Travel Guide to Bern, Switzerland

Travel Guide to Bern, Switzerland

An Ultimate Guide for what to see & do when traveling to Bern, Switzerland

(and what to skip!)

Note: this post contains affiliate links to products we love and have purchased ourselves. Clicking these links doesn’t cost you any extra money, and you’re supporting us by doing so. You can view our disclosure page for additional details

Experience the effortlessly charming city of Bern, Switzerland. The fifth largest city in the country, and Switzerland’s capital, Bern is a compact but adorably picturesque city. A place that was once home to the physicist Albert Einstein, known for bears, Berenese dogs and the colorful River Aare, Bern is perfect for a city break and is still an off-the-radar gem of Switzerland.

Below you will find a detailed travel guide to Bern, Switzerland including where to stay, why you should visit Bern and the top things to do in the city.

[If you found your way here through my Sustainable Travel page, then you may just be interested in my findings and viewpoints on Barenpark. Click here to scroll to that section.]

Why go to Bern?

 Why should I go to Bern?

        There are so many beautiful places to visit Switzerland and its surrounding countries, yet I would still highly recommend a visit to Bern, and here’s why:

        The city is meticulously preserved, which is most likely why it’s old town (also called the aldstadt) was named a UNESCO World Heritage site all the way back in 1983! Literally every corner you turn there are picture perfect places to soak up. And it doesn’t hurt that life is slower paced than many other major european cities. So, you’ll be exploring a ‘big’ city but enjoying it as if it’s a small town.

 

Fun fact: Bern, Switzerland earned its name from the founder around the early 1900’s after he apparently killed a bear who came too close to the city while it was being built. (More about how this fact led to a not too pretty, in fact very negative, animal rights situation… more on that later. Keep reading to find out!) Since then, the city’s flag and emblem has always shown a bear.

Where is Bern?

Bern, Switzerland is located southwest of the major city of Zurich, and only an hour train ride from the crisp blue lakes bordering Interlaken. The city is hugged by the beautifully bright & clean River Aare

    Where to stay in Bern?

            The city of Bern goes farther beyond the altstadt (old town), so be sure to book your lodging inside of the old town area, as this is where the charming, picturesque part of the city is located.

            We stayed at the Hotel Savoy Bern and loved it! The location was not only within walking distance to the main train station (which will save you money from having to order a taxi or public transportation), but the rooms were very spacious, had great views and the interior was modernly beautiful.

            Be sure to check out other lodgings options – I typically use Booking.com as they list more than just hotels. There are luxury homes, B&Bs and apartments. Lodging options in Bern, Switzerland

      How long should I stay in Bern?

      We stayed in Bern for three nights and felt like we were able to leisurely enjoy our time here. One day would not be enough, so I would suggest at a minimum two full days and depending on your travel style, at most four nights.

        If you’re planning visits to other parts of Switzerland, be sure to explore my other posts about this enchanting country here!

          How to get around Bern:

                  While there is an airport near Bern, it’ll be much easier to arrive by train. Once you arrive via train, it is a five to ten minute walk to get to the old town part of the city. Bern’s old town is shaped like a horseshoe bend with the turquoise River Aare giving it its shape. Once there you will notice that there are trams and buses available. However, we did not once use them as the city is so accessible on foot. In fact, most of the traffic you’ll see will be pedestrian foot traffic.

                  Bern, Switzerland has recently installed bike stations throughout the city, which I would definitely recommend utilizing. You could bike around all of the old town in half a day this way. Check out this map for the location of the docking stations within the old town of Bern.

            Walk around Berns beautifully preserved old town

                      The city of Bern has transformed into a metropolis since it was rebuilt after a terrible fire in the early 1400’s. However the aldstadt has kept its european charm and has remained intact since the 15th century rebuild. Known for its 6 kilometers of ‘covered arcades’ – not actual arcades, but outdoor promenades – locals refer to them as “Lauben” – they are the longest weather sheltered shopping promenade in Europe

                      While you’re walking around, try to find the Kindlifresser statue, aka the Child Eater statue. Yep, you read that correctly. There is a statue with a man eating a sack of babies… no one is quite sure what it depicts, but it should be a great example of the boogeyman tactics for parents to use.

              Fun fact – there are over 100 fountains in this small old town!

                Ogle at the Zytglogge

                          The Zytglogge is a famous astronomical clock. It was Bern’s western city gate back in the 12th century, and is now a major site to see in the old town part of Bern. This 800+ year old clock still functions with all of its mechanical figures, and on the hour you can watch it ‘perform’. There is a museum/walk through tour you can do, but truth be told, I felt this was unnecessary. But I suppose it depends on your love for clockwork.

                    Walk to the top of the Bern Cathedral

                              A dominant landmark in Bern, this cathedral is the tallest religious building in all of Switzerland. Not only is it a great workout walking up the 222 steps, but the view is beautiful. I’m personally not always a fan of views from super high up because you miss out on so much detail, but the view from Bern Cathedral is perfect in terms of height without being too far away. It’s also the highest place to view the city from.

