Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past couple of years, you’ve probably heard of overtourism and seen angry locals protesting against tourists in their city. What is that all about?

What is overtourism?

Overtourism is a relatively new travel buzzword. While it hasn’t yet made its way into the Merriam-Webster, its meaning is easy to guess. Overtourism occurs in places where there are “too many” tourists. How many is too many?

Rome Spanish Steps (overtourism)

Below Rome’s Spanish Steps one late afternoon in April

If you’re in a city and notice that most of the people around you are tourists rather than locals, then the location is probably over-touristed. Having to wait in ridiculously long lines for every attraction you visit, or having to make your hotel bookings months in advance is another clue. Finding more souvenir and trinket shops than normal stores is a dead giveaway.

If you’re shrugging and thinking that this applies to most places you’ve visited, you need to keep reading my friend. You’re probably contributing to this overtourism problem!

I’ve just described the issue from the point of view of the visitors, but what about the locals? They’re the ones being priced out of their neighbourhoods and having to move away. They’re the ones who can’t find produce at their local markets anymore because the food has been replaced with overpriced snacks and trinkets for tourists.

If you’re interested to hear the perspective of locals and understand why they’ve been protesting against tourists, watch this short documentary entitled Crowded out: The Story of Overtourism.

What causes overtourism?

So what causes so many people to all congregate (some would say “invade”) the same destinations year after year? The way I see it there are many reasons.

  1. Some destinations have big advertising budgets while others have none. People see ads for the same places again and again.
  2. People tend to take the recommendations of friends and family and go to the same places they went. There are lots of blog posts about alternate destinations these days, but also lots of people who want easy and safe choices.
  3. Travellers with little time to plan and little holiday time choose destinations that are easy to access and travel around: close to an airport, with 5-star hotels, lots of other tourists like themselves, etc.
  4. Some places have become trendy after an event or movie featured them. Think Barcelona after the 1992 Olympics, or Iceland (that nobody ever used to talk about) after that 2010 volcano eruption that stranded travellers. The movie “The Beach” starring Leo DiCaprio made Maya Beach in Thailand so famous that it almost destroyed it. It’s now been closed indefinitely.
Street in downtown Reykjavic, Iceland (overtourism)

Street in downtown Reykjavic, Iceland. (This was 2016; it’s probably busier now.)

  1. Travel has become more accessible in recent years with more discount airlines and cheaper accommodation from social sharing platforms like AirBnB. The number of people who can afford to travel has also increased (boomers retiring, growing middle class in China and Russia, more people on Earth in general).
  2. Huge cruise ships disgorge thousands of people all at once in a destination (e.g. Venice).
  3. And yes, many bloggers and travel writers (whether sponsored or not) are still writing about and pushing those same over-touristy destinations!

What can you do about overtourism?

Simply put, make an effort to travel off the beaten path. You don’t have to go to the middle of nowhere either. You could visit a popular destination as a day-trip while staying in a less busy place nearby. Not only will you have a more authentic experience, you will probably pay less for your accommodation and food. Below are some ideas.

Alternatives to overtouristy destinations

Instead of staying in: Venice
Stay in: Verona

Riverside, Verona (Italy) (overtourism)

Riverside, Verona (Italy)

While Verona doesn’t have the canals of Venice, it has a medieval Old Town nestled inside a bend of the Adige River, a Roman amphitheatre (which stages modern performances), and is also known as the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

You’ll be experiencing a real Italian town occupied by locals, instead of the tourist shell that Venice has become. (Apparently most Venetians have moved out to the suburbs by now.)

You can travel from Verona to Venice in about 90 minutes by Regionale Veloce train (or even faster with the high speed Frecciabianca train).

Instead of staying in: Barcelona
Stay in: Costa Brava (Tamariu and Cadaqués are cute little towns by the sea)

North of Barcelona are several little coastal towns linked by a commuter train line. Accommodation is easier to find and better value for money than in the Catalan capital. Several of these towns also have their own attractions. For example in Cadaqués you will find the Casa Salvador Dalí where the painter lived and worked for most of his life. Tamariu has one of the best beaches on the Costa Brava.

