Archive: Worst Tourist Traps
Many places are actually fun to visit just to watch the miserable tourists who don't know there's a less congested, crowded, over-priced, and polluted alternative. Help us avoid the worst of Europe's tourist traps with your hard-earned experience.
Re: Deb's Cuckoo Clock experience...There is ANOTHER "World's Largest Cuckoo Clock" in Germany. It's in downtown Wiesbaden just off of the Fussgangerzone. Coincidentally, it's actually the facade of a shop that sells c-clocks. At least this one actually works! (While in Wiesbaden on the Walkplatz drop into the little cafe at the end of the street and eat a roast pig leg, slam a pils, and play sonderspiehl. Maybe it'll pay for your dinner!)
Little Rock, AR USA 06/21/99
Not knowing any better, we did the obligatory Black Forest trip. We were expecting trees so thick that they blocked out the sky. In our opinion, the "forest" was not any greater than what we have in the Appalachians.
We did stumble across a wonderful little village and chapel in Todtmoos. However, we were greatly disappointed in the Triberg area--"cuckoo clock capital of the world." It did have a spectacular series of waterfalls which are supposedly Germany's tallest. But by far the worst tourist trap in the area is "The World's Largest Cuckoo Clock". Since this was detailed on our map (and we were in the area) we traveled in search of the big one. It amounted to (no lie) a clock face on the back of a home/garage. The really funny (sad?) part was that there were scores of people who had paid to park and were standing in the yard, cameras in hand, waiting for the big moment. Needless to say we drove on.
Too often on our trip we fell into doing things because that evil tourist voice in our heads kept telling us, "You're here. You don't know when you'll get back. You shouldn't miss an opportunity to experience it all. You'll regret passing up another Kodak moment. It's a traditional site. You haven't done Europe unless you . . ."
Study up before you go and follow the advice of Rick & staff and those who post to the Wall. And beware of any site that sells itself with superlatives.
Irwin, PA USA 06/19/99
When visiting the Cinque Terre area of Italy, watch out for the massive crowds at Monterosso. Unlike the other 4 towns, Monterossa was full of daytrippers. We had to fight our way off and on the train.
We chose to walk the 5-town trail starting at 6:30 am. It was a beautiful time to hike and we had the trail to ourselves.
pullman, wa USA 06/18/99
I thought the Blue Grotto on Capri was awesome. What I enjoyed about it, however, was that you can swim into it and not be confined to a boat. The experience by boat would pale in comparison to swimming in the Grotto.
chicago, IL USA 06/18/99
I agree with the posting below about the "Leaning Tower" of Pisa, but I have another, worse trap to share: the Blue Grotto at the Isle of Capri. Please save yourself the trouble and the money!
At least the Tower at Pisa is cheap. In the case of the Blue Grotto, on the other hand, the entire experience is one prolonged rip-off! You pay 9,000 lire per person to get from the dock in Capri to outside the Grotto; then you're transferred in small groups to rowboats which actually take you into the Grotto. While you're in the little boat, the rowboat rower informs you that it's now 16,200 additional lire per person to actually get into the Grotto. So, all the tourists are giving him this odd amount of money, 16,200 lire per person, while bobbing in the boat. It is the only time in two weeks in Italy that someone tried to rip me off with the change he gave back to me. I think the whole process is purposely confusing and that many folks must get cheated, not bothering to count their change carefully.
Then, on top of all that, it's not even worth it! The rower will sing "Torna a Sorrento" off-key while he rows you into the Grotto for a whole 60 seconds, offer to take your picture, and then ask for a tip for his services! Unbelievable. The other folks in my rowboat tipped him, but when he looked at me, I said, "Macche'" ("No way" in Italian) - like I'm supposed to tip someone who just tried to rip me off!
So it costs a total of 25,200 lire to see the Grotto, which is just okay and under no circumstances worth $14.50. My "consolation" was that there were many Italian tourists there as well - it wasn't something strictly aimed at non-Italians.
Regarding Venice, however--it is not one big tourist trap! Yes, see the Rialto Bridge, St. Mark's Square, and the Ducal Palace, but then go a couple blocks off the beaten path and wander. It is such a lovely, unique city--and filled with friendly, proud people. We walked literally from one end of the island to the other, in all kinds of neighborhoods, plenty with not a single tourist in sight, and loved it. We were asked, "What are you doing here?!" Give Venice the time it deserves and it won't disappoint you. I can't wait to go back and discover it some more.
One of the unfortunates of travel is dealing with the crowds. We are all flocking to the same 5 sites in each city! But if you do your homework, you'll know when and how to avoid the crowds and thus enjoy your visit.
1. NEVER go to a museum on a "free admissions/discounted after 3:00pm" day. If you do, be prepared to be miserable.
2. Go to popular sites either early in the morning or late in the evening (after 5:00).
3. When in Paris, buy the museum pass and save yourself some grief.
4. Don't rely on one guidebook--consult as many as you can to get different opinions regarding which sites are worth your time (some people like Madame Tussaud's).
