We all need a vacation sometimes, not just to rest and recharge but also to explore and learn about the world around us. From the Far East to the nearby coasts, humanity shares a primal need to discover foreign lands and visit exotic destinations. Vacation spots around the world offer natural wonders, man made icons and opportunities for untold adventures. Famous cities like Rome, New York, Paris and Beijing give us a chance to immerse ourselves in different cultures and ways of life through art, history, food, architecture and so much more. But would it be blasphemous to suggest that these iconic landmarks are not all they appear to be?
People do have a tendency to exaggerate and your college roommate’s Facebook picture of himself on a picturesque Hawaiian beach had to be taken over 20 times just to get the right angle. And as for your cousin’s breathtaking Instagram video about his climb of Machu Picchu, it used multiple filters and had to be edited before he posted it online. Also, by the time someone finally reaches these dream destinations, they unintentionally tend to exaggerate the visit through their stories and pictures. Travel commercials exacerbate the misconception through tasteful lighting, appealing music, the use of beautiful models and a super smooth narrator. No one can argue that these sites are not amazing or worth a visit, but fair warning, it would be a good idea to adjust your expectations. Ads may promise an incredible adventure but stay realistic. Click here to see some world famous, but overrated, vacation spots.
Fantasy: Honolulu, United States
Honolulu, the capital city of Hawaii, is both a fast-paced cosmopolitan city and a beautiful tourist gem. The island offers fine dining, art museums, breathtaking beaches, historic monuments and bike paths.
So, relax, feel the warm breeze on your skin, borrow a surf board, and enjoy the gentle strumming of a ukulele, all on this one-of-a-kind island.
Reality: Honolulu, United States
Sadly, Honolulu is not the island paradise the tourists get to see but is dealing with high crime levels and drug problems. The city also has a large homeless population.
When visiting it is important to keep in mind that there have been reports of tourists being mistreated by the locals.
Fantasy: Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy
The Leaning Tower of Pisa in known all over the world for its unintentional “lean”. This bell tower was built with improper foundations on overly soft ground which caused it to tilt roughly 3.99 degrees to the right.
On the green grass, with the city of Pisa in the distance, you may be tempted to capture the moment with a cliché but amusing snapshot of yourself “holding” the tower up with your hand.
Reality: Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy
Sadly, you are not the first person who wanted to help “hold up” the tower. You will be sharing that privilege with a lawn full of tourists who came to Pisa just to see the Leaning Tower. Also, despite a lot of hard work and money, the tower’s lean is continuing to deepen, which may cause its eventual collapse.
When you take into account the almost 300 uneven stairs to reach the top, the visit may be more than you bargained for.
Fantasy: Santorini Island, Greece
When people think of Greece, they are really thinking about the island of Santorini, with its iconic white buildings, lovely black sand beaches and crystal-clear waters. The island offers first class accommodations and gourmet restaurants and the chance to hike up a volcano on the Fira trail and capture the spectacular sunset.
The island is rapidly becoming a destination for weddings and families, and travelers from all over the world.
Reality: Santorini Island, Greece
Your stay on the island may be a dream, but the high price for accommodations and other services is a bit of a nightmare. Driving on the island may allow you the freedom to have adventures but try not to be too free.
The island roads are notoriously narrow, and driving on them, especially at night during tourist season, can be dangerous.
Fantasy: Great Wall of China, China
The Great Wall of China has been named one of the traditional “seven wonders of the world” and is roughly 13,000 miles long, although different surveys have come back with different lengths. The wall stretches in an east-to-west direction across the original borders of China and is known for its great length and fortifications.
Although the myth that it can be seen from space has been disproved, it is still an architectural marvel and an amazing place for any adventurous tourist to visit.
Reality: Great Wall of China, China
However, if you decide to visit, you will not be the only one who knows that the wall is great. You will have to share the narrow walkways with many other tourists, some of which litter or even deface the wall with graffiti.
This is an especially big problem in the most frequently visited section in Badaling. The wall there may not be as clean or impressive as you’ve been led to expect.
Fantasy: The Eiffel Tower, France
Nothing says a Parisian vacation like a tasteful selfie of you and your loved ones having a picnic, with a baguette of course, under the Eiffel Tower.
It’s a beautiful place from which to enjoy the city of love, in all its modern yet peaceful splendor. The 324-meter-high tower is the ultimate symbol of the French capital, and you can’t beat the view.