                        Visit the Rosengarten

                                  Bern’s Rosengarten is great for both a relaxing afternoon in a charming park and vistas of the entire city from across the River Aare. It is an uphill climb to reach the park, but you are rewarded with great views of Bern. There is a statue of Einstein sitting on a bench that is perfect for capturing cute pictures with the historical figures.

                                  The Rosengarten would be good to visit even in the fall, and for sunset as the sun dips below the city skyline.

                            Explore the Bundeshaus

                                      The Bundeshaus is the Swiss Federal Assembly building in Bern. I’ve become particularly choosey when it comes to spending my travel time inside of museums and historical sites, so while I typically wouldn’t suggest going inside of a government building, the Swiss do it justice. They offer FREE tours of inside the Bundeshaus, however will be closed to the public if parliament is in session. You can find the dates they are closed here.

                                Shop at the Parliament Square weekly market

                                          In front of Bundeshaus is Parliament Square, which is great for people watching, and where Bern hosts a weekly market. Every Tuesday and Saturday morning you can enjoy local produce and Swiss foods.

                                          Maybe you’ll feel inclined to buy some treats and then enjoy them while sitting on the steps in the back of Bundeshaus. This part of the building sits against the River Aare so will provide a nice relaxing place to enjoy a morning treat.

                                    Channel Albert Einstein’s intelligence

                                              Learn about the famous physicist and his life while he lived in Bern, Switzerland by visiting the house he used to live in. This house museum is where he lived when he developed his famous theory of relativity. Overall, it was a fairly interesting place to visit as Einstein had a unique life and also traveled the world.

                                              (There is a good cafe directly below it as well)

                                        Swim in the Aare

                                                  If you plan on visiting Bern in the summer, than I’d suggest packing a swimsuit as you can swim in the beautifully clean River Aare. I can’t speak personally about this as we visited in the fall, but a local gave us the following information on how to swim in the Aare in Bern : enter at Eicholz recreation area and float down to the Freiban Marzili.

                                            Enjoy the sunset with a view

                                                     Grab a bottle of wine or some beers from a local store and enjoy the sun setting over the rust red rooftops of Bern at the Rosengarten or from the back side of the Bundeshaus (Parliament Building).

                                                Take it slow & people watch

                                                          I loved the pace of the city of Bern. A city that felt effortlessly slow paced. My suggestion, pick up a cup of coffee in the morning and sit in one of the squares to people watch. There was a square close to our hotel that had a life size chess set. We watched a group of older men play while starting their day with espressos, beers and cigars. It’s moments like these where you can begin to feel the heart of a place you travel to.

                                                          Another way to immerse yourself in a new destination is to…

                                                    Take part in a local event or festival

                                                              As Bern is the capital of Switzerland there are quite a few events that you can attend. We stumbled upon a cultural food festival while there and loved it. You can find more of Bern’s events here.

                                                                Translated this means the Bear Park. As an animal lover and protector I am always hesitant about visiting and suggesting others to visit places that house (unfortunately, ‘house’ is a light term used here, when often it’s a prison) animals of any kind. I try my best to research prior to visiting and especially spending any money on places like these.

                                                                Unfortunately, Bern housed a cement bear pit since its inception of officially becoming Bern in the 1500’s. Looking at pictures of what it used to be, which was maintained up until 2009, it makes me feel really sad that that went on for so long. Happily though, the Bern bear pit has been transformed into a bear park. The park is over 65,000 square feet in size, is fitted on a sloping hill with plenty of grass areas for the current bear occupants to enjoy who were transferred from Scandinavia or born in captivity. (Personally, I feel that it’s extremely odd that we ship animals around like property to different zoo’s.)

                                                                  Barenpark is free to visit in Bern. And while the space provided for them now is much much better than the cement hole in the ground they inhabited for hundreds of years, it’s still limiting for what a wild animal should have access to. For example, bears enjoy water and currently the bears at Barenpark can see the water rushing by but have no access to it. Talk about dangling a treat in front of someone face, and preventing them from having it for their own ‘safety’.

                                                                  I suggest visiting as you can see for yourself the conditions they’re in, and may it be a reminder, note for the future or nugget of a lesson for you to better understand the rights that animals should have.

                                                          What are your thoughts on this?

                                                             Not to end on what may feel like a negative tone, let me conclude by saying that Bern has much more to offer than their Barenpark. If you choose to visit this charismatic city (which I highly suggest you do!), be sure to enjoy it in its entirety by visiting and doing the items I listed above. Bern is great for taking it slow, and is one of the few places in Europe that still feels off the beaten path in terms of popular cities to visit in Switzerland.

