Disappointing tourist traps seem to come in several varieties: some of them are places that used to be a big deal but now aren’t, others are places that everyone thinks should be interesting but somehow aren’t and then there are places that the locals are trying to pretend are interesting but it’s not working.
The first type is the pretty common. People feel they should go to a place where something special happened to see if there’s a little bit of that specialness is still hanging around. The special event can be something really horrible like an assassination, or fun something like a famous movie location, but people who go looking for what made the place matter a long time ago can often come away disappointed.
There are some places people go to because they sound interesting in theory but are disappointing in practice. Places that are oddities on a map but there’s literally nothing to see when you get there except some sign saying that this is where the imaginary thing on the map would be if you could see it.
But the most common type of tourist letdowns are the ones deliberately built on hype. In a way you can’t blame the locals; everybody’s got to make a living. Even so, it can be disappointing to find out there really isn’t much more to a tourist trap than that it’s a place a lot of tourists go to and leave money and you’ve fallen for it.
1) The Blarney Stone, Ireland
The theory is that kissing the Blarney Stone will give a person “the gift of the gab”, the ability to pull a little Irish charm out whenever it suits you. To get this magical power you have to go out to a castle, climb a bunch of stairs and hang your head out over a hole in the wall. Whoever came up with this sure had the gift of the gab.
2) The Four Corners Monument in Southwestern, United States
This must be the best example of the saying “there’s no ‘there’ there”. When you get to the spot on the map where the American states of Colorado, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico happen to meet up at perfect right angles you’ll find nothing there. Nothing, that is, except a marker with the states’ names telling you this is the spot on the map where two imaginary lines cross each other.
3) The Observation Deck of the Empire State Building
The Empire State Building is deservedly famous for being good looking when seen from a distance but it’s observation deck is a dud. Its view of Central Park is blocked by the Rockefeller Center; which makes its much less cramped observation deck a better pick than the Empire State’s. In fact, you can go there instead and enjoy a good view of the Empire State Building.
4) The Prairies
This is the “big sky country” that just goes on and on and on. Once travellers get over the novelty of driving through a landscape with no noticeable landmarks it starts to get boring and then starts to get kind of worrying. What if this never ends? All that flatness just feels weird and wrong in a way you can can’t put your finger on.
5) The Eiffel Tower
It’s the long, long lineups that ruin this experience. The tower is pretty when seen from a distance but having to wait hours and spend a fortune on tickets really takes away from the fun. Unless you come at a good time you might be better off taking in a view of the city from the top of Montmartre. That way you can see the Eiffel tower in all its glory and avoid the lines.
6) St Tropez, France
Saint Tropez got its reputation as a cool and relaxed place back when Brigitte Bardot and her artsy friends used to chill there in the summer. Word got out after they made a few films about the place and now it’s totally swamped with too much money, glitz and tourism.
7) Wax Museums
Creepy: that’s the work for wax museums. It’s no accident that they keep making horror movies about these places. Not only are they creepy but they seem to miss more times than they score when they try to create exact replicas of politicians and pop stars.
8) Any magnetic hill
This is all about optical illusions. Having your car gently roll down a hill when you put it in neutral is usually no big deal but it’s supposedly a tourist attraction if the landscape around the hill makes it feel like your car is rolling against gravity. It’s harmless fun but most people seem to come away from these things feeling disappointed.
9) The Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia
This bay on the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada is a tourist destination because of its tides. All bays on the ocean have tides but this one is reported to have the world’s highest. In theory that sounds impressive but when you get there you’ll see either water or mud. Wikipedia says: “In July 2009, the Bay of Fundy was named as a finalist for the New 7 Wonders of Nature contest that ended in November 2011. It was not chosen as a wonder. ”. No big surprise there.
10) The Louvre in Paris
This is another nice place ruined by the other tourists. Instead of being able to contemplate the art at your leisure you find yourself surrounded by as many photographers as you’d see working the red carpet at the Oscars.
11) The Statue of Liberty
The statue itself is actually a nice piece of art and impressive national symbol; the only problem is that it’s a lot smaller than you’d think. It’s actually a statue on a giant pedestal that’s on top of yet another pedestal. It’s also notorious bad for long lineups for both the ferry to Liberty Island and the statue itself.
12) Carnival, Rio
Imagine having one samba song playing full blast and on an endless loop everywhere you go for days and you have a sense of Carnival in Rio. Crowds of people dancing to songs you don’t understand the words to, chatting in a language you don’t understand, for day after day. It’s a party by Brazilians and for Brazilians and tourists are really only spectators and third wheels.
13) Harrods, London
This is a case of a tragic mismatch between what a brand name used to mean and what it means now. Tourists come to Harrods hoping to shop where the British aristocracy stocks up on the finer things in life but find a weird and glitzy place filled with odd statues. Now Harrods is a lot less Downton Abbey and a lot more Las Vegas.
14) Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy
So this is the tower everyone visits so they can get a picture of themselves trying to hold it up or knock it over? The funny thing is the local authorities have put a lot of money and effort into making the tower lean less and it’s been working. Maybe that’s why it costs $24 to go to the top of the thing.
