Editor’s Note: Sign up for Unlocking the World, CNN Travel’s weekly newsletter. Get the latest news in aviation, food and drink, where to stay and other travel developments.
Stripping off from the waist down at a sacred site. Driving a car across a medieval bridge, as fragile as it is famous. Carving your name into a world icon, and going on a punishing hike… to take illegal drugs.
These are just some of the things tourists have got up to in 2023. They’ve damaged heritage sites, eaten endangered species, and – in the case of one couple – stolen nearly $2 million worth of wine from a Michelin-starred restaurant. They’ve (allegedly) insulted border guards, and flashed in front of kids. And when they’ve been caught out, they’ve often pleaded ignorance.
Here are 25 of the worst incidents we saw in 2023.
Italy has long been a center of bad behavior for tourists who treat it like a theme park, and the year kicked off in a predictably grim manner when an American was caught driving across the pedestrianized Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence. Italy’s most famous bridge, built in the medieval period and then rebuilt to connect Palazzo Pitti to the Uffizi Galleries under the rule of the Medici, who lived in the former and worked in the latter, the Ponte Vecchio was allegedly so beautiful that the Germans left it intact in World War II because Hitler had fallen in love with it on a visit with Mussolini. The 34-year-old American was fined 500 euros for driving across it.
The year also got off to a bad start for wildlife, as well as heritage. In February, a Chinese influencer was fined after she livestreamed herself cooking and eating a great white shark – a protected species in China. She was reportedly fined 125,000 yuan, or $18,600.
Spring had only just sprung in the northern hemisphere when, in March, a Russian tourist provoked outrage by stripping off to take a semi-nude photo at a sacred site in Bali.
The man – Yuri Chilikin – went naked from the waist down in his impromptu photo shoot at Mount Agung, a volcano sacred to the god Shiva. Yuri later apologized and called Ni Luh Djelantik, Balinese businesswoman and fixer extraordinaire for tourists in trouble, to mediate between him and the locals.
He eventually took part in a ceremony at a temple, where he prayed alongside Hindu priests. That didn’t stop him being deported, however.
Chilikin wasn’t the only tourist behaving badly in Bali. In the same month, authorities announced a ban on tourists renting motorbikes, because of the accidents they cause.
Meanwhile in Japan, authorities announced a crackdown on visitors to the Ghibli Park theme park, dedicated to the work of popular animation company Studio Ghibli, taking “indecent” photos.
In February, photos were posted to social media showing men “pretending to sexually assault young female characters” in Ghibli Park, Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper reported.
“For those who come to the park to do this kind of thing, I would much prefer them not to come at all,” Hideaki Ōmura, governor of Aichi Prefecture, said.
And as spring got going in Hong Kong, residents noticed the resurgence of “begpackers” busking, selling things or simply asking locals for money to fund their travels. Resident Ashley James told CNN: “Hong Kong is a very expensive place to live… The locals can’t even afford (to live) here. Why are you in one of the most expensive places in the world and asking us to buy beads? Travel is a luxury around the world, and people saying ‘pay for my travel’ is stupid and entitled.”
Back in Italy, Florence was at the mercy of another American tourist at the wheel. A 43-year-old man was fined 470 euros ($506) for illegally driving his rental car – a bright red Ferrari – into the pedestrianized Piazza della Signoria, the main square of the seat of the Renaissance.
Meanwhile, Venice is no stranger to bad tourist behavior, but in March a visitor put himself at risk while jumping into a canal from the top of a three story building. Mayor Luigi Brugnaro tweeted that he would give the perpetrator “a certificate of stupidity and a lot of kicks” once he was traced and blamed social media: “They do these stupid things for the likes.”
There was one piece of good news at the start of Europe’s season, though. In March, a couple was jailed for their 2021 heist of wine valued at $1.7 million from a Michelin-starred restaurant in Spain. The pair left restaurant Atrio in Caceres, western Spain, carrying 45 bottles of wine wrapped in hotel towels and hidden in travel bags, the court heard – including an 1805 bottle of Chateau d’Yquem that was listed on the menu for 350,000 euros ($371,000). The couple had visited the restaurant three times while planning the heist, before having a 14-course dinner and a guided tour of the wine cellar. They then broke in during the night from the adjacent hotel.
Sometimes it’s not an individual behaving badly – it’s an entire country. In March, Amsterdam launched its “Stay Away” campaign to deter young British men from coming to the capital to cause mayhem on “stag dos” – or bachelor parties. The campaign used targeted ads to pop up for anyone googling terms from “cheap hotel Amsterdam” to “pub crawl Amsterdam,” warning would-be raucous travelers of the chance of being arrested, fined or ending up in hospital after a drugs binge goes wrong.
They may not have been doing it for the benefit of social media, but one group of “young adult males” got into trouble in the UK’s Lake District. The area is known for its beautiful panoramas, but for this group, natural beauty wasn’t enough – and they decided to amp up the experience with magic mushrooms. Volunteer rescuers were alerted to them by passersby and found the group “who appeared to be disorientated.”
And as the European summer season commenced, an Austrian village got so fed up of tourists snapping selfies that it erected a fence to block the view. Hallstatt, said to have inspired the Disney movie “Frozen,” put up the fence after enduring up to 10,000 visitors per day in the village of about 800 residents.