                                                              [Curious about why there are so many people at the same destination as you? Read about Over Tourism here]

                                                                TIPS for visiting Bern, Switzerland:

                                                                • Switzerland is expensive, so be sure to visit a grocery store for lunch or breakfast (and maybe some wine) to save yourself from racking up your expenses too high
                                                                • Swiss German is the language spoken in Bern
                                                                • Stay in the old town part of the city Bern, once there, everything is walkable
                                                                • Visit Bern, Switzerland in the summer to swim in the River Aare, visit in the winter months for the Christmas markets
                                                                • More general facts about the city of Bern

                                                                  Want to see more?

                                                                  Scroll through these pictures of from our trip to Bern, Switzerland

                                                                    Laura of Blue Eyed Compass, a Sustainable Travel Blog

                                                                    Hi!  I’m Laura, a sustainable travel blogger & photographer, sharing real and honest information about travelling & how to do so sustainably

                                                                    Follow Along!

                                                                    Follow Along

                                                                    Fish Consumption in Japan

                                                                    Fish Consumption in Japan

                                                                    A discussion on the fish consumption rates in Japan. How much is too much & can our oceans recover?

                                                                            “I wonder how much seafood Japan consumes?” A question I continually asked myself while visiting Tokyo, Japan in November 2018 (this was also my first visit to Asia).

                                                                            Can the blame of certain fish species population depletions be placed solely on Japan?  Do the Japanese over consume seafood? It’s said that one out of every ten fish is consumed in Japan, which rings true as the worldwide view of the Japanese diet is based around its affinity to create incredibly delicious sushi.  So with an amazingly popular dish and a unique culture that millions of visitors want to experience each year, why should we care if there may be an overconsumption of seafood in Japan?

                                                                            Seafood is a top provider of protein for diets around the globe.  As more and more people turn away from red meats heart health problems, seafood is seen as a healthy conscious choice.  The fishing industry provides jobs for millions of people around the world, as in over 200 million jobs. This means that almost 3% of the entire world’s population is affected by the fishing industry.

                                                                            For decades fishing seemed like an endless opportunity in our oceans, yet overconsumption and unregulated fishing practices have pushed many species to the brink of extinction.  Most notably, the torpedo shaped bluefin tuna, which Japan is the largest consumer of, is a highly sought after endangered species. Oddly enough, we shake our fingers at poachers of endangered rhino species and sign petitions to end dog meat trades, yet are comfortable ordering a plate of sushi that offers an endangered fish.  Please keep in mind, the first two are terrible, this statement is merely aiming at opening your perspective in a new way and in no way trying to place negative opinions on those who consumer fish or undervalue the atrocity of other species killings and abuse.

                                                                    So, how much is too much fish consumption for Japan?

                                                                            Japan is one of the dominant importers of seafood.  Japan’s fishing industry is focused on feeding Japan, with 90% of its caught seafood consumed domestically, and importing the remainder from the United States and South America.  Due to their high consumption of seafood, they are one of a few countries who look to sustainably source their fish, however it’s an uphill battle. It was only in 2017 that agreements were haphazardly agreed upon to structure the fishing of the most popular fish sold worldwide, the bluefin tuna.  

                                                                    [The population of tuna has been depleted by about 97% due to overfishing and has become a billion dollar industry.  In fact, each year there is a New Years tuna auction in Tokyo. This year, 2019, the winning bidder won with a record high $3.1 million!  Talk about a supply and demand market that is a perfect example for economics professors to use in their lecture halls.]

                                                                              Japan is now highly engaged in improvements with plans to rebuild the Pacific bluefin stocks, with a target to regain up to 20% of historic levels by 2034.  Their Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries has said that fish consumption is down from 2001’s high of 40.7kg to 24.6kg consumed per person each year.  (Considering part of this could be due to Japan’s younger generation now having access to other options such as beef and poultry.)

                                                                              With the help of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), fisheries now have access to evaluations and strategies to implement more sustainable tactics.  It is clear there is a need to conserve the ocean’s ecosystem and maintain a healthy balance from low lying plankton to large predators, and also preserve the jobs of millions.  Greenpeace compares this all to ‘simple housekeeping’ that I feel needs quite a bit of regulation and accountability. Luckily there is the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership who has the T75 goal, where 75 % of all fishing will be done sustainably by the end of 2020 (fisheries must be certified by the MSC).

                                                                                For a typical consumer it feels overwhelming to consider the ramifications of the interests of business owners overpowering the needs of our environment.  You can help make a difference by using your money as your ‘vote’.

                                                                        • Only purchase sustainable seafood from brands who only sell seafood with a certified MSC blue label.  This is currently the most trustworthy and widely known label for sustainable seafood
                                                                        • Support restaurants that are MSC certified; even asking if they provide MSC certified sustainable seafood will help.  Think about it this way- if enough people ask a restaurant if they sell sustainably certified seafood then they will look into, and hopefully, transition to it.

                                                                                  The question of whether Japan consumers too much fish is a difficult one to properly answer, especially because I don’t believe we fully understand the impacts of the oceans shifting biodiversity.  The actions needed to be taken should be based around how we fish around the world, the retail and food services industries seafood choices and higher consumer standards.

