There’s a huge market for things ‘off the beaten path’ these days, with travellers railing against the standard tourist traps and instead searching out their own ‘hidden gems’ or taking recommendations from travel bloggers. That’s all well and good, but it won’t be long before those unusual places become tourist traps themselves. I’m all for finding new and interesting places to visit, but it’s unfair to disregard the traps just because they’re too ‘touristy’.
In defence of the tourist trap, here are popular places that I love and would implore you to see.
The Eiffel Tower, Paris
Yes, there are people everywhere. Yes, the queues to get to the top are ridiculously long, but why should you miss out on seeing it because other humans are at the same time? It’s a truly magnificent structure and can result in some amazing night time photos. If you’re bothered by the gift shop prices, just don’t buy anything.
Times Square, New York
Plenty of people count Times Square as a tourist trap, but I think it’s just one of those places you end up at as it appears to be a central place. The bright lights and billboards are synonymous to what New York means to bright-eyed and bushy-tailed visitors and it doesn’t disappoint. Don’t succumb to the shops and you’ll enjoy taking snaps of the lights, steam grates and traditional yellow taxis. I’ve not been back to New York since they pedestrianised Times Square, but I’m curious to know if it’s still the same.
The Great Wall, China
I’ve not actually been to the Great Wall, but it’s still on my list of places to see – despite being told by various people that it’s not much worth the visit. For me, how can a random café you find in the back streets compare to the sheer magnificence and back story of the wall? I mean, you can see the thing from space and people built it with their bare hands! Again, if you’re upset by gift shop prices or crowds, just don’t buy anything and do some research before you go.
Alcatraz, San Francisco
I was quite lucky that my trip to Alcatraz was a press pass, but I still think the jaunt is worth the money. Alcatraz is a typical tourist trap – it attracts thousands of people a day, it’s got an extensive gift shop full of tat, and you can have your photo taken in front of an Alcatraz backdrop before you’ve even boarded the boat over there. However, what did I do? I took the time to stay back from the crowds, I didn’t buy anything from the gift shop, and I didn’t pay the $20 for the photo. Without those things, I still enjoyed my visit and thought it was a worthwhile place to see. I was so impressed with the knowledge of the tour guides and was fascinated with their talks. Taking those tales home with me instead of an Alcatraz-branded mug and keyring was a much better decision.
Trevi Fountain, Rome
Another hugely busy place – but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re there when hundreds of other are and you’re finding it hard to get a good picture, you’ve just picked the most inconvenient time to go. If you turn up at lunchtime, so will have everyone else that day. Think about visiting at different times – early in the morning or when people are starting to wander off to find a trattoria.
Being branded a tourist trap doesn’t always make a sight less worthy of being seen, and neither does being a ‘hidden gem’ make it better than anything else in the city. Guidebooks now are packed with unknown sights because that’s what they think people want to see, but there’s really nothing wrong with the big attractions. If you want to go ‘off the beaten track’ then that’s your choice, but avoid turning your nose up at the oldest attractions just because there are other tourists there. It’s travel snobbery at its worst and you just might be missing out on something truly amazing.
What are your favourite tourist traps? Tell me why you still love them in the comments!