Instead of staying in: Amsterdam
Stay in: Haarlem

Located to the west of Amsterdam and less than 20 minutes by train, Haarlem is a mid-size medieval city of cobblestone streets and gabled houses. It also offers watery views as it’s located on the banks of the Spaarne River and features some canals which you can visit by boat. Known for its museums, it is surrounded by a flower bulb growing region.

Here’s an article that talks about mass tourism in Amsterdam.

Instead of staying in: Phuket or Ko Phi Phi (Thailand)
Stay in: Krabi, or if you want to be right on the beach: Koh Lanta or lesser known Koh Mook.

View from lunch spot (Koh Mook)

View from lunch spot on Koh Mook

Thailand has dozens of islands and hundreds of beaches. Do a little research and check out this list for more ideas of untouristy Thai islands.

I’ll admit that I’ve never been to the beaches in Phuket. Just reading about how touristy they are turns me off. Ko Phi Phi used to be paradise in the 90s but not anymore. It’s not like Thailand is lacking in gorgeous and peaceful stretches of sand. Some of them can even be accessed from an airport within a few hours.

Be a trail blazer: try one of these little-visited destinations

But why stop there. The world is full of beautiful places with few visitors. You just have to be a trailblazer and look for them. If you really want to explore less touristy places, consider these for a start. They’re safe and affordable, perfect for the slightly adventurous solo traveller.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

A stunningly beautiful country of green mountains, turquoise rivers, vineyards and waterfalls, Bosnia and Herzegovina presents an intriguing mixture of Eastern and Western influences. The war has been over for 20+ year. Time to check it out while it’s still affordable.


Squeezed between Croatia, Austria, and Italy, this verdant little country combines features from all three but at a fraction of the price. The Julian Alps also provide an affordable alternative to skying in the Swiss Alps in winter.

Peaceful Lake Bohinj and Julian Alps, Slovenia (overtourism)

Peaceful Lake Bohinj and Julian Alps, Slovenia


This country is high on my bucket list right now. It’s come a long way since the days of Ceausescu and communism. Featuring medieval towns, bucolic countryside villages, and pristine forests, it’s of course better known for the castles of Transylvania!


A mixture of Chinese and Japanese cultures makes this foodie mecca a gentle introduction to Asia  without the tourist crowds. Taiwan is considered a first-world nation, but be prepared for little English being spoken outside of Taipei.


The gracious and reserved Lao people, orange-robed monks, and ornate Buddhist temples of underrated Laos are reminiscent of Thailand, but without the crowds and scams. Laos offers a distinctive cuisine and some peace and quiet, especially in the UNESCO town of Luang Prabang.

Central Mexico

Colonial towns of the highlands such as Oaxaca or Guanajuato offer more authenticity than the Caribbean coast (with its resorts and theme parks). Mexico City is also reinventing itself as a cultured capital with an exploding food scene.


Wedged between Brazil and Argentina, tiny Uruguay feels like Argentina culturally, but with a much more pastoral setting. Enjoy your wine and beef along sub-tropical beaches and on inland ranches. Don’t forget to check out sophisticated Montevideo or cute-as-a-button Colonia del Sacramento.

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay (overtourism)

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

This is just a small sample of possibilities. I listed those destinations because (with the exception of Romania) I’ve visited them personally and can recommend them as interesting and safe places for solo travellers.

Want more tips on how to avoid overtourism?

Read this post I wrote about ways to find secret places.

And here’s Lonely Planet’s take on the off-the-touristed-path concept, which echoes my own. I also like that they have Toronto on their list! We tend to forget that our own backyard can be a great destination for somebody else.

Actually, if you live in an interesting place that doesn’t see too many tourists, why not comment below and tell other readers why they should visit your home town. Or tell us about a beautiful untouristy place you’ve been too!

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