Off the beaten track: Where to go in Europe to avoid the tourist traps

If you want to dodge the hordes of tourists in Amsterdam, head to nearby Leiden instead.
If you want to dodge the hordes of tourists in Amsterdam, head to nearby Leiden instead.   -  Copyright  Canva
By Charlotte Elton

Want to avoid crowds and rowdy visitors? Swap Europe’s tourism hotspots for these six destinations, from Leiden to Slovenia.

Europe’s holiday hotspots are fed up with overcrowding.

From Amsterdam to Venice, many of the continent’s most popular travel destinations are urging some tourists to stay away or imposing restrictions on those who do visit.

Northern Italy’s Trentino Alto Adige region is the latest place to levy new rules. Earlier this week, Minister for Tourism Arnold Schuler said that the region - home to the famous Dolomites - had “reached its limit” for how many visitors it can handle.

Overcrowding can turn a paradise into hell. But don’t fret - there are plenty of other options to avoid the crowds and contributing to the overtourism problem.

Read on for some of the best alternatives to Europe’s most popular destinations.

For buzzing nightlife and cafes: Swap Amsterdam for Leiden

Amsterdam is sick of “nuisance tourists.” Last year, it launched a “discouragement campaign” to keep badly behaved visitors away.

If you want to dodge the hordes of tourists, head to nearby Leiden instead. The small city boasts winding waterways, charming townhouses, and beautiful pubs - without the millions of visitors that have frustrated Amsterdam locals. Cycle the tree-lined streets, explore its 28km of canals (crisscrossed by 88 bridges), or enjoy a beer in a local pub.

Leiden is renowned for its university, the oldest in the Netherlands, and the student culture keeps the bars and cafes full. Plus, if you fancy a trip to the big city, it has frequent direct trains to Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

Try Slovenia instead of Northern Italy for picturesque mountains

A breathtaking view of the Julian Alps in Slovenia.Canva

In 2022, a whopping 34 million tourists visited the small Trentino Alto Adige region in Northern Italy. This week, authorities announced that they were capping access to Lake Braiseswill, one of the region’s most popular sites.

But why not skip the crowds and visit the nearby Julian Alps instead? This soaring mountain range stretches into Slovenia and boasts some of the most picturesque scenery in Europe, from crystal clear Lake Bohinj to snow-capped peaks. In the Triglav National Park, you can camp. Popular sites include Kamp Danica, Kamp Korita, and Kamp Jezero. If a wild stay isn’t your thing, there are also plenty of luxurious hotels in the region.

Further south - out of the mountains - you can visit the Krokar virgin forest, a 75-hectare beech copse that survived the ice age. The UNESCO Heritage site is one of the last places in Europe where bears, wolves, and lynx roam in the wild.

Skip Amalfi coast road rage for the Calabrian Dolce Vita

Italy's Violet Coast offers some more secluded bathing opportunities.Canva

Italy’s Amalfi Coast is known for its turquoise seas and candy-coloured villas - but also for the groups of tourists who crowd its narrow and winding roads.

The ‘Violet Coast’, stretching from Palmi to Bagnara at the bottom end of the Italian mainland, offers a less crowded taste of Le Dolce Vita. It is named for the spectacular colour reflected by the water at certain times of the day.

One road hugs the coast, passing by the living volcano of Stromboli. The Riviera dei Cedri, Costa Degli Dei and the Costa Viola face the shimmering Tyrrhenian Sea and have plenty of swimming spots to explore.

Palmi’s mountains and pine forests offer visitors fresh air with ancient walking routes that wind through the incredible landscape. And, if you are a diving enthusiast, there is a famous diving centre from which you can explore the watery depths of the Violet Coast.

For delicious tapas without the crowds, try San Sebastian over Barcelona

The Catalan capital offers buzzing nightlife, incredible architecture, and delicious food. But with close to 32 million visitors per year, some locals are fed up with throngs of tourists and the plethora of holiday rentals. The city has capped the size of tour groups and banned the use of megaphones by guides.

For a taste of something different, try San Sebastian in the Basque country. This town is famous for its pintxo tapas, served in the traditional bars of the old town.

Sample some of the local dishes at one of the city’s restaurants that collectively hold 18 Michelin stars. Basque cuisine is based on ingredients sourced from the Cantabrian Sea and local farms and gardens meaning there’s lots of variety on offer.

Swap packed Spanish beaches for Eastern Europe’s hidden treasures

Dhërmi is one of Albania’s most popular beaches - but still a far cry from the packed sands of Lanzarote.Canva

Several Spanish islands have recently expressed frustration with an influx of British tourists. The Spanish island of Lanzarote has declared itself a “tourist-saturated area”, while Mallorca plans to set a cap of 430,000 tourist beds across the island.

But there are plenty of options for the sun-starved traveller that aren’t found in Spain.

Albania has 450km of stunning coastline, much of it largely untouristed. The Albanian Riviera runs from Vlorë to Ksamil, where you can find turquoise waters and three small islands within swimming distance.

The coast is dotted with pine forests and golden sands. And, if you’re looking for something a bit more lively, visit Dhërmi - one of Albania’s longest and most popular beaches.

Art lovers should head to Genoa instead of Venice

The beautiful city of canals struggles with severe overcrowding. Venice’s winding waterways are often clogged with tourist gondolas, while the rocketing price of rentals is driving the last remaining locals out. Authorities are trialling various restrictions to bring the problem under control, but millions of people still visit every year.

For something different, try Genoa in North West Italy. The port city doesn’t have canals but has the same narrow medieval alleyways.

Like Venice, culture vultures will be spoilt for choice. The small city is packed with museums, many of which can be found in ancient buildings that are just as beautiful as the masterpieces they house.

Visit the Strada Nuova Museums, made up of three neighbouring palazzos, and admire the works of the Genoese masters at Palazzo Spinola.

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