We have all seen the world’s most famous landmarks at some point in our lives. Some have had the privilege of catching a glimpse of the world’s most incredible wonders up close and in person, while most of us have viewed them through the magic of photography and the Internet. Either way, these iconic and world famous sites have become well known to most people because of their sheer brilliance and one-of-a-kind nature. They are awe-inspiring and have managed to capture the attention of billions through their beauty and often historic presence.
Butsometimes there is a bit more to these structures than meets the eye. If you aren’t there to see them in person you might actually miss out on some of the truths behind these landmarks. After all, we are presented with images of these sites based on what the photographer wants us to see. The reality is that many of these locations have a very different feel and perspective when seen in reality. Often times, they hold up just as well in person and other times, the reality is a bit underwhelming or surprising.
Here are twenty conception-shattering photos of tourist attractions from around the world.
20 The Great Pyramids of Giza - it ain't just desert, folks
One of the most recognized structures ever created by man is truly an incredible landmark. There is a reason they have been considered one of the original wonders of the world, dating back thousands of years. They are as majestic and breathtaking in real life as we imagine them when looking at them through photographs. The one thing we often aren’t shown that could alter our perception of these great landmarks is the surrounding areas.
Often times we are shown close-ups of the pyramids, but when zoomed out, we can see that they aren’t in the middle of the desert but situated right next to the city of Cairo, with modern civilization knocking on history’s door. From this view, a little bit of the magic tends to fade.
19 General Sherman Sequoia Tree - nature's behemoth
The largest tree in the world is a sequoia that sits in California’s Sequoia National Park. It isn’t necessarily the tallest in the world, but it’s considered the biggest by volume at 52,500 cubic feet. Although it comes up over a hundred feet short of the tallest in the world, its mass simply makes General Sherman absolutely gargantuan in terms of width as well.
To put it into perspective, the tree stands at 275 feet tall which is enough to make it compete with a 25 story high rise. Let that sink in for a bit. This tree is as tall as a building that has a 25th-floor button on the elevator. To add more context, this is how we humans stack up next to it!
18 Leaning Tower of Pisa - We actually look pretty silly
Everyone has seen the humorous tourist photos taken for decades next to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Visitors pose next to the tower while the cameraman angles it in such a way to give the appearance that the person in the picture is holding up the tower. It’s been done countless times and with pretty funny results.
To add a bit of perspective to this popular tourist activity, this image shows how we actually look from afar when attempting our photo op with the tower.
17 The (teenie-weenie) Statue of Liberty
The most famous statue in the world often conjures up images of grace and beauty when we think of the giant-sized, copper-toned lady. We all know of her standing tall in New York Harbor welcoming those into not just the city, but the country. Long considered one of the quintessential symbols of freedom, her size adds to her majestic demeanor.
The truth is, she is actually quite small by relative standards when stacked up against some of mankind’s tallest built structures. For example, at 305 feet tall, it pales in comparison to the tallest tower ever constructed, the Burj Khalifa at 2,722 feet.
You could actually stack nearly NINE Lady Liberties on top of one another to match Dubai’s behemoth! In this photo, if you look very closely, she can be seen on the lower right hand side on her own island standing in the bay. Manhattan's skyline towers over her.
16 Central Park - tranquil getaway in a hectic city
Often considered the most famous park in the entire world, Central Park has been seen in countless films because of its unmatched beauty. Home to so many landmarks within the park and attractions that have become famous in their own right, Central Park is truly an oasis within New York City. The greenery and natural space is often an idyllic and tranquil getaway in an otherwise hectic and chaotic city.
To truly grasp this concept, here’s an image of the park within Manhattan’s island boundaries.
15 The Mona Lisa - good luck catching a glimpse
The most famous and sought-after painting in the world is located in the most visited museum, Paris’ very own Louvre. People flock to the museum to the tune of over eight million visitors a year and almost every single one of them have their sights set on Leonardo DaVinci’s world-famous Mona Lisa. In truth, don’t expect to be able to get lost in the serenity and beauty of this art piece as you will be competing, shoulder to shoulder with hordes of fellow tourists to even catch a glimpse of her.
