Europe is home to some of the most famous landmarks in the world. From the Eiffel Tower and Leaning Tower of Pisa to Stonehenge, the list of supposedly must-see attractions could take a lifetime to explore.
It’s a continent bursting with history, culture and natural wonders, and with so much to see and experience, these famous icons often seem like a good place to start. After all, they’re famous attractions for a reason, right? They must be worth visiting.
Tens of thousands of tourists flock to Europe’s renowned sights every year without ever stopping to consider whether or not they’re actually worth the effort. The truth is, many of them will come away wondering, “Is that it?”
While many of these attraction are beautiful or interesting in their own way, and many tell a fascinating story, they don’t necessarily warrant the hype they’ve built up. Plus, they’re so hard to fully experience and enjoy when you’re jostling with hundreds of other tourists all desperate for that perfect selfie to tick off the bucket list.
Thankfully, we’re here to help ward off false expectations and travel letdowns and encourage you to get off the beaten path. Save your time, money, and sanity by skipping these overhyped landmarks and hit these worthy alternatives instead.
25 25. Overhyped: The Moulin Rouge, France
The movie was great and this Parisian institution is undeniably iconic, but while The Moulin Rouge was the place to be back in its heyday, these days, it's a seedy spot that no local would be caught dead in - even the windmill looks tattered.
This cabaret hot spot has clearly cashed in on the film’s success and for fans of Baz Luhrmann’s dazzling musical wanting to experience its razzle-dazzle for real, you might be left disappointed. You’ll also be over-charged for the privilege.
24 Alternative: Le Crazy Horse De Paris, France
If you want to experience the full glamour of a risqué cabaret show, this famous Parisian haunt is a far better bet.
While it doesn’t share the same impressive history as its better known rival, The Moulin Rouge, it has established itself as an edgier alternative since opening in 1951. Located at 12 Avenue George-V, Crazy Horse occupies a former wine cellar at the impressive Haussmannian building, and the club you see today is composed of no fewer than 12 different cellars knocked together to create a unique space.
23 23. Overhyped: The Little Mermaid Statue, Denmark
Admittedly the clue is in the name - “Little” Mermaid - but still, the size if this Copenhagen landmark may still surprise you.
Positioned on a rock off the harbour in Langelinie Promenade, this tribute to the famous fairy tale The Little Mermaid by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen stands at only a tiny four-feet tall. And while this sorrowful woman reclining by the sea is not ugly, the sculpture is just a little bit bland. Why people elbow each other out of the way for photos of this petite sculpture is a mystery.
22 22. Alternative: Sculpture Park At The Louisiana Museum Of Modern Art, Denmark
The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is one of the world’s most important museums of modern art, exhibiting mostly pieces from the mid-twentieth century to the present. But a highlight of any visit to the museum is the wonderful sculpture park in its extensive gardens.
Around 60 large sculptures are on display, including Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure No. 5 (Seagram). Among the other artists represented are Arp, Calder, Max Ernst, Heerup, Miró, while Serra, Trakas, Cucchi and Karavan have created site-specific sculptures for the park.
21 21. Overhyped: The Leaning Tower Of Pisa, Italy
It’s just a tilting old tower in Pisa. There really isn’t an awful lot to it. Tourists flock to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, yet it’s surprisingly small. Add to the mix huge crowds and souvenir salesman and the result is a very disappointing travel experience.
Many tourists love getting a selfie with themselves "holding" the tower in their hand - yawn - but there are many other sights that rank higher on our list in Italy.
20 20. Alternative: The Medieval Towers Of San Gimignano, Italy
This mostly tourist-free haven in Tuscany is known for its medieval architecture and perfectly preserved ancient tower houses. In fact, it's often referred to as "the city of beautiful towers," or even "medieval Manhattan.”
The 14 towers of the walled town offer a palpable sense of history. Plus, the intact medieval streetscapes and enchanting rural setting make it a stunning stop on any Italian itinerary.
19 19. Overhyped: The Eiffel Tower, France
You can see this iconic building from almost anywhere in the city, but once you get closer, the magic almost completely disappears. Expect huge queues as long as the tower is tall and expect your photos from the top to be underwhelming.
By all means, get a photo of the Eiffel Tower, just don't spend an absurd amount of money and time going up to its observation deck, because do you know what your photos from the top will be missing? The Eiffel Tower itself.
18 18. Alternative: Terrasse Du Printemps Haussmann, France
If it’s epic views of the City of Light you’re after, then look no further than the Terrasse du Printemps Haussmann, a free terrace on top of the famous Printemps department store.
Take an elevator then the escalator to the top floor of this building for impressive 360° views of Paris’s greatest icons, without paying a penny. The hill of Montmatre looks close enough to touch, plus you can enjoy great views of the Eiffel Tower. Best of all, you can soak it all in with some simple cafe grub and the comfort of a seat.
17 17. Overhyped: The Blarney Stone, Ireland
Legend has it that kissing this rock will give you the gift of eloquence, but considering the number of people who lock lips with this stone every day, you’re more likely to get the gift of a coldsore.
The Blarney Stone, which is in Blarney Castle outside Cork City, is one of Ireland’s most famous tourist attractions and draws around 300,000 tourists a year. Clearly these people have never heard the rumour that locals sneak in after-hours and pee on the rock, just for the craic. Eugh.
16 16. Alternative: The Clogheenmilcon Walk, Ireland
If you’re in the Blarney area and don’t fancy waiting in line for ages just to plant your face in the remnants of other people's slobber, take a walk around the Clogheenmilcon Sanctuary instead.
