Italy Overtourism

The Trouble with Italy

Shannon Levi
by Shannon Levi

September 01, 2023

7 minute read

Remember Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 classic movie The Trouble with Harry? (If not, check it out, it’s a lot of fun!) Well, Italy’s top attractions are not exactly troublemakers, but they are…popular. Incredibly popular. For decades, Italy has topped destination lists in popularity and demand. As Collette’s Product Design Manager for Italy (and, as an Italian who lives in Rome), this means the world to me! Sharing la dolce vita in my home country with curious travellers, curating a once-in-a-lifetime experience… it’s my favourite thing to do.

When Demand Meets “Overtourism”

There are more tourists now than ever before in history. As travel becomes more accessible and affordable for the masses, there is pent-up demand to experience new destinations – and popular destinations like Italy experience the volume that comes from this interest directly. Since borders reopened after the pandemic, travellers especially feel the desire to get out and explore the world. Time was lost and travellers are making up for it.

Consequently, every one of Italy’s very many bucket list destinations is crowded. In particular, the Amalfi Coast, Positano, the Isle of Capri, and the Cinque Terre are packed as tight as a can of sardines – as we say in Italy! We are experiencing this year more crowds than in 2019, which was a record-setting year. Tourism went quiet (and the travel industry was devastated) during the pandemic – so this reality tells an incredible story of resilience and traveller perseverance.

Before there were buses, there were… donkeys.

Italy wasn’t designed for such large crowds: the country travellers see today evolved over centuries when transportation meant donkeys, mules, horse-drawn carriages, and one’s own feet. When roads and other infrastructure were built, we had no premonition that we would become such a popular destination. So, we built according to the needs of that time, not of the 21st century. Our roads are narrower, so our cars, trucks, and even buses are smaller. What we call rivers are little more than streams, our boulevards are mere streets by North American standards, and our streets are lanes. Centrally located hotels are in buildings that were not initially designed with that purpose in mind. So, rooms are cramped and have funny shapes and angles. Our tubs have tall sides, our showers are oh-so-tight! And even hotels that were built from scratch were trying to make maximum use of the available surface, often squeezing themselves into a small plot of available land in between pre-existing, sometimes century-old palazzos. Everything is smaller, almost Lilliputian.

Into this scenario come the record-setting crowds of 2023 – which are forecasted to last until well into 2025, the year of the Catholic Jubilee (our 2025 Jubilee: The Holy Year A Pilgrimage to Rome & Assisi), and that demand brings jam-packed trains and ferry boats; long lines for restaurants when you’d want a quick bite (and sitting elbow to elbow once you’re in), and then lines again for restrooms once you’re in the restaurant! We’ll all be walking shoulder to shoulder in the streets and lanes of Italy’s famous destinations.

Designing Tours with You in Mind

Designing Tours with You in Mind

Rest assured that when you go with Collette, your experience is in the hands of experts. We're constantly making adjustments to work around overtourism situations and create the most enjoyable experience possible for our travellers. We monitor and adjust our tours by:

  • Listening to previous travellers' feedback
  • Through our "eyes & ears" on the ground (Tour Managers, drivers, local guides, hoteliers, restaurant owners, and more)

Simply put, we putting our global relationships to work to improve our travellers’ experience.

Programs that feature a day trip to the Cinque Terre (like our popular small group tour, Italy’s Treasures, or our Tuscany & the Italian Riviera tour), were developed with you in mind. Many travellers want to visit all 5 of the villages in this stunning region, but due to crowds, it is simply not pleasurable to tour them all in a day. Travellers have told us that trying to do it all negatively impacted their experience, so our tours limit our visits to two villages in order to provide you with more free time. Travellers have expressed that they love this free time – because it’s time that would otherwise be spent queueing in train stations and ferry docks. They experience the beauty, culture, and vibe that this slice of Italy offers in a way that offers them flexibility

Ferry to the Amalfi coast

When In Doubt… Ferry.

For our visits to the Amalfi Coast and Positano (both featured on Italy: Amalfi Coast to Puglia small group tour, or our Rome & the Amalfi Coast), we take the ferry instead of the bus. The advantage of this design choice is that everyone gets a view of the spectacular coastline! When touring by bus, only the people sitting on the right side of the bus would get the view. By ferry everyone gets a view, so even when the boat is super crowded, everyone can enjoy views of the dramatic cliffs and perched villages.

The Colosseum

Epic Journey, Realistic Expectations

  • Some of our visits in Italy are in incredibly popular locales, which means that sometimes the crowds are on the extreme side. It’s like this every single day of the week, from April through October. (Expert Tip: We have Italy tours that run during the winter, November to March … the off-season is a wonderful time to go if you want to avoid the huge crowds altogether!)
  • During the busy season in Italy, our tours work in line with the timing of public ferries and trains to reach these popular locations. So be ready… there are lines for everything we do: lines to board the ferry boats, lines again to disembark; lines to get on and then off the trains. The line is often unsheltered – under the sun or rain – and often in cramped spaces, which means standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other travellers.
  • Our trips to Positano and the Amalfi Coast between April and October are by ferry boat and not bus because the local government restricts bus access to the point that it is not logistically viable to operate our tours this way. So, while the ferry boats are crowded, the alternative of a bus would be unpleasant. We design our tours to create the best possible experience for you.
  • The Colosseum and Vatican Museums in Rome and the Academy Museum in Florence recently reduced the number of tickets reserved for groups which means that we sometimes have to swap the timing of visits in a way that may feel odd. Your Tour Manager communicates this to you during the tour.
  • In Florence, you can expect to walk a lot more due to the city’s restrictions around bus access – with the architecture and beauty of this Tuscan city, walking and taking in the view is a plus. We’ve structured the tour to accommodate this by adjusting the routing, sometimes using public transportation to reduce the walking and get you closer to the old town.
Experience it all

Touring Italy is the Best Way to Experience It All

As Product Designers, we always want to set expectations for your trip. I don’t have to tell you that travel is the best way to step into other cultures, get a new perspective, and learn how others live. There’s a reason that Italy tops travellers’ wish lists, why it ranks in our top tours year after year, and why travellers rave about their Italian tour long after they’ve returned home. As demand for Italy introduces new considerations for you and for us – I welcome the opportunity to flex our tours’ design to make sure that you see it all in the best and most comfortable way possible. When it comes to figuring out the best way to navigate a destination in any environment, having a local expert on your side is the way to go. I hope you come to my home country for your own trip of a lifetime. Buon viaggio!

Tags: Italy

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