The thing about travel is, you don’t have to be out there adventuring yourself to be able to appreciate it. Traveling vicariously can be just as fun.
Some people on social media, as we all know, take endless reams of vacation snaps. Those albums can be so overwhelming that you’re essentially looking at a live-tweet of a whole trip. You could probably write a college thesis on Rachel and Mark’s Caribbean Vacation 2018, and you weren’t even freaking there.
There are positives and negatives to this sort of thing. Sometimes, say, a trip you had in mind may be a bit of a gamble, to somewhere completely new to you. In that case, the first-hand experience from somebody you trust can pay dividends. The bottom line is that a lot of us just don’t have the finances to go gallivanting around the world whenever we fancy, like Kim and Kanye.
When you book a trip, after all, it’s important to know what you’re letting yourself in for. Many of us like to tick certain must-see global sights off our bucket lists, which makes total and perfect sense. You should be a little wary, though, because these sights can be totally different to the way you built them up in your mind.
The magnificent Trevi Fountain of Italy, the incomparable ‘swing at the end of the world’ in Ecuador, the natural wonder that is Palau’s Jellyfish Lake… all of these attractions and more could well prove to disappoint. Buckle up, friends, and let’s see why.
25 The Great Wall of China, China: Not A Great Deal Of Space
There’s a lot of mystique and legend surrounding the Great Wall of China. Often touted as one of the greatest architectural feats in the history of mankind (quite rightly, too), you’ve surely heard the story that the wall is visible from space.
NASA is less than impressed by this, reporting that this is only true to an extent, and it’s no more visible than other marks of human activity on the planet.
The real issue, though, is that you won’t tend to get the quiet, reflective experience that tourist images from the wall sometimes portray. The more popular sections of the wall, naturally, are crammed with tourists, and unless you know where and when to go, you’ll be penned in throughout your experience.
24 Mount Rushmore, United States: Not As Big As You Imagined Them
This is the problem with a lot of the world’s biggest tourist destinations. Prior to a trip (particularly a much-anticipated one), you’ll have built up an image of a place in your mind, only for the reality to fall rather short.
For many visitors, South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore is a prime example of this. While the 60ft sculpted heads of Washington, Roosevelt, Lincoln and Jefferson are pretty darn big indeed, as heads go, you can’t really get very close to them.
The viewing platform is some distance away, which makes them appear far less grandiose than images suggest.
23 Stonehenge, England: When The Rocks Just Don’t Rock Like You Thought They Would
As with Mount Rushmore, Stonehenge is another iconic attraction that might be a much smaller-scale experience than you were counting on. Situated in Wiltshire, England, Stonehenge is quite a pain to reach, for one thing. Being out in the middle of nowhere (beautiful and scenic countryside nowhere, granted, but nowhere all the same), it’s not exactly a hop and a skip from London.
Once you do arrive, all mysticism and history aside, the ring of standing stones is… well, just that. If you’re not one of those history buffs who like to sit and allow the weight of the spot where you’re standing to sink in, you’re likely to come away disappointed.
The stones of the monument are around 13ft tall, which may not be as awe-inspiring as you imagine.
22 The Taj Mahal, India: Cleanup On Aisle Everywhere
As with a lot of the places and buildings on this rundown, there’s no denying the Taj Mahal’s place as one of the most iconic and beloved buildings on Earth. Commissioned in 1632 by the then Mughal emperor for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the building is one of India’s (and the world’s) most popular tourist attractions.
Sadly, the site as a whole isn’t as glamorous as the pictures may have you believe. According to Brightside, “…it’s located near a huge garbage dumping ground. It used to be a spot for tourists, but the area has now become a home for dogs, mosquitoes, snakes, and vultures and now seriously interferes with the beauty of the Monument of Love.”
21 Big Ben, England: I Really Thought Ben Would Be Bigger
Visitors to London, by and large, know what they’re getting themselves in for. Like any other major city, the UK capital has its own checklist of must-see sights: Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the like. Another one would have to be Big Ben, the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster.
The thing about that, though, is that it isn’t as big as you might think. The tower itself is just 315ft tall, and the bell inside doesn’t even emit its famous chime at the moment, having been temporarily silenced in 2017 for several years of vital renovation work.
20 Niagara Falls, Canada: Turns Out, It Gets Pretty Darn Wet Here
Now, you’re probably prepared for this, if you remember that one scene from Bruce Almighty (Jim Carrey on a stupid boat, with a stupid hat), but if not, here’s a revelation: there’s a pretty hefty amount of water over there on Niagara Falls. A lot of water. That’s kind of its whole thing.
