When it comes to popular tourist destinations, we have a certain idea of what most of them will be like once we actually see them. Due to the Internet and viral travel videos, it’s mostly accurate—except in those rare cases when it’s completely different from what you were expecting.
It’s only when you visit these places that you realize you’ve been picturing them a bit wrong—either due to the unreliability of word of mouth or insufficient pretravel research. They’re not all disappointing, and some may even end up surprising you.
The Taj Mahal is still considered the ultimate monument of love. It’s quite an architectural wonder, too. When you picture it in your head, though, we bet that you don’t imagine the sewer right next to it.
Due to its location in the eighth-most polluted city in the world, the Taj Mahal is in the middle of what we’d call “pure filth,” which is one of the wonders of the modern world in its own way. You may also picture it to be white because the marble used to make it is supposed to be known for its pure white shade.
In reality, though, dust and the amount of pollution in the air have turned it yellow and green, made worse by the poop of insects from the nearby sewer. By nearby, we mean right next to it.
The Nazi march across Europe and Russia left much of the continents in ruins, and many remnants of that destruction can still be seen in those places. The worst were the concentration camps, almost all of which are now museums or heritage sites. Well, except for one. Its tragic history was commemorated by turning it into a luxury hotel.
Unofficially called the “Tower of Death” by the locals, this site in Lviv, Ukraine, was used as a Nazi concentration camp for Soviet POWs. Around 100,000 prisoners were killed there, which is how it earned its nickname. The property went to a private owner until the 2000s, when it was bought and converted to a five-star hotel called the Citadel Inn.
Admittedly, the ratings of this hotel are quite good. However, it’s certainly not the World War II heritage walk site you would expect it to be.
The pyramids of Giza are some of the most popular tourist sites in the world. Apart from giving us a glimpse into one of the earliest empires in history, they’re built quite well, too. When we picture the pyramids, we usually think of each one with a square at the base. In reality, though, at least for the biggest and oldest of the three pyramids, it actually has eight sides and the shape isn’t a square at all.
Believed to be discovered by a British Air Force pilot in 1940, the Great Pyramid of Giza has inward indentations along the center of all its sides, giving it eight sides in total. Some scientists believe that it’s a sign of the pyramids being much more than elaborate tombs, like some kind of a mathematical device. More research suggests that this may be the case with the other two pyramids as well.
It’s human nature to use trick photography to make it seem like you’re pushing the Leaning Tower of Pisa once you actually do visit it. For those who finally make their way to the famed tilted structure, it’s a quick realization that it wasn’t worth a visit in the first place. Its only claim to fame is the leaning and, of course, being a great setup for those photos.
The Tower of Pisa is located in a complex called Campo dei Miracoli (“Square of Miracles”) and is only the bell tower of the cathedral there. While the tower is boring, the cathedral is quite a sight to behold. The tower became more famous just because it managed to tilt a little bit. Nearly everything in that complex is much more impressive than the tower, something that many previous visitors would tell you.
If you’ve been to Copenhagen, you’ve been advised to visit the Little Mermaid statue. One of the biggest tourist attractions in the city, it is still visited by a million people each year. Photos of the statue are usually brilliantly shot, making it look larger than life and majestic. If you looked it up, it’d probably come across as a place you’d like to visit one day.
However, if you happen to see it for yourself, you’ll discover that the statue is only 1.25 meters (4 ft) in height and 175 kilograms (385 lb) in weight. The Little Mermaid looks even smaller due to people always trying to take a photo of it. Unlike the grand statues of other countries, this one is more symbolic. Even so, it remains one of the things you have to do in Copenhagen.
Thailand is a tiny-yet-peaceful nation in Southeast Asia. Many people visit there to enjoy the country’s tropical beaches and great food. One of its most famous attractions is the entire Ko Phi Phi stretch of islands as they’re home to some of the most pristine natural formations in the region. Or they were until they became a dumping ground for the millions of tourists that now visit every year.
The problem is at its worst during the peak travel season, which is around November to March in Thailand. Other than the general garbage in the area, the water in Ko Phi Phi is quite polluted, too, especially from the oils from all the jets and ferries.
Maya Beach, one of the most famous beaches in the region (as featured in the movie The Beach), is now indefinitely closed to tourists due to the sheer number of people who visit it. We’re not saying that going to Ko Phi Phi is a waste of time, but when you’re imagining it, envision less clean white sands and more plastic in the ocean.
Stonehenge is a famous tourist spot as well as a popular source for a wide variety of conspiracy theories. It’s one of the best-preserved structures from the megalithic era, a time when people didn’t even know how to travel long distances. It’s also built in concentric circles, along with other weird shapes, though its exact origins have never been completely traced.
Stonehenge would make for a great trip except you’ll probably never be able to see it because of the crowd. The road leading toward it is usually blocked. Even if you reach Stonehenge within visiting hours, you’ll have a bunch of other people to wade through.
People defacing the structure with chewing gum and graffiti is a problem, too, which is certainly not how most of us imagine the Stonehenge experience.
Manneken Pis is a popular statue in Brussels, which most of you probably remember from its picture. It’s a bronze fountain statue of a naked boy peeing, which is how almost all of us imagine it in reality. Sure, it’s a great place to visit. However, once you do, you’ll realize that the boy isn’t naked at all.
The statue is covered in different costumes throughout the year. If you’re visiting during the tourist season, you’re likely to see it clothed. In fact, its various costumes are part of its appeal as it has around 900 outfits to cycle through.
The themes of the costumes range from popular cartoons like Mickey Mouse to popular celebrities. We’re not saying it’s a terrible place to visit. But if you were planning a joke picture with the famous “peeing boy” statue, that’s probably not happening.
Antarctica isn’t as remote as it used to be. While it’s still not advisable to go there for a casual vacation, many people volunteer with science or exploration groups and get to travel there if they want. Even so, it remains an inhospitable place. The only people who go there are the kind who can live in camps. But some of those camps are better than some of our modern buildings.
Having an outpost in Antarctica is a prestige issue for many countries, which is why these facilities are built using the best in modern tech. Some of them could even be called futuristic and include all modern amenities like air conditioning, fitness rooms, library, lounges, and theaters.
Game of Thrones isn’t just a successful TV show. It has also spawned many related industries that are still thriving long after its finale. The tourism industry is one of the biggest as many people are interested in seeing the breathtaking locations of the show.
The site of King’s Landing throughout season six particularly stands out. It should, too, as Dubrovnik, Croatia, the city in which those scenes were shot, is a beautiful place you do need to see for yourself.
Unfortunately, that may not be possible anymore unless you’re willing to be on the wait list for a long time. The government already restricts the number of people who can enter the entire city to 8,000 a day. The mayor wants to bring that down to 4,000. In fact, outright banning of tourists is a not-so-distant possibility.
They’re worried about the integrity of their medieval buildings and want to completely reset the damage done by the high number of tourists they got after the season aired.
You can check out Himanshu’s stuff at Cracked and Screen Rant, or get in touch with him for writing gigs.