Most tourist destinations have something good to offer, and even if they are a little over-crowded or over-priced, they are still worth the time. Others, however… aren’t. Carry on reading to see some of my most disappointing tourist destinations, and where I should have gone instead.
.1. Skip Venice Beach, go to Santa Monica Beach
I still don’t entirely understand why Venice Beach is such a popular attraction, especially when California has so many other beautiful bays and beaches. Unless your idea of a dream day is buying $50 ‘California’ t-shirts and watching oiled, tanned muscle men do pull-ups, I honestly think you can do better. There is just something about Venice Beach that is really off and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. Maybe it’s the strange smell, or the ever-increasing and ever-aggressive homeless community, or maybe it’s just that there is nothing at Venice Beach that you can’t get/see/do at any other beach town in the Western world. Instead, head 2 miles north to Santa Monica. Sure, it’s just as crowded; but it is also cleaner, more reasonably priced and has a much more friendly atmosphere. There is also a lot to do at Santa Monica beach and along the pier: from fairground rides, to an aquarium, to live concerts, to a trapeze school to a 3 and a half mile beach bike path. Plus, if you are into watching oiled, tanned muscle men do pull-ups, Santa Monica is also home to the original muscle beach!
2. Skip Carlo’s Bakery, 8th Avenue, go to Carlo’s Bakery, New Jersey
Don’t get me wrong, I love Carlo’s Bakery (which you might have seen on TLC’s Cake Boss) but their New York store is like a cupcake-filled nightmare. Right from the start it feels more like a cattle market than a cake store: you have to navigate the crowds like a salmon swimming upstream to get a numbered ticket which shows when you will be served. My ticket said 289, the current number being served was 172… oh dear. I was reliably informed that this meant a wait of around an hour and ten minutes. What kind of cupcake warrants waiting that long? Unless the frosting is made from Himalayan yak milk and there is a diamond ring in the centre, I just can’t justify that amount of time for a cake. I didn’t end up waiting for my number to be called, but every moment I was in there was a rush and all of the staff seemed incredibly flustered which never makes for a good dining experience. Instead, head a little further south and hit one of the Carlo’s branches in New Jersey: the ones in Marlton, Westbury and Morristown sell the exact same products and usually have no wait time at all. And although there was no diamond ring hidden inside, my red velvet cupcake was very good.
3. Skip Harvard, go to Princeton
I feel bad even suggesting this one. I wanted to love Harvard, I really and truly did. I’ve seen ‘The Social Network’, I love ‘Legally Blonde’ and I expected to fall head over heels with the university that inspired them. I think Harvard was another case of a place being over-crowded to a fault: so many people had traipsed over the lawns that they had turned into a huge patch of mud, every path was taken over with groups walking 5 abreast at a snail’s pace, and the whole campus was covered in litter thrown by careless tourists. Instead, try Princeton: not only is it cleaner and quieter but it is absolutely beautiful, with a real Hogwarts-esque charm. Not only that, but the town of Princeton is equally delightful (and the ice cream at the Halo Pub is not to be missed). Perhaps we chose the wrong weekend to visit Harvard, but there was also more for us to see in Princeton; some of the buildings and chapels were open to the public and the university art gallery is home to past and future masterpieces from all around the world.
4. Skip the Museum of Death, go to the Louisiana State Museum
Don’t get me wrong, I love an obscure museum – the Mutter medical museum in Philadelphia is one of my favourites, mmuseumm in New York (the world’s smallest) is adorable and I am definitely considering the gelato museum as a stop on my next trip to Italy – but when a museum has nothing to offer but shock value, it tends to fall flat. The Museum of Death is a privately run museum showcasing ‘the world’s most grisly exhibitions’, and true to it’s word it is morbid and creepy. However, after about 10 minutes it really does feel like it’s run out of steam; with displays dedicated to the prison-issue underpants of an obscure serial killer, or hand-written letters written by someone who later died in a gruesome way. The $15 experience should last 45 minutes to an hour, but that’s only because it is so text heavy, with massive blocks of 10pt text that will leave you squinting for the next few days as you try to read them behind their protective glass cases. Instead, head to the Louisiana State Museum: it might not be quite as morbid, but it certainly is more interesting. The hurricane Katrina exhibit at the Presbytère is both educational and moving, while the Mardi Gras gallery is incredibly colourful and interactive. Although I love to read, I much prefer a museum that focuses on ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’, and the Louisiana State Museum (spread out over 9 different locations) does just that. I spent well over two hours here, for a cost of only $6.
5. Skip the Mona Lisa, go to the Wedding at Cana
It might be ‘the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world’ but I can’t say that I entirely get the world’s undying love for the Mona Lisa. I appreciate that it is a great, and very accomplished painting (and there is no way I could create anything 1/1000th as good) but I really feel for all of the other artwork in the Louvre when people rush in, take their selfie with the Mona Lisa and head straight back out. The Louvre is full of some of the world’s best artwork; from sculptures like the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace, to paintings like Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People and Vermeer’s The Astronomer. It almost doesn’t seem fair that one painting gets all of the attention. Instead, head down to the Mona Lisa then turn around 180 degrees. The Wedding at Cana by Veronese is almost 7m high and 10m wide but often gets completely overlooked for it’s 77x53cm neighbour. Turn around, back away from the huge crowd, and focus in on this wonderfully colourful painting depicting Jesus turning water into wine.
What’s the worst tourist attraction you have ever visited? Let me know!