14 The Great (Broken?) Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is often seen as humanity’s crowning achievement in engineering and architecture. Although it is a rather simple structure, it is still well over 13,100 miles long, half the distance of the entire planet’s circumference. That is an impressive feat in human ingenuity, especially when taking into account it was built thousands of years ago.
Visitors go with sky-high expectations and seeing its length always impresses, but what many don’t expect to see it is that many parts along the structure have long been broken down and cracked to the point of disrepair. With so many miles to account for, there are countless places along the wall that have seen decay in its structure.
13 The Taj Mahal - It's not all so glamorous
The Taj Mahal is considered the crown jewel of India, making it the country’s most visited landmark by a wide margin. It is even considered one of the modern wonders of the world because of its beauty and unique nature. Visitors flock to the site and are inspired by its size and distinct features. It has become such a famous landmark throughout the world, that it has also fallen victim to the trappings of tourism.
The area surrounding the Taj Mahal has been so overrun by visitors and locals looking to make quick money that it has seen a deterioration in the quality of the land around it with very little upkeep, as can be seen in this image.
12 Stonehenge - We Can See It From The Highway
One of Britain’s most visited sites and one of the world’s most sought after, Stonehenge is often seen as one of humanity’s very first feats in engineering success. Although experts are still baffled by what the giant collection of rocks actually means, it does not take away from its significance and ingenuity. Visitors come from around the world to marvel at the structure and with great reason.
It’s an awe-inspiring sight, but what many don’t realize is a little bit of the incredible nature to it is eroded by the major highway situated right next to the site with tons of flowing traffic from onlookers and those simply passing by.
11 Niagara Falls - Let nature be nature
Niagara Falls is a prime example of nature’s best. It is an overwhelmingly beautiful natural waterfall with an immense presence when you are up close to it. The sound of the water rushing and falling over the break is incredible and the size of the drop is just as spellbinding. It all makes for a powerful visit to the best of what nature has to offer.
The reality for visitors can be harsh upon visiting when they see that in addition to their view of the falls, they are also situated right next to several manmade buildings. Niagara Falls’ popularity has caused the neighboring town to build more and more right next to it which may be somewhat surprising to first-time travelers.
10 La Sagrada Familia - A true centerpiece
Designed by perhaps the most famous Spanish architect of all time, Antoni Gaudi, La Sagrada Familia is Barcelona’s premiere landmark. The Roman Catholic church was designed in the Catalan style seen throughout the city, giving it the distinct look and feel that has become associated with in Barcelona. Although it is still unfinished to this day, it is still a popular landmark because of the unique look and its size.
A slightly different perspective of the church's size and location can be seen in this aerial shot from above, which shows it amongst the city’s other buildings.
9 The Forbidden (or should we say surrounded?) City
When anyone thinks of the words “Forbidden City”, images of desolate and solitude and ancient come to mind. We immediately conjure up this idea of a foreign city from the past found in some remote area of the world far from civilization. The original Forbidden City is actually located in Beijing, China and is still one of the more popular landmarks for residents and tourists alike.
The palace truly is an idyllic wonder, but many are often swamped to find that it is quite literally in the middle of one of the most populated and busy metropolises in the world.
8 Little Mermaid Statue - We mean *REALLY* little
Located in Copenhagen, Denmark the Little Mermaid Statue has become a popular site for tourist to visit. Built over a century ago, it has only gotten more popular time, most especially with the rise of social media as travelers look to capture a selfie with her in the background.
Most of the images we see of the Little Mermaid are near perfect photos with her ideally situated in the back against the beautiful waters.
When one zooms out a bit, it becomes evident that the landmark destination is a bit more overrun by tourists then originally imagined.
