And, I’m travelling to Amsterdam this summer, one of many international cities suffering the effects of mass tourism. I’m conflicted.

It’s beautiful city with art and museums I would like to visit, and my travel partner is attending a four-day Urban Sketching Symposium there at the end of July. Perfect reason to go, right?

"Tourism Kills the City" sticker on a Barcelona street sign.
Locals in cities like Barcelona are fed up with mass flocks of tourists in their city and have become vocal and organized about pushing back. Photo Credit: Jamie Jover, CC License

On the other hand, I’m not interested in the crowds or contributing to the negative impacts of over tourism in a city that is working hard to mitigate these effects of steadily rising visitor numbers – 18 million visitors poured into the city in 2018.

This article from CNN Travel about Amsterdam’s over tourism problems arrived in my inbox last week and I have to say I completely support the efforts of the country’s tourism board.

So, how will I visit Amsterdam and reduce my impact on the city?

Normally I would not choose to go to a place like Amsterdam during high season, but because of the event my travel partner is attending, we are tied to a late July/early August itinerary. Short of not going, here are a few things I can do:

  1. I plan to stay a full week. I’m going to settle in for a week and take a slow travel pace. By staying longer in one place, I have time to travel farther afield to see some sites and can be strategic about visiting the super busy hotspots such as the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. With only two or three days in a city, visitors are limited to a high level, cursory taste of the city and tend to stick to the main tourist spots – I’m interested in casting a wider net.
  2. I won’t be going to Dam Square or the Red Light District. For one, these sites are too damn crowded! Also, the Red Light District has been a place of seriously bad behaviour on the part of tourists. In April 2019, the City of Amsterdam and the tourism department announced that tours of the infamous Red Light District will be banned starting January 2020, which I happen to agree with.
  3. I plan to visit neighbourhoods outside of the city core. Amsterdam is a great city for wandering so I plan to hop on a tram to a neighbourhood outside of the canal belt (old city) and explore what daily life looks like outside of the tourist sites.
  4. I eat my meals at smaller restaurants outside the historic city centre. If you’re going to wait two hours for a meal at a small restaurant in the busy canal belt, why not use that time to head a little farther afield for an equally delicious meal, without the long lines.
  5. I plan to travel to smaller destinations within The Netherlands. Once my travel partner has finished his Urban Sketching Symposium in Amsterdam, we are heading out of the city for a 9 day driving trip to less frequented locations.

Destinations such as Venice, Barcelona, Florence, Dubrovnik and Santorini have been suffering the effects of mass tourism for decades. Locals have been sounding the alarm, pointing out that over tourism has led to the destruction of the very places visitors have come to see.

Amsterdam is taking a no-nonsense approach to dialling back the negative effects of our wanderlust and passion for their city and I applaud them for it. I can even support it, whole-heartedly.


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