5. Travel with an open mind. Never forget these are historical artifacts. It has value, whether you can see it or not.
Montclair, NJ USA 06/15/99
I agree with the disappointed tourist who went to Bourton-on-the-Water, England. For a real Cotswold experience, try Bibury. Impressive by itself, it doesn't rely on a miniature of the village.
Portland, OR USA 06/14/99
Driving in Brittany, France, we saw signs for Merlin's grave. Drove all over looking for it--we would drive down the road and reach a stop sign with an arrow pointing the way we came saying "to Merlin's grave." After driving up and down the road several times we finally found it. There in the woods was a hard-to-see sign, and a couple of rocks sticking out of the ground with a sign saying "Merlin's grave." Apparently other people had read the same book we had, because we weren't alone in the woods that day.
Kevin & Lynda
Jackson, NJ USA 06/10/99
York, England: Based on what I'd read in Rick's guide and other sources, I expected to enjoy this very much, but it was a disappointment. It has a great deal of history, but it's buried under tourists and tourist services and tourist traps. And this is from one who enjoyed visiting Stratford-iupon-Avon! That's touristy too, but not as bad as York.
Second disappointment: Westminster Abbey. It would probably have impressed me more had I not seen any other of the English cathedrals, or if it hadn't been inundated with crowds.
Apart from that, I thought England was great and I'd like to
nc USA 06/10/99
PISA is the worst tourist trap. The tower is not technically even leaning anymore--and the most interesting thing we saw were the two contraptions holding it steady. The tower has a broad 'girdle' around its third level with cables running from there to these anchors, plus a pile of concrete weights on the 'uphill' side. It is so ugly. And the Duomo must be the only church in Italy that actually charges admission--unless you go 'round the back to the entrance for people who want to pray.
PARIS MUSEUMS READ THIS! Do not go to Paris with the sole purpose of seeing masterpieces in the Louvre, D'Orsay or any other museum in the city. We just returned from a seven-day Parisian holiday where striking museum workers and metro and bus workers kept us from seeing one single piece of art (save Monet's work in the Orangerie). It was a major disappointment made worse by the lack of information. Rumors were rampant that a particular museum was open, every tourist in Paris would flock to it only to find that they too had decided to join the strike--thus withholding art from the world. French museum workers need to be reminded that they only HOUSE the art of the world. We were bitterly disappointed.
Washington, D.C., USA 06/10/99
I, too, disagree with the comments about Stonehenge. I believed all the negative comments I'd heard about it being commercialized, etc. So we elected to drive by after the sight had closed. As a result, all my photos of this mysterious, beautiful, not-to-be-missed monument have a chain-link fence in them! And, I'm regretting ever listening to the nay-sayers. I say, if you want to see a famous site, go. Even if it is overrun with tourists or protected from us pushy Americans by ropes, you'll be sorry if you miss out!
The modern, made-to-take-your-money sights, however, such as the wax museums, definately can be skipped! An exception is the Jorvik Viking Museum in York, England. It's worth it for the scratch'n'sniff postcards alone!
Spokane, WA USA 06/09/99
I disagree with the person below who denigrated Stonehenge as commercialized and overcrowded. For me it was the highlight of my trip. Just the thought of how it was created with no modern machinery boggles the mind.
We were there on a warm sunny Sunday and it wasn't crowded at all. True, you have to pay to get in - but I don't mind contributing to the upkeep of these wondrous historic sites. (Plus you actually can see it for free from the side of the road). And yes, you are kept back from touching the stones, but only by a low rope. You still have an unobstructed view and photo opportunity. And yes, there is a gift shop, cafeteria and bathrooms, but they are across the street and there's only one of each (and you are out in the countryside several miles from the nearest town - we appreciated the availability of the bathrooms!).
Not only is Stonehenge itself amazing but it is situated in the middle of beautiful countyrside filled with bright yellow flowers and flocks of adorable sheep - heaven for photography buffs. And in addition, the town of Salisbury a few miles away (where you arrive and leave if you are traveling by train) is very pretty and has a wonderful cathedral well worth visiting. Don't pass on Stonehenge, you will regret it.
Los Angeles, CA USA 06/08/99
Binz on the island of Ruegen, Mecklenburg-Pomerania, Germany: If you have a car and want to visit Ruegen, by all means, stay someplace less expensive and less crowded! The town was congested with traffic and there were more people on the walk along the beach then at Frankfurt airport! The tourist office was not very helpful and our hotel made us feel like we were a burden for every question we asked. Forein tourists are rare in Binz and not favorably looked upon. Knowledge of German is a must as we did not meet anyone who spoke any English.
Spokane, WA USA 06/04/99
My schlock-o-rama sites to avoid:
1. Rothenburg, Germany: I felt like I was trapped in one of those "Christmas All Year 'Round" stores in September. If you like your Germany "cute" instead of authentically historic and sophisticated...you'll love Rothenburg. Nein.
