Photo: MK Feeney/Flickr
If you’re a traveler, chances are that at some point you’ve spent time at tourist traps.
What defines a “tourist trap?” To me, it’s a “must-see” attraction that is rather underwhelming given the time, money, and hassle you must invest in seeing it.
I don’t think all major attractions are tourist traps. Some are 100% worth putting in the effort to visit. I’ve been to places that other people have told me are tourist traps, but I still insisted on seeing them and ended up having a great time. For example, I waited two hours at Chichen Itza in Mexico, but after hiring a guide to walk us through the ancient Mayan ruins I thought the experience was well worth the investment.
In traveling around the U.S. and to 24 countries, I’ve seen my fair share of tourist traps. I’ve waited in line to see something lame, paid a lot of money for no reason, and wasted a day that could have been spent on something awesome.
I put together a list of 8 things that if I could go back, I wouldn’t do again. Here goes:
1. The Mona Lisa
The Mona Lisa is a famed portrait of Lisa Gheradini by Leonardo Da Vinci. It’s probably the most famous painting in the world because of the subject’s expression, which many say changes the more you look at it.
Just don’t expect to get a good look by visiting the painting at the Musee du Louvre in Paris. You’ll be blocked from a good view by hundreds of tourists who are trying to take selfies with Lisa. You also can’t get too close to the painting because it’s protected, and it’s quite small.
If you DO go to the Louvre, there are plenty of other things to see. Just make sure you read about my weekend in Paris to find out how to skip the ridiculously long line!
2. The Empire State Building
Yes, the observation deck of the Empire State Building offers a great view of Manhattan, but it takes forever to get up to the top and costs a whopping $34 a person. On the observation deck, your pictures are obstructed by ugly security fencing. And isn’t the building itself part of what makes the NYC skyline so great?
To solve the security fencing problem, you could simply visit nearby Top of the Rock, which doesn’t have it. But the price is still $34.
To get a great view of the city that’s FREE, I recommend taking the 7 train across the river to Gantry Plaza State Park in Queens.
You can also take a tram from midtown Manhattan to Roosevelt Island (also part of Queens) if you were hoping for a view from a little higher up. It’s part of the MTA, so fares are the same as the train system.
3. Navy Pier, Chicago
Photo: Photo: Anthony Lorenzo/Flickr
Chicago’s Navy Pier is often touted as one of the city’s biggest attractions and one of the most visited places in the Midwest. That’s probably true, given how crowded it is, but I don’t get the hype.
The Pier does have a nice Ferris wheel, but there are much better views of Chicago to be had. The restaurants here are all touristy chains, so there’s zero chance of getting a real taste of Chicago. The only reason I can think to visit is if you’re bringing your kids to the Children’s Museum.
There are plenty of other places to get a great view of Chicago and enjoy being by the lake, including: the Signature Lounge on the 96th Floor of the Hancock (you’ll have to buy a drink), North Avenue Beach, Oak Street Beach, Museum Campus, and the Chicago Riverwalk.
4. Plymouth Rock
Growing up in Boston, it was inevitable that my elementary school class would take a field trip to see Plymouth Rock, where the Mayflower pilgrims disembarked to found Plymouth Colony in 1620. While the history of the Mayflower and pilgrims is certainly interesting, the rock itself is not. It’s a rock. There’s probably a similar one in your backyard.
5. The Alamo
San Antonio’s most well-known landmark is the Alamo, the site of the famous battle where Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie were killed in 1836. Before such violent times, the Alamo began as one of the first Spanish Missions in Texas in the early 1700’s, and played a crucial role in the settlement of San Antonio and the entire Southwest.
All very interesting, but unfortunately the building itself is not that impressive. It’s really small, and very crowded with tourists. If you spend a weekend in San Antonio, a photograph from the outside would be more than sufficient to check this site off your to-do list.
6. Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland
I know I’ll probably get some backlash for this one, but I thought the Gullfoss waterfall, a stop on the famous Golden Circle tour of Iceland, was letdown.
Yes, the waterfall itself is quite impressive. But not as impressive as you’ve probably seen in promotional photos. Also, one of the things that makes nature beautiful is a lack of people. And there are SO many people at Gullfoss. The observation deck, gift shop, and onsite restaurant kind of ruin it.
I wouldn’t recommend skipping the Golden Circle – I thought Pingvellir National Park was gorgeous. But don’t plan on spending too long at Gullfoss.
7. The Swimming Pigs
The most recent attraction to let me down was the Swimming Pigs in the Exumas. The Swimming Pigs are probably the biggest attraction in this part of the Bahamas, and going to visit them will cost you. Our tour was $174 per person – and it was the most affordable option!
The reason it’s so expensive is that Pig Island is very far away from Great Exuma, the main island, requiring an all day boat trip. While some of the stops on the trip were cool, overall this tour was not worth $174 per person.
I only felt worse about it when I got home and a couple weeks later, read in National Geographic that many of the Swimming Pigs had been found dead. The cause is most likely a combination of dehydration – their natural source of water had dried up – and increased tourism. A significant amount of sand was found in the pigs’ bellies, which is probably due to the fact that tourists throw treats onto the beach for them to eat.
If you visit the Exumas, you’re better off spending your time enjoying the crystal clear waters and beautiful beaches. Especially until someone steps in to make the tourism of Pig Island a little more pig-friendly.
Have you ever waited in line for a long time or spent a lot of money on an attraction that didn’t live up to your expectations? Let me know in the comments or join The Weekend Jetsetters group on Facebook to discuss!