Soak up the beautiful Irish countryside in this 100 acres of lush wetland in what used to be a lake and a remnant of the last Ice Age. The sanctuary walkway is a 6.4 km lightly trafficked trail that is good for all skill levels, and it offers the chance to spot local wildlife and waterfowl, in particular.
15 15. Overhyped: Abbey Road, UK
The image of the Beatles on London’s Abbey Road crossing has become one of the most famous and imitated in recording history. Ever since the record was released in 1969, fans and tourists have flocked to the site of this pedestrian crossing, hoping to recreate the famous photo.
But if this has long been a dream of yours, you will literally have to wait your turn. Abbey Road is a busy thoroughfare and the local London drivers aren’t particularly patient with the constant stream of people posing for photos. If you insist on a visit, be quick on your feet or face the wrath of beeping horns.
14 14. Alternative: The Beatles Story In Liverpool, UK
If you're into The Beatles, forget some poxy crossing and head to the northern city of Liverpool, the birthplace of the band and home to the award-winning museum The Beatles Story.
Discover how four young lads from Liverpool were propelled to the dizzy heights of fame, and immerse yourself in detailed replicas of the Casbah, Mathew Street and The Cavern. Though Liverpool is a two-and-a-half hour train journey from the UK capital, it’s a more than worthwhile detour for lovers of the Fab Four.
13 13. Overhyped: The Mona Lisa, France
The Louvre in Paris is the largest, most-visited museum in the world. Some 9.3 million tourists flock here every year to see the artworks, of which there are 70,000 - yet almost everyone makes a beeline for the Mona Lisa.
Painted in the 1500s by Leonardo da Vinci, it is one of the most viewed works of art on the planet, but the artwork itself measures just 30 by 21 inches. It’s tiny, and you'll need to elbow your way through massive crowds to catch a glimpse.
While the Mona Lisa will continue to bait those in search of the perfect Paris selfie, there is a lot more wonderful art around the Louvre that deserves some attention.
12 12. Alternative: Pretty Much Any Other Artwork In The Louvre
The Louvre is packed to the rafters with significant, stunning works that are often overlooked in favour of the enigmatic smiling woman and her crazy crowds. Don’t skip these masterpieces simply because they’re not famous for being, well, famous.
There’s Raphael’s Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, displayed in the Grand Gallery, which is considered one of the greatest portraits of the Renaissance. Or there is Ain Ghazal, a staggering 9,000-year-old statue that is the oldest piece in Louvre. Best of all, you stand a much better chance of getting a closer look, without quite so many people vying for a glimpse.
11 11. Overhyped: Guinness Storehouse, Ireland
It’s easy to find a good pint of Guinness in Dublin, yet many travellers still insist on tasting it at the source, despite the crowds of tourists.
Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse is easily one of the top attractions in Ireland, but your €18.50 gets you entry to little more than a glorified gift shop. Over the years this working factory has been turned into a Disney World for Guinness fans, where lines of rowdy people take a self-guided tour before waiting to sample the promised “best pint ever.” No matter how big your love of the black stuff, you’ll find this place lacking some soul.
10 10. Alternative: Teeling Whiskey Distillery, Ireland
Skip the crowds and head instead to one of Dublin’s independent breweries or distilleries. The Teeling Whiskey Distillery was the first new distillery to open in Dublin for over 125 years. Located in the heart of Dublin City Centre, it is a fully functional pot still distillery producing up to 500,000 litres of spirit each year.
Open to the public, this is the place to go if you want to discover the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a true working distillery.
9 9. Overhyped: Checkpoint Charlie, Germany
Checkpoint Charlie, the best known crossing point between East and West Berlin during the city’s forty year division, is an iconic German landmark. These days, however, it’s little more than a small shack accompanied by kitsch props, cheesy actors, and crowds of tourists.
None of the original structures at Checkpoint Charlie remain. The place is now just a selfie factory, surrounded by cheap street food vendors and souvenir stalls, which don’t do its history justice. Don’t bother, there’s not much to see here.
8 8. Alternative: The DDR Museum, Germany
Interactive and immersive, it’s little wonder this is one of Berlin’s most popular museums. It covers a range of topics and uses sound academic research to explore everyday life behind the Berlin Wall, the Stasi and much more. If you want to learn more about Cold War East Berlin, the exhibitions encourage visitors to touch, feel and interact their way to better understanding of the past.
The DDR Museum is located on Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 1 and is open 365 days a year.
7 7. Overhyped: Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
A real-life fairytale castle on a hill, built by mad Ludwig II of Bavaria. What’s not to love? It totally sounds like an attraction deserving of your time until, that is, you have to travel hours to get there, confront long queues, all to find out it doesn’t look as good on the inside as you'd hoped.
Despite being a two-hour drive from Munich, Neuschwanstein attracts 1.4 million selfie-stick-wielding tourists every year. But while the castle is amazing to view from a distance, the interior isn't nearly as grand as some of the others in the region.
6 6. Alternative: The Residenz in Munich, Germany
Once home to Bavarian dukes, electors and kings, this sprawling palace complex displays architecture and decor from the 16th to 19th centuries, offering a taste of Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo styles, among others. This is the place to come for some jaw-dropping interiors.
Or if you like the sound of Neuschwanstein but can’t face the crowds, why not take in the nearby Linderhof Palace, or Schloss Linderhof, the smallest of the three palaces built by Ludwig II. And, with just 430,000 visitors a year, you don't have to elbow your way in to see it.