The 30 most disappointing tourist destinations
Most people would love to travel the world and see everything it has to offer. What happens when you get the opportunity, but what’s on display doesn’t move you the way you thought it would? Disappointment can be a powerful kick to the heart, so if you plan on visiting any of the following celebrated tourist destinations, be sure to temper your expectations.
1. Mount Rushmore
In terms of patriotic symbols of the USA, few things rank higher than the flag, bald eagles and Mount Rushmore. Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln’s likenesses are immortalized in the solid rock face. It’s no wonder the site is one of the most popular tourist destinations in North America.
Unfortunately, the site’s a bit of a sore subject for some — people of the Lakota Sioux tribe in particular, who once owned the land before the Great Sioux War of 1876. A Crazy Horse Memorial is currently under construction elsewhere in the Black Hills. Controversial history aside, no one wants to drive hours to see nothing but fog like the poor guy pictured above.
2. Mona Lisa
The Mona Lisa is arguably the most famous painting in history. Art critics have long waxed poetic about her ambiguous smile and its lasting influence on art. It’s attracted the attention of practically everybody — from Vincenzo Peruggia (a thief who filched the painting in 1911) to Pablo Picasso (who was suspected of stealing it) to Jackie O (who asked to borrow it).
With all this hype, it’s bound to be magnificent in person, right?
Sure, if you can push your way up close enough to get a good look. The Mona Lisa is kept in a separate room at the Louvre and, right now, this room is teeming with tourists, guaranteed. Standing in the way of the painting is a guardrail, which everyone leans over to snap a photograph.
Side note: Why do this? There are millions of professional photos of the Mona Lisa, and every single one is likely better than the one you took.
3. The Four Corners Monument
The Four Corners Monument signifies the area where four US states — Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah — meet. It’s a popular spot for people to show up and take a cool photo of themselves in four different states. There’s also plenty of other stuff to do, like…um…well, never mind.
People who visited the monument describe feeling a bit underwhelmed. Basically, you get there, pay a $5 fee and wait in line to get your picture taken. But it’s all worth it to know you stood in four states at once. But wait, it isn’t even in the right location. Facepalm.
4. The Hollywood sign
Ah, Los Angeles — to tread the Walk of Fame where so many stars are immortalized, to feel the warm California sun, to mingle with the street performers, vendors, and skateboarders of Venice Beach, to gaze upon the famed Hollywood sign in all its glory — what’s not to like about this?
Smog! Unless it’s an impossibly clear day, or you drive up really close (through unrelenting traffic), you probably won’t even be able to see it. Even then, it’s really just the name of the place spelled out in comically big letters. H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D. Boom! Saved you a trip. Also, the Walk of Fame is caked in bird excrement.
5. Angkor Wat
The Angkor Wat city of temples in Cambodia is breathtaking. It’s the largest religious monument in the world. While the temples have been subjected to the usual erosion and degradation you’d expect in something that has stood since the 12th century, recent restoration and preservation efforts have returned much of the location’s allure.
But mass tourism comes with costs. One of which is the copious amounts of garbage left behind by visitors. It’s plain to see the toll this is taking on the area’s ecosystem. When visiting, make sure not to trash the place.
6. Mitad del Mundo
This fairly large stone monument essentially exists so that people can take a photo and say they visited Mitad del Mundo — the “center of the world.” Unfortunately, besides the monument, there isn’t much else, except some gift shops and restaurants.
Even worse, that the monument is actually off by about 800 feet — they’ve even erected a stand-in marker at the real “center of the world” (pictured right).
We’re getting deja vu from visiting the Four Corners Monument! Even in the right spot, it’s underwhelming at best. Turns out the middle of the world is really just like everywhere else.
7. The Forbidden City
The famed Forbidden City palace complex in Beijing, China features some of the most beautiful and immediately recognizable architecture in the world. The city was first constructed in 1406, commissioned by Emperor Zhu Di of the Ming Dynasty. It’s stood ever since, surviving multiple regime changes, revolutions, civil wars, and World War II.
Unfortunately, pollution in Beijing and surrounding cities is notoriously thick and noxious, making it unbearable for many tourists. Its devastating effects go beyond aesthetics — recently, the air pollution has been linked to an increase in miscarriages. Fortunately, clean air initiatives show progress in reducing the fine air particle matter causing many health problems.
