Off the beaten path? Give me tourist traps any day

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

paris | this city life

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

alcatraz | this city life

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

trevi fountain | this city life

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!

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14 Comments

  1. Arianwen
    5th August 2013 / 3:59 am

    I’ve been to all of them and I have no regrets!! Love your Eiffel Tower picture! ;)

    • 6th August 2013 / 7:23 pm

      Thanks! It was a very cute find :) How was your experience of the Great Wall of China? So desperate to see it up close and see how far I can walk!

  2. Sally
    15th September 2013 / 3:05 am

    Definitely something to be said for the tried and true. I like to do all the tourist traps right away and then spend the rest of my time on the “off the beaten track” things. It doesn’t have to be one or the other and it shouldn’t, people need to do both to really get a taste of the place they’re in.

  3. 10th February 2016 / 12:19 pm

    I agree with everything except Times Square – just too much of a crowd with not enough payoff!

    I’d add Red Square in Moscow – one of my favorite places to wander around, even after 5 years in Moscow! Totally worth the hype.

    • 24th February 2016 / 9:41 pm

      I need to go back and see it pedestrianised, see if I like it less? I know what you mean though. Red Square does sound like a really cool place to wander – on the list it goes!

  4. 11th February 2016 / 5:12 pm

    Tourist traps aren’t fun sometimes but there’s a reason they became tourist traps in the first place right?! Most are popular because they’re well worth visiting, like you said it’s taking the time to work out the best times to visit, or just biting the bullet because they’ve got to be seen!

  5. 12th February 2016 / 1:25 pm

    I’m all about a good tourist trap, and normally insist we see something famous/popular before we even attempt at wandering. I want those iconic photos and experiences. The Eiffel tower to me was completely worth it, and we had such an amazing experience since we got to ice skate on it!

  6. 13th February 2016 / 5:42 pm

    As much as I dislike crowds, I’m not going to go to Paris and NOT see the Eiffel Tower etc. I think a balance of tourist trap and off the beaten path is the ideal trip :-)

  7. Ellie - Flash & Frugal
    25th February 2016 / 4:56 pm

    You’re right! The only one that I’d say no one should bother doing is Hollywood in LA. We went because we felt we had to and were so disappointed. Not that Hollywood isn’t awesome, it just doesn’t make a good day out. Going to the actual Hollywood sign = awesome: Hollywood Boulevard, not so much. So, tip for LA, stay on the beach – they are amazing and full of good vibes and if you must go to Hollywood go on a walk of the Hollywood hills.
    http://www.flashandfrugal.com