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The Monday Rant: Overrated? Really?

Scott Vogel

Everyone knows that there are a thousand places everyone must see before they die (uh-huh), but isn't there an equal number of places that you must avoid before you die? In other words, what are the world's most overrated travel destinations?

That's the question we put to readers of our weekly online chat recently, and suffice it to say that places like Disney's Epcot came in for their share of abuse ("It was like visiting the Smithsonian while riding bumper cars"), as did Key West ("The restaurants are 'meh' and really, I can make margaritas at home that are just as good"). But no place was safe, not even such venerable landmarks as Stonehenge ("At the end of the day ... it's a bunch of rocks - behind a fence!) and the Taj Mahal ("Look at a photo. You're getting just as much out of it as anyone who's ever visited the site itself"). Italy was particularly hard hit:

On Venice: "The tiny cups of cappuccino the cafes sell for $8 make Starbucks seem like a bargain."

On Pisa: "Even Rick Steves couldn't find much nice to say about [it] in his book and he seems like a pretty nice man."

On Rome: "There's nothing like a grabby Italian man on a packed subway car during a Rome transit strike."

And then there was this assessment of the baths of Budapest:

Every guidebook you read, every person you meet, tourist and local alike, raves about the baths as the not-to-be-missed attraction. ... I went to one that is considered to be one of the best. Helga's customer service approach was what could only be described as Soviet-esque. Eastern Europeans are generally quite thin -- except at the baths. Which is fine, but when combined with paper-thin swimsuits with not a shred of elastic remaining...well, it's a bad combination. I won't even go into the Speedo situation. I will admit that the outdoor baths are truly fabulous, especially in January. But the water in the indoor baths [is] such a disturbing shade of green I thought it was fallout from Chernobyl. And the water had bits of...something floating in it. And then there was the Borat look-alike giving me the Hungarian equivalent of "how YOU doin'?" I took a very long shower later that afternoon.

Okay, gang: What tops your short list of overrated places?

By Scott Vogel |  September 29, 2008; 7:07 AM ET  | Category:  Monday Rants , Scott Vogel
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I'm probably alone in this, but I say the Grand Canyon. And this is from a couple who loves the outdoors and usually spend vacations in places we can hike, camp, bike, etc. Admittadly, we went during the summer, and only to the south rim, but the Watchtower overlook was as crowded as Times Square, and just as annoying with people stopping to take a picture with no warning. 1/3 of the Rim Trail was closed, so everyone was crowded together. We spent one night there, glad we did, but also so glad we had the rest of the week in Sedona.

Posted by: RT | September 29, 2008 8:29 AM

I went to Monterey for a friend's wedding about a decade ago. Just about everyone told me I was never going to want to come home, I would love it so much.

I was too broke to get a car, so I didn't get to drive down the coast, so perhaps I missed some of the whole vibe of the whole area. But while I would willingly move into the fabulous aquarium and the seals and otters were kinda nifty, I found nothing *that* special about Monterey that separated it from any other picturesque coastal town.

Don't get me wrong - it was a nice place to visit, but I feel like there are many other places I could have visited that were just as lovely at 1/3 the price.

I told my parents I felt like I was in almost any tourist-cleaned Maine beach town, except everything had an otter on it instead of a lobster.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | September 29, 2008 9:30 AM

RT, I'd say Sedona is over-rated. Pretty rocks and not much else is my impression of the place. (I'm not a spa-and-gallery type of person, I guess.)

My number one most over-rated place has to be Cancun, Mexico. I went once. I won't go again. I understand why the Mexicans want to leave.

Posted by: BxNY | September 29, 2008 9:33 AM

Chasmosaur, my aunt and uncle live in Monterey, so I've been there a bunch of times. I will second every word you said! Unless you're there to play golf (Pebble Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea, worship at the altar), there's little to distinguish it from a thousand other seaside towns.

Posted by: BxNY | September 29, 2008 9:37 AM

Without at doubt, Mt. Rushmore. It is not located near anything and is just a bunch of faces we have all seen before in the side of a mountain. Complete waste of time and not educational because nothing actually happened there other than someone deciding to spend lots of money to carve a mountain.

Posted by: Mandy | September 29, 2008 9:50 AM

The more I travel, the more I think travel in general is overrated. Blame rampant globalization, but every place seems so much like every other place, and anything unique (Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, Patagonia, Angkor Wat) has been done to death in movies and TV. Travel keeps getting more and more exotic (theater in Reykjavik! the mud baths of Papua New Guinea!) but the samey-ness of it all is inescapable.

The only kind of travel that makes sense to me any more is local, as local as possible, for a change of scenery: if you live in the country, go to the city. If you live in the city, go to the country. If you're worn out, go stay at a nice place where you can get a massage and eat some healthy fresh food you don't have to cook. If it's summer, go stay by the water. If it's winter, go frolic in the snow or else take refuge in a nice wmuseum. Beyond that? Meh.

