When you’re on vacation, you want every moment to matter.
After all, most people don’t get many chances to take a holiday; about 54 percent of American workers end the year without taking all of their allotted vacation days, per Forbes, and the average vacationer travels less than 300 miles to enjoy their time off.
Therefore, if you’re lucky enough to travel to another city, you need to make the most of the experience. That means exploring the Great Pyramids, taking a stroll through Central Park, or gazing on Paris from the Eiffel Tower. If you’re going to be a tourist, you might as well go all out—right?
Everything seems set up to extract as much money from you as possible. While the sights are gorgeous, it’s safe to say I won’t be going back.
Well, not quite. We spoke with travelers to find out about some of the world’s most underwhelming landmarks, and we were pretty surprised by some of their selections.
1. The Great Pyramids have been effectively ruined by tourists.
“I hate to say it, but the Pyramids in Egypt are such a letdown,” says Valerie Bowden of travel blog Backpacking Africa for Beginners. “For starters, they’re way too crowded. It kind of ruined my experience to see so many tourists—especially disrespectful ones throwing their trash in the sand and ignoring other warning signs.”
The country’s tourism industry fell off substantially in 2011 following a wave of political upheaval, and recent events have caused a 40 percent drop in tourism traffic, according to Reuters. Still, the Giza pyramids remain a major tourist attraction, and they’re not exactly isolated; they’re pretty much right next to Giza, a large city with 3.62 million residents. If you were hoping for a private tour of long-deserted (pardon the pun) ruins, well, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise.
“There is also an ill-planned road that goes in between the three great Pyramids of Giza,” Bowden says. “That makes it next to impossible to get a photo of them without a giant tour bus in the background.”
“Lastly, the locals have gotten so used to taking advantage of the tourists. Everything was overpriced, and I struggled with the local men following me around trying to pull me into their stores.
That’s Bowden’s opinion, of course, and we can’t comment on whether the locals really try to take advantage of tourists. However, Chris Backe of One Weird Globe agrees that the Great Pyramids aren’t so great.
— George ✈️ (@GWMtravels) September 25, 2015
“It was in Egypt where I realized the places themselves only contribute so much to the overall travel experience,” he says. “Local men leered at my wife, dual pricing (e.g. paying more as a foreigner) is the rule, and local transportation is seriously lacking.”
“Everything seems set up to extract as much money from you as possible. While the sights are gorgeous, it’s safe to say I won’t be going back.”
2. The Eiffel Tower is wonderful—provided that you watch your step.
“I’ve been traveling for a little over six years now and have been to quite a few places,” says traveler Chris Burdick of TravelSizeRobot.com. “The first thing that popped into my head [when considering bad tourist destinations] was the Eiffel Tower. I mean, it’s really big, which is quite impressive, but actually going there … it’s loaded with touts and tourists, as you’d expect, and there’s dog poo all over the ground—typical Paris.”
Don’t jump all over Burdick: Dog excrement is apparently a pretty big problem for the French. One Frenchman even introduced an app to compel Parisian street sweepers to clean up after pets. Needless to say, if you’re visiting the Eiffel Tower, you might want to watch your step.
If you really like dog poop on the street, I mean REALLY like it, in all forms, sizes, and shapes, all over the place: Paris.
— Mo Willems' Pigeon (@The_Pigeon) November 1, 2013
“Then you actually go in, pay the 17 Euros or whatever it is now, get up there excited to see the postcard-Parisian skyline, only to realize that the most notable landmark in Paris—the one thing you expect to see in any skyline view of Paris—is the one thing you can’t see, because you’re standing in it,” Burdick says.
If you’re curious, you can easily find videos and photos taken from the Eiffel Tower’s observation area. The view isn’t bad, but we see Burdick’s point; if you’re hoping to get an iconic picture of the city, you’ll probably walk away disappointed.
“Skip the Eiffel Tower,” he says. “If you want to see a beautiful view of Paris at night, go to one of the taller buildings around so you can actually see the thing.”
3. The beauty of the Sistine Chapel is drowned out by the noise.
“My husband and I were incredibly underwhelmed by the Sistine Chapel and its ceiling,” says Cory Varga of travel adventure blog You Could Travel. “Although beautiful, there were far too many people around to be able to observe the paintings in detail. Not to mention, some of the paintings were too small.”