7 Arc de Triomphe - Much more than just a landmark
Only taking a backseat to the likes of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe is easily one of Paris’ most famous monuments. Often depicted as this grand structure with an incredible arch with tourists gazing up at its 162-foot tall ceilings, many don’t realize that it actually serves a much greater purpose.
Rather than simply being an incredible landmark to gawk at, it was actually constructed nearly two centuries ago to serve as one of the epicenters of Paris traffic.
In this image from above, it becomes evident that the Arc de Triomphe, in fact, keeps the people of Paris moving along in a uniform manner, serving as a gateway for traffic.
6 The Brandenburg Gate - Modern surroundings
Berlin, Germany is more famously known for the Berlin Wall, but the Brandenburg Gate is also one of its most famous landmarks. Visited by millions every year, it holds a special place in the city.
It is a neoclassical structure with a distinct look inspired by the Acropolis in Athens making it clearly stand out in Berlin as a unique and incredible beauty. Visitors are sure to be inspired when visiting, but will also be surprised to find out that popular images of the monument have left out a certain reality in its depictions.
When moving further out, the Brandenburg Gate is actually surrounded by modern-day Berlin structures, many of which dwarf the monument.
5 Machu Picchu - Wait, where is it?
The citadel built by the Incas in the Andes Mountains centuries ago is seen as one of the most stunningly beautiful human creations. Built in the 1400’s atop the mountains of Peru, the Incas showed innovation and creativity when building their ancient city of mortar and stone walls. Today, tourists travel throughout the year to take in the breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains while exploring the ruins.
Most folks aren’t going to be disappointed with Machu Picchu, but many might be surprised by how its beauty can be stunted when fog from the incoming mountains can essentially make it disappear altogether. This can sometimes make for some rather underwhelming photo ops.
4 Mount Everest - A trash heap
The tallest mountain in the world is truly a sight to behold. At over 29,000 feet this mountain is quite literally five and a half miles high. That’s truly a stunning fact when you think of it. By comparison, the tallest manmade structure comes up several hundred feet short of 3,000 feet, over ten times shorter. This is nature at its most incredible. Hundreds flock to the mountain to try their hand at traversing its base and slopes, trying to join the ranks of the few who have reached its peak. For those who have taken the incredible journey, they are sure to be in awe of its beauty and immense size.
One harsh reality that many will find sad to discover is that the thousands of hikers and climbers before them have unfortunately left the mountain full of our waste and trash, as can be seen in the image above. A cleanup effort is a possibility, but the mountain’s size makes it an expensive and lengthy process.
3 Mount Rushmore National Memorial - A little underwhelming
Dedicated to the leaders often considered the best the United States has ever seen, Mount Rushmore is a monument dedicated to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Their images, incredible exact replicas of their faces are carved into the side of the Black Hills Mountains of South Dakota and are an incredible symbol of patriotism.
Many visitors are struck by the grand faces of Mount Rushmore, but are often surprised by the distance at which they have to observe them, often making them smaller than what we are used to seeing in popular images.
2 Times Square
New York makes another appearance on the list with Times Square. Often referred to as the “Crossroads of the Universe”, it is many times the most visited landmark in the world, attracting over 60 million people a year.
When people think of Times Square, images of lights, flashing screens, giant billboards and lots of people come to mind. All of those are correct, but sometimes people simply may not understand how truly chaotic and crowded the area can get. If space is what you need, this image might deter you from taking a stroll through Times Square.
1 The Earth’s Most Populated Cities
Although this isn’t a photo just any tourist can take, this is still an image that really will open up our eyes to the world we live in. This nighttime image taken from space shows the entire world lit up, highlighting where most of the Earth’s civilizations reside. As can be seen, the eastern half of the continental United States far surpasses that of its West Coast counterparts which barely make a dent, while most of Europe lights up the sky. It’s also evident that many other continents like Africa and South America, although populated, simply don’t have the megacities seen elsewhere in the world. This is truly a conception-shattering photo from NASA!