How to spot a tourist trap

Tourist traps are the junk food of traveling: get trapped by one and walk out with a lighter wallet and that sick, empty feeling that comes with high calories but no nutrition.  If you want to be a smart budget traveler, learn to spot tourist traps and avoid them in favor of a more nutritious cultural experience.

The sneakiest tourist traps are fake museums, most egregiously torture museums and wax museums.  Torture museums are not real museums: they don’t enrich culture or encourage scholarship.  These “museums” draw you in, take your money, and deliver nothing but junior high school level gross-out gore.  I actually use torture museums as a litmus test for whether a town is overly touristy.  For example, for a recent trip to Germany I was considering adding Rothenburg ob der Tauber to our itenerary, but I was concerned that it could be overly touristed.  I googled “Rothenburg ob der Tauber torture museums” and found that this small town contains at least two!  Off of the literary and good riddance.  (And really, if you want an authentic view on torture in Europe, why not visit a Nazi documentation center or a former concentration camp?)  Wax museums are equally sneaky, prominently promoting their wax historical figures, as if you’d go to a wax museum to learn history.   Fess up people: you’re not going to a wax museum to learn the history of English kings–you’re going to take a selfie with the wax Michael Jackson.  Sure, this could fall under the category of “enjoy for kitsch value”.   But seriously, do you realize how expensive wax museums are?  An adult admission to Madame Tussaud’s in London is £30.00 (that’s at least $50!!) while entrance to the British Museum, home of  the Eglin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone, is FREE.

Seeking out live music in Europe is one of the most potentially rewarding travel experiences, but beware of the music tourist trap.  Did you learn about the concert from a man dressed in a Mozart costume passing out flyers?  Does the program consist of the Pachelbel Canon, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and/or The Four Seasons?  Then chances are, your “concert” will be overpriced and performed by lackluster musicians on autopilot.

Certain European towns have legitimately interesting cultural attractions, but those attractions are surrounded by landmines of tourist traps.  Prague is one of these cities: sure, Prague’s old town has gorgeous architecture, but just try to apprecitate it without tripping over a torture museum, drunk British bros or a Baroque-wigged hustler of crappy classical music concerts.  Our disgust hit a peak when, while exploring Prague’s Castle, we paid an entry fee to visit Golden Lane, a street of cutesy houses nestled up against the castle.  (We wanted to see Kafka’s house, which we’d read was inside.)  Golden Lane turned out to be a row of souvenir shops.  That’s right–we paid an entry fee to visit souvenir shops, including (appropriately Kafkaesque) a shop inside Kafka’s house.  Bruges is a perfect example of a lovely, well-preserved town so completely overwhelmed by tourism that it’s entire infrastructure  is largely dedicated to ripping people off.  Paris, well, I’d better not say too much about Paris, which seems to hold an almost religiously romantic attraction to most visitors that my readers might come and egg my house if I talked smack about it.  Let me just say this: if you think Parisians spend their Saturday nights eating at restaurants with a giant paper mache snail in the window followed by a rousing visit to the Moulin Rouge, you’re perhaps un peu mistaken.

touristtrap

Sometimes all you need to do is turn around.  Sure, go ahead and pretend to prop up the leaning tower of Pisa, but don’t shell out €18 to climb it.  Turn around, leave the tourists behind and explore the appropriately named Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles), that splendid architectural complex on which the tower leans.

miracolij

goldenlane

Prague’s Golden Lane of tourist traps.

pis

Manneken Pis in Brussels: the only tourist trap I’d recommend visiting just for the fun of the surrounding souvenir shops.  Because where else can you buy a cork screw of a peeing boy, with a metal screw in place of his penis?

pissouveniers

33 comments

  1. LOL I really enjoyed that, thank you 🙂 Having been to a few of the places you mentioned, it all came flooding back.

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    1. Thank YOU for reading blosslyn–happy to share the LOL!

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      1. Your very welcome 🙂

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  2. That is so true! My best rule: go where the locals go…

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  3. Yes! Especially when it comes to food.

