Entrance fees, visitor zones and taxes: how Europe’s biggest cities are tackling overtourism

<span>St Mark’s Square in Venice, which is the first Italian city to charge an entrance fee for day trippers. The scheme will start on 25 April.</span><span>Photograph: Radoslaw Kisiel/Alamy</span>
St Mark’s Square in Venice, which is the first Italian city to charge an entrance fee for day trippers. The scheme will start on 25 April.Photograph: Radoslaw Kisiel/Alamy

Originally built for the grand Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, Seville’s ­flamboyant neo-Moorish Plaza de España has for nearly a ­century been one of the city’s major ­attractions, an ornate ­showcase for Spanish architecture and ­decorative tiling.

But the several thousand visitors from around the world who throng the plaza every day, on foot or in horse-drawn carriages, may soon have to pay for the privilege, with proceeds from a planned entry fee going towards its upkeep.

“We are planning to close the Plaza de España and charge ­tourists to finance its conservation and ensure its safety,” Seville’s mayor, José Luis Sanz, announced on X last week, posting a video showing missing tiles and damaged facades.

Sanz made clear local ­residents and visitors from Andalucía ­province would not have to cough up to visit the plaza, which served as a backdrop in a Star Wars film, and is used regularly for concerts, fashion shows and theatrical performances.

Many residents objected to the scheme nonetheless – but their ­criticism was mostly that it would be complicated to administer and not very effective. Far better, many locals said, would be a hefty tourism tax on all visitors to Seville.

“Mass tourism,” said one, “is destroying our city.”

It’s a refrain heard in historic ­cities across Europe, from Prague to Barcelona, Athens to Amsterdam. Mass tourism, promoted by cash-hungry councils since the 2008 crash and fuelled by cheap flights and online room rentals, has become a monster.

After plummeting during Covid, tourism numbers are soaring again and set to exceed pre-pandemic ­levels this summer. The number of low-cost airline seats in Europe, which rose 10% annually from 2010 and hit 500m in 2019, could pass 800m in 2024.

Before lockdown, Airbnb, the ­biggest but far from only ­platform for short lets, saw triple-digit growth in some European ­cities. The net result is that the most ­popular city break destinations now annually host 20 or more visitors for each local.

What to do about it, though, is no easy question. Delicate ­balances need to be struck between the much-needed revenues and jobs generated by tourism, and the ­quality of life of residents; between managing tourism and ­discouraging it.

One strategy that Seville – 3 million tourists a year for 700,000 inhabitants – may adopt is to charge for the big attractions. Since January, foreign visitors to Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, which gets about 3.5m ­visits a year, have been paying €25 for the privilege.

Venice is so overrun by visitors it has introduced what amounts to an entrance fee for the entire city, ranging from €3 to €10. Paris has almost trebled its tourist tax rates, from – depending on area and accommodation type – €0.25-€5 to €0.65-€14.95.

Other cities are relying on better management – Athens, for example, last summer introduced a time-slot system for visits to the Acropolis, while summer access to Marseille’s Calanques is now regulated through a free reservation scheme.

Some places are launching ­information campaigns aiming to reshape tourist flows. France, where 80% of visits are concentrated in 20% of the country, will this spring roll out a €1m campaign urging domestic and foreign tourists to head more off the beaten track.

From Mont Saint-Michel and the ­seaside resort of Étretat in Normandy to the Atlantic beaches of the south-west and the Riviera, ­peak-season influxes now threaten the environment, locals’ quality of life and the visitor experience, authorities say.

They are also setting up a tourism observatory to accurately measure flows and identify possible overloads. “France is the world’s biggest tourist destination, but we have a serious lack of data to help manage the crowds,” the government said.

Some anti-tourism ­measures, however, turn out to be just rumours. Last summer, the walled Croatian town of Dubrovnik, said to be the most over-visited ­destination in Europe, with 36 ­visitors per resident, was widely reported to have banned wheelie suitcases.

In fact, as part of a Respect the City campaign urging visitors to dress appropriately in the historic centre and avoid climbing on monuments, the town hall had just asked them to carry their bags over cobblestones to reduce the noise level for locals.

The Netherlands

In the capital of the country that coined the term overtoerisme, ­tourist might be a dirty word – but Amsterdam is also increasingly ­desperate for visitors’ cash.

A plan last March to dissuade partying young British men with “stay away” videos warning of fines, hospital and criminal records made headlines worldwide. It’s unclear what effect it had, though, as Amsterdam’s overnight tourist numbers last year hit almost pre-pandemic levels at 9 million – 21% more than in 2022.

A soft-soap Renew your View campaign highlighting positive aspects off the beaten track (rather than sex and drugs) launched in November. Meanwhile the city is expected to expand its stay-away campaign to dissuade nuisance tourists from Germany, France, Spain and Italy after the summer.

Since last spring there has been a ban on smoking cannabis in ­public space in the red light district, while bar closures at 2am instead of 4am have reduced street numbers by between 30% and 60%. However, after complaints about safety, sex-worker brothel windows are open until 6am again rather than 3am.

Amsterdam is reducing the number of licensed B&B premises by 30%, has voted to close a city centre cruise terminal and is trialling tougher licensing measures to remove “rogue” tourist businesses such as candy shops suspected of being criminal fronts.