Reality: The Eiffel Tower, France
In reality, the Eiffel Tower is a tourist mecca with roughly 7 million visitors per year, leaving very few open picnic spots on the lawn, especially in summer.
And if you actually decide to climb the tower, you have to go through security, wait in really long lines, and when you finally get inside, share your view with countless others.
Fantasy: The Mona Lisa, France
The Mona Lisa is one of the most famous paintings in the world. Created by Renaissance master Leonardo de Vinci and now hanging in the Louvre in Paris, the woman’s mysterious expression begs the age-old question, is she smiling, or not?
There is a reason this painting is considered a masterpiece and art and culture lovers should definitely add it to their bucket lists.
Reality: The Mona Lisa, France
Sadly, this classic is always thronged with crowds wanting to check it off their own bucket lists. You will have to push through them just to get a quick glimpse or snap a quick picture. And in reality, the painting is behind glass and a lot smaller than you’d think.
Therefore, trying to get close and see if her eyes really do follow you across the room is pretty much impossible.
Fantasy: Copacabana Beach, Brazil
Copacabana Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the worlds, with mountains in the distance, a sandy promenade and deep blue waters.
The strand is lined with beach kiosks, if you get hungry after your swimming and sunbathing, and all of this is located in the middle of the bustling city of Rio de Janeiro. It is truly a perfect getaway to relax and get into the Bossa Nova beat.
Reality: Copacabana Beach, Brazil
While lounging on this particular beach, it is important not to get too relaxed, because the neighborhoods in the area have a dodgy reputation.
Rio de Janeiro is known for gangs and crime, and it is important to keep an eye on your valuables and stay safe.
Fantasy: Venice, Italy
Everything about the city of Venice is like walking through a lovely dream. Beautiful canals, breathtaking buildings and amazing food. The city hasn’t changed in decades and you can walk around and feel like the star of an Italian film from the 1960’s.
Venice has something for everyone, classic opera houses, authentic Italian food, and high-end shopping in the world famous Piazza San Marco.
Reality: Venice, Italy
Like most modern cities, Venice has its share of traffic jams. However, these take place in the water and not on the road. Meaning your romantic gondola ride may quire literally bump into water taxis, other gondolas and even ambulances.
Also, the canals while lovely, have a bit of an odor problem, especially in the sweaty crowded tourist season. Making your trip along the water memorable in a different way than you may have expected.
Fantasy: The Taj Mahal, India
The Taj Mahal is another wonder of the world and is known both for its incredible architecture and the story behind its construction. The monument was commissioned by emperor Shah Jahan in 1632 in honor of his beloved late wife.
Locals say the palace changes colors with the different times of day according to the light from the sun and the moon, like the moods of the emperor’s late queen.
Reality: The Taj Mahal, India
Due to its worldwide fame, the Taj Mahal is often overrun by tourists. Prepare yourself for massive lines, and make sure not to plan your visit for a Friday, because the monument is closed on that day.
Also, because this region of India is extremely polluted, thick smog which reduces visibility is a common occurrence and some say that the building is also suffering the effects of pollution.
Fantasy: The Trevi Fountain, Italy
The Trevi Fountain, situated in the heart of Rome, is 86 feet high and 161.3 feet wide. This fountain, from the Baroque era, is one of the most famous fountains in the world and has appeared in countless films.
It is decorated with Greek gods, Triton’s horses, shells and much more, and is an amazing piece of art. While there, it is customary to throw a coin into the fountain over your left shoulder for luck.
Reality: The Trevi Fountain, Italy
Although the fountain is a beautiful place, people who have been there agree that the huge crowds make the visit less enjoyable. Their recommendation is to go either very early in the morning or late at night.
If you are an early riser you can beat the crowds and at night the fountain is hopefully less crowded and if not, at least you get to see it all lit up.
Fantasy: The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
The breathtaking Pyramids of Giza are another famous mystery. They were built to stand the test of time and are holding up incredibly as one of the last largely intact wonders of the ancient world.
The pyramids served as tombs for Egyptian rulers and are filled with decorations, depicting the rich Egyptian culture, their way of life and their beliefs about death.
Reality: The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
The mysteries surrounding the pyramids these days are tourists, traffic and pollution and you will be sure to see your fair share of all three on your visit there. Taxi drivers have been known to take advantage of tourists trying to get to the pyramids, so make sure to set your fare before accepting a ride.
Locals aggressively selling souvenirs and other trinkets are also known to make the experience less pleasant for travelers.