2. I do love Spain, but not its Costa del Miami. If you love rows and rows of sun hats and embroidered t-shirts, this is your shopping paradise! Think old, grumpy British & German retirees and all the things they need to sustain there.
3. Ditto to the Gilbraltar comments.
4. Skip the day trip to Tangiers, Morocco unless you think Tijuana is the crown jewel of Mexico. I'm sure there's a way to appreciate Arabic culture without the insulting canned variety aggressively shoved in one's face here. If there's a way to separate you from your dollars, the Moroccans have figured it out. I still can't believe Ricky boy touts this side tour as more interesting than another day in Spain. I beg to differ. Yes...visiting this slice of Africa is a unique opportunity. But so is acquiring the Ebola virus and I wouldn't recommend either.
I'm just sayin', is all. There are too many beautiful, interesting, uncrowded and unschlocked areas of Europe to spend your time in and if I were Rick, I'd slam the back door on all of the above.
Conifer, CO USA 06/03/99
People do know what they are talking about here. I agree with what everybody said about about Killarney, Madame Tussaud's, Innsbruck, the Louvre, and to a certain extent Venice.
The Louvre is a definite must-see but be prepared for the perils of it being such a tourist destination. Your average museum experience is very quiet, leisurely, and reflective because art brings out a certain respect in ourselves (because art reveals what is best, or at the very least, most truthful about ourselves) and most times we conduct ourselves accordingly. But not at the Louvre. You'll endure swimming your way through hordes of schoolchildren on field trips, battling amusement-park-sized queues for tickets (I was not savvy enough as some of the posters on here), people talking loudly, rudely bumping their way past you as you look at a painting with cameras and videocams in tow. The Mona Lisa epitomizes this, as there's usually a crowd literally fighting just so they can get a picture. Getting rudely pushed by a large and audible crowd, and having the tourist paparazzi light up the exhibit, was not what I imagined when seeing the Mona Lisa.
I can see why many Frenchmen disdained that commercial monstrosity called the Pyramid created by I.M. Pei. Essentially, they shamefully enclosed a mini mall with some of the most magnificent works in our human history. Shopping for Virgin Records, glass trinkets, or scented candles right after I just saw the Venus de Milo is not my idea of a classic museum-going experience. Just horrible.
The Sistine Chapel is somewhat similar, but the ceiling is so much more overwhelming and awe-inspiring that you forget about the crowd, unlike at the Mona Lisa.
You can get more than the "Gift of Gab" if you kiss the Blarney Stone. It is rumored that locals urinate on the stone (which really is a wall, if you ask me). I cannot confirm or deny this, but I would not be surprised (and needless to say, I kissed it.).
Rick couldn't be more truthful when he says the Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the worst tourist traps in Europe. Cheap vendors strewn across the street sell you kitschy leather goods, knock-off soccer jerseys, and tacky trinkets. Yuck.
Los Angeles, CA USA 06/02/99
My wife and I just got back from 19 days in Germany and Austria. We found Innsbruck to be a BIG, BIG disappointment. It was sprawling with too much traffic and a too-small old town. The Golden Roof in the old town was laughable.
We took Rick's advice and stayed in Hall in Tirol, a charming old town with just the right ambience to make the stay wonderful.
Atlanta, GA USA 05/30/99
Stonehenge. The monument itself is spectacular, but it is distressingly commercialized, always overrun with tourists and inaccessible -- visitors are kept back from the stones. (And with good reason, since graffiti is visible on some of the stones.) A better bet for ancient stone circles is Avebury in the south of England or Castlerigg in the Lake District.
Arlington, TX USA 05/30/99
Venice in August (although this applies to all travel destinations). Skip the "sites" - make your own adventure. I find the local groceries, pharmacies, hardware stores, post office, fabric shop, stationery goods, etc. fascinating. Tired of "tourists," try these spots & remember you are a tourist too!
seattle, wa USA 05/26/99
I'd never heard of Bruges, Belgium until I picked up a R. Steves book. I was intrigued and visited the 1st week of May. It was beautiful and very historic, but my goodness, the hordes of tourists! I was truly jealous that I didn't have this special place with its grand churches and beautiful canals all to myself. I can only imagine what the crowds must be like in July and August.
Arlington,, TX USA 05/14/99
Re: The Royal Mews in London. As one who had horses and ponies while growing up, I enjoyed the tack (harnesses, etc.) as well as all the coaches. I'm not sure what Sue from Boston expected, but I found it as described. Besides, with a British Heritage Pass, it was "free."
Durham, NC USA 05/10/99
#1 trap in London--Madame Tussaud's wax museum! too much money to see wax figures. better spent at the Tower--yes touristy, but filled with history (and ghosts).
In Paris--geez all the big attractions are traps. We stayed in the 18th away from the city center in Montmartre, and didn't have to fight tourists all time!
milwaukee, wi USA 05/10/99
Re: Jeff's thoughts about the Palermo display: One of the objects of travel is to observe other cultures, and respect them. It is not a bit ghoulish to Sicilians to preserve bodies in that way. To carry your value judgments into a new culture is a bit contrary to the whole reason for travel.
