A lot of the most famous tourist hot spots around the world are well worth a visit. But there are also many “must-see” destinations you can strike off your bucket list.
Whether it’s because of the crowds, the cost, the pollution or something else that’s hard to define, these perennial favorites simply don’t live up to the hype. Instead, check out some underrated alternatives that are sure to make for a trip to remember — for all the right reasons.
Overrated: Times Square, New York
You just have to ask a New Yorker whether Times Square is worth the visit and they’ll likely tell you that it’s super-crowded (it takes minutes to walk one block and hours to find anything to eat) and overpriced. Basically, it’s just a bunch of giant billboards, flashing lights and chain restaurants. There’s nothing unique to see here — and plenty of other awesome places to check out in this sprawling city of more than 8 million people.
Where To Go Instead: Radio City Music Hall’s Secret Apartment
Radio City Music Hall, designed by architect Edward Durell Stone and interior designer Donald Deskey and opened in 1932, is an iconic New York City building. Plus, it’s home to the Rockettes!
While the luxurious Art Deco style and breathtaking murals alone make this worth a visit, there’s also a “secret” apartment, built for entrepreneur Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel, who owned some of the first successful theaters in the area, including Radio City. No one has lived in the apartment since Roxy died there in 1936, but you can check it out as part of the Radio City Music Hall tour.
Overrated: Four Corners Monument, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona
If there was a prize for the most overrated tourist attraction, the Four Corners Monument would get most of the votes. It’s in the middle of a desert, so there’s nothing to do but try to figure out how to touch a tiny part of four states (New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona) at the same time. Spoiler: It’s not easy and, even if you manage it, you’ll be disappointed that you don’t feel any different than you did when both feet were in Colorado. It’s basically a monument to state lines — surely the dullest reason for a monument ever.
Where To Go Instead: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Give the Four Corners Monument a swerve and instead make your way to Albuquerque, where the world’s largest hot air balloon festival takes place each fall. The tradition started in a parking lot in 1973 with only 13 balloons; today, more than 80,000 people gather in a 3,650-acre park to watch 500-plus brightly colored balloons. It’s a nine-day extravaganza, including incredible nighttime demonstrations, live music and street performers.
Overrated: The Red Light District, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
It may be one of Amsterdam’s most famous — and infamous — areas, but the Red Light District quickly gets repetitive, unless you like watching bored, scantily-clad women looking at their phones. It can also be depressing if you don’t appreciate sidestepping crowds of drunk people and listening to catcalls. If you’re in the area and have time to kill, check it out purely to check it off the list, but don’t make it a priority.
Where To Go Instead: Museumplein
No trip to the ‘Dam is complete without a visit to Museumplein, the city’s leafy cultural center, where you’ll find the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum. Take a breather between museums in the square, where you’ll enjoy open-air exhibitions, markets and a large paddling pool in which to cool off. If you go during the winter, the square becomes a huge outdoor ice rink.
Overrated: Madame Tussauds, London
If you don’t bump into any real-life celebrities in London, you can always visit Madame Tussauds, the museum of life-size wax replicas of famous stars and historic icons. Or not. Because when you’re face-to-face with these figures, they typically look like very shiny, slightly creepy dolls.
After the novelty of getting selfies and doing a bit of side-by-side comparison (“I’m fatter than Meghan Markle”; “I’m shorter than Dwayne Johnson,” etc.) wears off, you may find yourself regretting the ticket price.
Where To Go Instead: Tower of London
One of London’s most famous landmarks is worth more than a cursory pic on the way past. The Tower of London, home to the priceless Crown Jewels, the prison cell of Sir Walter Raleigh (the “Bloody Tower”), and the Chapel of St. John and the Royal Armories, is rarely as crowded as you’d expect it to be, and the guided tour is worth every penny. Look out for the six captive ravens; their presence is traditionally believed to protect the Crown and the tower.
Overrated: Walt Disney World, Florida
This is a subjective one — many diehard Disney fans will argue — but if you take your Mickey Mouse ears off and think about it for a second, Walt Disney World is a giant headache. And that’s just from hours of waiting in line and trying not to get trampled by the crowds. Throw in the heat, the endless fast food, the level of advance planning required to make this even slightly enjoyable and the hit to your bank balance and there’s definitely a strong case for choosing an alternative theme park.