Posted by: csdiego | September 29, 2008 10:01 AM


I agree with you to a certain extent, but I think a larger part of the problem is that places like the Travel Channel *tout the same places* over and over again.

For our honeymoon, my husband and I - both decidedly pale and prone to sunburn - decided we wanted to do a winery trip for our honeymoon.

After researching Napa Valley and comparing it against our budget, that went out the window pretty quickly. What we did end up doing was driving to NY's Finger Lakes (about a 5 hour drive from DC), and stayed in a quiet B&B that actually featured suites with stocked kitchens (so you made your own breakfast when you woke up, instead of having to get to breakfast by X time and eat with the other guests).

Affordable, picturesque, relaxed and private, it was a great honeymoon. Far better than some of our friends who suffered through flights, bad weather and bugs at the exotic beach locations pushed by travel agents and TV.

Raise your hands if you've ever even heard of the Finger Lakes, or the great wineries they have there. Because the Travel Channel is too busy having yet another Disney week to bring nice little specialized areas like these up.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | September 29, 2008 10:55 AM

If you go to Copenhagen (and you totally should), skip the stupid Little Mermaid statue.

I schlepped my kids all the way out there and couldn't for the life of me explain the significance of it to them.

Because there was none.


Posted by: jamie | September 29, 2008 12:06 PM

This blog.

Posted by: Sally | September 29, 2008 12:16 PM

Chasmosaur: Your honeymoon sounds awesome. It kind of proves my point too: instead of going to The Premier Wine Region In The Country, you picked something closer to home (I'm assuming you didn't fly there from California) that met your needs just as well without all the hype.

In my original reply, I didn't mean to be hating on the Travel section or seeming unappreciative. I love reading about other people's travels, just don't feel any need to do it myself.

Posted by: csdiego | September 29, 2008 1:02 PM

Some of the examples in the post aren't really overrated, though - I knew when I went to Italy that Pisa was skippable. I read about it in the guidebooks. They said, look, you can go if you want to, but it's just a leaning tower. I'd say that Pisa is geneally rated just about right.

Posted by: h3 | September 29, 2008 1:09 PM

The Vatican museum in Rome. Except they make you go through it in order to see the Sistine Chapel, which IS worth visiting. Touring the Vatican museum, all I could think of is that everything in it had been stolen from some other beautiful place. It was depressing.

Posted by: beachnik | September 29, 2008 2:01 PM

Most overrated -- California. The whole place. Reminds me of suburban New Jersey. Except in much worse shape. The TV/movie hype machine would lead one to assume California was somehow different than Jacksonville, Fla., but it's about the same. Even the beaches are pretty mediocre compared to Florida, the Carolinas and the Caribbean. California wine -- overpriced and mediocre. San Diego, Monterey, the Wine Country and San Francisco -- expensive tourist traps. Even the California missions are phony.

Posted by: Tom | September 29, 2008 4:34 PM

in response to cs diego (The more I travel, the more I think travel in general is overrated... every place seems so much like every other place, and anything unique has been done to death in movies and TV): your problem is that you probably travel like you watch TV: to check off the "seen that" box on a list of attractions. Try absorbing the local culture, ways of life, language, food, etc. You might find that there's more to travel than running from sight to sight hoping that the next one is going to out-wow you more than the last one.

in response to beachnik (Touring the Vatican museum, all I could think of is that everything in it had been stolen from some other beautiful place): in case you haven't rationalized it, EVERYTHING you will ever see in a museum comes from somewhere else, other than the museum itself. Be it the local region, the whole country, or what used to be the extent of the state in ancient times, it's all from somewhere. Is it "stolen"? if so, you could only admire mummies in Egypt, roman statues in Italy, and samurai swords in Japan. That would defeat the spirit of a museum, wouldn't it?

Posted by: asiago | September 29, 2008 4:36 PM

Most overrated? Niagara Falls. SLOWLY I turned, step by step, inch by inch . . .

Posted by: Mel | September 29, 2008 5:16 PM

I haven't traveled enough to contribute to the avoid list, but would like to make a comment on the Budapest Baths issue. Obviously the person was anticipating something like the clean waters of your local water park. Newsflash: spas based on natural mineral springs are going to be totally different than the water you find in your bathtub. The reason: they have high concentrations of certain minerals. ( Iron etc) They may be a little murky, they may have distinct odors. People go to them, because supposedly there are health benefits associated with a nice soak in them. When I visited my sister out in New Mexico, she took me to one which was very nice and relaxing. The only problem that I found with it were quests that ignored the signs to WHISPER, since many people come to meditate while they soak.

Posted by: rja112 | September 30, 2008 3:26 AM

Asiago: you probably think I'm one of those checklist tourists, the if-this-is-Thursday-this-must-be-Belgium type. Not at all. I rarely watch TV except when I'm at other people's houses. My honeymoon was a roadtrip through the steamy backwaters of Puerto Rico. I'm pretty scrupulous about reading up on history and culture before I go, mingling with the locals, going to markets, and all those wholesome ways of getting to know a place. I'm just bored with it, that's all.

