Should You Go to Tourist Traps?Posted by in Travel
My friend Irene recently wrote a post about having lunch at the top of the Eiffel Tower, in which she debated whether it was worthwhile since it was such a tourist trap. This got me thinking about tourist traps in general.
Tourist traps might be crawling with tourists, but there is generally a reason for their popularity. And my opinion is you should visit some of them, but go with proper expectations and also with a plan. I believe that you never regret having gone, but your opinion of the place might change after you’ve been there. For example, we took our kids to Disney and honestly I hated it, but I was glad I had been there to know what it was all about. Here are my tips for visiting touristy spots:
#1 Determine if the spot is one that is important or meaningful to you before you go. Will you kick yourself if you are in the vicinity and don’t go? I would have always regretted skipping the Leaning Tower of Pisa when we were in Italy, but there honestly wasn’t much to do there. We skipped Pearl Harbor in Hawaii because it sounded like a major time investment and it felt depressing. I haven’t regretted not going there. Don’t just go because everyone goes. Go only if it is something you’ll be sorry you missed.
#2 Never allow yourself to head to a popular spot without completely researching what’s there, what else there is to do, what kind of waits and ticket prices are involved, and what you’ll have to go through to experience it. Knowledge is power. While in London we went to the British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone, but because I did my research, I knew there wasn’t much else in the museum that would really interest my family, so we made a beeline for that exhibit, then headed out to explore other parts of the city. When you have a short time, you must prioritize!
#3 Let yourself be a tourist. Take time to just stare at the amazing place or thing you’ve come so far to see. Soak up the atmosphere. Take lots of pictures. Gawk. You’ll treasure the memories (and the photos!) for years to come.
#4 Fit the tourist trap into your trip schedule, but don’t let it be your entire trip. You’re bound to be disappointed if you spend an afternoon at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, when there is so much more to explore and see. I’m not one to spend hours and hours at any location. My family gets in, sees the important sights, and gets out.
#5 Take the tour, but know when to bail. You learn so much more about a place when you take a guided tour with a knowledgeable guide. The tour guide who took us through the Roman Coloseum and the Roman Forum brought to life what might otherwise have been a pile of rubble. My family is interested in ancient Rome, so it was a good fit for us. On the other hand, we pulled out our headphones and raced through the rest of the rooms several times on some far too long tours of castles and palaces in England. We also used a tour to skip the line at the Accademia in Florence, but ditched the tour so we could see the David and then bail on the rest of the museum.
#6 Let yourself have a real experience of a lifetime at key places. For example, Irene had lunch at the top of the Eiffel Tower. My family took a gondola ride in Venice, went to a lumberjack show in Alaska, and we took a family photo in front of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign. There are some iconic experiences at famous places that you simply must do, or you’ll always wonder what they would have been like. It’s fun to be able to say “Hey, I’ve been there and done that!”
#7 Don’t let the experience own you. Don’t shed dollars for bad souvenirs, cheap t-shirts, or really bad food. We ate at one of the Grand Canyon Village restaurants and it was atrocious. We spent far too much time among the sidewalk vendors in Pisa looking for a magnet for my collection. It’s easy to get sucked into the money-making schemes, and it can be hard to separate them from the authentic experience of the place. I didn’t buy a thing at Disney and that was a good decision for me!
#8 Plan to overpay for mediocre food. The quality of the food was one of the concerns my friend Irene mentioned in her post. We’ve eaten at tourist traps such as a luau in Hawaii, Cafe Florian in San Marco Piazza Venice, and the top of the Skylon Tower in Niagara Falls Canada in the rotating restaurant. The food these places was nothing remarkable (although it was fun to eat poi!). You eat at these places for the experience, not for the Michelin quality of the food. You pay for the quality of the experience, the view, and the atmosphere, not for the food. If you set that expectation going in, you’ll be happy. So, yes, Irene, I think I will follow your lead and dine at the Eiffel Tower when I am in Paris!
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So many great reminders here! I really appreciate #3, It is easy to forget, esp. when you have come from far away and feel exhausted.
Everyone interprets what is a tourist trap differently. I could LIVE in the British Museum, wandering around and being stunned by things I’d never dreamed about. And I’m the kind of tourist that loves to linger for long stretches of time in historic sites. You’re certainly right about knowing in advance what’s there, so you’ll know if it is right for you, but sometimes sites turn out to be more interesting than you could have dreamed from the description.
That’s definitely true. You should always be open to what you might stumble upon.
When we were in Venice years ago, seeing so many other people in the plazas was part of the whole experience — that sense of reverence toward one of the great cities on earth. Similarly, Lourdes, where you could see hope on every face.
What great advice! Also, one man’s tourist trap may be another’s mecca:-)
good points, especially the reminder that research will help you choose the best experiences for your family. I’d add that tourist traps at off hours and off seasons — whatever those might be for a particular place — often offer a more thoughtful way to have the experience.
All the years I lived just outside NYC, I rarely went to any of the tourist traps. Now, I wish I’d gone to at least a few more of them. Very true, there’s a reason they’re popular.
These are some very good reminders. When we went to Germany, we stayed in an apartment our daughter set up for us, so we got to live as locals while visiting the tourist traps she had arranged for us to see. It was the best of both worlds.
For me traveling is about experiences. So, for instance, in Hawaii’s Maui I made sure to snokel and climb inside a volcano and bathe in some sort of waterfall like lagoon. And in Finland I really did want to stand on the line that marks the arctic circle. Did it change my life? No. But I still remember it fondly. In Israel I HAD to bathe in the dead sea. Stuff like that. but I’m not so much into looking at things and taking tours, except for when they are educational.
I think Pearl Harbor is definitely worthwhile and I didn’t find it all that depressing.