Overrated Tourist Destinations
There are plenty of attractions that you must see when traveling. You can’t go to Paris for the first time without seeing the Eiffel Tower, and few people want to come home from Yellowstone without photos of Old Faithful. But for every tourist destination that’s come by its iconic reputation honestly, there’s a crappy tourist trap that isn’t worth your time or money.
Sure, a lot of this comes down to personal opinion. After all, one person’s tacky attraction is another person’s campy must-see perfect for Instagramming. Yet, we feel pretty confident that the overrated tourist destinations on this list are a total wash. Their lines are long, the crowds add hours to your visit, and the chances of having the time to genuinely take in what you’re seeing are very slim.
Our advice: With the time and money you saved by giving these a miss, find some place more beautiful, compelling and unique to visit instead.
Let’s start where America started, except that America didn’t really start here, anyway.
Put bluntly, this attraction is massively lame. It’s just a rock, in a fancy canopy that’s way more impressive than the rock itself. As the story goes, the Pilgrims first disembarked onto this rock in 1620 when they arrived in what would become America. They quickly founded Plymouth Colony, which is recreated down the road in a tourist destination much more worthy of your time.
But the truth is that no one even claimed that this particular rock was the arrival point until the mid-18th century, so…yeah, it’s likely all made up. Also, Native Americans were here long before the pilgrims showed up, and besides, the pilgrims landed at what would become Provincetown, on the tip of Cape Cod, a month before Plymouth anyway.
Let’s move across the ocean from Plymouth to another big ol’ dumb rock: the Blarney Stone near Cork, Ireland. The deal with this rock is that you’re supposed to bend over backwards to kiss it, and thus receive the gift of “blarney” – essentially eloquence.
If waiting in line for several hours to plant your mouth on a rock slimy with the moisture of a million other lips touching it is your thing, be our guest. But we’d rather walk around the more interesting grounds, including a garden of poisonous plants.
Completing our tour of overrated rocks, we’ll scoot over to Wiltshire, England, in order to warn you to avoid Stonehenge.
It’s not that this prehistoric monument is a total waste, but it’s never quite as grand as you were expecting. The stones aren’t 50 feet high, and the crowds take away the sense of eerie wonder that must have entranced those who stumbled upon the mysterious circle back in the day.
We’ll be honest – there are tons of stone circles all over the United Kingdom, many of which are far more impressive in their location and beauty than Stonehenge. The Calanais Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland are a great example.
It’s certainly not true that the waterfalls themselves are overrated. In fact, they’re stunning, a majestic display of the power of water.
The problem with the falls is the entire mini-economy of tourist crap that’s been built up beside (and under) them. The Canadian side is a little better than the American, but still, it’s just an unending array of gift shops, tacky restaurants and tourist attractions, as if Branson, Missouri set up shop beside one of Earth’s natural wonders…and blocked the view.
Times Square, the beating heart of New York City, is loud, tacky, overcrowded and not very much fun. That won’t stop most tourists from venturing into it anyway, only to break free, several minutes or hours later, gasping at how awful it is. Yep, we said it.
While Manhattan has made real efforts to improve this area with pedestrian-only sections and better traffic flow, it’s still insanity, so we can only recommend going there if you’re on your way to a Broadway show. Otherwise, the best way to see it, if you must, is to walk down 8th Avenue and take a quick peek at its humming activity.
Lest you think we have something against crowds, our next stop on the overrated tourism tour is one that’s remote and rarely very crowded. Four Corners is where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet, forming, well…you get it.
As you may be aware, states don’t have actual physical borders, so there’s not much here but a plaque in the ground and a bunch of state flags. If you’re driving by anyway, sure, stop, but don’t go out of your way, like, at all. At least it’s free.
This might be the most controversial inclusion on this list, and we get it: If you’re taking the time to go to India as a tourist, you’re probably going to go to the Taj Mahal. But don’t say we didn’t warn you.
