You’ve seen all the beautiful postcards of your idyllic vacation destination. In the glossy pictures, it's a perfectly lovely place—it's full of natural wonders and cultural landmarks. But the real thing won't always be like the postcard. Sometimes, these popular destinations are overrun with tourists and trash—far from the picture perfect locale.
Which vacation havens aren’t worth the hassle? Here, we’ll tell you all about the biggest tourist traps and places around the world that don’t live up to the hype. Then, instead of just raining on your holiday parade, we’ll explore some lesser known cities that have all the wonder of a prime vacation spots—with fewer hordes of dudes in Hawaiian shirts shouting at people to speak English.
Now, before we start...everyone has a different opinion about these destinations.
A place that may seem crowded and dirty to one person may feel like a buzzing cultural hub to another. So, if you have your heart set on any of the cities we recommend against, go! Have fun! Just know that it might be a little pricier or a little busier than the alternatives.
But if you take one piece of advice as gospel, it should be this: Avoid the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Seriously, it's never been a good time.
Avoid: Day Trips to Loch Ness
The Loch Ness monster is a legendary creature, so it makes sense that you’d want to catch a glimpse. But guess what? Heading out to Loch Ness won’t give you a view of the mythical beast. You’ll just see a lake.
Loch Ness is a fair drive from any major city (it’s three-and-a-half hours from Edinburgh)—ask me and my friend, Chris. After spending a month in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2012, Chris and I took a day trip to Loch Ness. Though the land was beautiful, it was a lot of time to spend on a bus. It didn’t help that the tour guide didn't stop talking for one minute of the over three hour journey.
Once we got to Loch Ness, guess what we found? A lake. Sure, there are a lot of Loch Ness monster souvenirs you can buy, but the town and lake itself weren't that interesting.
Instead: Take a Free Highlands Tours
After the Loch Ness disappointment, I decided to give another highlands trip a try, and it was a completely different experience.
The Hairy Coo offers a free tour of the highlands from Edinburgh. You’ll see many famous sites, lochs, and castles. It includes a brief tour of Doune Castle, which has been featured in movies and TV shows from Outlander to Game of Thrones to my favorite, Monty Python and the Holy Grail—somewhere on social media, there’s a picture of me clacking coconuts outside of the castle walls. The small-scale tour gives you more time at each location, and you get a perfect “best of” the highlands without being bombarded by other tourists.
Plus, it really is free. They do ask for a tip at the end, though, and they definitely work to earn their gratuity. Even with the tip, it's still an incredibly inexpensive way to see Scottish Highlands in a day.
Avoid: The Statue of Liberty
Oddly enough, going to Liberty Island itself gives you one of the worst views of the Statue of Liberty you can get. You set foot at its pedestal and see...the statue's feet. The view isn't great.
And if you’re anxious to see New York City from the top, you better be in shape and have on your walking shoes. To get to the crown, you have to reserve tickets in advance, pay for a locker, then climb 377 steps to see through tiny windows at the top. As a girl who lived in New York for 13 years, I know that it’s a pretty disappointing view, especially for all the effort.
Instead: The Staten Island Ferry
The best view of Lady Liberty is from the Staten Island Ferry, which runs for from lower Manhattan every half hour. This sounds too good to be true, I get it—there aren’t a lot of great vacation spots that have “Staten Island” in the title. But this commuter ferry is a great deal with a truly beautiful view.
The 25-minute ride is rarely crowded and allows you to see the city in a new way. It’s a great break from the incessant bustle of New York, and you get to get an close look of city's greatest landmark without spending a dime. In my years of guiding my friends on tours of the city, the Staten Island Ferry was always a top favorite of mine. And nobody wanted to go up those Liberty stairs ever again.
Avoid: The Pyramids of Giza
Though the site itself is amazing, everything around it is a bit of a hassle. Plus, it’s not the ancient oasis you’d imagine.
It was quite a disappointment.
Valeria Bowden, avid world traveler and blogger says, “I was overly excited, like most people, when I booked a trip to Cairo to see the Pyramids. I was looking for a magical journey back in time. Until I arrived."
"I could literally see a Pizza Hut sign from the the Pyramids," she says.
For Bowden, the tourist bustle took away from the wonder.