8. Loch Ness
Okay, so you probably know you have the same chance of encountering the famous monster in the Sahara as you do in Loch Ness, right? Nevertheless, people flock from all over the world to buy novelty items and take “Nessie” boat rides.
Loch Ness is beautiful, but it’s a bit crowded with tourists for an area that basically has one main, non-existent draw. If natural beauty is what you’re after, there are dozens of other lochs in Scotland that are equally sublime, less crowded, and far less expensive.
9. Abu Simbel
The Abu Simbel temples of Ramses II and his queen Nefertari were carved back in the 13th Century B.C. The area gradually became less used and maintained so, by the 6th Century B.C., the figures were already buried up to their knees. Eventually, they became totally immersed in the sand and lost for centuries until Johann-Ludwig Burckhardt uncovered them in 1813.
The Nile flooded in the 1950s, nearly ruining the artifacts. In 1980, the temples were moved to a safer location. Since then, the site became increasingly crowded, with thousands of tourists flocking to view the breathtaking view. If you want to get a good look, make sure you get there early, catch the view at sunrise, and beat the hordes.
10. Maya Beach
The pristine island of Ko Phi Phi Le, where Danny Boyle filmed The Beach draws in many tourists seeking out the remote beach resort (minus the sharks and murderous dealers). Take one look at Maya Beach’s white sand, clear blue water and lush green trees, and you’ll immediately understand why.
Sadly, so many tourists have trashed the place that the local government has closed the beach indefinitely. Letting the ecosystem recover from the years of abuse and installing infrastructure to prevent additional damage takes time. Fortunately, the process seems to be working — coral populations are on the rise.
11. Leaning Tower of Pisa
Pisa is a lovely Italian city with a ton of history. There’s the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, which has stood since the 11th century, Campo Santo, which is carved from the same stone and contains marvelous frescoes and a breathtaking courtyard full of lovely flowers and ornate archways and, of course, the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The Campanile, or bell tower, of Pisa leans at an angle of about four degrees and is the city’s main draw. Tourists love taking pics, pretending to prop up the infamous structure, which is, admittedly, still funny.
However, when surrounded by hundreds of tourists doing the same, the novelty wears thin. Especially during the agonizing seconds as you hold the pose, dutifully waiting for a reluctant stranger to snap your picture.
12. Taj Mahal
Mughal emperor Shah Jahan commissioned the construction of the Taj Mahal to inter the remains of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, in the mid 17th century. It’s undeniably an architectural masterpiece — deservedly listed as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
Unfortunately, the stench and smog produced by unregulated pollution and surrounding garbage makes enjoying the view problematic. Recent calculations rank Agra fourth on the list of cities with the poorest air quality in the world. Even so, it’s worth the trip on a clear day. Just be prepared to wait in line and pay the multiple visiting fees.
13. The Maldives
This small island country in South Asia is best known for its pristine beaches, sublime natural scenery, and coral reefs. The clear water and temperate climate make the Maldives an attractive beach tourism destination for people all over the world.
Unfortunately, excessive tourism coupled with a lackadaisical cultural attitude toward proper garbage disposal have left many beaches in less-than-pristine condition. Also, the heightened risk of terrorist attacks in the area are sure to put a damper on the festivities. Fortunately, the threat has decreased in recent years and the country is considered safe to visit.
14. Trevi Fountain
One of many beautiful landmarks in Italy, the Trevi Fountain has a reputation for being a nice spot for a romantic evening. It sounds nice — cuddling up to your significant other with the sound of a babbling fountain in the background — until you realize you’re sharing the experience with scores of other people.
Still, there’s something to be said for gazing upon such a historic landmark — and tossing coins into the fountain (one at a time, using your right hand over your left shoulder). Just don’t expect to have the spot to yourself.
15. Ushuaia, Argentina
Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world. It boasts a sublime landscape, with the Martial mountain range to the north and the Beagle channel serving as its southern boundary. Tourists come from around the world, braving the tundra climate to bask in the city’s divine beauty.