First, you will drive forever to get there. Then, you will stand in line forever to get in. And then, once you’re in, you and approximately one million other people will pour through the palace, utterly ruining its serenity by chattering, taking photos and generally missing the entire point of the place, which was built to mourn and honor a lost love.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
Your enjoyment of this attraction will really depend on how much you’ve taken in the title of the place, because it says it all: There is a tower in Pisa, and it leans. That’s about it.
Oh, you can climb it, too, if you like waiting in line to exert yourself near utter strangers in order to glimpse an ok-ish view of the Italian countryside. Also, it’s 18 Euros (about $20) to do so.
It’s not that Westminster Abbey isn’t impressive – it is. Here, you can visit the graves of famous Brits like Charles Dickens and Darwin, and explore the aisle where royal luminaries such as H.R.H. Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge walked on their wedding day.
It’s just that the church is so darn crowded, with guides leading herds of tourists around while braying out information. Also, a heads up before you go in: This is not the place where Prince Charles and Princess Diana got married (that’s St. Paul’s Cathedral) and it’s not where Jane Austen or William Shakespeare are buried (Winchester Cathedral and the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford, respectively).
There are a lot of famous churches and cathedrals in the UK; make sure this is one you really want to see.
There are a bunch of these strange wax-figure museums in cities around the world, including Amsterdam, Paris, Sydney, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York and Las Vegas. All of those cities are known as tourist destinations, which should give you all the warning you need.
This is, at best, a sort of weird place, and at worst, a hugely depressing slog which will make you question just why our society values celebrity so much. However, if interacting with creepy, poorly rendered copies of famous people is your thing, at least you know you have myriad opportunities to do so, as long as you’re willing to cough up some cash (generally between $20 and $35, or more if you want to tack on attractions like “Ghostbusters: Dimension Hyper Reality Experience”).
Versailles might be the most depressing tourist trap on this list, because it could be a beautiful and intriguing destination if it weren’t so filled with other tourists. But because so many people want to see Louis XIV’s palace about 30 minutes outside of Paris, and because the folks who run this place seem to have never heard of fire code guidelines, you’re almost guaranteed to see more of the back of strangers’ heads than the palace itself.
If you must go, explore the idyllic and less-crowded grounds instead, timed to when the fountains are on.
Wall Drug Store
About 10,000 signs alert you to the fact that Wall Drug is ahead when you drive across South Dakota, probably on your way to or from Mount Rushmore. The signs are fun, giving you something to look for while you drive what seems like an endless highway.
But just keep on driving and don’t stop: Once a gimmicky but real drug store, Wall Drug is now a shopping mall that specializes in crap. Imagine fake cowboy hats, fake cowboy boots and tacky t-shirts, not to mention overpriced food, as far as the eye can see. The only thing worth stopping for is the jackalope (a made-up jack rabbit/antelope cross-breed) statue, and the still-free cup of water.
South of the Border
Then there’s this place off three well-trodden highways in South Carolina, which makes Wall Drug look like the epitome of taste and subtlety. Like Wall Drug, South of the Border was designed to trap tourists (and their money), but it doesn't have Wall Drug’s history.
It was developed in 1950 to be intentionally campy, and boy, did the owners succeed. Attractions include a video arcade, a tiny amusement park, fireworks stores and a statue of “Pedro,” a crude caricature of a Mexican bandido.
This place is truly depressing, like the underbelly of American consumerism flipped over and left to burn in the sun.
Lest we start to think Americans have a lock on the tacky, Brussels steps up.
This inexplicably famous statue shows a little boy urinating into a fountain. Let’s be honest: If you go to Brussels, you’ll probably go to see him. But at least you won’t expect much. It’s a little boy. Peeing. That’s it.
The "Mona Lisa” at The Louvre
Millions of people flock to the Louvre in Paris every year, and a huge portion of those millions make their way to Room 711 to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous "Mona Lisa." We’ve been there. And we can tell you, it looks exactly like you were expecting, except smaller.
Is it worth it to wait in line for hours to peer through bullet-proof glass to see it? That’s up to you. But we can tell you that the Louvre has thousands of other pieces, almost all of which are beautiful and easier to see.
