Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

How to Avoid Cruise Crowds in Europe

by Carolyn Spencer Brown | November 2, 2023

When you plan a trip, do you factor in when cruise ships will be visiting the places on your itinerary? A lot of us do (cruisemapper.com is my go-to), since several large ships at once can overcrowd a place, pouring out tens of thousands of tourists in a day.

This is one reason why certain European cities—historic coastal ports—have enacted restrictions on cruise-ship visits. Venice, a popular cruise port where space is tight, now prohibits vessels larger than 25,000 tons. Dubrovnik, Croatia’s ancient walled harbor, now limits the number of cruise passengers to 4,000 per day. And this summer, the city council of Amsterdam, a hub for river cruises, announced a ban on cruise ships docking in its historic center. Amsterdam’s dictate is still unfolding, but it would require ships to dock at less convenient places outside the city center.

Indeed, Amsterdam recently announced that, in 2024, it will increase its tourist taxes to the highest level in Europe. Guests in hotels will see an increase from seven percent in 2023 to 12.5 percent, plus an additional 3€ for any additional occupants. Cruise travelers will also pay more, from 8€ to 11€ per passenger, per day. And cruise ships calling at Scotland’s ports will be charged a new cruise tax in 2024; timing and fees have not yet been determined.

Venice’s new rule limits entry to the small ships operated by Ponant, Ritz-Carlton, Scenic, Sea Cloud, Star Clipper, Windstar, and the occasional river vessel. Larger ships must dock in off-the-islands manufacturing towns, such as Fusina and Marghera, or in cities even farther away, such as Ravenna and Trieste, both more than a two-hour drive from Venice. Below is the cruise-ship pier in Fusina and the waterbus that shuttles cruise passengers from there to Venice. It’s a 45-minute ride each way…and certainly not as glam as docking in Venice itself.

The cruise-ship pier in Fusina, 45 minutes from Venice.

The cruise-ship pier in Fusina, 45 minutes from Venice. Photo: Teijo Niemela

I love traveling by sea. More and more, though, I’m drawn to small ships, or even private yacht charters, where you need not worry about which ports you’ll be allowed into and they’re not overcrowded when you get there. Check out the articles below for water-borne trips that will keep you away from the masses.

If you’re itching for an unusual at-sea experience and could use a personalized recommendation, use the button below.

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