What most people think of as ‘Western Europe’ usually comes down to the iconic nations associated with particular landmarks: the Eiffel Tower in Paris; Westminster and Big Ben in London; the Matterhorn in Switzerland; the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin; St. Marks and the Grand Canal in Venice; Amsterdam with its canals and windmills; the Acropolis in Athens.
These places are iconic for reasons that become apparent if you’ve ever visited them in summer: they are extremely popular with tourists and rightly so. Cities like Rome and Athens count on tourism to fill the coffers and have had to develop strategies to manage the millions of visitors each year.
The Colosseum in Rome, for example, requires visitors to purchase a ticket for a specific time to visit. The Vatican Museums have a similar system to manage visitor numbers. And, the famous ‘Spanish Steps’ in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna no longer allow people to sit on them. Tourist police – not really ‘police’ per se – now patrol the steps and move anyone who plops their cheeks down for more than thirty seconds.
Most of these measures are simply sensible responses to the ever-growing numbers of visitors. My particular approach to this is to A, comply graciously, and B, to visit in the ‘shoulder’ season between high and low seasons, and finally, C, to explore less visited regions in these countries. This not only helps avoid the tourist scrums, it also opens up the possibility for some surprising travel experiences.