Going on holiday, planning tours and sightseeing are activities I live for! They present the opportunity to learn about new cultures and the history of countries not yet visited. However, researching where to go and what to see can be complicated. Tourist traps are called traps for a reason! Often attractions are marketed inaccurately or over exaggerated to the extreme, making it enormously difficult to tell the good from the bad. Fake online reviews and sponsored content have only made this harder in more recent years.
Everybody falls prey to a tourist trap occasionally, myself included. But thankfully, the majority can still be enjoyable and not do any harm. However, these are 11 popular tourist attractions you shouldn’t visit. From the extremely mundane to unethical and cruel, these attractions are over hyped and best avoided despite their worldwide popularity. I prefer to avoid major tourist attractions to make time to explore and get to know a more authentic side to countries. Alternative and ethical tourism is on the rise and negative publicity surrounding the most extreme of these attractions is slowly taking effect. But generally, they remain popular. So don’t be fooled by these 11 popular tourist attractions you shouldn’t visit.
The Little Mermaid, Denmark
One of Copenhagen’s most popular tourist attractions, The Little Mermaid really is little. The sculpture stands an underwhelmingly 1.25 meters high and despite being beautifully cast in bronze, it just isn’t worth the crowds or the journey from the city center. Yet people still go to get a picture of the mermaid made popular by the Disney adaptation of the Danish fairy tale by author Hans Christian Anderson. However, it’s also a frequent target for vandalism, having been beheaded twice, had the arm cut off once and forever being covered in red paint – potentially a more interesting time to visit the statue!
Tiger Kingdom, Thailand
At Tiger Kingdom, phrases like ‘conservation through education’ and ‘tiger healthcare, priority number one’ are used casually. However, it has been well publicised that Tiger Kingdom is not the paradise for animals it claims to be and rumours about the tigers being drugged to keep them calm are common. Unfortunately, the tourist attraction remains popular as do similar parks throughout Thailand such as Tiger Temple, which has been linked to wildlife trafficking. Despite repeated incidents of tourist injury, the parks remain open and it seems the best way to boycott the animal cruelty and dangerous environment is simply not go.
Blarney Stone, Ireland
There are many stories surrounding the origins of Blarney Stone, a block of limestone fabled to provide the gift of eloquence and flattery to those who kiss it. From a spoil of the crusades to a gift from the Scottish, it seems it’s left up to you to decide how it made its way to Blarney Castle. For over 200 years, millions of people have travelled to County Cork to have their turn and more recently purchasing a ticket for the rock and castle have become a compulsory part of the deal. This is one of the biggest tourist traps in Ireland, do we really want to pay 16 euros to kiss a lump of rock? Personally, not so much!
The Empire State Building, USA
Located on Fifth Avenue between 33rd and 34th, the Empire State Building claims to have the best views overlooking New York City. Yet New York is made up of skyscrapers with equally as impressive views. In fact, from the Top of The Rock you can actually see the Empire State Building, which is a a beautiful building, worth seeing. You also get a view of central park and all for a lower price. However, Top of The Rock is also considered a tourist trap by some. So, if you want to view New York’s skyline like a local, head over the bridge to Brooklyn Heights for an unbeatable view which will cost you nothing and avoid all of the queues and crowds! I loved Brooklyn and would recommend going anyway.
Niagara Falls, Canada
One of the biggest disappointments on this list, Niagara Falls is nothing like the pictures and documentaries portray it to be. In fact, from the American side distracting from the falls themselves, is a huge casino complex built right next door. Adding to this the American town is known for violent crime and mob activity, not ideal! The Canadian side provides a slightly better view, with the casino behind you. However, it still doesn’t make up for the crowds, ziplines and waterparks making the whole environment feel over commercialised and an invasion of what would have once been a beautiful area of the world.
Manneken Pis, Belgium
Granted, this little guy has survived a fair few wars including the bombardment of Brussels in 1695 and he is considered the most famous fountain in Belgium. But really, is it worth travelling all the way to Belgium for? Because in reality it is just a 61cm high fountain of a child peeing. Brussels is a bit thin on the ground when it comes to tourist attraction but instead the focus should be on the waffles, beer and chocolate which the Belgians do better than anyone else. Yet still, people seem captivated by the little sprinkling of fresh water. At least it is no longer being wasted since a channel was installed to recycle the stream in March, 2019.
Leicester Square, England
‘Global icon, cultural hub, entertainment epicenter.’ OK, if you say so Leicester Square! Any local Londoner will tell you how they avoid this ‘cultural hub’ at all costs. I make an exception only during Chinese New Year for the parade which is the largest celebration outside Asia. But even then, you’ll have to fight through the crowds to get a decent view. It has always been an area for entertainment, with theaters and cinemas lining the square’s edges since the mid 1800’s. However, following the £15.3m restoration in 2010 Leicester Square is more of a let-down than ever with average restaurant chains and overpriced cinema tickets stealing the show.
American Museum of Natural History, USA
New York boats some of the best museums in the world, however I found the American Museum of Natural History such a big disappointment. 2019 marks the 150th year of the museum’s existence and in those years plenty of new research facilities and exhibitions have opened to the public. These exhibitions are now primarily focused at children so ideal if you’re travelling with your family. But for adults, the mannequins feel dated and some of the displays have an awkward, almost trophy cabinet feel. New York is full of museums which should definitely be prioritised over AMNH by people travelling without children.
Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam
During the Vietnam war the communist guerrilla group called the Vietcong built a large system of interconnecting underground tunnels to help transport supplies and move around unnoticed by American troops. It’s estimated that over 45,000 Vietnamese died to defend these tunnels and now you can visit specific areas and crawl through them yourself, experiencing the claustrophobic, dark and damp conditions the Vietcong would have coped with during the war. While the memorials and preservation of these tunnels is positive, showing respect to all the soldiers who died there, the firing range seems less appropriate. Visitors seem to agree that paying for bullets to shoot guns used in the war is disrespectful and also a little disturbing.
Andaman Islands Safari
The term human safari won’t sit well with most people. Yet in the Indian Andaman Islands human safaris operate, taking tourists through the remote Jarawa reserve. The reserve is home to the nomadic Jarawa tribe, thought to have lived there for up to 55,000 years. However, due to outside interference their population is dwindling. Despite the Indian government introducing a new sea route to divert tourists and tours from accessing the illegally built Andaman Truck road, the safaris continue effecting not only the Jarawa but Great Andamanese, Onge and Sentinelese too. Avoiding this ‘tourist attraction’ is essential for the survival of these ancient tribes.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Thailand
The opportunity to interact with elephants in Thailand is a hugely popular tourist activity despite cruelty in the industry being common knowledge. However, through false advertising elephant ‘sanctuaries’ all over the country continue to operate. Research by World Animal Protection found of 118 elephant tourism sites it studied in Thailand, only 6 treated their elephants humanly. Therefore, finding a humane and ethical elephant sanctuary is difficult. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary has 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor despite some of their tours including elephants being forced to do tricks and then being tied up overnight. On the other hand Elephant Nature Park, vetted by National Geographic is one of the only elephant tourism sites in Chiang Mai with no history of animal abuse. My experience there was amazing and fully respectful of all the magnificent elephants I saw.