As you know, I’m all about conscious travel, appreciation for the places we visit and respect for the people we meet along the way – as well as the notion of ‘leaving only footprints, taking only memories’, which got me thinking about the most popular tourist attractions in Europe, and whether we were potentially ruining them.
All those once upon a time hidden gems whose secret is out and where we inevitably head in droves to tick them off our must-see list. Yet some of them are now being side-lined for lesser-known attractions in a bid to avoid the madness and commercialism.
Should we be rethinking visiting these places:
1. Gondola rides, Venice, Italy
Sure, floating around the waters of Venice taking in the beautiful surroundings sounds idyllic. But that’s not what taking a gondola ride in the city is like anymore. Your driver will be navigating you around loads of other gondolas full of tourists all trying to get good photos of the floating city. It’s lost some of its romance and can be a little stressful, not to mention the great cost. You may consider walking alongside the canals.
2. Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, Germany
This world-famous site is now no more than a small box in the middle of a busy road. It’s manned by people dressed as soldiers who will pose for a photo with you – for a fee. I’ve done it – as can be seen below.
If you want to learn more about the Second World War though, you may want to look at these museums and attractions too – The Holocaust Memorial, Topography of Terror, Jewish Museum, Allied Museum and The Berlin Wall Memorial all make The Guardian’s 10 best museums in Berlin. Between museums, you could spend time looking at the city’s street art – something I wrote about previously here.
3. Mona Lisa, Paris, France
As the world’s most famous portrait, you might be surprised to see the Mona Lisa on this list. But the painting, a masterpiece by the Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci, isn’t what’s disappointing. It’s the fact that you have to fight alongside crowds of other tourists to try and get a good view. The Secret Traveller places it on its list of the world’s most disappointing attractions – although I have waited my turn for my glimpse and don’t regret it.
4. Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa, Italy
Tourists have well and truly ruined the Leaning Tower of Pisa – there are hundreds of them all trying to get the same photo. You know the one where they’re pushing the landmark or holding it up. The end result isn’t even funny, nor is visiting and watching them do it. Add to that the countless salesmen trying to sell you memorabilia, the Leaning Tower of Pisa has lost much of its charm.
5. The Crown Jewels, London
The Crown Jewels are yet another London attraction to be spoilt by queues. To view them you’ll have to queue outside – probably in the rain. And it doesn’t finish when you’re inside. You’ll be ushered along roped corridors at a pace dictated by the crowds, not your enjoyment, so by the time you reach the jewels you’ll want to get out rather than enjoy their splendour.
Don’t let this put you off the UK’s capital though. It has much more to offer – check out these suggestions for avoiding the crowds, whilst still experiencing the great city.
6. Stonehenge, UK
Once upon a time, it may have been a fascinating experience to visit Stonehenge. After all, the story is mesmerising, as a prehistoric monument built around 5000 years ago, it should delight as a tourist attraction. Except vandals came and ruin everyone else’s fun. Due to concerns over further damage to the sacred stones, you now can’t get close enough to enjoy the magic.
7. Bullfighting, Spain – why are they doing this anyway?
Any attraction which torments animals in the name of fun should be avoided. Watching dolphins jump through hoops, bears dance on command or posing for a photo with a baby lion should be avoided and thought given to how these animals are treated when the crowds disappear. Bullfighting is particularly brutal – winding them up, causing the animal distress until it’s eventually killed. Don’t fall into the same trap as so many tourists by watching. Instead, go to the famous La Tomatina in Spain and throw ripe tomatoes at each other. Although even that sits heavy with me, as I can’t but think about the waste of food.
That said, I’ve been to Check Point Charlie, happily queued to see the Crown Jewels, waited patiently to get a close up look at the Mona Lisa and taken that silly photo next to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which puts me firmly in the mass tourist market. Even though I did them all out of season. But should I be questioning this? Or holding on to the fact that they may be overcrowded, but they’re iconic for a reason? One more thing as we ponder – make sure that whether you’re visiting the top listed places or emerging new ones, you never leave your litter behind and follow the photography guidelines.