We all have been to tourist places, spots where imitation culture is peddled for inflated prices like a disappointing Disneyland. You’ve been trapped. In our industry we say there are Tourists and there are Travelers. The Tourist is usually headed for a weekend to a popular destination without much background information, and thus falls into the conventional destinations that were designed for them when traveling abroad. The Traveler on the other hand has a guide, has done their research or simply finds a way to push past the ‘tourist places’ and into the real culture of the area.
(One note, if you haven’t seen some of these tourist places, many of them are worth a visit—we just recommend you explore beyond them.)
Tourist Place: Leaning Tower of Pisa—Pisa, Italy
Surprisingly small in person and generally disappointing, the leaning tower of Pisa isn’t much more than a backdrop at this point.
Traveler’s Trip: San Gimignano—Tuscany, Italy
Looking for an uncrowded haven in Tuscany with plenty of perfectly preserved ancient architecture? Check out the tower houses and medieval construction of San Gimignano, “the medieval Manhattan”.
(Side note, avoid the torture museums in Tuscany… another tourist trap)
Tourist Place: Gondola Rides—Venice, Italy
Listen, I too have fantasized about the legendary canals of Venice so I’m not recommending you don’t visit them. That being said, the Gondola experience is usually overpriced and helmed by a man dressed like, well, what foreigners imagine Italians dress like… not exactly what we’d call authentic.
Traveler’s Trip: Traghetto Rides—Venice, Italy
This is how the locals do it. A Traghetto is essentially a more practical Gondola. Cut out all of the corny outfits and overpriced costs and you’ve got a much more genuine experience.
Tourist Place: The Mona Lisa—Paris, France
The Mona Lisa, an iconic painting. The sly smirk, the famed backstory, the DaVinci code. But in reality the Mona Lisa is TINY. Very small. Now that would not be a problem if it was not absolutely swarmed at all hours of the day by visitors.
Traveler’s Trip: The Rest of the Louvre—Paris, France
The Louvre is incredible, arguably the greatest current museum in the world… don’t miss it. And certainly don’t waste too much time trying to get a peek of the Mona Lisa from behind a giant Danish man’s back. Explore the rest of the museum! The Louvre boasts the largest collection of original DaVinci paintings in the world, so check out some of his other less popular work.
Tourist Place: Abbey Road—London, UK
Another iconic location, another real-life disappointment. Prepare to wait in line if you want to recreate the legendary Beatles cover. While it’s fun to see the street, we recommend you pass this spot by on your way to our choice below…
Traveler’s Trip: Abbey Road Studio Tour—London, UK
A studio tour! Abbey Road Studio is one of the most legendary recording studios on the planet, having obviously been the spot the Beatles put together their Abbey Road record. Beyond the Beatles this studio's roster includes Oasis, Radiohead, Lady Gaga, Frank Ocean, Amy Winehouse, Adele and Kanye West. Talk about eclectic.
Tourist Place: Red Light District—Amsterdam, Netherlands
Prepare for wasted tourists and frat boy bachelor parties. Chances are you won’t have the debaucherous night you were after but instead might get a drink spilled on your favorite shirt.
Traveler’s Trip: De Pijp—Amsterdam, Netherlands
This bohemian neighborhood is known for its narrow streets, eastern eateries and old style pubs. Far less touristy than many of Amsterdam’s other neighborhoods but with all of the cultural charm—visit the area considered “Amsterdam’s coolest” by Vogue.
Tourist Place: Lunch at Noon—Spain
Okay, this is a unique one because this isn’t so much about a particular place but rather a rule of thumb. In Spain, if you see a restaurant open at noon, avoid it—it’s probably a tourist trap.
(Also, if they serve paella for dinner, that’s a red flag… paella is primarily a lunch dish)
Traveler’s Trip: Lunch at 2:30—Spain
In Spain, it’s customary to eat lunch from 2:30 to 4 p.m… so if you see a restaurant closed at noon that’s actually a good sign! Look for locals eating there, another green flag that you’re dining at the real deal.
Tourist Place: Santorini and Mykonos—Greece
Are these islands beautiful? Yes. Is Santorini a good stop for Honeymooners and Mykonos a party stop? Yes. Are they overpriced and touristy? Yes. The locals have spoken and said that these “are tourist traps shaped like islands”.
Traveler’s Trip: Chios, Donoussa, Halki and Many More—Greece
The truth is there are a tremendous amount of Greek islands that aren’t overrun with tourists and are much more affordable than their name brand cousins. Whether it’s tranquil Halki, “the Island of Peace and Friendship”, or ancient Chios the birthplace of Homer—you have endless options.
Tourist Place: Checkpoint Charlie—Berlin, Germany
Cheesy actors by a small shack in the middle of the street… Checkpoint Charlie doesn’t exactly live up to the hype or the history.
Traveler’s Trip: Topography of Terror—Berlin, Germany
What Checkpoint Charlie should be—free entry, exhibits that are informative and well presented with a good combination of images and text. Located in the building that was once the SS Reich Security Main Office, this spot is true to its history.
Tourist Place: The Temple Bar—Dublin, Ireland
A marketer's dream and a visitor's nightmare, the Temple Bar is constantly packed to the brim. Overpriced and overpopulated, we recommend missing this one.
Traveler’s Trip: Bowe’s Bar—Dublin, Ireland
There are plenty of great pubs and bars walking distance from the Temple Bar in Dublin, but one local-approved spot is Bowe’s Bar. An authentic and proper Irish pub, this will give you the experience you’re looking for without a mile-long line.