Worst Tourist Traps: 2010
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.
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Vienna is great, except for...
Since people are talking about Vienna I'll throw in my two cents. I was just there this past weekend and had an INCREDIBLE time, there is TONS to do and see and the commitment to the arts is just astonishing. BUT, I visited the Haus der Musik, which is given two triangles in the Rick Steve's Vienna book, and I have to say, the museum was HORRIBLE. The "sonosphere" interactive area was more of an art installation and was useless in terms of learning anything. The floor about the major composers was a mess & there was just no story to follow, it was like they went around collecting random reproductions of unreadable letters and hand-written music. The "interactive" bit where you conduct the Vienna Philharmonic with a sensored baton doesn't really work (I was actually with a conductor...). It makes so much sense to have a museum about sound and the history of music in Vienna of all places, but this museum is nothing more that a tourist trap.
Boston, MA USA Mon 11/08/2010
To Karen in Chicago- who found Vienna boring
To Karen in Chicago, VIENNA is really great, once you actually get into the city center proper. It's definitly a touristy city though, so research beforehand is critical. The Royal Apartments, the New Palace Museum, and St. Stephen's Cathedral were absolutely beautiful and very informative. We also visited the Kaiser Crypt - which was really awesome and kind of spooky. My husband informs me that Schonbrunn Palace and the Opera House were well worth the visit also. I would suggest going back to Vienna with a little more research prior to your visit.
Newcastle Upon Tyne, USA Fri 11/05/2010
Sometimes it's worth it!
When I was in Venice about 25 years ago I chose to avoid the gondola ride because I'd heard they were a rip-off. Well, many times over the intervening years I've wished I had that gondola ride to remember. Sometimes an experience is worth more than just money...
NYC, NY USA Wed 11/03/2010
To Karen in Chicago, you missed a great Venice, the nite life , the side streets, the small things were great. But the art, the palaces,the opera, the music in St Marks square late in the evening,while having a drink and most the friendly people!
Grinnell, Iowa USA Sun 10/31/2010
I do not make it a habit to eat at McDonald's, whether in the US or Europe but they have usually clean restrooms and do offer unique food items. I loved the little tomato and cheese sandwiches in France. I know this is a European forum but they also have interesting items in Hawaii such as Portugese sausage, rice and eggs. After our first trip to Paris, my secretary asked me if I missed American food...McDonald's. My response was "NO"! Two years later, I ate at the McDonald's at the Naples train station and keep the receipt just so I could show her that I had tried her "suggestion".
Decorah, Iowa USA Sun 10/31/2010
Brugge, Belgium has turned into a medieval Disneyland. Ten years ago it was a nice place to visit. Not now. Too many high-end chain stores. Regardless of how you feel about McDonalds in Europe, they do have free wi-fi, and you don't have to buy anything.
Eureka, CA USA Mon 10/11/2010
Roma Sightseeing Bus
Beware Roma Sightseeing hop on and off Buses! They say they come every 10 -20 minutes but we had to wait an hour one time. Not exactly hop on and off -unless you're a turtle maybe. Huge waste of money -just walk or take cabs it will wind up costing you the same.
New York, NY USA Thu 09/30/2010
Paris Hop on/off Bus Tours
Les Cars Rouges offers a 10% discount when you order your tickets online for the hop on/off bus tours in Paris. Thankfully, we decided to wait and just purchase tickets when boarding and we were not charged for our children's tickets. Had we purchased tickets online, we would have paid 12 euro per child.
Saint-Jean Sart, Belgium Tue 09/21/2010
I agree with the McD's comment below. I am not an adventuresome eater and my fiance, who is, gets tummy issues with strange food. So we ate a lot of desserts and "chef" salads in Paris. But the night we got engaged, we got back to the hotel at 11pm and were exhausted. Our celebration meal was eaten at the McD's across from our hotel. At first, we laughed about how lame it was to celebrate with Big Macs- but then realized- but they are big macs in a beautiful city on a beautiful night we will always remember and had a wonderful meal.
Atlanta, ga USA Thu 09/16/2010
Mickey D's ain't so bad!
I agree with SleepE about the McDonald's comment. Everyone bashes them as "for stupid US tourist who don't want to eat locally" and it's not always about that. Just going in a non-US MickeyD's is an experience because they are all different, surprisingly, reflect the local food-preferences accordingly, and a good place for a very quick bite if you are starved or just need a quick seat off the street. Besides every country needs their shot at a dollar menu (read: Euro menu, Peso menu, Yen menu, etc.)! Would I prefer McD's over a nice French cafe for a yummy lunch? Not a chance in H-E-Double Hockey Sticks! But if I need a quick cuppa Joe or fries to get me from Castle A to Museum B, I'm going to do it! And good point about the savings for a nicer meal later...