Unfortunately, these tourists bring trash and don’t always dispose of it properly. While there’s still plenty to look at, the garbage has grown to be quite an eyesore. Also, Earth’s rising temperature is rapidly melting the Martial Glacier, threatening the city’s main fresh water supply.
16. The Little Mermaid, Denmark
Construction was completed on this famous statue in 1913. Since then, tourists have flocked to the landmark, which depicts a mermaid mid-transformation into a human. Over the past century, the statue has been vandalized and defaced multiple times for various reasons, but always repaired.
Many people that have visited the statue have reported feeling slightly disappointed by the size (or lack thereof) of the famed statue. In fact, the Little Mermaid statue is actually a replica, which is why authorities can afford to keep allowing it to be vandalized and rebuilt.
17. The Blarney Stone
People from far and wide flock to Ireland to visit Blarney Castle, tour its ruins and kiss the Stone of Eloquence, better known as the Blarney stone. The mystical block of Carboniferous Limestone is said to give those who dare to hang upside down and kiss it the gift of eloquence.
It’s a nice idea in theory but, in practice, it seems questionable. First, there’s the terrifying thought of hanging upside down while trusting another to keep you from plummeting to your death. Then, there’s the nauseating idea of kissing a cold piece of stone worn away by millions of grubby lips. No thanks.
18. Sistine Chapel
Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The result is widely considered to be the pinnacle of artistic achievement. Over two decades later, the famed painter returned to Rome to complete The Last Judgment along the altar wall. For centuries, people have flocked to Rome to view the breathtaking art.
Once again, crowds significantly drag down the experience. When you get inside the chapel, each room is packed with tourists to the point where it’s difficult to move around and the air is thick with the stench of body odor. Mondays are reportedly the worst (it’s closed Sundays), but it’s busy everyday. Your best bet is to book an off-hours tour.
19. Old Globe Theatre
This one’s a bit of a trick. You can visit Shakespeare’s Globe in London, take a tour, and even see a play (we hear it’s lovely). However, Shakespeare’s Globe is merely a modern (1997) reconstruction of the famed Old Globe Theatre, standing about 750 feet away from the original. The real Globe Theater burned down in 1613. You can also visit the site of the original, but…
It likely isn’t what you had in mind. There’s just a plaque to commemorate the historic site and a circle on the concrete surrounding it to show where it once stood. Other landmarked buildings were erected shortly after the fire, which made rebuilding the Globe in the same place impossible. Womp womp.
20. Machu Picchu
The trek up the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu takes around four days. Travelers must be in fairly good health to brave the 6-to-9-hour daily hikes while oxygen grows increasingly thin. At least the difficult journey keeps most tourists away from the destination, right?
Wrong. The trail gets so packed that you have to book (and purchase a $912 permit) months in advance. Even then, you’ll be sharing the trail with lots of fellow hikers. Still, the mountain views are breathtaking, and the porters that guide, feed, and assist you take excellent care to ensure you make it safely.
21. Great Wall of China
Another of the Seven New Wonders of the World, the Great Wall of China is a magnificent sight to behold. Stretching over 13,170 miles it remains the longest wall in the world. That’s half the length of the equator! Take into account that the structure was built about 2,700 years ago and this incredible feat of human engineering is even more impressive.
Despite stretching over the length of Britain, tourists still manage to clog up the walkway with foot traffic. Of course, you’re a tourist too, so you might as well join the horde, snap a few pictures, and try to enjoy yourself in spite of the crowd.
22. Temple Bar, Dublin
Few places in the world encapsulate the term “tourist trap” like the Temple Bar district in Dublin. Once an Anglo Saxon suburb in medieval Ireland, and later an urban hub for prostitution, it now exists almost solely to cater to tourists, granting them the stereotypical vision of Ireland they crave.
Much of Temple Bar was built up in the 1980s, after a failed attempt to build a bus station brought rent prices down and made the area more attractive to businesses. This led to rebranding the area as “Dublin’s cultural quarter.” The district now has a bad reputation for public displays of drunken mischief, which is why most locals won’t go near it.
23. Venice, Italy
Few things sound more romantic than cruising through Venice, Italy on a Gondola, passing beneath the Bridge of Sighs with your significant other, and taking in the lovely sunset view from the Rialto Bridge. Contrary to popular opinion, the Venice canals don’t contain a pungent odor — at least not during most months.