15) The Champs-Élysées, Paris
This is another one of those areas that have become too famous for its own good. Even Woody Allen said “if the artists from the 1920s could see the Champs-Élysées now, I think they’d have a heart attack … it’s a crime against the spirit and culture of France.”
16) Las Vegas, Nevada
Is Las Vegas supposed to be fun because it’s so tacky or is it just plain tacky? When does tackiness stop being fun and starts to be pretty depressing? Around the time you realize how many of the gamblers really aren’t having much fun getting fleeced. Pretty soon you realize the whole place is set up to fleece people and then send them on their way.
17) The Olympics
Imagine a whole town turned into a giant maximum security prison but one where the inmates have to pay a fortune for everything they eat, drink or sleep on: that’s what it’s like to go to a modern Olympics. Add to that the fun of buying scalped tickets to events you really don’t care much about while the popular events have plenty of empty seats for some reason.
18) Equator, Ecuador
Outside of Quito, Ecuador is Mitad del Mundo, or the “Middle of the World”, which is a big monument surrounded by the usual tourist trap stuff. The only problem is that the real equator runs a couple of hundred yards to the north and so they’ve had to build a kind of alternate monument there. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of places where the equator passes through.
19) The Parthenon
This old temple in Athens might be the inspiration for thousands of buildings all over the world but the Parthenon itself has seen better days. All of its best sculptures were either destroyed in a gunpowder explosion back in 1687 or were shipped to the British Museum in London. Right now the Greek government is working to restore it, so it looks more like a construction site than anything.
20) The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
We’ve all seen them in the movies and we all like the idea that there are these mysterious structures somewhere out there in the desert waiting to reveal their treasures or fly off as spaceships or something. The reality is a letdown. Instead of getting some time to ponder the pyramids, you’re hit with wave after wave of beggars and aggressive vendors. Your not even allowed to touch the Sphinx or climb on the pyramids anymore.
21) Loch Ness
This is another one of these places people go to as a joke but the joke’s kind of on them. People go to Loch Ness ironically to buy Nessie monster souvenirs, go an an ironic boat ride in search of it and then have an ironic lunch in one of the overpriced tea shops. They do all this ironically but the money they leave behind is real. Better off going to one of the less famous Scottish lochs.
The problem with Stonehenge is a bit like the problem with the pyramids in Egypt. Both sites are ancient constructions people visit to soak up mysterious powers but they find themselves surrounded by other tourists and find out they’re not allowed to get close to the stones. At Stonehenge they get an expensive parking lot and highways zipping past on both sides.
23) The Western Front
This is one time you’re glad an historic site doesn’t look like it did when it became famous. If the green and sleepy fields of northern France and Belgium looked now like they did during the First World War then you’d be standing in the middle of an apocalyptic sea of mud and destruction. As it is now, you go and stand in the rain in damp green fields and ditches and try to imagine it with no trees, no grass and entirely different from what’s in front of you. The local museums can be good but don’t bother with the trip to the battlefield unless the weather is great.
24) Dealey Plaza, Dallas
It’s another one of those places where something happened a long time ago but nothing is happening right now. While you’re there can look at Lee Harvey Oswald’s old workplace, the Texas School Book Depository, which probably looks like the old pencil factory in your hometown. When you’re done with that you can look at the world famous Grassy Knoll, which looks like a grassy knoll of some kind.
25) Prague Astronomical Clock, Czech Republic
It’s pretty but it’s only a clock and the problem with clocks is that they do things at their own speed. That means you get to hang around in a crowded square waiting for it to do its thing … in 40 minutes.
26) The World’s Biggest …. Roadside Attraction Anywhere
This is almost always something made to look like a giant version of something local. If you can close your eyes and picture a giant apple, raccoon, buffalo, rocking chair or strawberry then you can probably come up with something more impressive than the one they made out of painted fibreglass. Just keep driving unless you need an excuse to stretch your legs.
Florida is still the the Sunshine State but it’s also home to eleven of America’s top one hundred most dangerous cities. The Florida Keys are a dissapointment if you’re looking for beaches rather than a place to drink and listen to Jimmy Buffett.
28) The Little Mermaid, Denmark
This is yet another famous landmark that dissapoints with its size. It’s a lot smaller and than people expect and it’s only a replica put put out there to be vandalized and messed with while the original is kept safely indoors somewhere else.
29) Temple Bar, Dublin
This is one of those cases where part of a city is handed over to the tourists to do with as they wish. People come to Dublin from all over the world expecting pubs on every corner and so the Temple Bar district was transfomed into a kind of Irish pub theme park on their behalf. It’s basically a tourist trap the locals avoid like the plague.
30) The Hollywood Walk of Fame, California
It’d be hard for the Walk of Fame to live up to expectations Hollywood has built up about itself but this doesn’t even come close. When you think about it, what’s the connection between your favorite film star and some patch of sidewalk in a rough part of town? Absolutely nothing, of course.