Salt Lake City, USA 05/09/99
I just returned from ten days in London. Since I've been traveling there so often,
I have pretty much figured out what to avoid. However, this trip I visited the Royal
Mews, something that I had been looking forward to seeing. However, I was pretty
disappointed, and I'll admit a bit flabbergasted. This was the first time I
ever felt as though the Queen was peeking out her window laughing at all the tourists
who were stupid enough to pay money for this! Does anyone else feel the same, or was
I missing something?
Boston, MA USA 05/04/99
The place to avoid at all costs is the catacombs beneath Palermo, Italy unless, of course, you enjoy the sight of rows and rows of century-old corpses wired to a wall, all dressed in their period-finest burial clothes. While you are unlikely to be crushed beneath a crowd of tourists (the place is usually deserted...and for good reason), it is a "haunting" experience. The monks that run the place are very nice, however, and they only ask for a small "donation."
One thing that is interesting, though, is the perfectly preserved corpse of a five-year old girl on display in the main (above-ground) lobby. She died in 1926 and was embalmed with an experimental technique that was lost when its inventor died and took his secrets with him. Except for an orange hue to her skin, she appears to be sleeping! Other than that, I wouldn't go there unless you're a bit ghoulish.
Lakewood, CO USA 05/04/99
One more word about Venice: Yes it's beautiful. And yes, you can get lost and not see tourists, for a little while, before you hit another huge thoroughfare of tourists, again, despite your best efforts. For the budget traveller (who dislikes hostels), Venice is a budgetary nightmare. Recomendation: stay in Padua, or any of the other very close, surrounding cities, and day-trip in. It took about a half hour from Padua, a fascinating city in its own right, and our hotel was HALF the cost of our "cheap" hotel in Venice. Regarding museums and tourists sights, the usual rules apply in venice: get there early not only to avoid the line, but to see San Marco, for example, not unbearably full and claustrophobic.
what about innsbruck's golden roof? thousands of tourists herded by their guides to a very unremarkable attraction. same with the lion monument in lucerne or the vittorio emmanuele monument in rome.
venice is delightful for anyone who is willing to invest half an hour in rick's italy guide.
atlanta, ga USA 04/30/99
I think that Venice is one big tourist trap--while there I really got the impression that there is nothing to the city other than its tourism industry. My friend put it best by describing Venice as "Disneyland for adults." If you must go to Venice, don't stay very long; leave before its utter emptiness drives you mad!
Westport, CT USA 04/26/99
Avoid Killarney (Ireland) in any season. The one scenic aspect to the town is the National Park that adjoins it. But it appears that Killarney itself exists only as a place for tour buses to roll into so the tourists can shop for souvenirs. There's really nothing remarkable about it, or interesting. If it weren't for the tourist hordes, it would be mildly quaint. But quaint is easy to come by elsewhere in Ireland, and majestic scenery is also abundant. It is famous, I think, and on the tourist map, because it's in an American song, and for no other reason.
Denver, CO USA 04/15/99
Mont Saint Michel, Salzburg, Neuchswanstein-----these are tourist traps? On the contrary, each of these places is a unique, historical site that cannot be duplicated anywhere on earth. They are busy because of their uniqueness, not because they seek to be! If a few of the locals try to take advantage--you are an adult who can resist these things, can't you? But, do not knock gorgeous places just because you don't like tourists---have a heart!
Russell F. Alpers
Palm Beach Gardens, Fl USA 04/09/99
Kim (below), the best way I learned to get rid of the artists at Montmartre in Paris was to speak french! If you tell them "no" in english, they will keep pestering you. But when I waved my hand at them to shoo and said "Non, Merci," they took me for a local (I guess) and gave up. Worked every time!
Tallahassee, FL USA 04/06/99
Beware! The much-touted Bunratty Castle near Shannon Airport is an expensive waste of time. The outdoor museum was interesting enough, but the whole place was packed with bleary-eyed, newly-arrived tour groups. There are two meals one can book: a feast in the castle and a barn sing/dance. Since tour groups get preferred seating, independent travelers are jammed into the back. The food is expensive and poorly prepared, and the entertainment contrived and obnoxious. Dirty Nellie's Tavern, adjacent to the castle, offered cramped rooms with bad food, as well.
As an alternative, ask the locals about good pubs and see the real thing there for about 1/5 the price of these tourist traps.
St. Helena, CA USA 04/04/99
the worst tourist traps are every big piazza in rome. granted, they are beautiful and exciting, but anyone not prepared will get scammed and scammed again. i went this summer to rome with a tour group made up of a lot of folks with no street smarts. at piazza navona, *seemingly* innocent people come up to you and start a conversation. while you're not paying attention, they grab your wrist and start making a bracelet with some old string, w/o even asking if you wanted one! they won't let you leave until they're done, and of course charge you an outrageous sum. these "salesmen" are found all over rome; the only way to avoid them is to tell them "no!" firmly.