Sometimes behaving badly has tragic consequences – and not just for the tourists. On May 20, a visitor to Yellowstone National Park “disturbed” a newborn bison calf after it was separated from its mother and the rest of the herd crossing a river. The man lifted the calf from the river, despite park regulations stating that visitors must stay at least 25 yards from the animals. After the interaction, the herd rejected the calf, which then began to approach park visitors. It was euthanized by rangers.
Horrifying consequences were narrowly avoided when YouTuber Trevor Daniel Jacob deliberately crashed his plane in California while making a video to promote a wallet. Jacob, a pilot and skydiver, filmed himself ejecting and parachuting to safety. He pleaded guilty after the footage went viral for all the wrong reasons.
But it’s not always humans behaving badly. An “exhausted” and possibly injured dog had to be rescued in the UK’s Lake District, after he refused to walk any further. A Mountain rescue team stretchered him down from landmark Scafell Pike in just over four hours. At 77 pounds, he’s a hefty dog, but no match for a team of pros with a stretcher.
“Despite being quite a large dog at 33kg it was a joy to carry such a relatively lightweight casualty. The casualty remained cool, calm and positively regal throughout,” the rescue team said in a statement.
In June, a tourist at Rome’s Colosseum was caught carving “Ivan + Hayley 23” into the 2,000 year old monument. As he was being filmed, he grinned – but he was less perky when police tracked him down just day later. The British resident immediately begged the Italian authorities for forgiveness, according to a spokesperson for the carabinieri police force, and said that he didn’t know how old the monument was. He is now thought to be now awaiting trial in 2024.
As the summer progressed, tourists in Italy continued to damage its delicate heritage. In July, two teenagers were caught defacing the Colosseum on consecutive days: first a girl from Switzerland and then a German youth. Both were caught carving their names into the structure.
As temperatures rise, many of us have the urge to strip off – which led to visitors to UK sunflower fields being begged to stop posing naked amid the foliage.
The owners of Stoke Fruit Farm on Hayling Island, off England’s south coast, issued a plea on social media for visitors to keep their clothes on, having noticed increasing numbers of guests stripping off to pose naked amid the flowers. Owner Sam Wilson told CNN that this is a particularly 2023 problem.
“We’ve always had people take risque pictures but this is the first year it’s been a problem, which is why we’ve put signs up,” he said, adding that they issued the warning after visiting children “saw what was going on.”
Meanwhile in Italy, two German tourists were arrested for graffitiing Florence’s Vasari Corridor, linking the Uffizi Galleries to the Ponte Vecchio. The pair were part of an 11-strong group in Florence to attend a soccer match. The graffiti, sadly predictably, was of their team. It caused over $10,000 of damage.
In the north of the country, a group of German tourists toppled a priceless statue in their bid to pose for the perfect photo at Viggiù, near Lake Como.
And as temperatures rocketed in Rome, a tourist was caught wading into the Trevi Fountain to fill up her water bottle. It was unclear what became of the woman, but she was videoed being apprehended by authorities. Setting foot in the famous fountain can incur fines of 500 euros.
Speaking of European capitals, Paris didn’t make it through the summer unscathed, either. In August, two drunk American tourists were found in the Eiffel Tower one morning, having spent the night there “allegedly trapped there due to their excessive alcohol consumption,” the Paris prosecutor’s office told CNN.
We’re always ready to condemn other airline passengers for bad behavior, but sometimes it’s the airlines themselves that are indulging in a bit of off color antics. In September, Air Canada staff forced paying passengers on a flight from Las Vegas to Montreal to sit in seats still dirty with vomit from a previous flight.
“They placed coffee grinds in the seat pouch and sprayed perfume to mask the smell. When the clearly upset passengers tried to explain to the flight attendant that the seat and seatbelt were wet and there was still visible vomit residue in their area, the flight attendant was very apologetic but explained that the flight was full and there was nothing they could do,” wrote one passenger on social media.
The airline apologized when news of the incident went viral.
In 2022, a tourist caused havoc at the Vatican Museums by smashing ancient sculptures. For 2023, that horrific trend had spread to Israel, where two Roman sculptures from the second century CE were damaged by an American tourist. Police told CNN that the man had knocked over the statues because he considered them “idolatrous” but his lawyer disagreed, saying he was merely suffering “Jerusalem Syndrome,” where tourists are so overwhelmed by history that they disassociate from reality.
The bad behavior has continued this winter. In November, an American tourist was banned for life from the Philippines after he was accused of writing profanities on his immigration form. Authorities said that he had “keyed in a made-up address in the Philippines, did not include his full name, and inputted profane words in his entry.”
The 34-year-old was refused entry and put on a permanent no entry list for his “disrespectful” behavior, according to the Philippine Bureau of Immigration. Authorities said that upon his arrival he allegedly “showed disdain” toward one immigration officer when he was reminded to fill out an online travel form and tossed his passport and mobile phone at another.
The passenger told CNN that he disputed the country’s account. He is the 44th foreign national this year to be denied entry for “disrespectful” behavior.