Tourist Traps or not I would still visits these spots.
By Chris Colin
Tourist Traps to Avoid
And where to go instead
It's not that an $11 bowl of official San Francisco clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf doesn't hit the spot. And, granted, there's no substitute for an authentic replica of the Great Pyramid at Giza. But not all overcrowded, merchandise-swollen travel hot spots are created equal, and some deserve to be flagged as full-fledged tourist traps.
Weighing crowds against breathing room, bulging postcard racks against actual scenic vistas, and most of all hype against reality, we've compiled a list of ostensibly beloved destinations that you might consider striking from your global to-see list — no matter how glossy and luscious those brochures are.
In Images: The Worst Tourist Traps
Sometimes, a thin line separates the tourist trap from the packed-but-worthwhile destination. Travel writer Bruce Northam of AmericanDetour.com says you know a real tourist trap by the noise level and inflated price tags. Avoid places that sound “more or less like a car alarm going off" where "you're paying incredibly exorbitant prices for goods and services that would be better enjoyed five miles away, for a fifth the cost."
Case in point is New York City’s most famous intersection. Thanks in no small part to a certain New Year’s Eve party, Times Square pulls in an estimated 35 million visitors annually. If these snap-happy tourists are hoping for a taste of Gotham’s seedy underbelly — which once defined this neighborhood — they’ll be disappointed. Today’s Times Square is a family-friendly affair of big, bright eateries and daily TRL tapings at the MTV studios. And yet, just a few blocks in any direction, the “real” New York can be found in the city’s smaller restaurants and boutiques.
For Josh Schonwald, editor of TheContrarianTraveller.com, the true tourist traps are those that "drain you emotionally and financially, and leave you with an existential feeling: 'Why did I do this?'"
For all its charms — because of all its charms — Europe has a particularly high density of tourist traps. Schonwald notes that the spots most overrun with camera-wielders in Europe tend to be on the bus routes.
"If you see a double-decker bus, that's trouble," he says. Case in point: London’s Piccadilly Circus. There’s no circus here; the name comes from the Latin word for “circle,” and a “picadil” was a certain collar popularized by a local tailor in the 18th Century. That doesn’t stop an estimated 75 percent of all visitors from paying a visit. Real Londoners know to avoid this camera-clogged tourist trap. Find them, instead, at nearby Leicester Square.
Finding alternate attractions is paramount to avoiding the worst tourist traps. Just because the Pyramids at Giza are overrun with fanny-pack-wearing families of gawkers, Egypt shouldn’t be removed your must-see list. Instead, spend more time in the Valley of the Kings, where new tombs are still being discovered. While not tourist-free, this area is definitely less cluttered with day-trippers. Likewise, while it’s nearly impossible to resist a bit of Roman Holiday reminiscence at the Trevi Fountain, the mood at this tourist trap is more frantic than romantic. Save your euros for some of the world’s best espresso at one of the city’s countless other piazzas.
Some veteran travelers take the position that tourist traps are simply an inevitability to be accepted. Bill Bryson told The Guardian of London that "this is the world we live in. There are a finite number of attractions and increasing numbers of people."
True, but there's a good chance you'll have an equally special time at a randomly selected alternate stop just a mile down the road from the lines, internet cafes, tchotchke stands and row after row of idling buses. The real problem with tourist traps is they bombard you with what's already familiar—food you know, products you know.
"There's nothing wrong with that, but when I travel,” says Baker. “I go for the beauty of experiencing something totally new. I don't want to take my home with me."
Experts say the trick isn't always avoiding tourist traps, so much as zigging when others zag. "Going to India without going to the Taj Mahal is like going to the Grand Canyon without looking over the edge," Northam says. "Certain places, you have to go. But you can do it when the crowds aren't quite as insane."
(Taj Mahal hint: Avoid visiting during the full moon, a particularly popular time to visit.)
No discussion of tourist traps would be complete without acknowledging that some places merely seem like irredeemable tourist traps. Plopped right in the middle of the San Francisco Bay is one of California’s most popular attractions. Reservations are taken weeks in advance, and the tonnage of t-shirts, hats, and pins sold has surely eclipsed that of the venue itself. And yet, the moment you get lost in the riveting audio tour, Alcatraz is worth the frustration. The crowds all but vanish.
Fisherman’s Wharf is another story. Herd mentality rules at this trap, where thousands of tourists snap the same photos and buy the same souvenir mugs. Take just a few steps away from the crowd, however, and it’s possible to break away. Schonwald says, "You can find another place near Fisherman's Wharf that still smells like fish, with an old Italian man making antipasti, that isn't such a zoo."
That being said, tourist traps are popular for a reason. Why bother to fight their gravitational pull? Why not just accept reality and join the crowd?
"Because when you find the real thing,” says Northam, “it's beautiful, genuine, unscripted, and inexpensive. People get conned into thinking they need the package vacation, but that's just limited imagination."
In Images: The Worst Tourist Traps