The council says it is monitoring tourist numbers to try to maintain a balance. But multimillion budget shortfalls and a bill of billions to repair crumbling canalsides mean tourism is essential for Amsterdam: this year, the tourist tax rose from 7% to 12.5%, the highest in Europe, with a day tax of €14 a head for visiting cruise ships. Senay Boztas


Spain received 85 million ­tourists in 2023, nearly 2% up on pre-­pandemic 2019 – and in a country where ­tourism generates 13% of GDP, after the economic ­devastation of the Covid years, voices ­calling for curbs on numbers have been ­virtually silenced.

The hospitality business, however, continues to chant the mantra of quality over quantity – nowhere more so than in the Balearic Islands, where a new law is being drafted to crack down on drunk tourists.

Last year about 15 ­million ­people visited the Balearics (­population 2 million), more than half British and German, with a ­significant percentage coming for what the regional government calls “tourism of excess”: a week-long drinking binge.

The new law to crack down on booze tourism is expected to be in force when the season kicks off at Easter. Under a 2020 law, areas such as Magaluf in Mallorca and Sant Antoni in Ibiza were named as ­trouble spots.

Heavy fines were imposed for “balconing” (leaping into a pool from a balcony), shops were banned from selling alcohol after 9.30pm, and organised pub crawls, beach parties, party boats and two-for-one happy hours outlawed, Local businesses faced fines of up to €600,000.

But after areas such as Magaluf complained of being stigmatised, the new law will focus more on ­individuals. Among the planned measures are deportation for antisocial behaviour and a blacklist of people banned from visiting the islands.

Lawyers warn that this would infringe the EU’s principle of ­freedom of movement, although as the UK is no longer a member, rowdy Brits – who are among the worst offenders – could soon find themselves personae non gratae. Stephen Burgen


After years of talk, Venice is the first major tourist hotspot in Italy to introduce an entrance fee for day trippers. The measure kicks off at the start of peak season on 25 April, and in a first experimental phase will apply only on certain days until 14 July.

The €5 tickets have been bookable online since mid-January. Time will tell whether the controversial initiative works, but with visitor numbers back to pre-pandemic levels – an average of 40,000 day trippers on peak days – and the perennial threat of the fragile lagoon city losing its Unesco heritage status, authorities were forced to act. The city is also poised to limit tourist groups to 25 people from June and to ban the use of loudspeakers because they “generate confusion and disturbances”, Venice council said in late December.

Florence has long suffered from similar overtourism woes and an exodus of residents from its historic centre, prompting the council in October last year to ban new short-term lets in the historic centre from Airbnb and similar platforms.

The city’s mayor, Dario Nardella, said that while the initiative was not a “panacea”, it was a “concrete step” for tackling the issue in a city with a population of about 720,000 that records, on average, more than 16 miilion overnight visitor stays a year.

Elsewhere in Italy, drivers along the Amalfi coast will again be hit by a measure aimed at ­preventing a perpetual jam along the ­winding 35km coastal road described as “a nightmare” by locals. Cars with number plates ending in an odd number are allowed to use the road one day, and those ending in an even number the next.

In Cinque Terre, another Unesco site, local authorities are also pondering how to manage overtourism. “We don’t want fewer tourists, but we want to be able to manage [tourism] in a sustainable way,” Donatella Bianchi, president of Cinque Terre national park, said last month. Angela Giuffrida


In Greece, one of the most ­visited places in the world, soaring ­tourist numbers are not only ­straining infrastructure on island idylls but increasingly stretching ­capacity in Athens, where residents, as ­elsewhere, are up in arms.

Once a stopover for travellers en route to isles, the Greek ­metropolis is now a “must-see” destination in its own right, drawing more than 7 million tourists – an all-time record – in 2023, with Americans and Britons topping arrivals.

To cope with an influx that is only expected to grow when the Asian market rebounds, Greek authorities have announced that crowd control policies – implemented in pilot form at the Acropolis in September – will be expanded to other archaeological sites next month.

Last year, at the height of the ­season, more than 20,000 ­tourists a day climbed the hill to see the fifth-century BC site. “We got to the point of as many as 23,000 a day,” the Greek culture ­minister, Lina Mendoni, said. “Tourism is ­obviously desirable for the country, for all of us, but we have to ensure overtourism doesn’t harm the monument.”

The visitor zone scheme, in ­operation from 8am to 8pm, aims to ease congestion, with authorities introducing a time-slot system, ­electronic ticketing and fast-lane entry points for organised groups. “It will help ensure the safety of the monument and those who work there, and improve the experience of visitors,” Mendoni said.

Museums will also cap visitor numbers from April.

The spectre of the country enjoying another bumper year of tourism has been met with mounting fears among environmentalists on islands where communities have increasingly struggled with waste management, water scarcity, insufficient public services and illegal construction.

In the face of local disgruntlement the government has been forced to step in. On Santorini, where complaints of ­oversaturation have grown steadily over the years, a berth-allocation system for cruise ships was introduced, with the number of disembarkations in any 24-hour period being limited to 8,000 passengers.

On Mykonos – like Santorini, one of the most popular islands in the Cycladic chain – authorities have clamped down on illicit construction, bulldozing illegally built bars and eateries in prime sites. Helena Smith