Fantasy: The Stonehenge, UK
Who hasn’t wondered about the origins of the mysterious and magnificent Stonehenge? This remarkable United Kingdom landmark raises some fascinating questions.
Everyone is dying to know if it was meant to be a place to crown kings, a mechanism to track time, or maybe the site of strange rituals.
Reality: The Stonehenge, UK
The truth may be out there, but you are not the only one looking for it, as your fellow tourists can attest. The area is known for outrageous traffic jams and exorbitant parking prices.
The worst part is that you can’t even see the stones up close, you only have access to a designated path that goes around them. That’s no way to solve a mystery.
Fantasy: The Colosseum, Italy
The Colosseum in Rome is famous in both fact and fiction and is a must-see destination for curious travelers. The Colosseum was used by Roman emperors as an arena in which they hosted battles by gladiators and savage animals, sometimes simultaneously.
Walk through the stands and feel the energy and excitement of the gory battlefield.
Reality: The Colosseum, Italy
You may be expecting something out of the movie “Gladiator”, but in truth the amphitheater is not in great condition, with large parts destroyed and decayed.
This symbol of Rome has become quite the tourist attraction, known for its long lines and Disneyland-like photo ops with people dressed up in costumes of ancient Rome offering to pose with you for the measly price of €20.
Fantasy: Central Park, United States
New York city is known for its busy sidewalks, pizza, yellow taxis and of course no visit to the Big Apple would be complete without an outing in Central Park. This enormous urban park features shops, gardens, monuments, fountains, an ice rink in the winter and even an entire zoo.
The park offers a beautiful green oasis in the middle of the city and if you’re lucky you may even spot a celebrity jogger.
Reality: Central Park, United States
Although the park is enormous it is often packed with tourists, joggers, cyclists and office workers on their lunch breaks.
So, remember not to load up on those sodas or iced coffees, because the lines for the restrooms can be quite long.
Fantasy: Machu Picchu, Peru
The ruins of Machu Picchu are Peru’s most popular tourist destination. This Incan citadel is an architectural wonder nestled in the slopes of the Andes amongst the Amazonian jungle.
Visitors can put their muscles to the test and climb to the mountain peak or take a local Cusco train right to the top.
Reality: Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu has remained in great condition for centuries, but that may soon change due to massive tourism and economic and environmental issues.
The United Nations report that trash left by visitors is becoming a real problem, meaning your hike through the mountains may become a smelly and dirty affair.
Fantasy: The Sydney Opera House, Australia
The Sydney Opera House perched on the Sydney Harbor in Australia is one of the most famous and distinctive buildings in the world.
The performing arts center hosts over 40 shows per week including music, theater, dance, comedy, lectures and of course opera. A fascinating tour of this incredible building will definitely be the highlight of any trip down under.
Reality: The Sydney Opera House, Australia
No one can argue with the building’s visual appeal but unfortunately the Sydney Opera House is not as appealing to the ears.
The concert hall is known for its terrible acoustics, with major renovations taking place to address the problem. In the meantime, you can still enjoy the view.
Fantasy: Yosemite National Park, United States
Yosemite National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains in the perfect place for hiking and camping. The park is known for stunning vistas, amazing waterfalls and ancient sequoia trees of enormous size.
This is truly a wonderful place to get away from it all, rock climb, picnic, go for a horseback ride or just sit around and absorb the beauty of nature.
Reality: Yosemite National Park, United States
When arriving at the park in the summer, expect two to three-hour delays just to enter the valley. Even worse, the sheer number of tourists have unfortunately caused habitat loss and damaged the scenery.
If you decide to go after the summer peak, the trails are worn from overuse with park personnel not yet able to clean everything up. And with controlled forest burning taking place around the reserve, you may be in for a smoky hike.
Fantasy: Hollywood, United States
Hollywood is not just the place to go if you have a dream in your pocket or a guitar on your back. Tinseltown really has it all as a vacation destination, with shows, attractions, world famous shopping and the best hotels and restaurants.
Try and get a selfie with a big star while taking in the sights and enjoy the beautiful year-round sunshine. Hollywood welcomes you!
Reality: Hollywood, United States
The streets here are not just filled with celebrities and young actors about to get their big break, they are also brimming with tourists who want to discover the place they have only seen in their favorite movies or on awards shows on TV.
The capital of the movie world is a lot like the movies it creates, a lot of makeup and special effects, but underneath it all is just another West Coast town. Crowded, congested and more than a little expensive.