The Empire State Building
Yes, yes, it features in two of the greatest romantic movies of all time, “An Affair to Remember” and “Sleepless in Seattle.” All we can say is that these days, with its steep entrance fee, massive crowds and intensive security check, it’s hard to find much to love here. And when you actually get to the top, you can’t even see iconic sights like Central Park!
Our advice: Take photos of this building from outside, and move on. There are many places in the city that offer the opportunity to snap a great shot of the Manhattan skyline...and they won’t cost you $20.
Pyramids of Giza
They’re an ancient wonder, but pretty hellish for modern-day visitors.
For one thing, the Pyramids of Giza (the most visited pyramids in the world) are in a desert, and, as you may have heard, deserts are usually hot and dry. That makes for a difficult journey to the site. Add in the difficulties of negotiating your entrance fee — different prices are set for different pyramids — and the fact that exploring the structures involves navigating long, dark, narrow, low tunnels to see a bunch of empty rooms…and, well, we’ll pass.
This fountain in Rome was completed in 1762 and has been revered for its beauty ever since. We’re mentioning that because you’ll likely have trouble doing more than glimpsing it unless you go at the crack of dawn.
Hundreds of people wait for hours to throw a coin in because a legend insists that doing so assures that they’ll return to Rome one day. Don’t bother being one of them — just book a return trip!
Hollywood Walk of Fame
The appeal of this array of stars set in concrete eludes us. It’s not like the famous people are there, or that the stars are in any way distinctive — they just have a famous person’s name on them.
If watching celebrity superfans and teenagers let loose on family vacations is your thing, then by all means, head down to Hollywood Boulevard. But we suggest you skip the stars as well as the former Mann’s Chinese Theatre (now the TCL Chinese Theatre), an inexplicably overhyped gaudy monstrosity of a cinema on the same street.
The history at this famous site in San Antonio is interesting, of course, and the courage of the people who died there compelling. But a glance at the website, where instructions for this “Shrine to Texas Liberty” include “Gentlemen, please remove your hats…” reveals the problem: It takes itself way too seriously, and streamlines a complicated history into simplified ideas about bravery and sacrifice.
Also, it’s small and often crowded and too hot.
Tower of London
Look, we know you’re going to go to the Tower of London if it’s your first time in the city. Just don’t say we didn’t tell you what to expect. The crowds are endless, so bad that in some parts you’ll queue for a half-hour in order to ride a people mover — including past the Crown Jewels — to maximize the number of people who can “see” the exhibits. And you’ll pay about $40 for the honor of doing so.
Also, keep in mind that this is a place that tries to pass off a bunch of loud crows as “the Tower Ravens.” Off with their heads.
Copenhagen Little Mermaid Statue
Fancy a long walk through Copenhagen for no other reason than to gaze at a four-foot-high statue stuck on the waterside, while jostling for space alongside a bunch of other tourists who got snookered into doing this?
If so, we have a suggestion of which statue to see. Prepare to wait a long, long time to get your photo taken with her.
It’s a very cool sculpture, Mount Rushmore, set high in the Black Hills of South Dakota, begun by Gutzon Borglum in the 1920s and finished in 1941. But even if you have no issues with the men portrayed and the men who carved them, the problem is that it is set very high in the hills, so far away from the viewing platform at the National Park dedicated to it that you need to bring binoculars to really see much of anything.
Also, there are hundreds of people around you trying to see the same four faces. Next.
When you’re planning a trip to Rome, people will tell you you have to visit the nearly 2,000-year-old Colosseum, but oh, we wish you wouldn’t. The queues to go in are long and disorganized. And once you make it in, the walking is difficult, there are tons of people there, and few interpretive signs are provided.
If you have to go, try to do so in the off-season, when there are fewer people and cooler temperatures. We hate to double-diss Rome in this list, but alas! Thumbs down. (And don’t worry: There are a million other amazing sites to explore in the city instead.)
Grand Canyon Skywalk
You might remember when this opened in 2007; people went nuts over the idea of a glass walkway jutting out over the rim of the Grand Canyon, theoretically allowing visitors to gaze down into the abyss. But the key word here is “theoretically.”