BUT, do go to rome! it's a beautiful city! the piazzas are great places to see random performances, and get some great gelato. just use your common sense!
as for anyone who said that venice is overrun by tourists, that's
partly true. venice is all tourists, when you're in the touristy areas.
walk for 10-15 min outside of the san marco-rialto tourist square, and
you'll find a whole new city. back canals, little shops, even a soccer
stadium. venice is full of neighborhoods, in most of which you'll
be the only tourist you see. venice is the perfect city to get lost in!
and, once you find "your" part of venice, you can laugh at all the
tourists who spend their entire trip on san marco and murano. btw,
the lido is also a nice part of venice to visit. warm water in the summer,
but don't expect white sand and crystal-blue waters. anyone who's been
to the texas coast knows what i mean. the lido beaches are enjoyable,
and the island is a nice alternative to staying in venice proper.
plus, when you take the vaparetto into venice, you get some beautiful
pictures (especially at sunset). everyone should visit venice!
Back from Paris, and had a wonderful time, but got caught in two tourist trap situations: in the Eiffel Tower's Photo Booth (yes - I did it) and spent alot of money to get fake backdrops (What Was I Thinking?). Then off to Montmartre and had a "sketch artist" (translate: con artist!) charge 300 francs for a poor rendition of me. My friend Susie escaped with only a 70 francs sketch. Otherwise, we survived Paris sticking to Rick Steves' plan and seeing the original stuff as planned. I figure everyone has to have at least one tourist trap experience they can laugh at later or it wouldn't be a learning experience! Thank Rick for the great books and advice!
San Francisco, CA USA 03/21/99
Last year we took an organized tour of the Alps. Beautiful countryside, a must see. A must skip though, downtown Verduz in Lichtenstein. What a tourist trap! Overpriced watch shops, Swiss army knife stores, and other useless tourist trinkets abound!
Another lesser trap is Mozart's birthplace in Salzburg. Unless you are an extreme fan or have seen everything else, give it a skip.
In Munich I would not do the Hofbrauhaus again during the dinner rush. It's crowded, smokey, and full of tourists and rude or indifferent wait staff. (But with all those tourists, I guess it can be expected) Hit it in the in between hours after lunch and before dinner for a beer and the cheese spaetzel.
Melbourne, FL USA 03/18/99
I also must defend the southern Bavarian experience. We have been to Garmisch-Partenkirchen several times and highly recommend it! (Hike the gorge if you like the outdoors.) The people are friendly and very helpful. The town is wonderful and (in most places) the food fantastic. It makes a perfect base of operations to explore Oberammergau, Mittenwald, Ettal, the Zugspitze, and the whole Alpine/Tirol experience. Even München is only an hour and a half away by train. (And the Sixt Rent-a-car at the train station is very helpful in planning driving excursions.) But don't go during the tourist season! Right before or after Summer, you miss the crowds and get cheaper prices. Believe me, this will make your experience much more pleasant. And do your homework ahead of time.
Melbourne, FL USA 03/14/99
Contrary to what Alex says about VENICE below, it was my favorite city in my month tour of Europe...and I hit it during Carnival time in February when it was swarming with tourists. It was still worth it. Venice, despite (or perhaps because of) its decaying facade is a very quaint, beautiful city. See it!
MI USA 03/11/99
My husband and I visited Mont St. Michel in late November (on a weekday) and virtually had the place to ourselves. With the lack of crowds, we were able to really soak in the atmosphere of the abbey and imagine what it would have been like to live there on a blustery winter day many centuries ago. The other thing we noticed was that a lot of the tacky stores around the abbey were closed - probably due to the lack of tourists.
Minnetonka, MN USA 03/09/99
Thanks D. Lew for your Louvre tip. I too have a secret entrance. There is an entrance to a mall area at #99 Rue de Rivoli (Northside of Louvre). Look for a red awning over the entrance. Keep following the main corridor and you'll end up at the ticket counters. It sure beats waiting in line at the Pyramid entrance--and no security check. If the Pyramid is part of your check-off list, exit the Louvre there instead. Also, if you can wait, skip the crowded restroom in the reception area. Find your way to one inside the galleries themselves.
My husband and I were in Gibralter in October 1998. We took the cable car up to the top of the rock. Yes, it was very touristy up there, what with all the taxis full of tourists, and the tour guides feeding the monkeys. Once we got up there, we decided to walk down the rock. We had a map, and we took a trail (non-useable by cars). It took a few hours, but we found we had the walk and some wonderful views pretty much to ourselves all the way down. This walk can be long and tiring, but get an early start in good weather and it's an altogether nice experience.
The most exciting part was when we came upon a "feeding" area for the apes in the middle of nowhere. I had bought a bag of peanuts, and there we were, just my husband and I, and about 10 apes. Without the presence of so many people, we got an up-close look at the ape community. It was truly a close encounter!
