Wednesday, 6 August 2008

The World's Worst Tourist Traps

What defines a tourist trap? For some, it’s the tacky T-shirt shops or overpriced museums; for others, it’s the crowds or the chain restaurants. You probably have a few nominations of your own (tell me about them on my comment message column below), but here are a few of my least favorite travel experiences (Hmmmmm...!!)

Leaning Tower of Pisa:
The bell tower of the Cattedrale on the Piazza del Duomo in Pisa, Italy, may be architecturally interesting, but does it justify a half-day of travel from Florence in order to see it? Yes, the tower really does slant (it wasn’t built that way), but do you really need to jockey through the crowds surrounding it in order to obtain a photograph of you “holding” it up? Instead, spend your time enjoying a leisurely lunch or meeting some locals at the corner coffee bar.

Times Square:

New York’s neon-lit, iconic intersection is certainly a symbol of the city, but gone are the days of glitz, glamour and grime. Its new face is one of corporate megastores and digitally animated advertisements.

South of the Border:

This cheap vision of Mexican kitsch can be found off Interstate 95 near Dillon, S.C. There’s an amusement park called Pedroland, named after its mascot who speaks heavily accented and broken English; there’s a giant sombrero on a tower; there’s a garish, psychedelically painted T-shirt shop. Unless you want to stock up on fireworks, keep driving.

Madame Tussaud’s:
The (in)famous wax museum in London has opened branches in New York, Las Vegas, Hong Kong and Amsterdam, which may help relieve the congestion of packed-in visitors — but is unlikely to ease the exorbitant entry fee.

Wall Drug:

It began as a small drugstore in the town of Wall, S.D., and grew into a bloated, Western-themed attraction as big as a town itself. Wall Drug is an emporium of kitschy Americana: cowboy memorabilia, Native American-themed artifacts, bobblehead dolls, T-shirts galore and the ever-popular jackalope. You can’t miss it – there are signs promoting the attraction for hundreds of miles on Interstate 90.

Blue Grotto:

This cave on the isle of Capri, Italy, is named for the intense color of the water within it, a richly hued blue that’s caused by sunlight that reflects into the cave from underneath the water. However, to get to the grotto, you must take a motorboat and then transfer onto a rowboat in choppy, sea sickness-inducing water. And though you’ll spend scant time inside the disorienting cave, it’ll cost you more than 20 euros (without the obligatory tip). The logistical hassle makes one wonder: Is the color really that much bluer than the rest of the Mediterranean?

Experience Music Project:

Housed in a motley pile of metal designed by Frank Gehry, Seattle’s Experience Music Project Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame is little more than an aging fanboy’s obsessive collection of guitars and science fiction memorabilia. But if you’re a fan of the song “Louie, Louie,” there’s nearly an entire floor devoted to an exhibit about it.

Fisherman’s Wharf:
This crowded stretch of San Francisco waterfront from Ghirardelli Square to Pier 39 is dominated by tacky souvenir shops, chain restaurants and street hawkers. On top of that, dozens and dozens of loud, belching and flatulating sea lions make some tourists long for a one-way ticket to Alcatraz, the prison just across the bay.

Gateway Arch:

The tallest monument in the country, the iconic landmark of St. Louis, is impressive to behold … from below. If you decide to venture to the top, then expect a pricey entrance fee, a ridiculously long wait for the tram, and severe claustrophobia while you’re in the observation area.

Faneuil Hall:

Despite being a popular stop on Boston’s historic Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall Marketplace is a predictable conglomeration of chain stores and gaudy souvenir shops. Quincy Market, the main building, is dominated by an overpriced food court, and the two market buildings to its side feel like an outdoor mall. At least, now that Boston’s Big Dig project is finally complete, you don’t have to dodge construction trailers on your way there.

Bourbon Street:

This dingy strip of New Orleans’ most popular drag is chockablock with shabby strip clubs and stores selling tchotchkes. At night the street teems with con men and stumbling drunks (since there is no open container law in the French Quarter). Wander elsewhere in the French Quarter – or to nearby neighborhoods like the Garden District or Fauborg Marigny – to have an authentic New Orleans experience.

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