                                                                            [If you’re planning a trip to Japan, then be sure to check these posts about Japanese culture & my First Timers Guide to Tokyo]

                                                                              Citations:

                                                                              IWC “The IWC is the global body charged with the conservation of whales and the management of whaling.  The IWC currently has 89 member governments from countries all over the world.

                                                                              The Commission’s role has expanded since its establishment in 1946.  In addition to regulation of whaling, today’s IWC works to address a wide range of conservation issues including bycatch and entanglement, ocean noise, pollution and debris, collision between whales and ships, and sustainable whale watching.”

                                                                               

                                                                              Organizations you can support to help with ocean conservation:

                                                                              -WWF

                                                                              -Greenpeace

                                                                              -Marine Stewardship Council

                                                                              -Sustainable Fishering Partnership

                                                                                Laura of Blue Eyed Compass, a Sustainable Travel Blog

                                                                                Hi!  I’m Laura, a sustainable travel blogger & photographer, sharing real and honest information about travelling & how to do so sustainably

                                                                                Follow Along!

                                                                                Follow Along

                                                                                23 Ways to Help Prevent Overtourism

                                                                                23 Ways to Help Prevent Overtourism

                                                                                Welcome to the second part of Blue Eyed Compass’s Over Tourism series discussing what you can do to prevent over tourism!  The previous post discussed what over tourism is, and its cause and effect on residents, visitors and the place itself.  It can be easier to discuss what the issue is, yet awareness is only half of the battle. It’s important to know ways that you can enjoy your well deserved travels while also creating a positive impact on the tourism industry.

                                                                                Here are ways that our governments and ourselves can help to prevent over tourism from creating a worse situation:

                                                                                Ways that governments can help prevent over tourism

                                                                                (1) Accurately tally & report tourism numbers based on type of visitors; for example cruise ship attendees, resort guests, backpackers, etc.  Having accurate numbers will help determine what future actions need to be implemented

                                                                                (2) Edit the ‘perception gap’ of destination management

                                                                                Geez, I’m proud of myself for using ‘big’ words (haha), perception gap in terms of over tourism means the gap of governments concern for the quality of their destinations → over their desire for more revenue from the industry

                                                                                Governments often think about where the money comes from in tourism, like developers, infrastructure, agencies, etc. instead of remembering that the ultimate tourism product is the actual place itself which ties into the next point:  Tweaking their outlook from more tourism is better, to better tourism is better could be very helpful.

                                                                                (3) Use holistic management models.

                                                                                Implement regulations that effectively impact the environment, economic, social and cultural issues.  After doing some research, it’s noticeable that irresponsible business practices lead to benefits that are too selective, which then doesn’t motivate anyone to protect things, which creates difficult obstacles for those who do wish to protect places based on legal, political and/or financial problems

                                                                                Examples of destinations tourism goals:

                                                                                San Diego: San Diego put into place a 20+ year plan in 2017 called ‘Experience San Diego Destination 2040’.  Their plan is to raise $1.3 billion in its first five years based on an increase in hotels tax rates.

                                                                                Is this plan good? YES! Because the funding goes back into the city to repair roads, work on infrastructure, etc

                                                                                 

                                                                                Peru: Promperu, the agency of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism Specialized Technical Agency, predicted a 43% growth of inbound tourism in 2016

                                                                                China: in 2015, the Chinese people took 100 million outbound trips, and are predicted to take 160 million outbound trips in 2020.  This makes China the world’s largest outbound tourism market

                                                                                 

                                                                                I had difficulty finding specifics for many locations on ways that this tourism would benefit the destinations and/or the residents there (if you are able to find any distinct details please share!  I would love to know more)

                                                                                (4) Governments can include the residents & caretakers of the place in their conversations

                                                                                The locals see the impacts on a place first hand and understand best how to support it.  Bridging the gap between these two is vital for the elimination of over tourism.

                                                                                (5) Improve visitor management by regulating tourism

                                                                                Examples of this are already being done in these places:

                                                                                • Gorilla tracking in Uganda, Africa; visitors are required to pay for an expensive permit to do so, which limits the number of people going into the forest to see gorillas
                                                                                • Havasupai Falls in Arizona, USA requires hikers and campers to obtain a limited number of permits.
                                                                                • Japan is enforcing new regulations on AirBnbs once the 2020 Olympics are over so they can ensure certain requirements are met, and therefore limit the amount of vacation rentals
                                                                                • Iceland AirBnbs are now limited to being in use for only 90 days per year
                                                                                • The Azores have limited number of hotel rooms available & are working towards becoming a certified as a ‘sustainable tourism region’

                                                                                (5) Raise prices (cautiously)

