There’s nothing better than a destination that exceeds all of your expectations. The enjoyment of travel, after all, is at least 50 percent about the anticipation.
I remember first setting eyes on the Great Wall of China 10 years ago. Yes, the main entrance at Badaling was swarmed with tourists. In the pre-selfie-stick era there were swarms of people passing around disposable cameras and posing with each and every staircase along the wall. Hawkers pushed cheap snow globes, magnets, balloons, and stuffed pandas at you, and the refreshments were both gross and grossly overpriced. Still, the wall was great. It exceeded everything I expected and was indeed a wonder to behold. The same cannot be said for all so-called tourist traps.
We all have the spots we think are fantastically overrated. I was so disappointed in the Leaning Tower of Pisa that I consistently tell visitors to Italy to simply Photoshop themselves into a picture of the tower rather than take the train ride to visit it.
The words tourist trap inevitably invoke a negativity, but the truth is that some truly are quite lovely. And, some are not.
We took to Reddit to poll other travelers about their thoughts on the most overrated tourist destinations. Next we polled some of our own experts and checked in with TripAdvisor to get the real low-down.
Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England
This prehistoric monument may be one of the most famous tourist destinations in the entire world. Possibly an ancient burial ground, an astrological temple, or even the work of aliens, the mysterious site may date as far back as 3,000 B.C. More than 1.3 million people visited Stonehenge in 2014 alone.
The mystery of Stonehenge is part of its allure. The crowds are less exciting. (Photo: Thinkstock)
“My husband spent three months backpacking all over Europe, and he said visiting the stonehenge in the UK was the most over-hyped spot. He said it was a long, inconvenient journey to get there and there were very small and underwhelming.” — Elle241 Reddit
“I’ve never met anyone who was not disappointed by Stonehenge. It’s worse now that you can no longer go into the central ring of stones as I did when I was a child. The whole impression of Stonehenge is of some half-hearted amateurish nod to tourists.” — VikingMen, TripAdvisor
“What’s all the hype about Stonehenge. We went out of our way to go there and when we get there, there’s about 1 million people off buses walking around in a circle aimlessly.” — LadyElle000, TripAdvisor
One Reddit user offered an alternative to flying all the way from the United States to the United Kingdom.
“There’s a replica Stonehenge a few miles off of I-84 in Washington state. Close enough for me!” — brakos, Reddit
The Mall of America, Bloomington, Minn.
The largest mall in the United States receives more than 40 million visitors each year from all over the globe.
To some it is a must-visit tourist destination. To others it is just another mall. (Photo: AP)
“The Mall of America… good lord, why???? why????” — Darius_Banner, Reddit
“A big disappointment. Not much to look at unless you want to go on rides. Everything was overpriced.” — Wendy1974, TripAdvisor
“Elbow to elbow. UGH. Who needs to shop this badly? It was ridiculously packed with people and noise. Not my cup of tea.” — travellingmom333, TripAdvisor
La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina
This brightly painted neighborhood in Buenos Aires attracts tourists from all over the world looking to take tango lessons and photograph the Crayola-colored houses.
La Boca is good for at least one Instagram, but keep your wallet close. (Photo: Thinkstock)
“The colorful houses can be found on covers of any tourist guide but in reality it is only one fake-looking street that has been painted to get tourists. Very disappointing!” — Forty-Niner, Reddit
“We went to La Boca during the day and had a terrible experience. Don´t bother going. It’s nothing more than a tourist trap with a few colorful houses and coffee bars and restaurant that completely rip you off.” — Startec, TripAdvisor
“It’s so touristy. Nothing feels authentic. My friends were mugged at 2pm daylight one block from the main tourist area. The buildings are quaint and colorful but it’s so gimmicky.” — GoLisa, TripAdvisor
The Golden Temple, Kyoto, Japan
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Japan, Kinkaku-ji Temple, a Zen Buddhist temple is among the most photographed places in the world.
