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World’s worst tourist attractions |

by Staff

Every traveller has a tale of a dud destination that didn’t live up to the hype. My favourite story (though not mine) is of a friend who booked a donkey ride up the Santorini volcano in the Greek islands. The donkey refused to be ridden so she had to drag it along in scorching heat. When they reached the summit rim of the caldera she turned to her guide and asked, “Has anyone ever pushed you in from the sheer disappointment of this tour?”

Anyone who’s felt similar despair on arriving at a much-anticipated place will appreciate a new survey ranking the most overhyped attractions – also known as the one-star wonders of the world. The research, by British optical company Vision Direct (clever marketing given it’s all about world-famous sights), has rated 106 travel fails based on the 60 most recent negative reviews of each, combined with Instagram and TikTok data.

Top of the fizzle list is the towering Berlin TV Tower, which promises breathtaking 360-degree views from its revolving restaurant. Peeved visitors labelled it “expensive” and “a waste of money”. (A handy rule of thumb: revolving restaurants rarely live up to expectations and are best avoided.)

I haven’t been to the tower, but did once arrive in Berlin, bursting with excitement, and all I can say is this: if I’d wanted to shiver through summer in a gritty, graffitied urban jungle, I could have stayed home in Melbourne. At least the food would have been a vast improvement.

Perhaps because travellers approach them with such raised expectations, observation towers tend to tank in the rankings. Tokyo Tower and Seoul Tower both feature in the top – or bottom – 10, with the Taipei 101 Observatory, Seattle’s Space Needle and Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers also panned for failing to deliver the promised highs.

Runner-up in the loser league is the iconic Moulin Rouge in Paris. I’ve managed to avoid ever stepping foot in this notorious tourist haunt despite one press trip where the organisers thought the tacky cabaret would be the best way to spend a Friday night in Paris. I begged to differ and had dinner instead at a cool bistro in the 11th, sparing myself the “cheesy”, “outdated” and “terrible” spectacle of can-can dancers in kitsch costumes. “It was so embarrassing that all we could do was drink our Champagne and hide our heads in shame,” one reviewer griped.

Two of Thailand’s top tourist draws, the Grand Palace in Bangkok and the Great Buddha in Ang Thong province, get the thumbs down from day-trippers. The Grand Palace complex was slammed as a “terrible experience” rife with scammers and ranked number four on the failure list. The Golden Buddha was dismissed as “a tourist trap” and a waste of time. Personally, I’ve seen enough golden gods, in every imaginable pose, to last me several lifetimes.

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Frank Gehry’s titanium fantasy beside the Nervión River in northern Spain, might seem a surprise inclusion – it came in at number 11 – but if you’ve been there you’ll understand why. It’s all crown and no filling. All hat and no cattle. Besides a couple of striking permanent artworks – Richard Serra’s maze-like weathered steel sculptures and Jeff Koon’s joyous giant puppy covered in flowers – the temporary exhibitions leave a lot to be desired.

Naturally, the list got me thinking about my own letdowns. The oil-fuelled illusions of the UAE do nothing for me. Dubai could install a spaceport (and probably will) and I still wouldn’t leave its airport ever again. It’s a ridiculous Disneyland in the desert, lacking any meaning or authenticity. Oman, by contrast, is the Arabia of my dreams – for its soaring, rugged mountain ranges plunging sheer into dolphin-friendly oceans, luxury desert bivouacs and an exotic food scene in the enchanting capital, Muscat.

I didn’t love Luang Prabang in Laos. It’s sold as a serene centre of Buddhism beside the fabled Mekong, but I found the holy city listless and hot, and had violent nightmares after eating bee eggs for dinner.

Despite being the fourth happiest country in the world, Vanuatu left me saddened by its disadvantage. I went there post-Pam, the most devastating cyclone to hit the archipelago, when the country was still on its knees. My opinion wasn’t helped by the fact I had my phone, and my wallet, stolen on the same day in separate incidents.

In Europe, the bronze statue of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, billed as a “major tourist attraction” despite being barely more than a metre tall, is about as exciting as the dog on the tuckerbox in Gundagai. Sometimes, honestly, it’s better to stay home.


In a list like this, coming last is a good thing. The bottom-ranked, ie most rewarding, experiences were Machu Picchu, Central Park and the Taj Mahal which, despite the crowds and touts, is never less than magnificent.

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