                                                                                • Bhutan’s solution to maintaining their culture is to require visitors to pay $200-$250/day just to be in the country & requires you book your trip through a government accredited travel agency
                                                                                • It’s imperative to raise prices cautiously because if prices increase too much and only the very wealthy can afford them, then the culture, history & nature of a place can become the private property of the wealthy & they’ll be the only ones concerned with protecting it
                                                                                • *consider this tactic this way: Apple iPhones are expensive, but those who really want it will pay for it, I believe the same could be possible for high tourism cities

                                                                                (6) Disperse visitors & spread their visitation over time by coordinating with a nearby city to spread economic benefits

                                                                                The Alhambra & Grenada, Spain currently do this by having timed tickets for the palace, so that visitors can spend time enjoying the city

                                                                                (7) Limit the number of visitors to a place

                                                                                (8) Have timed ticket admission

                                                                                (9) Favor longer stays over day trippers

                                                                                (10) Ban tour buses OR design a certain number of routes that run on a lottery of directions to prevent bottlenecking traffic

                                                                                (11) Channel people into spaces that are designed to be trafficked (this could be great for outdoor spaces)

                                                                                Ways that WE can help prevent over tourism

                                                                                (12) Visit unique places that are off the beaten path

                                                                                While major destinations may be overrun, remember there is beauty & diversity at the ‘under the radar’ places.  The world is stil a big place filled with natural wonders. Here are a few places I would suggest:

                                                                                • Norway
                                                                                • The Azores
                                                                                • Kennet Canals, England
                                                                                • South Wales, Australia
                                                                                • Slovenia, Ljubliana
                                                                                • Sierra Gorda, Mexico

                                                                                (13) Go outside of the major cities

                                                                                There are less people there & those small towns may very well welcome you with open arms, plus you’ll have a more realistic experience on what daily life looks like there

                                                                                (14) Travel during the ‘off’ season, aka ‘shoulder season’

                                                                                • Doing so will allow you avoid inflated prices, long queues & herding crowds
                                                                                • I would suggest aiming to visit right before or after peak season

                                                                                (15) Be respectful & check your entitlement

                                                                                Yes, this may mean changing your attitude, however having a little respect to the people & place goes a long way for those who are living in a famous destination and are frustrated with tourists impolite & self entitled attitudes.  And if you see this behavior in your fellow travelers, speak up. Often times we may not notice when we need to check out entitlement at the door

                                                                                (16) Open your eyes

                                                                                Instead of going on a vacation to turn away from the stresses of your life at home, and then also looking away while traveling, open your eyes to what you are seeing & be present.  Take note of what people are doing, is it respectful? Ask yourself, “Can I do better?”

                                                                                Think about it this way, if you were being paid to stay in a nice resort, eating for free & having concierges look after your every need, you would most likely spread wonderful words about it to everyone you meet

                                                                                The idea behind this tactic is simple marketing, and it’s of course fine.  However, as a reader & possibly as a traveler, make your own conclusion about a place & try not to base your travels on the word of those being paid to say good things

                                                                                This could lead to becoming an ethical travel writer – so many travelers are PAID to write about a destination by the same place that they are visiting, so their perspective can be skewed.

                                                                                (17) Avoid geo-tagging and adding your location to social media in fragile environments

                                                                                As much we want to share the hidden beauty of a place, oftentimes it’s become that beautiful because of the lack of human interaction.  Leave a little mystery to your audience.

                                                                                (18) Come prepared

                                                                                • Ask yourself why you want to visit a destination – is it because you want to truly experience the place, or are you looking to take a great picture that you saw some Instagrammers shoot pictures at?
                                                                                • Prevent the creation of further waste – find responsible local restaurants ahead of time, bring your own reusable water bottle & cloth bags for shopping, and even pick up trash you see on the ground if you can.  With large crowds come lots of trash, so limit how much waste you create

                                                                                Leave No Trace! is a set of principles for those venturing outdoors.  You can see their list of principles here.

                                                                                (19) Worry less about that perfect picture

                                                                                Many travelers will ignore roped off areas or boundaries to be able to capture themselves in a perfect picture.  However, those boundaries are these for you protection & for the environments Imagine if all 2 million tourists visiting Iceland every year walked over the roped off areas of their fragile land (which has been happening much more frequently), the reasons everyone began visiting Iceland – for its beautiful nature -will become mud pits from everyone’s shoes.

                                                                                (20) Focus on Quality over Quantity

                                                                                This is behavioral and based on what you, as a traveler, prefer – is it true travel experiences or snap & run selfie stick vacations?  Is it better to save yourself money on a cheap fast food dinner, or spend more on a fine dining experience?

                                                                                (21) Local local local

                                                                                • Eat local produce
                                                                                • Stay at a local guest house or a hotel with eco-friendly missions & recycling programs

                                                                                (22) Share with others their environmental impact while traveling

                                                                                Many aren’t aware of the issues at hand and the fragility of the destinations they visit.  I only stopped using single use plastic last year, and the friends I’ve seen pay to pet baby tigers only now know it’s horrible after I’ve told them how the animals are treated.  Sharing your experience & know how can help to create a larger community, and you never know what you can learn from others.