Once again, the main problem is the crowds. There’s no tourism off-season in Venice, so when taking a Gondola or Vaporetto ride, prepare to hit traffic. On the upside, Venice sleeps early, so getting lost in the streets with your significant other will likely be more spacious.
24. The Parthenon
The Parthenon was completed in 432 B.C. when Athenian Greece was near the zenith of its power and influence. This makes it one of the oldest surviving (sort of) and most recognizable structures of Ancient Greece. Sadly, the structure was nearly leveled in 1687 when a mortar round exploded, destroying the roof and crumbling many of the walls.
The Parthenon has since remained in partial ruins. However, in 1975 reconstruction began on the famous structure in an attempt to restore its former glory. The only problem is, it’s been over 40 years and the construction is ongoing. Many tourists describe their experience as more like visiting a construction site than an ancient monument.
25. Big Ben
The clock tower of the Palace of Westminster in London is considered a must-see attraction for many tourists visiting the fabled city. When the neo-Gothic 315-foot clock was completed in 1859, it was the largest and most accurate four-faced clock in the world.
While we’ve had quite a few technological advancements in the last 160 years, it’s still impressive that the famous clock has been able to hold time accurately for all this time (save for routine maintenance and the occasional face-lift). However, standing under the clock, counting down until it chimes next, we can’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed.
26. The Western Front
World War I was one of the most horrific events in human history. It was the first time much of the modern technology developed in the Industrial Revolution was used in war, showing the world just how devastating these technological advancements could be.
The Great War that ravaged Europe was fought primarily along the Eastern and Western Fronts, which you can visit. Perhaps it’s better that the Western Front looks nothing like the muddy hellscape it did in 1916, but a battlefield without a battle is, well, just a field. You’re better off learning the war history by visiting one of the local museums.
27. The Eiffel Tower
This iconic 324-meter piece of wrought iron has stood since 1899 as a cultural symbol of Paris. It has three levels to ascend, each containing its own attractions. The first two have restaurants and shops, while the top level houses the observatory, which promises a great city view.
Crowds really put a damper on things. Visiting at the right time can be lovely, but you’ll more likely end up stuck in long lines of tourists. Plus, the thing about being on top of the tower is that you can’t really see the tower itself. You’re better off looking up at it from various areas around Paris, or from Montmartre, which offers an excellent view, sans the crowd.
28. The Las Vegas Strip
Unlike many of the other entries on this list, the City of Sin delivers precisely what it advertises — 24-hour access to practically any vice imaginable. Unless you’ve somehow fooled yourself into believing you’ll strike it rich gambling, you know what you’re getting into when cruising down the Las Vegas strip.
Nearly everything that stands in Vegas was built for one reason and one reason alone — to separate fools from their money. After more than a day or two, the novelty begins to wear as thin as your pockets. However, when you inevitably tire of the strip, Freemont Street is a welcome change that offers its own charm.
Now Uluru (or Ayer’s Rock) is considered a natural wonder of the world and sacred place. The monolithic red hunk of sandstone in the middle of the outback has become a symbol of Australia. People willing to brave the snakes, spiders, lizards, jellyfish, sharks, and deadly birds often journey to the landmark.
As of Oct. 26, 2019, you’ll no longer be allowed to climb the famous rock. But even if you could, you probably shouldn’t. The Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people hold the site sacred, and prefer that visitors don’t tread on it.
30. Howrah Bridge
Much like the San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge or Sydney’s Sydney Harbor Bridge, Kolkata’s Howrah Bridge is an iconic landmark and symbol of its connecting regions. Like these other famous bridges, tourists often fancy a scenic trip across.
One reason this bridge is so special is that it isn’t held together by nuts and bolts — the whole design was riveted from one structure! The lighted bridge is also stunning to view at night…
From a good distance, that is. When standing close to the base or crossing, you’re swept up in the massive crowd and hit with the stench of smog and litter. Recent calculations estimate about 150,000 pedestrians and 100,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day. There’s really no reason to cross the Howrah Bridge unless, of course, you need to reach the other side.