From images of this natural wonder, you might not have considered that. This isn’t one of those river rapids rides, after all. There’s no the first four rows are going to get wet as heckola warning. This isn’t somewhere you can just come and snap a selfie, though, without specialised equipment (read heavy-duty waterproofs). Not quite as glamorous as it first seemed.
19 Copacabana Beach, Brazil: At The Copa, Copacabana
When it comes to glamorous stretches of beach, the world has a treasure trove of offerings. Australia has the stunning and world-famous Bondi Beach, the United States boasts the gorgeous Kapalua Bay Beach… sun worshippers can take their pick, if they’ve got the bank balance for it.
The trouble with all these beaches? Everybody else wants a piece of the action too. Back in Rio de Janeiro, the iconic Copacabana Beach (I hear Barry Manilow loves it) is one of the most popular in the world, and man does it feel a strain. According to Love Exploring, over 300,000 people cram themselves onto the two-and-a-half-mile beach every day! Best of luck finding a spot.
18 The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy: Yep, It’s Still Leaning
I’ve just recently had the pleasure of visiting Pisa, and a beautiful, historic and idyllic city it is too. If those are your expectations going in, it cannot possibly disappoint.
As for the iconic Leaning Tower itself, opinions are a little more mixed. I do happen to be one of the nerdy history buffs, so this shonky cathedral bell tower definitely did it for me. If that sort of thing isn’t your bag, though, you might be out of luck.
At about 183ft tall, the tower might not be as awe-inspiring as you imagine such a famous piece to be. It’s also a huge magnet for cheesy look, ma, I’m holding the Leaning Tower up selfies.
17 Christ the Redeemer, Brazil: Falling A Little Short
Of course, the Leaning Tower of Pisa isn’t known for its great size; it has another USP. You could still say that it isn’t very impressive scale-wise, though, and that’s also true of our next monument. Next stop, Rio de Janeiro.
The Brazilian city has more than its fair share of tourist attractions, such as the majestic Sugarloaf Mountain. The big-ticket item, though, would have to be the famous statue Christ the Redeemer. It was constructed between 1922 and 1931, according to The Encyclopaedia Britannica, and is the largest Art Deco sculpture in the world.
In terms of monuments, however, it’s surprisingly small. If you’ve travelled a long distance to see this cultural and spiritual marvel, you might be surprised to learn that it’s only 124ft high. As reported by Brightside, that’s smaller than the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal!
16 The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt: When a Wonder Goes To Seed
Now, let’s not snark on the Pyramids here. They are, without a doubt, my number one bucket list attraction on the planet (as a pale Brit who roasts in the sun like Dracula at a pool party in Australia, I haven’t dared go yet), as it surely is for countless others.
The thing about that is, though, their reputation absolutely precedes them. Their sheer age, the impossible wonder of their construction (during the Stone Age, at a time when most of the world was scratching their hairy behinds and discovering fire) … it’s the sort of hype that the reality will always struggle to live up to.
The aggressive peddlers that swarm around (and sometimes grow violent, as USA Today has reported) and the fast food places that are visible from here take just a little of the edge off the whole thing.
15 The Mona Lisa, France: It’s All Self(ie), Self(ie), Self(ie), Isn’t It?
Now, of course, you’ve got to be prepared for the fact that the Mona Lisa is going to be surrounded by tourists in droves. Probably the most famous artwork in the world, in one of the planet’s most beautiful and popular art museums, the Paris Louvre? Yep, it’s safe to assume that there’s going to be a bit of a queue.
One thing you may not be prepared for is how small Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece actually is. We’ve all seen images, but visiting the relatively diminutive 77cm x 53cm (30in x 21in) piece in person is a surprise to many.
Not to mention the fact that you’ll be super lucky to get anywhere close to her in the first place, with the huge numbers of selfie-takers packed into the hall.
14 The Four Corners Monument, United States: It’s Kind of Cool, Until You… Go There
Now, I can see the appeal here. I totally can. People from America are fiercely patriotic and proud, as you’ve surely noticed, and the idea of visiting the Four Corners Monument is surely irresistible for many. Standing in Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico all at once? Sign me the heckles up.
The trouble with this, sadly, is that there’s little here other than the plaque itself. As one snarky Redditor wrote,
“I remember reading about it as a kid and convincing my family to drive way out of the way to go see it on a road trip- it is literally a concrete slab in the middle of nowhere. My dad and I still use this as a reference about how disappointing things are ("as bad as 4 corners??") 25 years later.”
13 The Maldives: Take The Trash Out? Take It Where?
If you’re one of those sun-worshipping, beach-loving types, island vacations are likely to be a favourite of yours. The Maldives, in Southeast Asia, make for one of the most idyllic locations for such a trip you’re likely to find, but there’s a problem that comes hand in hand with that: it’s very popular, too.