Visiting heads of state almost always take a photo op in front of the temple. (Photo: AP)
“The structure itself is rather banal and seemly it’s only attraction is the fact that gold leaf is used to coat the top two levels.” — ShanghaiMac, TripAdvisor
“Really not worth the effort. The pavillon itself was undeniably beautful. But we couldn’t get even a decent photo with the huge huge crowd. There us no entry into the pavilion itself so its just looking at it from across the lake, then walking round behind it.” — ReginaldSLin, TripAdvisor
The Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
Built in the 17th century, the Blue Mosque is on nearly every tourist itinerary of Istanbul. Commissioned by the teenage Sultan Ahmed I, the working mosque is grand, but disappointing for some visitors.
“It is beautiful but not any more beautiful than other mosques I have seen in Istanbul which get far fewer visitors.” — ThisWasMySistersIdea, Reddit
“The building is really gorgeous, the staff in this mosque is very rude and really turned my trip down in Istanbul, also the carpet inside smells of feet and is very disgusting to walk barefoot on the big carpet that covers the floor inside the mosque.” treko79, TripAdvisor
Manneken Pis, Brussels, Belgium
The Manneken Pis depicts a naked little boy cherub urinating into a fountain. For some the 17th century sculpture is a great work of art. For others it isn’t worth the visit.
There will be a crowd of at least 150 tourists around the Manneken Pis at any given time. (Photo: AP)
“You finally see this really well known landmark, and your immediate reaction is ‘that’s it?’” — HappySeizure, Reddit
“It is neither grand nor interesting, in my opinion, and the fact that it is a ‘must see’ in Brussels says more about the shortcomings of the city than the grandeur of the statue.” — travelingwithmax, TripAdvisor
“Very crowded and known for pick-pockets! Be aware or better, just stay away!” — YvonneP, TripAdvisor
Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood, Calif.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame comprises 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and is marked by stars commemorating Hollywood’s finest creators.
Some days you might see Daniel Radcliffe. On others you might just trip over a crack pipe. (Photo: AP)
“Crowds of gawkers, annoying Elmos, hookers and cigarette butts” — Darius Banner, Reddit
“The Hollywood Walk of Fame should be renamed the walk of shame. You are more likely to get robbed or contract something from this once wonderful icon. It is a 'sin city’ of tattoo parlors, bars, crumby restaurants, sexually oriented businesses, and you better not need to use the restroom.” — 4armedis4warned, TripAdvisor
“This attraction is terrible — a true embarrassment to all of California, Los Angeles and Hollywood. First, the solicitation that visitors are subjected to is disgusting. Prepare to be solicited by tour companies, people posing as actors (to charge you to get your picture taken with them, restaurants, and souvenir shops.” — EJFromPA, TripAdvisor
Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, Calif.
Mention Fisherman’s Wharf, once a vibrant fishing district, to any San Franciscan and they will give you the same look of derision New Yorkers assign to Times Square. Visitors to San Francisco flock to the strip along the waterfront to gawk at the sea lions who took up residence there after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and chow down on chowder in sour dough bowls.
The sea lions should not be ignored, but they still can’t make up for Fisherman’s Wharf being a shameful tourist trap. (Photo: Thinkstock)
“Aside from the Sea Lions (which are really cool) this is the most god awful slop of tourist shlock on the planet. Avoid!” — Darius_Banner, Reddit
“The most touristy place I have ever visited. Loaded with souvier shops were you can get your Golden Gate shot glasses and T-shirts. Expensive restaurants.” — HankW, TripAdvisor
“Tacky does not cover it. However beautiful the views and the novelty of the sea lions, one must deal with the overpriced sea-food restaurants,the hucksters, the tacky t-shirt emporiums ever four feet and the mountains of waste-dump worthy kitsch being sold everywhere.” — CanadianKnowitAll, TripAdvisor
Pro Tip: There is one thing that makes Fisherman’s Wharf tolerable. The Detour location-aware audio tour unlocks a hidden side of the wharf that actually delights even wizened San Francisco residents.
The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen, Denmark
Displayed on the Langelinie promenade in Copenhagen, Denmark, the 4-foot mermaid, based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale really is quite little. She has been a tourist destination since 1913.
She sure draws a crowd, but does she live up to her hype? (Photo: AP)
“The crowd around that little statue is as interesting as the statue!” — Leachmere2020, Reddit
“I have said this before, but this is probably the most overrated tourist attraction anywhere I have ever been.” — FriscoKid, TripAdvisor
Check out our original adventure travel series, “A Broad Abroad.”
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