Greenwich by way of Texas, CT USA Tue 09/14/2010
The viator Paris illuminations bus tour with the 11 pm Moulin Rouge show was an expensive waste of time. The tour tape did not coordinate with the bus route. At the Moulin Rouge show we were packed in shoulder to shoulder in a fire trap of a building and charged 100 euros for an poor quality show. This was the only disappointment we had in paris.
Philaldelphia, pa USA Sun 08/22/2010
Gondolas in Venice
I've traveled all over the continent and I honestly think the gondola rides in Venice are by far the worst tourist trap in Europe. I believe the going rate now is minimum 80-100 euros and that's just insane. You're paying well over a hundred bucks to ride in a canoe for a half hour or so. My first trip to Venice back in 2000, I paid about 15 bucks (split the ride w/ 3 others) to do it. The guy said it would be an hour (it lasted 45 minutes) and he even sang the whole time. I got out of the gondola when it was over and I said "I cannot believe I just paid 15 bucks for THAT". I can't even imagine paying over a hundred for it. I've since been back at least 50 times (I live nearby) and have never been tempted to do it again.
I understand that it's Venice and you HAVE to ride a gondola but for the money you'll spend, you're better off splurging for a nice dinner somewhere. It will last longer, it's more satisfying and will probably cost less.
Vicenza, Italy Mon 08/09/2010
Climbing through gimmickry
The most obvious tourist trap I encountered during a sort of whirlwind drive through Europe was a little place called Grignan near Provence, France. It wasn't listed in Rick's book, but we had just seen another unlisted French town called Le Poet Laval which was very cozy and beautiful little medieval town, so we tried Grignan by a local recommendation. It was like a cynical attempt to mimic Les Baux by having the main attraction at the very top of a mountain that forces you to walk up (and then down) through a carefully wound path full of souvenir shops and cafes. The entire place reeked of a contrived attempt to produce a medieval town, even though apparently the castle at the top really did have a medieval base. We didn't even pay for admission. We simply accepted the loss, made the most of the limited view, and hustled to Orange just in time to catch the historic amphitheater before closing (when the ticket price is only half). :-) Les Baux is set up similar to Grignan, but the tourist shops are even fun simply to pass because the village looks so nice, the streets so lovely to wind around on, the views from street edges to surrounding mountains marvelous, and the rocky top is a must-see of Provence. Even the upper parking lot of Les Baux was worth seeing (and photographing)!
Rick also clearly loves Rothenburg, but it didn't seem to warrant the accolades. The albeit brief night watch tour is so fun as to be essential for Romantic Germany, but for the same beautifully painted medieval buildings I enjoyed far more the less touristy little town just south, Dinkelburg, where there are no schneeballen shops and much fewer gimmick tourist trap shops. Rick admits that the schneeballen are just pie crust but they're everywhere in Rothenburg, and the 1200+ houses are mostly home to more shops selling all sorts of expensive items that have nothing to do with Romantic Germany, castles, or even Germany at all (for ex, Russian dolls). The night watchman himself made several humorous asides about how tourism has brought unbelievable revenue to Rothenburg. Even the walk along the Rothenburg wall was uneventful despite the claim to great sights. The paths along the walls of Dinkelburg, by contrast, have a number of touching views stretching down winding streets of colorful homes back into the town center. Rothenburg was worth visiting, and I did mostly miss the crowds due to timing (and Pension Poschel was great), but it still lacked a qualitative "hidden secret" experience that Dinkelsburg had.
Dayton, NJ USA Wed 08/04/2010
Venice at Night
Staying in Venice over night is a must! All of the day-trip tourists are gone and you have your choice of places to eat and to stroll without the crowds. Get up early, sunrise, and stand in front of the Basilica de San Marco in the Piazetta and wait for the sun to hit the golden tiles, the entire building glows. You'll only see it early in the morning and you have to spend the night to be there at that time of day.
Lewisville, TX USA Thu 07/29/2010
Venice's Delusional Pricing System
Eating on St. Mark's Square in Venice! Especially for a 'light' breakfast. I had about half a pint of orange juice and it cost me about $14! If you're going to eat breakfast every day, I would recommend finding a market and buying fruit and/or cereal.
Austin, TX USA Thu 07/29/2010
Vienna is most assuredly NOT Boring!
