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Overtourism Part 2: A How-to for Popular Cities

Barcelona Museums Paris Rome Untours Foundation Venice

November 25, 2019 by Andrea Szyper

In our first in a series on overtourism, we talked about finding alternatives to very popular cities, like seeing Holland from a base in Leiden rather than Amsterdam. You can read more about that here.

We still find ourselves in popular tourist cities though, and you will too. After all, we all want to see Paris or Rome for some very specific reasons, and we should. That’s why we offer UnTours in those cities, along with Barcelona, Venice, and London.

In big cities, we look for residential neighborhoods that are central and where housing shortages are not an issue. We want Untourists to have authentic experiences but not to displace locals or reinforce the twin trends of investment property ownership and rising rents.

We also encourage guests to respect local norms and spend money in the community. This can mean patronizing a local cafe or bar regularly. It also means choosing locally owned and independent shops and restaurants over chains.

Here are some tips on how to navigate in popular cities in Europe and not add to (or suffer from) the burden of the tourist masses.


General tips

Spend a week or more in one place. Become a regular at a local cafe or neighborhood restaurant. Shop in the neighborhood. Talk to the merchants and be respectful of norms, like keeping your voice down and greet shopkeepers upon entering and exiting.

Get up early and stay up late to avoid the daytrippers. This works especially well in the most famous and popular landmarks. And evening stroll past floodlit monuments can be magical.

Make the most of rainy days and head to the main outdoor attractions then. Pack a raincoat and be ready to go. The rain may provide you uniquely unfettered access to popular public space by scaring others away.

Explore the outskirts of town, or the newer sections of the city, where more local people live. Find at least one excursion or site that will take you out of the city’s historic core.

Read up on the destinations before you go. But don’t stop at the guide books. Read current news articles about the issues everyday people in Rome or London are dealing with. Understand the impact of tourism, globalism, and economics in the places you visit.

Go off season, and realize that that may not be when you think it is. Some cities clear of locals in summer, making them less crowded and easier to navigate but a little less distinct. In Southern Europe, May and September are high season. Consider early spring, late fall, and even winter!

City advice

Venice overtourism


The cruise ships can overwhelm the city, disgorging unholy crowds onto the fondamenta beyond Piazza San Marco. Social activist and street artist Banksy recently set up his own silent protest about this phenomenon as a side show to the Venice Biennale art exhibition. Take a look.

Locals get angry about the cruise ships primarily because the crowds clog up narrow streets in the most high traffic areas and often spend little to no money in the city, returning to the ship to eat. They are the most disliked of the day-trippers. Learn from their mistakes, and give Venice the time and money the city deserves. You’ll eat well in a local trattoria.

Offbeat and local:
La Giudecca Island, Isola San Michele (the cemetery island), Torcello Island, the Arsenale neighborhood and Biennale grounds, Mestre on the mainland, a day trip to the fishing village of Chioggia, the Lido off season

Barcelona overtourism


Las Ramblas is the epicenter of tourism, a magnet for pickpockets, and crowded at all hours. You’ll want to move beyond this, and can find lots of interesting and colorful alternatives to the very popular Boqueria Market. The picturesque Gothic Quarter can get cramped too, and petty thievery is a problem there that galls locals.

Barcelonians have spoken up to preserve quality of life in their city and debate the merits of its tourist economy openly. Be respectful of this in your travels, and try to understand their perspective. Also, take an interest in the distinctive Catalan culture.

Offbeat and local:
Fundació Suñol art museum, the views from Torre Baró, the Tamarita Gardens, Sant Andreu market (or any market besides La Boqueria), Llevant Beach, a walk in Collserola Natural Park, explore local street art

Paris overtourism


Paris is one of the world’s most romanticized cities, but street protests and the fire at Notre Dame have brought the city into our consciousness in a new way. This capital city has its strikes, traffic, security issues, and a tourist grind like any other beautiful capital city.

Enjoy exploring its markets and some of its smaller museums, bakeries, cafes, and boutiques. Locals might tell you to skip the tourist boat cruises and the Eiffel Tower, but we’ll leave that up to you. You can stand at the bar with your coffee and ask them what they suggest instead.

Offbeat and local:
Pyrénées Market, the St. Martin neighborhood, shopping at Marchés aux Puces, Parc Monceau, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, the Coulée verte René-Dumont (AKA the Promenade Plantée) – Paris’ Highline, brunch in the Marais, a trip to Parc de Sceaux

London overtourism


London is vast and populous, but the bulk of its visitors collect around key entertainment districts and at particular sites and museums, leaving its outer neighborhoods and residential quarters to the locals. Every Londoner has his or her own favorite neighborhood pub and picnic spot in the park; find your own!

And while you’re at it, please avoid the Tube during rush hour, so those Londoners can get to work and back. Enjoy the boats along the Thames, walk when you can, and remember to cross at the “zebra crossings” and to look for traffic on the left.

Offbeat and local:
Spitalfields Market, the Shoreditch neighborhood and Brick Lane, Sir John Soane’s Museum, Leadenhall Market, the Bermondsey breweries, Canary Wharf, Bishops Park, the Clapham neighborhood, Columbia Road flower market

Rome overtourism


On a busy summer day in the heart of the Centro Storico (the pedestrian-zoned ancient center of historic Rome), you can feel overwhelmed by tourists. And the sidewalks leading up to St. Peter’s may feel so crammed with people and souvenir stands that you lose your faith on your way to church.

Get out early and stay up late. St. Peter’s is yours if you get there before 8 am. Take advantage of evening hours at the Vatican Museum, and target some of the city’s smaller museums and galleries. Wander the centro storico at night, and enjoy its less crowded cobbled streets under the warm glow of street lights. Explore some of the city’s outer neighborhoods.

Offbeat and local:
San Paolo Fuori le Murre, the Testaccio and Ostiense neighborhoods, the ruins at Ostia Antica, Porta Portese Market, the EUR district, shopping on Via Cola di Rienzo in the Prati district, Janiculum Hill, the MAXXI and other contemporary art museums

A final tip for any and all of these destinations: Stay longer. If you stay an entire week or two, you can explore all a city has to offer, target the more popular spots at off hours, and sink into the local rhythms. That understanding is at the heart of our UnTours and allows the true and respectful discovery of place our founder envisioned.

Wishing you happy, thoughtful, and meaningful travels! Let us know about your experiences in these and other popular cities.