Posted by: csdiego | September 30, 2008 12:01 PM

Csdiego-- I think what you're talking about is travel fatigue, not overrated places. Face it, travel can be a hassle -- lines, airports, staying in hotels, eating off your feed, time zones, foreign languages, etc. For a lot of people, the break point is if you travel more than once a month, but a lot of people can't handle a trip more than once a year. If you are no longer enjoying the travel, maybe you should stay home and do things in your own area for a while. Travel can be stimulating, but so can doing new things near your home.

Posted by: Tom | September 30, 2008 4:15 PM

Funny: I recently stayed overnight in Pisa because I had a Ryanair flight from there the following morning. Everyone I talked to said "Oh, skip Pisa, it's overrated and disappointing," so my expectations were low. Yes, the Piazza is overrun with vendors of schlock, and the Leaning Tower is just a leaning tower. But, as a fan of early Renaissance art, I was happily occupied for the entire afternoon (and by no means did I see everything); I had fun taking photos of people taking photos of themselves with the Leaning Tower; and I found a restaurant on a back street away from the crowds and had an excellent dinner. As I was walking back to my hotel, I passed a palazzo where someone was playing Mozart on the piano; I couldn't see them, but I could see the brocade curtains and the gorgeous coffered ceiling overhead ... The point is that, if you're looking for canned sublimity, you're bound to be disappointed when you don't find it, but if you're open to the moment you can find magic everywhere.

Posted by: PLozar | September 30, 2008 4:59 PM

Atlanta every one there thinks theyare gods gift to this planet and that thier city is special. Please Atlanta is a fourth rate city with crummy restaurants and a road system that was deisgnd by former Soviet Planners. They panic about gas and cuase a gas shortage. Give me the DC are any time, Bette clubs, better food and nicer people. Clubs suck in Atlanta.
We went to Opera. Club should have a metal detector. One Joan Jett look a like had a four inch knofe in her boot, another chick had a 38 snub nose in her bag. You could clearly see the out line. And several guys were packing 9mms. Patrons and staff just shoved folks out of the way.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 30, 2008 9:33 PM

The Acropolis. It's hot and super crowded. To top it off, it's being "rebuilt", so there's scaffolding everywhere and new stone mixed in with the original. Some of us would prefer to see it the was it "is", not the way it "was".

Posted by: Jenn | October 1, 2008 11:43 AM

Here are two really interesting pages on Stonehenge-

Posted by: Digga | October 1, 2008 1:38 PM

The last time I was in Venice (a year ago) I found it less than enchanting: even in October, all the major tourist areas were incredibly crowded; Harry's Bar was packed to the gills with obnoxious American tourists ("I THOUGHT A BELLINI WOULD BE SWEET, BUT IT ISN'T. DID YOU THINK IT WOULD BE SWEET, MABEL?" "YES, I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE SWEET TOO"); and the sirens went off at 6 AM to warn of high water (fortunately it never got high enough for me to need gumboots).

On the other hand, most of the Venetians I dealt with were good-humored and philosophical; I bumbled into a restaurant in the Dorsoduro that was full of locals and had a terrific lunch; and when I got up at the crack of dawn to catch the vaporetto to my airport bus, it was fascinating to watch the early-morning traffic (crates of fruit, someone delivering a refrigerator in a tiny motorboat, etc.).

Get lost, wander off the beaten track, do something the locals would do (I once had an amazing afternoon looking for new shoelaces in a small town in Greece), and arrive with no preconceptions ... and you'll have a far better time than someone who shows up with the attitude of, "OK, here I am, impress me"!

Posted by: PLozar | October 1, 2008 2:05 PM

Without a doubt, Cancunn !!!!

Posted by: peggy Davis | October 1, 2008 2:48 PM

staying close to my home (NY)

Rye Playland - I remember it being great when I was a kid. That must have been before Six Flags was born.

Posted by: ellioy | October 1, 2008 5:37 PM

PLozar has it right. I have never taken a tour, never make a schedule, and avoid tourist traps whenever possible. Like spending summers back-packing in selected small regions; or living in one place for a while. (Except: I would advise avoiding England like the plague, having wasted the most miserable two years of my life there -- it wasn't the weather but the people.) Travel not to sightsee but to pursue a project, take a course, attend a music festival, work with an eleemosynary organization. I've resided and/or worked in Barcelona and Salzburg and Copenhagen, Ethiopia, upcountry Thailand, with the Mayans in the mountains of Guatemala, designing development projects in about 25 - 30 countries worldwide, and would enthusiastically continue if I could find any organization willing to hire an octogenarian. Can't imagine why csdiego would go to Papua New Guinea for mud baths; but I had an unforgettable year there as guest lecturer at its university. I'm happy that Chasmosaur enjoyed the Finger Lakes -- I grew up in that region and return annually for class reunions. It's all in the way that you do it; and if it hurts, you may be doing it the wrong way.

Posted by: Amtak | October 2, 2008 12:55 AM

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