Dallas, TX USA 03/02/99
In response to negative comments about Toledo, I'd like to say that it was one of the highlights of my trip to Spain. Instead of spending one day there, I stayed a couple of nights. When the tour groups leave, it's a lovely place to be. Great medieval flavor. I would, however, stay away from the damascene factories. You can actually get better and cheaper stuff from QVC.
Seattle, WA USA 02/28/99
I disagree completely with the people who say "skip Le Mont St. Michel". This place is wonderful. There is so much hidden there to discover. It is so graceful, yet massive. We did as another traveller noted below and stayed at a motel about a mile away. Rather than
a 2-hour bus ride, we had a 20 minute walk, during all of which time one could see the abbey. It was well worth the
trip. All of this was around the beginning of August, the peak of the
Derby, UK 02/27/99
When visiting the Louvre Museum in Paris, do NOT wait in the line at the plaza to enter through the Pyramid Section (where you then still have to buy your tickets below). Instead, take the subway directly to the "Louvre" station. When you disembark, you are already just outside the ticket area below the Pyramid. You just have to go through a security checkpoint and "voila", you're right at the ticket booths. I remember having been in the museum for just 15 minutes and looking out the window at the plaza and saw a line stretching around the building...I realized that I must have saved an hour.
Oakland, CA USA 02/25/99
Stay away from "Genies du bien et du mal" (transl: Geniuses of good and evil) in Carcasonne, France. This was grade "A" cheese, and about $5 to get into. It was the worst wax museum I've ever seen, and I couldn't stop laughing for days.
Calgary, AB CAN 02/23/99
I agree with the comments about the London Dungeon - it's tacky and no better than a local Halloween haunted house. But, I think Madame Tussaud's is too touristy, too. Now they've added that "Disney" type ride at the exit, which goes through the history of London with mechanical figures. It's expensive, too. Better to spend the day at Tower of London, or doing a brass rubbing at Westminster Abbey.
IL USA 02/21/99
Having followed Malcom Miller around Chartres once 30 years ago and once 4 years ago, I have to recommend him. He makes the stained glass understandable for the uneducated. As for Neuschwanstein, my husband and I were the first to climb the road to the castle from the bus stop on a snowy winter morning 30 years ago. It was a fairyland and a memory to treasure. Lesson: all tourist trap sights may prove worth your time if you are in the right mood or there at a special time.
Grants Pass, OR USA 02/21/99
Bourton on the Water, in the Cotswolds. How bizarre
that place is--it was such a complete and total Disney
experience! It made me want to look for speakers hidden in
the bushes. The one nice thing was the ducks floating on
the canals--the banks were packed with tourists, the shopping
was no better than average, and even the ice cream was
Austin, TX USA 02/16/99
Gibraltar: the low point of a great trip through Spain. The British ought to be ashamed of running such a filthy sideshow. The taxi drivers torment the poor Apes of Gibralter for the entertainment of ignorent tourists. The Apes are sad, and look longingly across the strait as though they'd love to be returned to their native Africa. There is almost no historical insight provided while on the rock, unless you count being squeezed through narrow walkways where vendors sell their crap as educational. Don't try to drive into Gibraltar, the Spanish torment you coming out by keeping cars waiting for hours. Who could blame them...if I had such a British dump heap on my beloved land, I'd take some pleasure in pissing off a few tourists too.
San Ramon, CA USA 02/13/99
I spent 23 days in France last July with itinerary mostly based on Rick's guidebook. I agree completely with some other posters that Mont St. Michel is not worth the effort. We spent 3 wonderful days in Brittany based in Dinan, but I really wish we hadn't wasted a half day day-tripping to le Mont. Way too crowded and tacky. Much better churches visited included: Notre Dame and Sainte Chappelle in Paris (my favorite), Honfleur, Dinan, Alba, Sarlat, Gordes, Abbeye Senaque (Provence).
I also had the same impression of Carcassonne. In the
future, I would spend an extra night in Dordogne (Beynac)
and go directly to Provence. (We liked Gordes, although
Hinsdale, IL USA 02/05/99
After reading about Land's End in school and in the pirate/adventure novels as a kid, I was really looking forward to seeing it and to get the impression people had hundreds of years ago as the last part of England they saw on their way to the New World was this bit of land. Big mistake!
This place makes Blackpool look like one of the Wonders of the World. It is tacky from start to finish, and while I got a photo of my wife and son on the edge of the cliff, it was touch-and-go getting them wedged between all of the tourist junk.
On the other hand, Tintagel was wonderful. We stayed in a B & B in Boscastle, a few miles down the road and loved it. I can see where Tintagel, with the King Arthur interest, would be crowded at peak times, however it is certainly beautiful country and worth the trip during the off-season.
Victoria, BC CAN 02/05/99
I have to stand up for Mont St. Michel. Like Venice and Siena, if you bus in for the day in peak season, you're apt to be disappointed by the throngs of crowds. But try coming in at sunset and spending the night on the island itself (not at one of the tacky, American-style motels a mile or so away)... it's simply sublime.
