Overtourism is getting more attention this summer than ever before. And for good reason. Many destinations in Europe are getting flooded with tourists. Cities like Venice, Amsterdam and Prague are not able to cope with these large number of visitors. Amsterdam and Bruges stopped promoting their cities as tourist attractions and focus on mitigating the negative effects of mass tourism instead.
One of the measures, taken by cities across Europe is to try and spread tourism over time. Cities are most impacted in summer, during peak season. But what is peak season and more importantly when is it? If you know when it’s peak season, you can avoid crowds by traveling in other months.
Peak season means that tourist destinations experience the largest influx of tourists of the year. As the majority of Europe has hot summers and rainy, cold winters, tourism in Europe is seasonal. Even in the cities that have milder climates, seasonal vacationing is the trend. Hardly any destination on the continent gets a consistent flow of tourists.
Peak season means that tourist destinations get overrun. The quality of the tourist experience during peak season is much lower than normal. Great weather in Venice will be offset by the tens of thousands of tourists strolling through the city’s tiny streets.
Another European phenomenon is Black Saturday. Black Saturday is the Saturday when Europeans collectively step in their cars and drive southwards. This has a massive impact on the motorways in the middle of the continent. Media in France, Germany and many other countries refer to this day as Black Saturday and it is somehow very predictable. It’s the day the North of France, Belgium, the Netherlands and parts of Germany start their summer vacations. Nowadays, tourism has grown so fast that there are multiple Black Saturdays in a row.
Europe is incredibly diverse. Therefore, not every region has peak season at the same time. For example, the Mediterranean Sea will attract more visitors in the summer than in the winter. Ski resorts in the Alps attract visitors in the summer as well. However, peak season for skiing is when there is snow during the winter months.
In general there are some clear trends. The statistic to look at is the number of hotel rooms that are rented out in Europe throughout the year. Looking at the graph below, most hotel beds are filled in summer. From January onwards, the number of arrivals increase every month. After the absolute peak in August, the number of stays gradually diminishes, except for December. Unsurprisingly, the average number of hotel beds used correlates with the average temperature.
If you want to see when tourism arrivals peak in Europe, the easiest thing to do is to look at summer vacations of schools. If the bigger countries, like France or Germany, go on vacation, it is very likely to be crowded. Good to know: there are more domestic than international arrivals. With the exception of Luxembourg, domestic school vacations will have the largest impact on how crowded your next vacation destination will be.
If you are traveling during peak season, you can still have a good time. The most important thing to do, is to plan ahead. Think about what you want to do in advance and plan accordingly. Are you vacationing in France in July and want to visit Paris? Perhaps it’s best to skip the 14th of July when the country celebrates Bastille Day. Another good thing to research is local events. For example, the Tour de France finishes in Paris. Unless you are a cyclist fan, it might be better to choose another day or week.
These and more tips can be found on our tips page. Here, we also write about how you can easily recognize tourist traps and tell you why it is good to start your day early. If you are visiting a busy destination, it is best to beat the crowds by going to your favourite tourist attraction early. Also, check our daily crowd prediction tool. That way you are aware of the days with the biggest crowds.
In 2019, peak season starts the first weekend of July. It lasts until the end of August. You can already expect some crowds in June but it will not be anything like July and August. The end of peak season doesn’t come abrupt either. Tourism gradually starts to slow down the second half of August and will rapidly decline early September.
We advise all our readers to avoid European peak season if you can. You can do this by traveling any month except for July and August. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be any crowds in these months, but they will be smaller than in July and August. If you want to have as much peace and quiet as possible, you should plan your trip early or late in the calendar year. Our daily crowd prediction tool helps you plan for less crowds.
If you cannot avoid peak season, you should plan ahead. Keep an eye on cruise ship arrivals, public holidays and local events. Explore lesser known alternatives and if you are in a tourist hotspot, buy tickets in advance. At least, that will save you from wasting time on standing in line.