Don't Waste Your Time on These 12 Tourist Traps in Europe
Go For More Authentic Experiences
Europe is the Promised Land of alps and rivieras, elegant cities and picturesque villages, fairy-tale castles and gladiators’ coliseums. A patchwork of wildly diverse countries, Europe is culture concentrate. Just add a sense of adventure and the perfect itinerary, and you have the trip of a lifetime.
Amid all of the timeless, classic destinations, are those things that make seasoned travelers groan: overpriced, overcrowded, overrated tourist traps.
Europe is full of them, and at some point on your European jaunt you will probably be pressured, coerced or fooled into visiting a few of them, making your itinerary a little less than perfect. Knowing what not to do can save you from a lot of eye-rolling, lining up and disappointment on your Euro trip.
So in the interest of the aforementioned perfect itinerary, here is a list of the worst tourist attractions in Europe that you should be sure to leave out of your travel plans.
Buckingham Palace, London
One of the biggest misnomers in the history of tourism, the “Palace” bears no resemblance to any building Cinderella ever lived in. What is really just a very big house with a lot of men in funny hats standing around in front of it still draws impressive crowds, however.
For some reason these crowds seem to be endlessly fascinated with the men in funny hats, which is fascinating in itself as they literally do nothing. The dense crowds of people in front of the royal palace do bring some people a lot of joy though — pickpockets have a field day.
Saint Mark’s Square, Venice
Venice itself is one big honey trap for tourists. The sweet lure of romantic canals, gondolas and golden sunsets quickly lose their charm in the sticky mess created by swarms of visitors.
Much of the city can be forgiven, though, due to the overwhelming beauty of it and the occasional moments of true peace amid the canals. If contemplation of the history and wonder of Venice is what you are after though, Saint Mark’s Square is best left to the selfie-stick-wielding-masses.
Keeping your cool as you try to navigate the sea of tourists there is an almost impossible exercise.
Mona Lisa, Paris
The “Mona Lisa” may be one of the most disappointing tourist attractions in Europe. Never in the history of human travel have people traveled so far, and lined up for so long to see something so small.
This isn’t to insult Leonardo’s work; the man was undoubtedly a genius — anyone who can make hordes of people cluster around a decidedly modest painting centuries after its creation has to be.
If you do manage to elbow and politely shove your way to the front of the crowd in order to actually glimpse the painting, you will be disappointed to find that you can’t get within 20 feet of the actual artwork, and that photos are prohibited.
Temple Bar, Dublin
Temple Bar is the cute cultural quarter of Dublin, full of colorful shopfronts, and of course, traditional Irish bars. Just to be clear, Temple Bar is an actual area of Dublin. The name can lead to some confusion though, especially after someone had the bright idea of naming a bar Temple Bar.
Judging by the constant herds of Guinness-toting tourists happily checking into the “famous Temple Bar” on Facebook, the Temple Bar bar is a case of both brilliant marketing and a blatant tourist trap.
Charles Bridge, Prague
In travel guidebooks, the Charles Bridge sounds dreamy and enchanting. 16 arches of centuries-old stone, lined by baroque statues, with unforgettable views of the city of Prague.
What none of these helpful travel guides are telling you, however, is that you will have to elbow your way across the bridge, fighting for space against not just other tourists, but vendors of tacky trinkets, “artists” offering to draw a cartoon portrait of your face, and hot dog sellers aggressively trying to hawk their wares to the throngs of visitors.
The magic you were promised is elusive at any time other than at the crack of dawn, making this one of the worst tourist traps in Europe. Thankfully there are plenty of other enchanting things to do when you visit Prague. It’s worth the trip there!
Sex Museum, Amsterdam
Amsterdam is famed for its hedonism, reveling in drug use and illicit pleasures of the flesh. Capitalizing on tourists’ fascination with Amsterdam’s sex trade and the Red Light district is the tacky — and anything but titillating — Sex Museum.
With photos and displays that would only make teenage boys giggle, you are unlikely to emerge from the experience with any profound new knowledge of sex.
Manneken Pis, Brussels
The reaction of most people to the famous pissing boy of Brussels is, “But he’s so small!” And indeed he is.
Although there is something very entertaining about watching people gather to marvel at and take photos of a peeing statue that occasionally gets mysteriously dressed up in various outfits, it is hard not to feel disappointed when you finally see the statue that all the fuss is about. This is certainly a tourist trap to avoid.
Café Central, Vienna
Can there really be anything truly Venetian about a place packed with tourists? There are far better ways to explore Vienna tourism. While it is admittedly soaked in history, with a beautiful interior of marble pillars and chandeliers, none of the patrons here are likely to speak a word of German.
Don’t be surprised if you have to line up just to get in the door. You will also pay for the privilege of sipping coffee in the cafe where Trotsky used to play chess — you will find much friendlier prices in Vienna’s many other cafes.
Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin
Berlin is one of the hippest, coolest cities in Europe. Except, that is, for Checkpoint Charlie.
While the history of the location is an interesting insight into life behind the Berlin Wall, the Checkpoint Charlie of today is a laughable attempt at squeezing money out of tourists. Men in fake army uniforms posing for photos (for a fee of course) seems to somehow debase the historical importance of the site, and disrespect the conflicts that arose there.
La Rambla, Barcelona
A boulevard drawing a wide line between the historic Gothic Quarter and El Raval neighborhood, La Rambla is difficult to avoid completely. It is best to steer clear of it as much as possible, though, as it has all of the hallmarks of a typical tourist trap.
Lined by junky souvenir shops and tacky restaurants promising real Spanish cuisine, La Rambla is also populated by your classic human statues and pickpockets. After sunset, the strip becomes something altogether different; a shady, grim workplace where girls with sad stories peddle their trade.
The Moulin Rouge, Paris
Yes, the can-can may have been pioneered here, yes that movie was great, and yes the big red windmill out the front is iconic, but the Moulin Rouge is nothing like the good old days.
Pooh-poohed by Parisians, the cabaret is now frequented exclusively by tourists. Its seedy atmosphere is a major disappointment for anyone lured there under illusions of glamor and style.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
Aside from the highly comedic value of watching dozens of tourists attempt the I’m-holding-up-the-Leaning-Tower-of-Pisa photo, there is little point in making the trek to visit Pisa.
Despite having made fame on punny pizza boxes the world over, the Leaning Tower is less than spectacular. It only takes a couple of minutes to look at a tower that is a bit crooked, and a few more to laugh at the tourists continually getting chased off the grass by security guards. Nothing to send a postcard home about.