Where To Go Instead: Niagara Falls
Accessible from both the U.S. and Canada, Niagara Falls is a natural wonder you need to see to appreciate. And when you can tear your eyes away from the group of three formidable waterfalls, there’s plenty to do in the surrounding areas. You can go behind the falls and explore winding tunnels, see marine mammals at Marineland and visit an amusement park, a butterfly conservatory and the world’s largest free-flying aviary.
Overrated: The Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris, France
Some works of art take your breath away. Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” isn’t one of them — at least not in person. For starters, she’s much smaller than you’d expect and you can’t get closer than 10 feet to her, thanks to the guard on duty. This is understandable, given that she was stolen in 1911 and has been the target for various acts of vandalism. After being attacked with acid and rocks (on two separate occasions), she was encased in bulletproof glass.
Where To Go Instead: Musée d’Orsay
The Musée d’Orsay is a must-see in Paris, especially if you’re a fan of Impressionism. It has the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings in the world, including works by Monet, Manet, Sisley, Dega, Renoir and Van Gogh.
In 2018, the Musée d’Orsay was voted the No. 1 museum in the world by the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. It may be smaller and less popular — in terms of visitor numbers — than the Louvre, but it has an undeniable charm and unique heritage. The building itself, a former train station, is a work of art.
Overrated: Bondi Beach, Australia
Sydney’s ever-popular Bondi Beach was added to the Australian National Heritage List in 2008 and attracts more than two million people a year. You’d think that big a crowd can’t be wrong — but that’s exactly the point. The beach is less than a mile long, meaning it’s always super-crowded and full of trash.
Where To Go Instead: Shark Beach
Not far from Bondi Beach is a little gem of a beach (pictured here by @wilsonpersonal) that manages to feel private and secluded even though it’s regularly busy. Shark Beach, part of the historic site, park and nature reserve Nielsen Park in Vaucluse, has stunning views across the bays to the center of Sydney, and a net encloses the swimming area, making it perfect for family swimming and snorkeling. Plenty of trees provide shade on the hottest days.
Overrated: Las Vegas Strip, Nevada
If you love bright lights and an easy opportunity to throw away all your money, Las Vegas Strip is a dead cert. But if you don’t want to gamble, the City of Sin has little else to offer. Plus, there are limited food options beyond fast food and buffets. In short, you don’t go there to relax. In fact, you might actually need another vacation after a couple of days on the Strip.
Where To Go Instead: Red Rock Canyon
Luckily, you don’t have to venture too far away from Las Vegas to find a wide range of activities that are cheaper, healthier and altogether more wholesome. Red Rock Canyon (due west of Vegas, near Summerlin) offers everything from rock-climbing to wildlife-watching. If you’re game, sign up for a half- or full-day horseback ride, which is suitable for all ages.
Overrated: Loch Ness, Scotland
If you haven’t heard of Nessie, she’s a large sea monster rumored to live in the deep freshwater Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. Despite a considerable amount of doubt surrounding her existence, she’s famous all over the world and has become something of an unofficial Scottish emblem. But don’t expect to see Nessie if you visit — this is a tourist trap (albeit in beautiful surroundings).
Where To Go Instead: Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre
On Culloden Moor on April 16, 1746, the last great battle was fought on Scottish soil and the country’s fate was determined. Anyone interested in history needs to pay this pocket of the Scottish Highlands a visit, and the visitors center is an essential part of the trip. It has first-hand accounts of the battle, a 360-degree film portraying the day’s events and incredible rooftop views of the battlefield. There are lots of other intriguing landmarks in the vicinity, and a great way to get around them all is to join the popular, first-rate Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” Experience Tour, which kicks off in Inverness.
Overrated: The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy
Of all the beautiful landmarks you’ll find in Italy, the Tower Pisa is probably the least exciting. After you’ve walked up it and taken the obligatory “I’m holding this up!” photo, there’s not much else to do — and the surrounding area is pretty short of attractions as well. Crowds, high prices and road rage (either at the traffic jams or lack of parking spaces) are guaranteed.
Where To Go Instead: Florence Cathedral
One of Tuscany’s top tourist attractions — and one of the most visited places in Europe — is Florence Cathedral — and this one is definitely worth your time. The main church in Florence, it was formerly the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (in Italian it’s Duomo di Firenze) and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It boasts a magnificent Renaissance dome (with Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes of the Last Judgment on the inner shell) and spectacular interior mosaic pavements.
