An Inconvenient Travel Truth – An Overcrowded Summer in Europe
Dateline—Almost anywhere in Europe, summer 2023.
Travel writers hesitate to write “anti-travel” articles. But after witnessing the 2023 travel surge, it may be time to rethink. We fully acknowledge that witnessing the surge meant we were part of the surge. But the crowds we encountered in the United Kingdom and France made visiting some locations nearly impossible.
Versailles in mid-September teemed with tourists, waiting several hundred deep in timed admission lines to enter the famous palace. The experience was so unenjoyable, we actually abandoned our tickets and walked the grounds instead of facing the crowds inside.
Monet’s wonderful gardens at Giverny were much the same, with ticket lines stretching through the tiny town. Our choice? Come back late in the day, walk through the village, and enjoy dinner under the trees at a local restaurant.
We encountered more of the same hyper-crowding in France’s Loire Valley. The iconic Chenonceau chateau was cheek-to-jowl with tourists during a midweek September visit. Like Versailles, Chenonceau employs a timed ticketing system, but the numbers admitted in each time slot were ridiculously large. The chateau’s renovated gardens were a welcome respite, but the crowds inside made it impossible to enjoy.
Across the Channel in London, the crowds continued. A simple changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace in October 2023 attracted unusually large numbers of tourists. The Palace was nearly as crowded as during last year’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. Although we moved on to less busy parts of London, we continued to be amazed at the volume of overseas visitors throughout the city.
Eventually, we escaped London and wandered through southern England. Road traffic was frustrating at times, but rural garden spots like Sissinghurst Castle and Ightham Mote remained calm and beautiful retreats. The area is full of castles, National Trust great houses, and magnificent gardens. These are spread across the counties of Kent, Surrey, East and West Sussex, and Berkshire. There is limited public transportation, so renting a car is the best way to leisurely explore this region.
Is there an end in sight for over-tourism? Already, there are industry rumors of an impending “travel recession.” And it is hard to conceive that the post-Covid travel surge will continue indefinitely. Renewed warfare in the Middle East could dampen travel demand, even outside the direct conflict zone. But will it take recession or warfare to stem the “post-Covid” travel tide?
Traditionally, September and October have been less crowded times to tour Europe. But 2023 dispelled this norm. Visitors from North America, Asia, and other world regions descended upon popular destinations. Alternatives? Although we usually recommend traveling in the spring and fall shoulder seasons, that may not work anymore. Perhaps January in Paris or February in London will be the new shoulders. Cold shoulders, to be sure, but certainly less crowded.