                                                                                (23) Continue traveling!

                                                                                This list of tips is meant to broaden your knowledge & provide insight into the travelers world.  Of course you should continue to travel, but now you are prepared to do so responsibly, so travel & enjoy!

                                                                                        We all should rethink how we develop tourism and how we travel.  We cannot possibly fit an infinite number of people into finite spaces. And while there is no sole solution, there isn’t a  sole cause either. The more the tourism industry refines itself for each destination, the more people will feel comfortable coming to visit.  And just like we shouldn’t consume mass produced processed foods, we shouldn’t be mindlessly travelers. So, what do you think? Do you think over tourism is even an issue?  If so, do you have any additional tips or tricks to help protect the world?

                                                                                Interested in learning more about Overtourism?

                                                                                Here are a few resources for you to explore!

                                                                                *Be sure to read about what Overtourism is HERE

                                                                                *Overbooked by Elizabeth Becker

                                                                                *Crowded Out

                                                                                *EarthCheck – A group that created scientific benchmarking for destinations to follow in order to be considered sustainable.  This link has tons of different topics & resources to dive into

                                                                                *Sustainable Destinations Top 100 list, 2018

                                                                                Follow Along

                                                                                What is Overtourism

                                                                                What is Overtourism

                                                                                        If you love to travel and you love the planet, put those two together and you’d get sustainable travel.  Alright, this isn’t the best or exact definition of the phrase, but an easy to understand perspective of it.  My love and respect for both traveling and planet Earth led me down the rabbit hole of research, observation, discussion and acknowledgement of sustainable travel, and one topic that I’ve witnessed more and more personally, which is overtourism.

                                                                                        Overtourism is a relatively new ‘buzzword’ that was first coined in 2012, yet only highlighted in the media in 2017 when protests in Barcelona began against tourists.  Overtourism describes a destination negatively by both locals and visitors as having too many tourists. Locals want the tourists to get out of their way, tourists feel like the places are too crowded, and caretakers spend much of their time performing crowd control and wear & tear control duties.  Essentially, the quality of life and the quality of the experience has deteriorated. There has been a serious loss in authenticity within popular destinations. Yet, we are all apart of the problem. Think of it in terms of car traffic. We complain about the traffic while we’re driving a car, just like we complain about too long of lines at popular landmarks while we’re waiting in the line.  It almost feels like there is no escape from overtourism, and genuine locals are becoming a new endangered species

                                                                                        Tourism is a service industry that sells a product of which is does NOT own.  The physical place the product. In most cases, tourism is considered a ‘pastime’ as opposed to an industry- when in fact, it IS an industry, and one that has gone unnoticed as its grown so quickly.  This global phenomenon of over tourism is happening all over the world, even in places that you wouldn’t expect. The industry grows no matter the global issues going on. Yet, saying a place has an overtourism problem isn’t a specific label, as the phrase’ too many’ is a subjective term.  It’s easier to understand when you look at the causes and effects of over tourism.

                                                                                Laura of Blue Eyed Compass, a Sustainable Travel Blog

                                                                                Hi!  I’m Laura, a sustainable travel blogger & photographer, sharing real and honest information about travelling & how to do so sustainably

                                                                                Follow Along!

                                                                                What causes Overtourism?

                                                                                Why is overtourism happening?

                                                                                        As I mentioned before, tourism is an industry, and like most other sales driven industries, its success is based around its growth.  And it seems that overtourism is a result of success for tourism boards. Many Americans began traveling after World War 2 ended with a significant increase beginning in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Meaning the travel industry we know today has been around for just about 50 years, a measly few decades of uncontrolled growth. Worldwide we’ve gone from about 30 million travelers each year, to over 1.3 billion travelers every year.  And while it’s incredibly exciting to know that so many more people are able to experience the beauty of our planet, it feels as if the tourism industry has gone unchecked during its growth. I think of it comparatively to our technology advances.  I grew up with a dial up internet, bulky computer and after college, moved out of my parents house with a small, swiftly functioning smartphone. The travel industry has quickly transformed from an unknown perspective to one of multi faceted options with little control over travelers behaviors.

                                                                                Drivers of Overtourism:

                                                                                • Population growth → in 2009 there was about 6.8 billion people in the world, five years ago it was 7.3 billion & currently we are at 7.7 billion people across the globe.
                                                                                • Rising affluence of the middle class → there are more people who are able to spend part of their income on travel
                                                                                • Lack of an ability to track & report accurate data: government’s report their overall tourist numbers which lump together cruise ships, duty free shoppers, resort guests, backpackers, etc
                                                                                • Technological advances →
                                                                                  • mass air travel has taken off like a racehorse,
                                                                                  • the internet is accessible in more places
                                                                                  • and the cruise industry has ships larger than many of the cities they port at, with their 8,000 visitors spilling onto the streets of adorable places, only to have them all flock back for dinner

