How Party Tourists Are Destroying Europe's Towns and Cities
Whether they pee on national monuments or carve "SEND NUDES" into ancient, moss-covered hills, drunk tourists are wearing down Europe's most popular party destinations.
Photo: Jamie Lee Curtis Taete
Northern Europeans – Brits, especially – spend all year locked inside the damp, grey prison that is Northern Europe's climate. So when we get the chance to escape those circumstances for a week or two, we do so with a vengeance, descending onto southern and eastern Europe like a swarm of party locusts, ready to get shitfaced, get naked and take absolutely no heed of the "quiet hours" mentioned in our Airbnb's house rules.
When we crawl home after peak season, the few locals who haven't permanently fled the area are left to scrub off the damage – their national monuments stained in piss, the smell of sick lingering in their picturesque cobbled streets. To find out how sustainable this is, we asked contributors from seven party destinations across Europe about how those rivers of acidic puke are corroding ancient landmarks, and what locals are doing to fight it.
The Greek Islands
The Greek islands can be heavenly, but they also attract the most hellish kind of tourist: Brits and other Northern Europeans desperate to numb the searing pain of their sunburn with alcohol and drugs. This breed of traveller is leaving its mark on islands like Corfu, Zakynthos, Mykonos and Ios, where – in peak season – tourists sexually harass each other, beat each other up and wreck local homes and hotels every night. As a result, many party towns on these islands are seeing a dip in their local economies: families and middle-aged tourists, who generally spend more money on their holidays than boozy teens, are deliberately avoiding them. For example, the number of people visiting Kavos, a popular party destination on Corfu, has dropped 30 percent in recent years.
Kavos locals fed up with the loud music, fights, shattered glass and general drunken anti-social behaviour are pushing authorities to intervene. The Kavos Cultural Association has recently filed petitions to have more police patrolling the streets and to require bars to stop playing music earlier in the evening. The Association recently sued travel agencies like Thomas Cook and Tui for damaging the local economy by encouraging tourists to only go to certain venues – and the organisation even tried to stop the filming of Geordie Shore in 2016.
"This behaviour should not be considered normal," Vangelis Aspiotis, president of the Kavos Cultural Association, told the Daily Mail. "These kids just stare at the internet on their phones, use balloons and get drunk. We feel embarrassed for our town."
– Thodoris Chondrogiannos, staff writer VICE Greece
Walk around Amsterdam's city centre and it's the smell of tourists that hits you first – whether it's coming from the Nutella-covered waffles they eat, the White Widow they smoke or whatever they've just thrown up on the pavement. Of course, you'll see them shortly after smelling them: tourists have made the capital of the most densely-populated country in Europe even more visibly overcrowded. In 2015, 17 million people from all over the world visited Amsterdam – a city of around 800,000 inhabitants. It's estimated that this number of visitors will grow to 23 million in 2025. Locals regularly avoid parts of the city centre because there's no way to get through the crowds, and the Kalverstraat – the city's main shopping street – was closed off several times over the summer because of dangerous overcrowding.
Amsterdam's reputation inspires visits from many tourists who just want to be stoned for the full duration of their visit, often putting themselves in danger in the process. There are regular reports of visitors being hit by trams, or falling into canals and drowning. In 2014, three British tourists died after taking white heroin sold to them as cocaine, while a few deadly incidents involving tourists on shrooms – including one where a 17-year-old girl jumped off a bridge – led to psilocybin mushrooms being banned in the Netherlands.
In an attempt to reclaim the city, one local entrepreneur has come up with a solution: Holland World – a theme park recreating Amsterdam, with life-size replicas of the city's landmarks, bars and canals. It'll be built just a few miles from the city itself, and if all goes to plan, you could fly in and go balls out from some time in 2023.
– Ewout Lowie, Editor VICE Netherlands
While Barcelonians have recently taken to violently protesting the effects of mass tourism on their city, it's Magaluf that's been hit the hardest by marauding pissheads. There may be fewer tourists visiting the Mallorcan town than Barcelona, but they're largely British teens on their first holiday without adult supervision, meaning: metric tons of vomit, public blowjob competitions and endless fistfights. The havoc-wreaking is mostly concentrated in Magaluf's main party strip, Punta Ballena, where, during peak season, cleaners move half a ton of rubbish every night.
The local government tries to mitigate the negative effects of mass tourism by banning all-inclusive hotel deals and restricting the sale of alcohol in shops, but nothing much has changed yet for the people living in Magaluf. Alfonso Rodríguez, spokesperson for local advocacy group Esquerra Oberta, claims he's constantly receiving complaints from locals – about the noise, violence, prostitution, vandalism and crime, and the seemingly endless string of naked Brits running through his streets.
– Jaume Ribas, contributor VICE Spain
If you're going to Croatia to party, and you're not going to one of the 8,000 festivals that have popped up there over the past five years, chances are you're going to Hvar. The fact the city has become a prime party destination is starting to annoy locals, since the stupid things drunk visitors do for a laugh can have a real effect of the people actually living there.