I loved Vienna! It's full of very interesting architecture, friendly people and wonderful food. There is so much to do. You could spend most of the day in the Hofburg palace alone with it's ancient crown jewels, royal apartments and museums. There's the Royal Opera House, Schonnbrunn Palace, the Kaisergruft where the imperial family tombs are and more! I'm sorry, Karen, that you had a bad time in Vienna, but everyone I've known who's been there loved it.
Portland, OR USA Thu 07/15/2010
I spent a few days in Vienna which were a complete disappointment. The oversized buildings along the Ringstrasse are no older or impressive than, say, chicago, and away from the center, which was crowded, hot, and expensive, the rest of the city was a boring mix of featureless apartment blocks and crummy post-war construction. The hueriger cafes on the outskirts of the city were mostly empty when I visited, but they all looked the same and the meal I had in one was not good. I should've spent the extra days in St. Wolfgang, where we were previously. I would only go to Vienna if I had to fly into Schwecat Airport, otherwise, I'd skip it.
chicago, IL USA Tue 07/06/2010
Venice After Dark
I Would also have to agree that Venice after the tour groups leave is an absolute must. We only stayed in Venice two nights and really looked forward to after 6. The entire island empties out and you feel like you have the run of the place. St. Marks square after dark was very nice to stand and listen to the music and enjoy a glass of wine. The problem was trying to avoid the crowds during the day. Go off beat and find the out of the way things during the day and remember you can't get lost, you're on an island.
Grand Blanc, Mi USA Tue 06/15/2010
Haggling in Tunisia
We went to Medina in Tunisia during our Mediterranean Cruise in May 2010. The vendors in the market are really smart, they do not put price tags on their merchandise. They actually want you to haggle with them. My mistake was I based the price on some items that are sold here in the US. No wonder the guy was just too happy to sell his merchandise to me. I should have started bottom low, as in 1/8th of the price that you think an item costs.
Vacaville, CA USA Wed 06/02/2010
Common sense at home and abroad
You already know the most touristy areas at home are loaded with tourist traps, why would Europe be any different? Use the same common sense you would at say, Disney World and you will be fine. A little research goes a long way and most important, like the old saying goes, "if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is."
Boston, MA USA Tue 05/25/2010
bracelet scam near Sacre Coeur
My 2 daughters and I got caught by the bracelet scam in Paris near Sacre Coeur in 2005. When the 3 African gentlemen approached us from the front, I became accutely conscious of my daybag and made sure I was in full contact with it, expecting a 4th to sneak up behind to steal it. The lead gentleman offered to make us bracelets and I told him firmly we were not interested in buying bracelets. He insisted they were not selling them, but making them as a way of sharing their culture. Against my better judgement (and still clinging tightly to my daybag) the 3 of us allowed the 3 of them to begin creating lovely bracelets on each of us. They told us of the countries they were from, what the colors they used symbolized, and made small talk. When they were done and had tied them securely to our wrists, both my daughters were happy with their bracelets, I liked mine, and nobody had even tried to touch my daybag so I was feeling a bit better ... then ... the lead gentleman notified us that each bracelet would cost 6 euros (18 euros total)! I played a bit stupid and indicated I thought he meant 6 euros total - he got vehement about it being 6 euros EACH! I reminded him that I had already told him we weren't buying the bracelets and I was even prepared to cut them off if he started getting huffy about it. My girls looked a bit alarmed that they would lose their new bracelets so I offered 3 euros. He seemed insulted but I insisted it was all I had. I showed him my wallet and the 2 coins that were in there and told him he could take the 3 euros or he could have the bracelets back. He took the 3 euros. My daughters were happy, he wasn't, and he never knew about the 200 euros in my money belt!!! It's a fond memory now (5 years later) but at the time, I was nervous.
Federal Way, WA USA Wed 05/19/2010
I totally disagree with Mike who says it's a waste to stay in Venice over night. Once the hords of tourists leave by 5pm the city is yours to explore. No crowds and the most beautiful sunsets. Of course the hotels Rick Steves suggests are reasonable. I say Venice after dark is a must!!!
Iron Mountain, USA Wed 05/12/2010
McDonald's in Europe
I've just read through all the posts on this forum and I'm surprised at how many bash McDonald's in the various European cities. It is almost as if "McDonald's" is some sort of code for "lazy American who isn't interested in the local culture."
I've been to most of the big, and not so big European cities in the past few years and I've learned these things: 1. If you need a clean toilet, almost always free, without having to buy a meal or pay an attendant - McDonald's is there for you. 2. Sitting at a sidewalk cafe and whiling away the afternoon peoplewatching is great, but if you want to do some sightseeing and don't want to spend all afternoon waiting for your check - at McDonald's you can leave when you are ready, not when your waiter decides that he is ready.