Craigsville, VA USA 01/28/99
Before going to Europe this past summer, I was told by friends not to miss Mont Saint Michel while I was on the north coast of France. My advice on the place: DO NOT GO THERE! My friend and I were staying in St. Malo and wasted a beautiful sunny day by taking a 2-hour bus ride to the overcrowded, overeverything Mont Saint Michel. It's this gorgeous church on a mountain (read: mole-hill) surrrounded by the sea. SOunds romantic, but if you don't like shoving your way through other smelly tourists and being herded along like sheep, avoid it. Dozens of the tackiest stores I was to encounter on my journey line the road up to the church, selling all the most useless junk emblazened with "Mont St. Michel". As my travelling companion and I reasoned, the church is beautiful and was probably worth visiting ten or fifteen years ago. So unless you happen to carry a time machine in your overstuffed pack, best look at it in photos and avoid the day from hell we experienced.
Vancouver, BC Canada 01/24/99
Malcolm Miller's tours at Notre Dame of Chartres. The cathedral itself is beautiful. I highly recommend spending a few hours on your own examining (in awe) its stained glass windows, sculptures, and the overall architecture (reading a written guide beforehand is helpful). Mr. Miller's tours are less informative with respect to the art of the cathedral; in fact, his tours are most interesting for those interested in hearing Bible stories.
Davis, CA USA 01/17/99
While many people have suggested Europe in the off season, I would mention that a great many of the stately homes and castles that people visit England to see every year close down between about October and the end of March.
Albuquerque, NM USA 01/16/99
Nueschwanstein: OK, so it looks like the Disney castle on the outside. But that's Walt Disney's fault! How was Ludwig supposed to know they would make a cardboard replica of his castle a century later and Americans, with a sweep of their hand, would declare them one and the same because a talking mouse said so? Here are the differences:
1. you can actually go inside Neuschwanstein. the Disney castle is just a prop, really.
2. the view at Neuschwanstein is fantastic, at the Disney one it's sweaty tourists and guys in mouse costumes.
3. who cares about the rest? forget the details and enjoy Neuschwanstein for what it is, not what it isn't.
I went to Spain last Spring with my mother. We loved most of the trip, but found the city of Toledo to be almost a complete waste of time. I do recommend seeing the Cathedral and the "El Greco sites" but be aware that most of what is available to purchase in the town is also available in other parts of Spain, for less money. Toledo is the only honest-to-goodness tourist trap in Spain. Toledo is a beautiful and interesting site to see but after about five hours I couldn't wait to get back to Madrid. Toledo is definitely best seen as a day trip.
Seattle, WA USA 01/06/99
I agree with those who recommend off-season travel in Europe. That's the only time my partner and I ever go -- March in Spain was perfect, as was April and May in mid Europe. We have yet to go to anywhere in Europe that we wouldn't be willing to go back to. However, if you ever want to see both Venice and Florence, be sure to go to Florence first. We did peaceful Venice first (no cars, trucks, or motorbikes) and then were overwhelmed by the vehicular traffic and noise in Florence. However, a few trips to the gelato store more than soothed our nerves!
Minneapolis, MN USA 12/08/98
Normally, Weimar, Germany is my favorite German town, the home of Goethe, the Weimar Republic,the Amisenkinder and great people. 1999 however finds that Weimar has been named the Kulture Kapital of Europe for the year and they are expecting 9 million visitors. That is more than the Olympics brought to Atlanta. In a town of 60,000 that is a lot of tourist in one year. Probably a good place to avoid until after the celebration is over.
Statesboro, GA USA 11/30/98
Those roadside tourist traps, and their big city cousins, provide lots of hours of fun story telling. If it looks interesting, try it. If you have read about the "trap" but think you might like it anyway, try it. My dad would never stop at the caves roadside advertised for hundreds of miles before you get there. I usually stop now for my family.
Five years ago I visited London Dungeon and liked it. I thought the exhibits were primitive and effective. Different than Madam Toussad's, and cheaper.
Houston, TX USA 11/29/98
Telling someone to go to Disneyland and avoid Neuschwanstein is like suggesting to someone that going to Pizza Hut is as memorable as visiting Tuscany. Educated travelers are seldom disappointed. When they are, they chalk it up to experience. Follow the experts' advice. The castle is exactly what is advertised to be. I'm not sure what its detractors were looking for. If you want Disneyland stay at home. When you go to Europe, expect to find Europe.
Corpus Christi, Tx USA 11/28/98
Garmisch is not a tourist trap. I have been there seven different times. My entire family (5) can stay there for less than $100 with breakfast. As for toilets - most of the time you get what you pay for. The free ones are usually not as clean - if the pay one are dirty I don't pay. The Disney castle is a ripoff...Just take pictures from the outside and leave.