Two summers ago, a group of Australian tourists climbed up the local church-tower in the middle of the night, ran across the roof, broke a bunch of tiles, rang the church bell and woke up half the town. This year, a British tourist thought it would be funny to walk around dressed as a terrorist, causing quite a fair bit of distress and anger among locals. The issues aren't just limited to Hvar; in 2015, a drunk Irish tourist drowned in Split after jumping off a sailing boat at 2AM. It was dark, and local emergency services couldn't respond in time to save him.
Local authorities are now planning to take action. Hvar's mayor, Rikardo Novak, wants to enforce codes of conduct for tourists, making them pay hefty fines if they don't comply. UNESCO warned Dubrovnik (which – like Split – attracts a large number of tourists, thanks in part to the fact it was a filming location for Game of Thrones) about the dangers of overcrowding the ancient city centre, and the city's mayor wants to cut the daily number of tourists in half, from 8,000 to 4,000. But nothing has actually been done yet, and locals depend heavily on the tourist industry. Either way, profit sadly often takes priority over protecting a historic town.
– Vuk Oreb, contributor VICE Serbia
When Poland joined the EU in 2004, Britain was among our friendliest allies, welcoming Polish citizens without any limits on settling and working. Poles were ready to be equally hospitable, offering Brits the best our land had to offer – vodka, sausages and amphetamines. Thanks to a proliferation of cheap flights and hostels, the British people quickly embraced the city of Kraków, Poland's ancient former capital.
At first, the city was delighted to have them, but as early as 2007 local pubs began barring Brits, displaying signs explicitly stating that they wouldn't be served. "They came in large numbers, asking for the types of alcohol we didn't serve and, after several drinks, became really hard to communicate with," a pub owner told the Polish Express. At one point, even the local clergy intervened, with Archbishop and cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz calling for "spiritual renewal" in a letter to congregations, criticising Kraków's mass tourism. "The city is now full of nightclubs where people are acting in profane ways," he wrote.
The thing is: British drinking culture shocked Poles because it's so wildly different from our own. In Poland, we drink because we're sad, not because we want to have a good time. We usually drink alone, sometimes with one friend – or, in some exceptions, with a handful of people. We drink pondering the misery of life until we drop from our stools. Stag parties, pub crawls, drinking games and chants are as exotic to us as drinking pickle water to cure a hangover might be to the British.
The local council in Kraków has largely ignored the issues with British drinkers in the city centre – they're happy with the source of revenue. That's why entrepreneurs in the city are taking the matter into their own hands, by trying to engage visitors in more civilised forms of fun – like shooting big-ass machine guns at local shooting ranges.
– Maciek Piasecki, Editor VICE Poland
Every summer, Venice is a setting for the same scene: thousands of visitors arriving daily on cruise ships, drunk tourists diving off bridges and people peeing outside homes and exclusive hotels at 9AM. The legendary city is losing its character and gaining the nickname "Disneyland on the sea".
Mass tourism is nothing new for Venice, but over the last few years it's been getting out of hand. The numbers vary, but it's said around 30 million tourists visit the small city every year. The impact of that is so damaging that the UN has threatened to put Venice on its list of endangered heritage sites if it can't find a way to deal with the volume of tourists, particularly those coming from cruise ships.
Venetian authorities have taken measures in an attempt to reduce the nuisance for locals – like fining misbehaving tourists and limiting access to some monuments and squares. But that doesn't seem to be enough for many locals, who are fleeing the city in large numbers. There are less than 55,000 people now living in the city, compared to 175,000 in the 1950s.
Mind you, a number of remaining Venetians are fighting back; earlier this year, 25,000 people voted to ban giant cruise ships from docking in the lagoon, though a similar effort in 2015 was ignored by the local government. A few months ago, 2,000 locals gathered on the streets to protest, in a march called "Mi no vado via" (I'm not leaving). Giampietro Gagliardi, a member of local action group Generazione '90, told local press that there were plenty of Venetians still willing to stand up for their city. "We want to make it clear," he said, "Venetians are here and fighting to stay. We want to re-appropriate our city, saving it from the mono-culture of tourism."
– Leonardo Bianchi, News editor VICE Italy
In 2016, Iceland welcomed almost 2 million tourists – an increase of 39 percent from 2015. It's fair to say that the small island, with a modest population of 334,632, has turned into a popular holiday destination. Although Icelanders will always be happy to welcome adventurers and bright-eyed newlyweds, the influx of another type of tourist is slowly wearing locals down.
While the Reykjavík's city centre is well-equipped for foreign visitors looking to party, the countryside – where many of them also venture – suffers the effects of poorly behaved tourists. Earlier this year, one of the countless groups of shitfaced young people carved "SEND NUDES" into our ancient moss-covered hills. Tourists in Land Rovers go off-road in areas that have been untouched for decades, and 2015, a visiting artist painted one of our historical Geysirs bright pink. He was fined £490, but refused to pay and was allowed to leave the country.
So far, Icelanders who are sick of mass tourism on the island haven't taken a whole lot of action – we complain on a Facebook page and don't go out until about 2AM, as we know that's when a lot of the drunk tourists are stumbling home.
– Hanna Blåhed, contributor VICE Sweden