Overrated: Temple Bar District, Dublin, Ireland
If you’re a tourist who doesn’t know any better, you go to Temple Bar District. It’s ideal for drinkers; there’s a pub every few feet. But it’s not representative of the great city of Dublin. Locals avoid Temple Bar at all costs, which says it all.
Where To Go Instead: Sweny’s Pharmacy
View this post on Instagram
(He points to the south, then to the east. A cake of new clean lemon soap arises, diffusing light and perfume.) THE SOAP: We’re a capital couple are Bloom and I. He brightens the earth. I polish the sky. (The freckled face of Sweny, the druggist, appears in the disc of the soapsun.) SWENY: Three and a penny, please. [Lincoln Place] #bloomsday #jamesjoyceulysses #ulysses #jamesjoycequotes #jamesjoyce #swenyspharmacy
For a slice of Irish literary history, visit Sweny’s Pharmacy, a former 19th-century pharmacy turned bookstore and craft shop on Lincoln Place, Dublin — shown here by @dublininulysses. It was once visited by James Joyce, and even features in his most famous novel, the epic “Ulysses.” It’s free to visit, Oscar Wilde’s birthplace is just along the road, and the National Gallery (also free!) is closeby too.
Overrated: The Hollywood Walk of Fame, California
The Hollywood Walk of Fame sounds way grander than it actually is. It’s no more than a sidewalk (in a pretty rough part of town) with a few stars on it. As you’d expect, the surrounding hotels, bars and restaurants are overpriced. It’s so busy that it’s really difficult to take photos, too — which is about the only point in going.
Where To Go Instead: Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle describes itself as “a museum unlike any other in the USA,” and it’s not wrong. Located in San Simeon, California, it’s a lavish, 125-acre estate that took politician and publisher William Randolph Hearst 28 years to complete. As such, you can easily spend a few hours there, admiring the grand rooms, exploring the gardens and wishing you could take a dip in the outdoor swimming pool, which is 104 feet long and was the setting for many a party for Hearst and his famous Hollywood guests.
Overrated: Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
Mount Rushmore, the site of stone carvings of the faces of former U.S. Presidents, is best avoided for a couple reasons. Firstly, it was built on sacred land the government snatched from Native Americans; secondly, it’s much smaller than it looks in photos. Ultimately, many visitors end up feeling short-changed for traveling to the middle of nowhere to see some rocks.
Where To Go Instead: Custer State Park
A far more enjoyable, fulfilling way to spend time in South Dakota is to go to Custer State Park. It’s the nation’s largest state park, boasting 71,000 acres of land and herds of bison. If you hike one of the trails, try to get to Black Elk Peak, which is the highest point in the U.S. (7,242 feet) east of the Rocky Mountains.
Overrated: Stonehenge, England
Do your homework before you pay a visit to Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument on Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire. The idea is pretty cool (giant stones, built over many hundreds of years, that can be seen from miles around), but the endless crowds and a designated walkway are major turnoffs. These world-famous stones have to be seen up close, but it’s forbidden.
Where To Go Instead: Calanais Standing Stones, Scotland
Unlike Stonehenge, you can get close to Calanais Standing Stones in the west coast of Lewis. This 5,000-year-old monument certainly packs a punch and no matter how impressive it looks in photographs, it’s way more magical in person. It may take a while to get a photograph with nobody in it, but it’s a small sacrifice to make for the overall experience.
Overrated: The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
The Eiffel Tower is near the top of the list of “things best admired from afar,” because it’s an attractive tower from a distance. Up close, it’s surrounded by trash. It’s free to go underneath the tower, although you still have to wait and go through security. But if you want to go up, it’s expensive — and requires a serious level of patience.
Where To Go Instead: Montmartre
For basically the same views from the Eiffel Tower, the top of Montmartre is much more accessible and far less crowded. If you’re lucky, you might even have the stairs to yourself. The area has plenty to experience: the always peaceful Sacre Coeur church, the cemetery where some famous names are laid to rest (such as Degas, Dumas, Nijinsky, Offenbach, Madame Recamier and Emile Zola) and the Moulin Rouge windmill. If you want to explore, there are lots of little cobbled streets with lovely coffee shops, art galleries and street artists.