These days, the Skyrim is so crowded that you can barely see your own feet, let alone any tremendous views, and the price gouging is out of control: The cheapest ticket is nearly $50. Maybe instead just drive to a lookout on the canyon rim, and, you know, look out?
Statue of Liberty
The strange thing about the Statue of Liberty is that so many tourists are willing to go to Herculean efforts (generally involving at least a long subway ride and a ferry) to get to it when there is so much else to see and do in New York City. At least it’s now open, having been closed after September 11, 2001 for many years because of security concerns.
But the big secret of the Statue is that the views out of the crown aren’t very good, and you have to climb an extremely claustrophobic staircase to get to them. Our advice is to take the Staten Island ferry for a great view of Lady Liberty for far less time and money.
We get it: Whales are majestic and beautiful creatures. But the truth of the matter is, unless you’re going whale watching in an area where there happen to be lots of active whales who like to jump and slap their tails around, you’re going to be underwhelmed.
Most whale-watching tours involve staring into the middle distance over the ocean for long periods of time, only to be sent running to the other side of the boat to see what looks like a small dark island appear and disappear in the water. And you paid $50 a person for that. Yay?
Bird poop. Sorry, but that’s what Venice is full of, due to all of the pigeons that flock here. Also flocking? Tons and tons of tourists.
What no one tells you about Venice (but we will) is that the canals make for lots of narrow and confusing streets, with quite a few dead-ends along the way. Now, picture those tiny streets packed with people, and smeared with…well, you know. Poop.
All anyone ever talks about regarding New Orleans is how charming it is, and given what the city has been through in the last 15 years, with Hurricane Katrina decimating it, we’re all for its charms being celebrated.
But the French Quarter is not charming. It’s full of visiting day drinkers and businesses that use sleaze to sell more drinking. Other areas of the city, like Algiers and the Garden District, are far more enticing and authentic.
The Las Vegas Strip
Everyone visiting Las Vegas thinks that it’ll be like being in one of the “Ocean’s 11” movies (original or 20th century versions). It is not. It’s much more like tromping around a bunch of fake (cool, but fake) attractions in the blazing desert heat.
Everything costs $1,000,000. Everyone is nice to you because they want your money. You can’t get close enough to those freaking fountains at the Bellagio to even really see the show.
Eventually, you’ll give in, go back inside, and play the slot machines for hours, just like everyone else.
The Hollywood Sign
For those who feel that giant letters just do not get enough tourist attention these days, this famous sign, high in the hills over Los Angeles, is must-visit. For everyone else, though, shots of it in your favorite L.A.-based movies or television shows are likely satisfying enough.
The hike up to the sign is steep, and, well, let’s just say the letters aren’t more interesting from behind. Hit pause next time you’re watching, instead.
This used to be called the Sears Tower, and it’s a very, very tall building in Chicago, once the highest in the world, actually.
In theory, it offers amazing views of Chicago and Lake Michigan, but once you factor in the crowds and Chicago’s frequent bad weather, it’s not worth the trouble.
By the way, the Willis Tower offers the Skydeck, a glass-floor that extends out from the tower. You’ll pay $24 a person to enjoy all four feet of it. Yep. Four feet.
There’s no denying that Denali, the highest mountain in North America is stunning, an immense form on the horizon seen from the national park that bears its name.
The problem is that you have about a 1 in 3 chance of actually seeing it, since it makes its own weather and seems to be awfully fond of creating fog.
Alaska is a long way to travel to see fog, even if you vaguely understand that there’s a mountain in it somewhere.
Najing Dong Lu
Shanghai’s most famous street is frequently called a shopper’s paradise. It’s a pedestrian area, often compared to Times Square, which should be all the warning you need: like New York’s “shopper’s paradise,” Najing Dong Lu is crowded and full of scam artists.
And the shopping? Mediocre, and full of chain stores. Visitors who stand out from the Chinese crowd will be particularly targeted, harassed by frequent offers of counterfeit goods and ladies of the night.
Christ the Redeemer Statue
Like the Hollywood sign — a comparison that is not often made with Jesus — the famous Christ statue in Rio de Janeiro is better appreciated from afar or on screen.