We’ll be sure to pass that criticism on to freaking Michelangelo.
“The Creation of Adam was very tiny, and we were disappointed by it,” Varga says. “We had higher expectations. Also, we believe there should always be a cap on the number of visitors allowed in, so people can enjoy the visit.”
While we’d love to say that Varga is jaded, she’s onto something. In 2012, The Guardian wrote that massive crowds made the Sistine Chapel feel more like a “packed, sweaty, and very noisy railway station.” Guards struggle to keep control of the wall-to-wall crowds, and while the 130-foot-long ceiling is certainly a sight to behold, many tourists feel that it isn’t worth the trouble.
The Sistine Chapel, although beautiful, was far too crowded. Couldn't move in there, very claustrophobic and hot
— KarenD (@zakaren) April 28, 2012
“As an alternative, we recommend just walking around Rome, enjoying the weather and the lovely food,” Varga suggests.
4. Mount Rushmore isn’t the coolest attraction in the area (and it’s sort of horrible, when you think about it).
“I remember going to Mount Rushmore as a kid,” says Texas marriage therapist Heidi McBain. “We drove and drove and drove some more, and when we finally got there, we spent about ten minutes looking and it and taking pictures, and then we left.”
“[Mount Rushmore] is way smaller than it looks on pictures and on TVs,” says blogger Anad Bhatt. “You hear about it your whole life, and when you finally get there, you’re like, ‘This is it?’ And then you learn about its nefarious anti-Native American history and realize it’s a disappointing monument of a shameful part of our history. You just wasted a trip.”
That history is certainly worth some consideration. Its original sculptor, the hilariously named Gurzon Borglum, had white-supremacist leanings, according to Smithsonian Magazine, and wrote about the purity of the “Nordic” West.
Even if you can separate the art from the artist, the monument is highly controversial among Native Americans, many of whom see it as cruelly ironic. The Black Hills are considered sacred by local tribes, and the faces of Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt seem like a willful insult to the Native Americans who lost their lives nearby in the Battle of Wounded Knee. Over the past several decades, Native Americans have often protested at Mount Rushmore.
“After Mount Rushmore, we went on to the Badlands,” McBain says. “Now that was amazing, and one of those parks you don’t hear much about. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and it’s beautiful! We drove around the National Park and did some hiking and had one of those memorable days that I still remember over 30 years later.”
5. Plymouth Rock is literally just a rock. But it’s not the only attraction in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
When you picture the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, you probably picture a massive stone—a worthy symbol to commemorate the settlement of a new nation.
In reality, it’s, uh, just a rock.
Granted, someone wrote “1620” on it, and at some point, someone put a fence around it, but it’s arguably the most underwhelming tourist destination on this list.
“Many visitors to Plymouth, Massachusetts, America’s Hometown, are sorely disappointed when they see Plymouth Rock,” says Paula Fisher, director of marketing for the Plymouth County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Many are expecting a rock the size of the Rock of Gibraltar, but our iconic hunk of granite (above ground) is only about 3 [feet] tall and 4 [feet] wide.”
Plymouth Rock: the most gorgeous dissapointment on this side of the Missisippi
— kale (@KaleighRyan17) May 18, 2017
“It’s not the size of Plymouth Rock that makes it important, but its history. In season, spring through fall, a state guide stands under the Greek Portico explaining the rock’s history and peregrinations.”
Unfortunately, there’s no substantial historical evidence that the Pilgrims actually landed at Plymouth Rock. The first references to the rock appeared in 1771, per History.com, well over a century after Plymouth was settled.
With that said, the Rock has certainly become an important part of American history (and no, we’re not referring to Dwayne Johnson—although, come to think of it, we could say the same about him). If you’re planning a trip to Plymouth, try not to make it your only stop.
“Alternatives to staring at the Rock are Plimoth Plantation, our most visited attraction in Plymouth County, where costumed interpreters take on the characters of those who settled in Plymouth in the mid-1620s,” Fisher says. “[Other options include] whale watching in the Atlantic, punched-tin lantern ghost tours through the lanes and byways once [walked] by the Native Wampanoag and the Pilgrims,” she says. “I could go on and on.”
The takeaway: If you’re heading to a major tourist destination, don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself standing in a cramped space, staring at a rock.