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    1. And avoid any menu that is translated into multiple languages and has little flags on it! 🙂

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  4. A very entertaining post! I do have to add that Rothenberg ob der Tauber does have several genuinely fine museums, and the torture museums there are completely avoidable. The Night Watchman tour is affordable, entertaining and informative too.

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    1. Thanks for the information about Rothenberg Claudia–I’ll have to give it another chance. I would like a chance to see that Holy Blood altarpiece…..

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  5. Good job, that was really funny read! I had the same feeling when visiting Prague last October. The city loses a hell lot of its charme due to being that overly touristic. I can recommend to visit other Eastern European cities instead (f.e. Warsaw, Bratislava, Tallinn, …). They offer similiar culture (not as cool as Prague tho) but are not even close to be as touristic as Prague 😉

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    1. Thank you Moritz. I haven’t visited any of these cities yet but I am eager to, so I appreciate the encouragement.

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  6. And when in Pisa, don’t forget to take a photo of the row of tourists leaning weirdly into the air. Speaking of which, I’m impressed you have a shot of yourself on your own there! Also, Great post!

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    1. Thanks haley, I’m glad you’re impressed. In Egypt my husband didn’t want to do the “kiss the Spinx” shot–what a party pooper!

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  7. I loved climbing the leaning tower of Pisa in the 1980s, the marble was really slippy and had that element of peril especially on the leaning down side. It was all the more joyful to have climbed it back then as they closed it for years and we felt like the last intrepid travellers!

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    1. You’re so right about N. Italy in the 80’s. It felt like it was all my own discovery and certainly like I was an intrepid traveler.

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  8. Amen to that!! Can’t be more right about Prague and Bruges! Great article!

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    1. Thank you Tom. We visited Prague and Bruges during the winter–I’d hate to see how horrifically touristy they’d be during high season!

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      1. Well, I visited Prague with a friend who used to live there and I must say it was a great experience. Staying away from the touristic things you can mingle with the locals! Visiting Prague that way is even pretty cheap, cause tourist pricing is times 3 over there!

        If you ever consider visiting Belgium again, gives us a shout! We’ll keep you away from the tourist traps and give you the necessary addresses!

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  9. Thanks again Tom–I’ll let you know when we plan to visit Belgium again. We really enjoyed Ghent and Brussels and are eager to return.

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  10. I feel the same way about Paris. When I travel I always do the free walking tours in cities and tip generously for information on local spots off the beaten track. Avoiding people trying desperately to sell you junk is another great reason to avoid these traps. Great post!

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    1. Thanks avidbibliophile . You’re right about the free walking tours. We did the Paris Greeter tour and not only was it fabulous, but we made friends with our tour guide and have seen him several times since.

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  11. This is a great post on tourist traps! Going to Rome at the end of the month! Hope I can figure out the tourist traps 😉

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    1. Thank you voyagingcamera! Rome is an amazing city and I’m sure you can spot the tourist trap (hint: guys dressed like gladiators in front of the coliseum).

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  12. Been sucked in more than a few times. Great post!

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    1. LOL–haven’t we all? Thanks szja2014!

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  13. Love it! Thank you for sharing and will watch out for “travel-traps!” Keep up the good work!

    http://eugephemisms.wordpress.com/

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    1. Forever vigilant! Thanks eugephemisms.

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      1. Cool. Your blog is so neat. Amazing work!

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  14. Hi Wife of Bath,

    I’m studying in Italy and have traveled around here a lot since arriving. I’ve never had any desire to go to Pisa because I’ve felt like there’s nothing to it besides tourists posing with the tower, but now I feel like I want to go to see the Field of Miracles and cross it off the list. According to me, Bologna’s leaning tower is cooler.

    As far as bad museums go, San Marino has a vampire AND a torture museum and is by and large a tax free shopping haven, so it definitely fits on your list of tourist traps.

    Michael

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    1. Thanks for reading Michael. Where are you studying in Italy? I liked Bologna’s towers too, though my favorite thing there was unbelievably great food.

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