The problem here isn’t the beauty of the statue, which is just as impressive up close, but rather the grueling traffic on the road to get there, and the massive crowds once you finally make it. Not to mention that plenty of tours stop for 10 minutes, tops.
Old Town Prague
Prague’s Old Town section, dating back to the Medieval era, is both historical and attractive.
Everyone else has figured this out too, however, so you’ll be lucky to catch a glimpse of the actual tiny, exquisite buildings while you trundle along, jostled constantly and trying not to trip over the cobblestones.
Arrive early or late for a better shot of actually seeing something there.
This cathedral in Paris, where prayers are said 24 hours a day, is stunning. As a bonus, the views over the city are gorgeous, too.
So, why is Sacre Couer on this list? Because of the super-aggressive hustlers on nearby streets, including by the entrance to the funicular that many visitors will take to and from the cathedral to avoid multiple steep staircases.
These ever-present scam artists don’t take no for an answer, and ruin what should be a peaceful, contemplative place.
Oh, great, another super-tall building. This one is in Dubai, and, as of this writing, is the current record holder for tallest in the world.
The usual caveats apply here: if you absolutely must have a birds-eye view of Dubai or enjoy the idea of visiting an 148th floor, go for it, but most people will wonder if the trip to the top was worth $100 a person. Yes, really.
Beijing’s most famous tourist attraction fails in the same way Versailles does: in an effort to let in as many tourists as possible, far too many people are in the Forbidden City most of the time.
It’s hard to imagine that a site as large as this one could feel crowded, but because most visitors want to see a relatively small portion of it, they tend to cluster together in cramped areas.
You’ll be moved along quickly by workers, and have a stunning view of the backs of many strangers’ heads.
There’s plenty to see in the Vatican City, but frankly, it’s depressing to experience this much wealth in one place. Everything not nailed down (and some things that are) seems to have been plated with gold, and there are enough tapestries and velvets and jewels to make you think you’ve wandered into Liberace’s closet.
Of course, there are some stunning works of art here, and you can enjoy them if you don’t think too hard about how much good such wealth could do in the world instead of piled up here.
Lavish in a completely different, tackier, way, Elvis’s mansion is still attracting visitors, 40 years after his death. It’s become one of those self-perpetuating tourist destinations, where people go because it’s there for people to go to, more than because they’re real fans of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Save yourself the trip and some money by buying a velvet Elvis painting at your local thrift shop. It has exactly the same effect.
The Sydney Opera House
Often referred to as one of the most iconic buildings in the world, and few visitors to Sydney will miss taking a photo of it. That’s all fine, but only those who actually want to attend a performance should make further efforts to see it up close.
Most visitors agree that the interior is nothing special, and not worth the trouble. Also, there are about a million steps around the property, making the appearance that you can glide right up to it decidedly incorrect.
Moscow’s jewel is a must-see for most visitors. But be warned: it’s just a square. There’s not much in there besides huge crowds. The better idea is to visit the old buildings around it and nearby, and snap photos of the skyline from outside of it.
Since construction scaffolding there seems to have become a new constant for Russia and it’s particularly dense around here, there’s even more reason to appreciate it from afar.
The White House
No matter what your opinion of the current residents of the White House, the tour itself is a bit of a snooze, unless you happen to snag a ticket during the winter holiday season when the decorations are pretty enough.
After waiting in a line for a very long time, it takes forever to clear security to get inside: seriously, it’s worse than taking a plane. The White House itself is surprisingly small, and the section you’re allowed to see even smaller. Add in the Secret Service watching everyone’s every move, and maybe you’d rather just watch another episode of “The West Wing”?
The Great Wall of China
Sure, if you’re in China, you should take the time to see the Great Wall. It’s pretty, uh, great. What’s not great, though, is Mutianyu, the restored section of the Wall not far from Beijing, where most tourists end up.
It’s frequently overcrowded, and, due to the restoration’s air-brushing effects, lacks the atmosphere of the rest of the wall. If you go, make sure you visit the less crowded, less tidy sections.