“I waited for such a long time to get a picture without a tour bus in the background, which proved to be quite difficult," she continues. "What bothered me most were the other tourists dressed in scanty clothing and dropping their trash in the sand. It was quite a disappointment. “
Instead: Any Other Pyramid in Egypt
If you’re looking for ancient artifacts, Egypt still has a lot to offer—Giza isn’t the only pyramid game in town. You can visit the Red Pyramid to see an archaic wonder without being surrounded by tour buses.
If you’d like to see the newest ancient wonder (not an oxymoron, I promise), visit the city of Luxor. The city now holds a 36 foot tall statue of Ramses II that was pieced together and restored in April 2017. It’s the newest old statue on the block, and the 82-ton art piece is a wonder to behold.
Avoid: Hollywood Walk of Fame
See the stars' names in glamorous Hollywood! Unfortunately, the Walk of Fame sits on a stretch of Hollywood Boulevard which is either crammed with tourists or eerily empty. The area is depressing, with nothing but cheap souvenir shops and shady looking stores.
Often, tourists confuse the Walk of Fame with the handprints outside of Grauman's Chinese theater. The Walk of Fame is just the long stretch of Hollywood Boulevard with stars on the sidewalk—the hand and footprints are found only outside the Chinese Theater.
The cement prints area is much smaller than it looks in pictures, and it's usually overrun with people standing around—half the time, they aren’t even looking at the handprints! The Chinese Theater, though, is at least architecturally interesting, and the cement prints are kind of fun—the Walk of Fame has neither of those things.
I’ve lived in Los Angeles for a few years and have taken multiple people to the Walk of Fame (at their suggestion). Every time, I got the same response: “This is it?” Yep. It’s just a cruddy sidewalk in a lame part of town with a name you might recognize every hundred feet.
Instead: Visit The Frolic Room
Often, when people seek out the Walk of Fame, they want a taste of glamorous old Hollywood. The Frolic Room is a bar that’s been open since prohibition and has been going strong ever since.
The neon sign welcomes you to the past and immediately gives you a taste of Hollywood in its glory days. The walls are adorned with Al Hirschfeld celebrity caricatures, like the ones found at Sardi’s, though at the Frolic Room, they form an interlocking mural that covers almost the entire bar. Plus, it’s right next to the Pantages Theater to give you an extra glimpse at some old school beauty.
Despite the murals and impressive decor, The Frolic Room is still a dive bar. It’s not super fancy, but it’s perfectly friendly and safe. The best part? It’s an inexpensive oasis in the middle of touristy Hollywood.
Avoid: Bangkok and Maya Bay, Thailand
If you’ve thought about visiting the sites of Bangkok, you’re not alone. According to travel writer Kathy James, most of Thailand is full to the brim with tourists. She was ripped off by cab drivers constantly and rarely found a hotel that lived up to its promise accommodations.
Christian Vollmert, another travel writer, found greater disappointment in Maya Bay. He says the beaches were completely packed, not just with people, but every inch was packed with hotels and cheesy shops.
"If you look at Koh Phi Phi from above, it looks like a wasted paradise," he says.
"Plus, it's really dirty," Vollmert adds. He says that the place clearly used to be beautiful, but it's now nearly ruined by disrespectful vacationers.
Instead: Palembang, Indonesia
“Palembang is smaller, but has a great food scene,” says Anthony of The Travel Tart. “Palembang is located in Sumatra and [is very similar to Bangkok], including it being a river city.”
Located on the Musi river and also known as “Venice of the East,” Palembang has/is near many beautiful cultural sites. Kemaro Island, for instance, is home to a lovely Buddhist temple and the "Tree of Love" where couples used carve their names to guarantee long lasting love. The biggest difference between Palembang and Bangkok? In Palembang, you can actually walk around and enjoy the sites without drowning in other people.
Aspen is a skiing haven with loads of natural beauty. But, according to 20-year tourism vet Dan Howard, “people seek out to see and be seen,” in the Colorado mountain town.
If you want to hobnob with the wealthy and eat really expensive food, hey, head out to Aspen! But if you want a simple ski vacation in a beautiful place, you have far better options.
Instead: Park City, Utah
“But when you have a family and are ready to get real, Park City, Utah will satisfy the same level of luxury dining and lodging experiences in a town that is decidedly more authentic and affordable,” says Howard.
Now, to be fair Howard does work for the Park City Chamber of Commerce, so he may be a bit biased...but he has some backup from USA Today. “There may be no better combination of ski mountain and ski town in all of the world,” Christopher Steiner wrote for the publication. He lists Park City as the third-best ski destination for families in all of the U.S. for its combination of great slopes and lovely town atmosphere.