                                                                                *fun fact- cruise ships are allowed to burn cheap, bad for the environment fuels which is one of the reasons cruise ships can be cheap

                                                                                Effects of Overtourism:

                                                                                        A lack of accurate reporting leads to misconceptions and disillusionment of how severe an issue of over tourism may be to a destination.  The effects of over tourism reflect on residents, tourists and the destination itself. Here are a few of the effects on all three:

                                                                                Residents:

                                                                                • Irreparable damage to infrastructure, natural areas & cultural monuments
                                                                                • Harsh resident resentment due to excess traffic, too large of crowds in inconvenient places
                                                                                • Inflated real estate & rent prices: this is partly due to businesses like AirBnb (who is often pinpointed as a scapegoat for this issue).  This happens because apartments are suddenly for vacation rentals instead of rent, and a lack of living spaces creates a new supply & demand issue
                                                                                  • Less supply of living spaces →  higher demand to find a place to live = which means owners can charge tenants higher rent
                                                                                • Shift of relevant retail stores to souvenir shops, along with other neighborhood set ups catered to tourists, as opposed to those residing there
                                                                                • Many jobs are low paying and seasonal, with much of the revenue going back to large, wealthy corporations out of the destination

                                                                                Tourists:

                                                                                • Very crowded destinations
                                                                                • Low value for their money spent
                                                                                • No sense of authenticity in a destination, which leads to less stories to take home to share

                                                                                Destinations:

                                                                                • On the bright side, tourism in some places has brought wealth to lesser known or forgotten rural communities
                                                                                • Tourism has helped restore crumbling historic infrastructures
                                                                                • Negatively, there is an increase of garbage at these popular landmarks
                                                                                • With an increase of visitors, a destination is often unable to enforce respect & regulations for the place

                                                                                        These causes & effects all bring about concerns with overtourism.  Not only are major destinations losing their unique identity – which is the main reason for so many visiting – there is also a lack of control over the situation.  Tourism managements are either nonexistent or are ill equipped to handle the influx of visitors in a way that still produces revenue for the country. And the ‘sweet spot’ number of ‘happy to have’ visitors versus too many people does not exist, and would be unique to each destination.  The term ‘carrying capacity’ is used to describe this, and needs to be thought of in terms of physical carrying capacity and social carrying capacity.

                                                                                PHYSICAL — how many people can infrastructures & landmarks contain?

                                                                                SOCIAL — how many visitors can residents & other tourists tolerate before having a negative experience?

                                                                                        No matter how you spin it, there is an overall loss of identity that these over visited places are experiencing.  Here are a few examples of over tourism from fellow travel writers, bloggers & photographers:

                                                                                Examples of Overtourism:

                                                                                Below are examples of Overtourism witnessed around the world from fellow travel bloggers.

                                                                                Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

                                                                                The whole park had a little boardwalk that you had to follow to see the waterfalls. It was PACKED”

                                                                                From Nicole, @ourwildestlife

                                                                                Tram 28, Lisbon, Portugal

                                                                                “The other day, I saw a queue of (I counted) more than 200 people lining up for Lisbon’s Tram 28.

                                                                                Tram 28 is one of Lisbon’s most scenic tram routes, and the journey is recommended in countless guidebooks and on travel blogs. Unfortunately, it’s not actually a sightseeing bus: it’s home people in neighbourhoods like Graça get to the city centre.

                                                                                A queue of 200 people not only means that locals can’t use this tram, but it’s also not going to be a particularly fun experience for tourists either.”

                                                                                From James, blogger at Portugalist.com, check out his post on tourist alternatives, like walking the route this tram takes!

                                                                                From James, blogger at Portugalist.com, check out his post on tourist alternatives, like walking the route this tram takes!

                                                                                Basílica del Voto Nacional in Quito, Ecuador

                                                                                “This photo was taken during a trip to the Basílica del Voto Nacional in Quito. Prior to entering, the security guard made it very clear that we weren’t to deface any of the stonework or climb on the structure. Although the Basílica was constructed in sections, parts of it are very old and undergo frequent maintenance work. Upon reaching the top of the tower, we were greeted with this sight. Clearly the memo hadn’t reached everyone.”

                                                                                From Sheree, blogger behind Winging the World

                                                                                Machu Picchu, Peru

                                                                                “We went to Machu Picchu at sunrise, when there were relatively few people. After a tour with a guide, we hiked up to the Sungate. When we got back to the main site, we could barely get around due to the amount of people. The cleared areas you see in the photos are because you can only walk on specific paths around the historic site. I wanted to stay longer at Machu Picchu because it’s incredible, but it was just too uncomfortable with the crowds. Now, I don’t really recommend going to Machu Picchu unless you can arrive at sunrise and have a moment alone with the site.”

                                                                                From Hanna, blogger behind Moderately Adventurous

                                                                                Angkor Wat, Cambodia

                                                                                “This past summer I traveled to the famous Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise. Turns out that it was quite a popular destination with hundreds of people lined up along the water’s edge.”

