bought shares in a fishing fleet. No I just thought it. What I know is I came home and read a number of books; history, factual, fiction and realised I had missed so much and (in reading still learning) I would go again.

Yes it was crowded (in parts, but not throughout) and a bit smelly, but less so than Barcelona – it was more reminiscent of the Dudley canal… My other half took me there for a surprise 70th birthday present last July – amid some trepidation because it was in the middle of the UK heatwave. But it wasn’t significantly hotter during the day – just more so at night – and the cicadas were deafening. We stayed in a rambling old hotel on Jet2’s list that was quiet – but not one to go to for the view from the room! Just don’t go to any restaurant near the Rialto bridge – one guide told us they’re all run by the Mafia and charge extortionate prices. The ‘vaporettos’ (water buses) were a good way of getting around and quite cheap with day tickets. You have to walk everywhere else – even bikes are banned – but given the number of bridges (about 400) and narrowness of streets, that’s sensible. The locals were great – and united about cruise ships judging by some of the posters. These monsters tower over the beautiful Renaissance buildings and don’t help the local economy – they’re also totally unmanoeuvrable in the narrow lagoon, so have to be towed by tugs. Ban them!

Montevideo is not too busy but we did not feel terribly safe there and found it difficult to trust the ‘tourist police’. Buenos Aires was much more pleasant, relaxing and enjoyable but Rio de Janeiro was intense, intimidating and worrying on many levels.

For sheer uncomfortable pressure I think Capri and Dubrovnik are possibly the worst in Europe and over the last decade both have become unbearable.

I would recommend some of the Scandinavian and northern European cities but of course the climate might not be so appealing.

It is a shame that tourism, and the exploitation of tourists, have ruined what people are seeking in a cultural holiday.

John, if you didn’t like Rio, then you probably stayed in the wrong area. Most tourists flock unwisely to Zona Sul (e.g. Copacabana and Ipanema), where there are plenty of criminals waiting to prey on tourists, especially on the beaches.

Instead stay in Barra da Tijuca in the west of Rio, not far from the Olympic Park, not least as there are no favelas and very few tourists whom criminals attract. Although it’s mostly a residential area for wealthy locals, there are several hotels along the beach front from major international chains. The beach in Barra da Tijuca is much better than the more famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, and they have genuine Brazilian beach culture undiluted by lots of tourists.

Thank you, NFH. We soon realised our party was in the wrong place, but we tried to make the best of it. The extremely high temperature and humidity in February made life very uncomfortable. On our ride to the airport we did pass some favelas and the experience was interesting to say the least.

Most people know that where sun, sandy beach and fun coincides in the high season that place will be where they want to be. Those sight seeing have to choose the time of year more carefully depending on what’s happening.and the pricing. As one gets older nowhere is like it used to be but for me Paris takes some beating anytime and here in GB too.

Delhi was probably the most crowded place I’ve ever visited. It was so busy it made London seem almost tranquil by comparison. Was certainly an experience – but glad to get out to the countryside afterwards.

Friends of mine went to Venice in January last year and were rewarded with sunny crisp weather and no crowds at all. Another went in February to the Venice Carnival – crowds for sure, but not the usual sight-seeing tourists, and part of the carnival atrmosphere.
I went to Paris in May 2 years ago and it didn’t seem any more crowded than any earlier visits – even from way back in 1968!
Japan is worth visiting in the Autumn – the rich autumn colours rival the more popular cherry blossom time.
It’s also worth considering other destinations that many people are either less familar with or newly cautious about going to (despite being considered reasonably safe by the FCO) e.g. I was in Petra, Jordan in 2015 and it had half the amount of visitors as it usually did as tourists were put off by its proximity to Syria. The Republic of Georgia and Ethiopia are both now firmly on the tourist map but its cities, towns & countryside still free of large crowds of international tourists.

I have loved Paris at any time of year, including au mois d’août when Parisians traditionally leave the city to escape from the heat. Last time we were there we walked for miles along the banks of the Seine in the roasting sunshine and it was glorious. No crowds there. (The Musée d’Orsay on the other hand…). Budapest in September was lovely, London in June was just fab, other cities (long list) in September were fine. Hey, maybe you’ve persuaded me to try Venice in January after all!