3. If you want to save a few euros at lunch so you can splurge on dinner later, a little fuel at McDonald's will get you through the afternoon.
4. If it's raining so hard you can't see across the street, you can sit in McDonald's and wring yourself out; nobody is going to pester you or make you feel like you have to buy something. It doesn't even have to be raining; sometimes you just want to get off your feet for a few minutes. I usually like to check out the local McDonald's, whether it's Rome, Paris, Istanbul, or wherever. They are a little like home, but also a little bit different in an interesting sort of way. The McDonald's in Pisa isn't quite like the one in Ankara, and neither are like the one in Wasilla.
I'm not saying you should eat only big macs and fries on your vacation, but McDonald's is a world-wide phenomenon that has managed to make itself a popular part of nearly every culture. That, in itself, I think is kind of interesting. And - if you really, really need to pee, it can be a lifesaver.
San Francisco, CA USA Mon 05/10/2010
Any place can be a tourist trap if you allow it to be. An open mind and heart allows you to experience Europe as it is, the reality and idealism of this beautiful place. I have experienced my share of scams and disappointments, but that's life! I experience the same thing here at home! So get over it and take Europe as it is, or stay home.
Anoka, MN USA Sun 05/09/2010
Venice after dark
If you spend the day in Venice and do all that the typical tourists do then I applaud those who are looking to spend the night dancing, drinking, singing or whatever. Plus, one who spends the money to stay in Venice for the night you are paying big bucks to slept in a room. If you are out to party and stay in a 3 plus star hotel your dollars are better spent enjoying the sites of Venice than the sites of a room even if your tired.
Fishers, IN USA Fri 04/23/2010
Exchanging Money in Venice
DO NOT exchange cash at the exchange places in Venice...it's a huge rip off! In January, we went for a quick 3 day trip because I absolutely adore the city, however I made the very stupid mistake of forgetting to bring my bank card. Not worried because I had plenty of cash, I tried to find the best rate for the Hungarian Forints I wanted to use. While the salesman was very nice, he spoke super fast, and explained to me that I would get a better rate the more I exchanged. After a whirlwind transaction, I finally had the time to go over the math, and not only did I get an absolutely horrible rate, there was a service charge of 5 euros + 20% of the amount exchanged. All together, I lost about 50 euros (as opposed to having exchanged the money prior to coming to Italy, or getting cash directly from the ATM) and got only 113 euros. The fees were in plain sight, in very small letters, so not very noticeable. All the money I had saved trying to find the best deal gone in an instant. Nothing can ruin Venice, but I did spend quite a bit of time being upset with myself for forgetting my card. So don't make my mistake. The rates for all currencies were horrible!
USA Sun 04/04/2010
sunny Costa Del Sol, Spain
Rick's Spain guidebook described the Costa Del Sol as a classic European tourist trap. It's where northern Europeans go to get their sun fix. From his description, we were expecting a tacky Vegas on the beach type of place (I'm from Las Vegas, so I know what tacky is all about), but we found it to be quite relaxing on a busy European trip.
The weather was fantastic (even in October!), the beaches were super clean, and the hotels were great and right on the beach. Lots of inexpensive good quality restaurants all around and cheap beer: One Euro for a Heineken! I was used to paying 4+ Euros all over Europe for a Heineken.
We were very relaxed at the end of our weekend, it was a welcome surprise. Not tacky at all, at least by American standards. Next time we read about a tacky tourist trap in Rick's guidebook, we're going! :-)
Rio Rancho, NM USA Tue 03/09/2010
Restaurant rip off across from the Vatican
Nicole, the same thing happened to us at the Cafe Vaticano in 2003. The price on the check was much higher than the price listed on the menu. We were really pissed off, especially since it happened right outside the Vatican. We were paying in cash, so we just paid what the menu listed and left, which was overpriced to begin with. Seems like they are still running the same scam 6 years later.
MD USA Tue 01/19/2010
Italian Taxi Drivers
Most taxi drivers in Italy are not interested in taking you where you want to go, they want to sell you an expensive, all day ride instead. In Rome, our hotel (Hotel Nerva) had told us the easiest way to get to the hotel was by taxi. We could not get a single cab to take us from the train station to the hotel. When I complained about this at the hotel, he said "I should have told you that you usually have to threaten to call the police." Like I am going to get in a cab with a guy after threatening to call the cops on him!
Covington, WA USA Thu 01/07/2010