Throbbing crowds. Unrestrained development. Pollution. Trash. Hawkers and pickpockets. Grinding traffic and exorbitant prices.
Sometimes, the reality of famous travel destinations doesn’t live up to the hype, leaving visitors to wonder why they bothered.
From the Taj Mahal to the floating city of Venice and, closer to home, the Sydney Fish Market, there are at least half a dozen destinations that, as a traveller and travel writer, I’m happy to call just plain disappointing.
If your idea of a fun family holiday is queuing 45 minutes for a two-minute ride in a plastic hell where everything from bottled water to umbrellas is branded and merchandised, then a visit to a Disney theme park is for you!
But make sure you take plenty of dough. When the original Disneyland opened in California in 1955, the average cost for a family of four was $4 – or $28 when adjusted for inflation. Today it’s $270, and that doesn’t include Disney’s sugary overpriced food.
But hey, it’s all about the kids, right? Um, no. In 2016, a two-year-old boy was killed in front of his parents by an alligator at the Seven Seas Lagoon at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
“Happiest place on earth”? We think not.
Try instead: Take the kids camping, to a national park or anywhere they can see the world’s greatest attraction – nature in the raw.
There’s no discounting the beauty of Venice with its magnificent relics of faith and art dating back to the 13th century and even earlier.
But with 30 million visitors a year, the floating city has been sunk by its own success. Titanic cruise ships clog the harbour. “Respect wardens” patrol the streets and harass or fine tourists up to $475 for sitting down in the wrong place, cooling their feet in the water or eating sandwiches in public.
Meanwhile, locals are being squeezed out at the rate of 1000 people a year, replaced, often, by foreign profiteers. Last year, the Chinese owners of a Venetian restaurant charged four Japanese tourists $1745 for four steaks, a plate of grilled fish and water.
Try instead: The “Venice of the north”, Bruges in Belgium.
3. Thailand’s water festival
From April 13-15, 2019, Thais will indulge in the “songkran” water festival, their traditional New Year celebration.
In times gone by, songkran was about family get-togethers, making offerings at Buddhist temples and lightly splashing folk with water to symbolise cleansing and renewal for the new year.
But it has evolved into an intergalactic water fight where high-calibre water cannons, water balloons and talcum powder are used to wet and dust anyone within range. It’s literally impossible to walk around any city or town in Thailand during songkran and not get totally wet, no matter how desperately one pleads with revellers; they just don’t care.
Songkran is also the most dangerous time of the year for commuters in Thailand. Last year, 418 people died and another 3897 were injured on Thai roads during the festival.
Try instead: Visit Thailand any other time of the year.
4. Sydney Fish Market
Set on Blackwattle Bay in the inner-city suburb of Pyrmont, the Sydney Fish Market is a great place to buy seafood with more than 100 sustainable marine species traded daily.
The prices aren’t cheaper than anywhere else but your money goes straight to the fishermen and their families.
The idea of turning it into a tourist attraction must’ve sounded totally dope at first – until one factors in the views (cement factories), outdated infrastructure (the courtyard looks like a prison yard), super-annoying seagulls with ninja-like thieving skills, and the sometimes eye-watering whiff of fish guts.
“A visit to the Sydney Fish Market is nearly as fatal for tourists as it is for fish,” opines CNN Travel.
Try instead: Wait until 2023, when the market will reopen on a new site on the opposite side of Blackwattle Bay with views of Anzac Bridge.
5. The Louvre
It might be the world’s greatest museum but it’s also the busiest, with a whopping 30,000 daily visitors on account of the Mona Lisa, world’s most famous painting.
But seeing Da Vinci’s unfinished masterpiece is easier said than done. You’ll have to battle for elbow room with hundreds of other museum-goers and a sea of camera phones to get a glimpse of the tiny 77-centimetre by 53-centimetre painting, which is kept in a reflective bullet-proof glass case.
The Louvre is also a hotbed for pickpockets. In 2013, the museum had to close its doors for a day when more than 100 staff went on strike to protest organised gangs that use children and old ladies to target visitors and staff in the vast galleries and around the famous glass pyramid at the museum’s entrance.
Try instead: Paris’s Musée d’Orsay is home to the largest collection of impressionist masterpieces in the world, including works by Monet, Cézanne and Van Gogh. It attracts 8000 visitors daily.
6. The Taj Mahal
India is arguably the most colourful, crazy and exotic travel destination on the planet, but it’s also the most polluted.
According to the World Health Organisation’s global air pollution database, 14 out of 15 of the world’s most polluted cities are Indian. Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, is eighth on the list, with 143 micrograms of fine particle matter in every cubic metre of air – nearly three times the maximum Australian safety standard level of 50 particles per metre.
The contaminated air is not only bad for travellers’ health but often conceals the Taj Mahal behind blankets of smog. It also turned the white marble mausoleum nicotine yellow, while the poo of flies and bugs that thrive in a nearby garbage-filled river added shades of green and blue.
Things have got so bad that last year India’s Supreme Court ordered authorities in Agra to restore the Taj Mahal to its former glory – or knock the thing down.
Try instead: The Golden Temple in Amritsar. “The Taj Mahal may be India’s most famous site, but the Golden Temple is India’s brightest site,” says travel influencer Debra Corbeil of Planet D.