The inevitable result of all of this tourism? More income, sure, but a whole heaping helping of trash being generated. As Brightside reports, the glorious images in the brochures don’t tend to feature Thilafushi, the island that houses around 1,000 people and serves a disposal site for all the tourist’s garbage. 330 tonnes of it every day, apparently!
In 2011, the problem had gotten so severe that the government temporarily banned this practice.
12 Hobbiton, New Zealand: Small, Even By Hobbit Standards
Fairly recently, The Lord of the Rings would’ve been a tough sell for a lot of people. A very long, very wordy fantasy series about wizards, rings and tiny guys with hairy feet? Don’t all come surging forwards at once for a piece of that.
A monstrously successful movie series later, and here we all are. The franchise’s many dedicated fans are sure to see the appeal of a trip to New Zealand to check out the Hobbiton set, but it’s very small and incomplete (those aren’t all full buildings you can enter, you know), and expensive too: around $80 for a tour.
11 The Alamo, United States: Not Quite As You Remember
The legendary Alamo Mission (in San Antonio, Texas) is a site steeped in both history and popular culture. The tales of the battle were helped along by the whole image of Davy Crockett in that hat and such, but this was the site of the best-known engagement in the Texas Revolution regardless.
The battle itself was fought in February and March 1836, and has taken its place in history. The Alamo itself is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Texas today, but it might not be all it’s cracked up to be. GO Banking Rates names it as one of their ‘tourist traps to avoid,’ citing the “plethora of gift shops.”
10 The Swing At The End Of The World, Ecuador: Hold On Tight!
Now, this is one swing that you won’t want to daringly leap from mid-swing and pretend you’re flying (not that I can really condone that anyway, after the time I totally misjudged things back in 1997 ad cracked a tooth).
One for thrill-seekers, Atlas Obscura describes the Swing at the End of the World thusly: “Deep in the Ecuadorian wilderness is a seismic monitoring station in a tree, known as Casa del Arbol. Its location is 8530.184 feet (2,600 meters) above sea level and the purpose is to observe Mt. Tungurahua, the nearby active volcano, from its precarious perch. While the treehouse itself is a sight to behold, the real attraction is the swing hanging from one of the tree’s skinny branches.”
According to Brightside, however, the site is “…a good example that proves that everything depends on the right angle… it seems like there’s just an abyss under your feet but there’s actually just a steep hill.”
9 The Blarney Stone, Ireland: Pucker Up
The Blarney Stone is another tourist attraction that I can totally appreciate… in theory. It’s found in Blarney Castle, near Cork in Ireland, and constitutes part of the battlement. Legend says that it may be connected to the goddess Clíodhna, and is able to give anybody who kisses it the power of flattering, elegant talk.
These tales have done wonders for tourism, and people come from all over the world to queue to kiss the stone. It’s a nice and fantastical idea, but the reality of it is that you have to dangle over a considerable drop to… well, kiss an old stone that thousands of others have kissed before you.
8 Sydney Fish Market, Australia: There’s Something Fishy Here
True connoisseurs of seafood know that fresh, quality produce is always best. You tend to want fish from a market, if you’re really serious about it, not processed to heckola and back and tinned. That applies to most foods, sure, but is of particular importance in the seafood arena.
One world-famous place to get the very best is Sydney’s fish market in Australia. Again, though, its popularity has made it a very tourist-unfriendly environment. As GO Banking Rates reports, there are price hikes all over the market, and this does very little to deter the huge numbers you’ll have to fight through in the first place.
7 Jellyfish Lake, Palau: Dude, Where’s My Jellyfish?
Our next stop is Palau, a beautiful island nation in the western Pacific. One of the biggest and most mesmerising tourist attractions in the area is Jellyfish Lake, an ethereal experience where visitors can swim right alongside innumerable jellies in their natural habitat. The lake was cut off from the surrounding ocean many years ago, and the resident golden jellyfish (which have very weak stings and are almost completely harmless) migrate across the waters following the sun every day.
Sadly, these days, the jellyfish are in danger (for reasons reported by National Geographic) and the lake has been closed to the public in the hopes that their numbers will stabilise again.
6 The Little Mermaid, Denmark: Just How Little Are We Talking?
If you’ve had the good fortune of visiting Denmark’s capital of Copenhagen, you’ll know what an idyllic and beautiful city it can be. While it’s busy, as any capital city will be, it’s also very green, with a lot of open park area. It’s little wonder that a lot of visitors fall in love with the city.
Nevertheless, though, there’s one thing that tends to disappoint about Copenhagen. The famous Little Mermaid statue is a symbol of the city, as with Singapore’s Merlion, and an attraction to many. It’s very small and unassuming, though, in a way you might not expect at all from pictures. Only 4ft tall.