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These European Cities Are Too Popular—Go Here Instead

Posted by Emily Cummings on 5/16/18 1:56 PM

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Some of the favorite vacation spots our ILP volunteers love to visit made this list of “places to avoid in 2018”. Good thing we found new spots for you to explore. 

CNN’s published an article packed full of tips for travelers who want to avoid being one of the thousands of tourists who flood these popular cities … some of which are favorite vacation spots to visit for those who spend a semester volunteering in Europe. With so many countries to see in Europe it’s not surprising that a few cities are a more popular than others, but does that ruin it for the rest of us? 

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Chances are at least one of these cities is on your “to-visit” list — and for good reason! These places are gorgeous and exciting but less so when you’re part of the swarming crowd trying to get that perfect Instagram shot. 

For anyone living in Europe (looking at you, ILP volunteers!) here’s a few from the list … and suggestions on where you can visit instead.

Instead of Amsterdam ...

You've probably already got your trip to Amsterdam planned (because who doesn't have Amsterdam at the top of their list!), but just hear us out for a second. We love this city ... and so does nearly 20 million other tourists each year. Yikes! And that number is expected to more than double in the next 10 years. In late 2018, NPR did an article titled "Even The Tourists Say There Are Too Many Tourists".  

With pressure from locals who are tired of being overrun by rude tourists, the Netherlands are now officially in tourism management mode ... and despite the large payout that tourism does bring, they are no longer marketing for travel to Amsterdam.

The good news is that Amsterdam isn't the only travel worthy city in the area. Close by you'll find some hidden gems, so go find them before everyone else does! Haarlem is one of our favorites and it's only a 20 minute ride away! Here's a few more suggestions though of cities in the Netherlands that you shouldn't be skipping.

Instead of Prague ...

There is something really alluring about Prague. It has towering castles, a famous bridge to get some pretty stunning views and it's no secret that the food there is so delicious. I'm talking red rooftop views galore and so. many. tourists. Really, if you go to Prague, plan on staying up late or waking up extremely early to avoid all the swarms that flood this iconic city. I mean, my guide to Prague outlines the whole thing. 

Instead, visit the quieter town of Cesky Krumlov. You can still get those beautiful red rooftops ... and I think it's even prettier than Prague. 

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Instead of Barcelona ...

Don’t get us wrong — we love Barcelona. Stunning architecture, those sunny beaches and palm-tree lined streets filled with vendors selling churros dipped in chocolate?  Yes, please.  Turns out, everyone else loves Barcelona, too which means crowded streets and touristy gimmicks. And you really only need one full day to see Barcelona, in my opinion.

If you want to avoid the trend and the crowds, opt to visit the dreamy city of Valencia instead. You’ll get the same dose of culture, art museums, beaches food and sunshines without the swelling crowds. 

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Instead of Dubrovnik ...

This charming city used to be quite the hidden gem, but people have definitely caught onto the glittering coastlines and red rooftops of Croatia (though we still love seeing Dubrovnik). If you still have your heart set on seeing this city specifically, CNN recommends traveling independently (like with your ILP group!) instead of with a huge tour or cruise line. You can also go during the off season (which means avoiding the summer, especially July and August), or plan on spending a little time in Dubrovnik, then heading out to some nearby islands. 

You can also get the same charm in nearby Cavtat if you’d rather skip out on the touristy town of Dubrovnik. 

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Instead of Venice ...

Sorry to crush your dreams, but you’ll be one of the 30 million people who visit this iconic Italian city (that’s a lot of tourists to compete with!) … but it can be hard to pass up a visit to Venice completely. If you want to get more out of this city, avoid the hordes by wandering in the lesser known alleys. Spending more time here can help you uncover the real Venice.  

You can also visit Annecy in France if you still want dreamy canals and truly quaint water towns without the hype of Venice (just look at that picture!). We have a guide to Annecy filled with more dreamy photos and top tips for planning your vacation there. 

Instead of Santorini ...

We won’t hide it;  we love Greece! But this tiny island is a major stop for cruise liners and tourists who pour into the streets making them less peaceful and charming. If you still would love to visit, stay for a few days so you can really appreciate the pace of local life and wander through less crowded areas. 

Or even think about vacationing on a lesser known island, like Crete, Naxos or Patmos … or the very quiet island of Anafi. All these boast incredible food, pretty beaches, miles of coastline perfect for that sunset shot and the Greek architecture you’re looking for, all while skipping out on Santorini’s crowds. 

semester abroad in Europe

Instead of Cinque Terre ...

Another ILP Europe favorite is Cinque Terre (we adore the honey gelato) but we get it; crowds make it less charming. Luckily, this city is still worth seeing especially in the off season (good news for those volunteering in the fall and spring semesters!).

You can also put in the effort to see the nearly-untouched city of Porto Venere, tucked in the north on the Ligurian coast. Like Cinque Terre, you’ll love the colorful buildings stacked along the coast, streets pouring with bougainvillea, amazing sunsets (and gelato) along with pretty beaches. 

One More Thing

It’s not that these cities aren’t worth seeing, it’s just that they’ve become quite the popular tourist attraction which has its downfalls.

One way to still see these cities (they are pretty famous and popular for good reason!) is to travel in the off season. You’ll see less people and better prices on things like excursions and AirBnB’s. You can also do your part to support the local communities by staying at homestays and eating at local cafes and shopping locally instead of at all the touristy shops. 

Or you can also explore lesser known cities! As an ILP volunteer (International Language Programs) you’ll be living in Europe for a semester with every weekend off plus vacation days to really experience this part of the world. And you can pack in tons of countries if you want —  here's how one volunteer spent their vacation time in Europe.

Florence  with ILP

Totally ready to spend time in Europe? 

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Topics: All The Travel Tips, Europe


We are ILP, a Utah based non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We're sharing all our tips for making the most of your time traveling and living abroad.

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