Bann, Germany 11/28/98
To avoid many of the complaints in these notes, simply refuse to travel during the summer months. Go in the fall or winter, miss the crowds, the locals are more relaxed, and prices are often cheaper on hotels and food. Cold? So what, it is cold at home too. Example: in mid-October at Neuschwanstein, there was no wait to ride bus to the bridge, maybe 10 minute wait to get on the tour. Go in the off season for the best times.
A common "trap" in Prague is the extra money extorted by train ticket takers. Traveling from Munich to Prague, I was asked for more money (5 DM) to cover the trip from outside of Prague to the main train station. This, after I had purchased a full fare - with surcharges - to the main train Prague station.
Another trap in Prague is the money exchange. Exchanging dollars or German marks for crowns is easy. Ask in English at the train station if you can exchange money, and they speak fluent English. On the way out however, ask if you can exchange crowns to dollars, and suddenly no one speaks English (or German or French).
Exchange only the amount you need to visit Prague and no more.
Cincinnati, OH USA 11/12/98
In response to Alex of Melbourne--Venice in June 1998 was a relief after Prague. Venice can handle the tourists in comparison. I ended up escaping the mostly-American crowds by going to Dresden, Germany, for a day trip and by spending afternoons by the Strahov Monastery above Prague. I would return to Prague but only in the off season. Prague was also the only place where I have ever had a security problem in a hotel--the front desk gave my room key away one evening while I was out and the intruder not only went through my bag but took a shower and slept in the spare bed!
San Francisco, CA USA 11/12/98
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a fantastic home-base, but certainly not a good tourist destination. With a car, from G-P, you can travel in 1-2 hours to see all the sites in the local area -- all the castles, northern part of Austria, Zugspitze, and other sites listed in Rick's book. G-P also has a good washerei which, for 25DM, did two loads of laundry for me. Worked great!
Santa Cruz, ca USA 11/07/98
I spent an entire day of train rides, bus rides, horse and buggy rides, hiking, waiting in line, waiting in line and waiting in line to see the one and only "Disney Castle". Ok The castle itself is amazing. Although it was only built less than a hundred years ago or so. You spent all day get there and waiting in line for a thirty minute tour. And your not even supposed to take pictures once your inside. So save yourself time and money and make a trip to Disney World in Orlando...You'll have a much better time.
gainesville, fl USA 11/06/98
THE ACCIDENTAL BEGGAR:
When we were on that whirlwind bus tour through Europe, I encountered the most bizzare occurrence in Reims, where Rick Steves visits that big Cathedral....
I saw a poor looking soul holding his hand out frequently at the entrance to the church. I asked a Calais resident for directions to something and I commented on how public begging in my city could get one arrested. I will never forget his response...
He said that people dress up to look like beggars (in front of the church) to make it more authentic for the tourists. These actors then give the money they raised to the church. Is all decency gone?
Cheyenne, WY USA 11/05/98
POTTIE PAYOLA FOR THE TOUR COMPANIES???
On my bus tour through Europe, we arrived at many roadside food/souvenier stops that had pay toilets. Yet at the places next door to the tourist traps, the bathrooms were free. Europe's culture is different than ours, but to me pay toilets are wrong, especially when one can often go next door for free!!!
CHEYENNE, WY USA 11/05/98
I last vistied Florence in 1970 and was so excited to return...
well after an exhaustive train ride this summer from Paris ine arrived...
late July we found the most sweltering. polluted environment!!!
Tip: don't visit Florence in the summer months; or wear
a face mask!! We had to train it to Switzerland for a breath
of fresh air!!
Kamuela, HI USA 11/05/98
I was gonna say skip London Dungeon. But since someone already said it I will just back them up: it sucked. Took way too much time and money. The displays looked like temporary strip mall haunted houses in the US.
Anaheim, CA USA 11/04/98
Avoid Garmisch-Partenkirchen if you want the true
"back door" experience. Also, Burg Eltz is a wonderful
alternative to Neuschwanstein in Germany, considering
it is an actual historical medieval castle (and the walk
is much more enjoyable).
Detroit, Mi USA 11/03/98
Avoid the London Dungeon. We
thought it might be a fun thing to
do one afternoon when we were
nearby. Wrong! What a waste of
money. It's just a bunch of
pathetic mannequins, and a lot
of the scenarios were missing
pieces (like the head in the basket
at the beheading scene). Even
worse was the scene of the
execution of the Archbishop
of Canterbury--if you look closely,
it's not a bible at his feet, but
a big white Roget's thesaurus. Even
the main attraction of the
Jack the Ripper experience was a
a big nothing. Go on a London
Walks tour instead!
Dallas, TX USA 11/03/98
I was quite disappointed with Venice in May 1996. It was swarming with
tourists, smelly and expensive. It seemed that the whole city had been
overtaken by tourists and the inevitable tourist shops that accompany
them. It may however be more pleasant in autumn and winter when there
probably aren't as many tourists there.
Melbourne, Vic Australia 11/03/98