                                                                                From Chelsey, the blogger behind The Ninja Gypsy

                                                                                Nyaung Lat Phat Kan, Myanmar

                                                                                “…on Christmas Day 2018 (when these photographs were taken) the crowds were out in Bagan. At sunset, the Nyaung Lat Phat Kan hill viewpoint was seriously overcrowded as hundreds of tourists competed to take that perfect sunset photo. Our sunset pictures may look serene but that was far from the reality. Our two small children were towered over by the crowds who pushed past them.

                                                                                Much of the overcrowding at the viewpoints is because nearly all the temples in Bagan that tourists were once allowed to climb are now closed for safety reasons. This is putting a lot of pressure on the few designated viewing places.”

                                                                                From Kirsty, the blogger behind World for a Girl 

                                                                                Resort in Kusadashi, Turkey

                                                                                “This is a resort in Turkey that is filled with European tourists. We spent only about an hour on this beach before leaving as it was such an unpleasant experience! I had to move at least half a dozen cigarette butts just to clear enough space for my beach towel!

                                                                                From Hayley, the blogger behind Life as a Butterfly

                                                                                The Taj Mahal

                                                                                “We recently visited the Taj Mahal. From distance you can see the impacts of overturisim. The white marble is tainted by the smog and the fog makes the view a little blurry. The lines to enter starts at 6am. Although tourist seems to believe that if they get there early it will be empty, the reality is complete opposite. Inside, crowds gather on the same spot to get the same picture everyone will be posting on instagram. The expectation surrounding the Taj Mahal comes to pieces once you see the real location without filters; magnificent, but far from what you think it would be like. However, It is an impressive view with or without photo editing.”

                                                                                From Laura, the blogger behind Three Decades Ago

                                                                                The Grand Canyon

                                                                                “The Grand Canyon is one of the most popular national parks in the United States, with over six million visitors annually. Most visitors don’t stray far from the the South Rim Visitor’s Center. But the Grand Canyon is nearly 300 miles long! A few minutes walk/drive away from the crowds, visitors can have plenty of space for themselves.”

                                                                                From John, the blogger behind The Hangry Backpacker

                                                                                Venice, Italy

                                                                                “Activists in Venice have formed “No Grandi Navi,” a group which fights against large cruise ships in the Venetian lagoon. These massive vessels contribute to issues related to overtourism in Venice for three main reasons. The first is that many people who arrive by cruise ship are day-trippers that don’t contribute to the local economy by staying in hotels and dining there. The other is the significant movement in the water caused by the cruise boats, which damages Venice’s underlying wooden structure. The final reason is the pollution that the ships bring, which harms the lagoon’s ecosystem. In 2017, a referendum to divert large cruise ships out of the lagoon and into the docks in a nearby town passed with overwhelming support, but some are skeptical about the length of time and logistics needed to make this happen. No Grandi Navi keeps up their fight in order to protect the future of their beloved city.”

                                                                                From Molly, the blogger behind Luggage and Life

                                                                                That Wanaka Tree, New Zealand

                                                                                “Nestled in the heart of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, a curved, spindly tree breaks the still waters of Lake Wanaka. Its branches spread out like fingers, its unique shape instantly recognisable. The landscape is striking yet serene. At least, that’s the expectation and the impression that most photographs of That Wanaka Tree give. In reality, head to the lake shore at either sunrise or sunset and you’ll be met by a coach-load of tourists all fighting for the perfect spot from which to take their image of New Zealand’s most photographed tree”

                                                                                From Joss, the blogger behind Little Green Globetrotter

                                                                                The Mona Lisa, inside of The Louvre, Paris France

                                                                                “Not wanting to be jostled and pushed by fellow tourists I spent less than a minute in her presence.  So if you want some peace and quiet to appreciate the Mona Lisa, don’t go to Paris in high season or visit the Louvre on the weekend.

                                                                                From Katie, the blogger behind Just Chasing Sunsets

                                                                                The Narrows, Zion National Park

                                                                                “This is at The Narrows – one of the most popular hikes in the park (this taken early too – only 10:00 AM!)”

                                                                                From Stephania, the blogger behind Travanie Travels

                                                                                Sunset Beach in Koh Lipe, Thailand

                                                                                “It’s hard to believe that just 30 years ago there wasn’t a single resort or tourist on this 2.5km by 3.5km isle.  Whilst it hasn’t suffered extreme overtourism like Koh Phi Phi has, you can start to see strains on this tiny island. The first time I visited Koh Lipe was a year ago at Christmas, which was when this picture was taken. I was surprised when I revisited a month ago in February (1 year later) to find double the number of visitors.”

                                                                                From Sherri, the blogger behind Travel Mermaid

                                                                                Want to learn how you can help prevent Overtourism?

                                                                                23 Ways to Help Prevent Overtourism

                                                                                Follow Along