Every travel blogger is guilty of taking about the top 10 most amazing places they’ve been. Heck I’m even guilty of it, as evidenced here. But the Top 10 Best Locations List has a little brother… the Top 10 Most Underwhelming Locations List. You always hear about the Great Pyramids being… well… great or the Grand Canyon being… grand, but what about the ones that DON’T make the cut?? They come here to this list to die.
When given the opportunity you should still visit these locations. There’s a reason they’re famous. I just personally was underwhelmed when visiting them. They didn’t live up to the hype that So pay them a visit and see firsthand. Will they be on your Top 10 BEST Locations List or on your Top 10 UNDERWHELMING Locations List?
1. Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore was a disappointment. I had wanted to go there ever since I was a tiny child and could only pronounce it “Rount Mushmore”. Confession time, I still sometimes call it that even though I’m a full adult. My parents had me reciting the four presidents on the mountain since I could talk. So when we were on one of our many cross-country motorhome trips when I was little, it was only natural for the Martin Family to stop here.
When we finally arrived at the visitor center, we practically needed binoculars to see the carving up on the mountain. It was much smaller than expected and we were further away than expected. Thankfully, I was still a child so everything still seemed big to me, but it was not as large as expected.
Conclusion: It’s Mount Rushmore… you have to see it if you get the chance. Just don’t expect it to be massive, the presidents are pretty far away.
2. Plymouth Rock
This was the OG “well THAT was underwhelming” site that my family visited. Any American can (or should be able to) tell you that the infamous pilgrims first landed at Plymouth Rock in New England. So my parents’ entire lives they had heard about this great Plymouth Rock. Even four-year-old Marisa had heard about it. When we were traveling by Plymouth my dad insisted we stop the motorhome and check out Plymouth Rock because that’s where the first pilgrims stepped onto the New World.
I’ve seen tombstones that are bigger than the miniscule Plymouth Rock.
I was expecting a full-on monolith. People say that Plymouth Rock was once 20,000 pounds but nowadays I’d be shocked if it even weighed 20 pounds. Or for the Brits out there, it probably weighs about one stone. (For the Americans, one stone is 14 pounds) Okay so that was some pretty bad humor. But regardless, this rock is a pebble in my mind. So if you’re in the area, I suggest going to see it just to say that you’ve seen it. But do not make a special trip to see Plymouth Rock because it WILL disappoint you.
Conclusion: Only go to visit Plymouth Rock if you’re in the area or are REALLY obsessed with early American history. Otherwise, save yourself the effort.
3. Mona Lisa
Thankfully, I knew Mona Lisa was going to disappoint me before I even saw her. The most exciting part about seeing the famous painting was knowing that I was actually seeing the most famous painting in the world. Other than that I was NOT impressed.
The problem is that every other person at the Louvre is ALSO there to see Mona Lisa’s grimace. And about half of those people are all crammed into the room in which she is housed. And when I say crammed… I mean crammed. Mona Lisa herself is about 20” tall and not that impressive. When you look at the crowds and see her wayyyyyy at the front of it you have a decision to make.
Is your nosebleed view of her good enough, or are you going to risk life and limb to clamor your way to the front to see this damn dame?
You’ve already traveled all the way to Paris, don’t be lazy and fight your way to the front.
Your journey might not be that easy, I’m pretty sure I almost got several black eyes while I fought my way up to the front, but it was worth it for a not-so-private audience with Mona Lisa. After admiring her for approximately 2.1 seconds I was bored with her and the crowd and left to see the rest of the Louvre.
Conclusion: If you’re in Paris you must see the Mona Lisa. There’s no question about it. Just be prepared for it to be way smaller than anticipated and there to be way more crowds than should be possible.
4. Hollywood Sign
I’m saying that it’s just the Hollywood Sign that is underwhelming, but to be honest, it’s all of Hollywood. As someone who lives nearby and has lived in California her whole life, I feel like I’m justified to talk about how much of a letdown Hollywood can be. If you hike TO the Hollywood Sign, then it regains some of its clout (check out how to do that here). But unless you have a personal audience with the Sign, it’s underwhelming. Contrary to popular belief, the sign is not lit up at night. So half of the day it’s not even visible. When you CAN see the sign through the smog, it will probably be very far away. The movie industry has made you falsely believe that the sign looms over all of Los Angeles but it couldn’t be farther from the truth. I sometimes even forget that it’s there.
The actual location of Hollywood is also lackluster and any L.A. local will avoid it at all costs. There’s nothing worse than realizing that Waze has navigated across Hollywood Boulevard. What’s so bad about it? First of all, Hollywood is kinda gritty, seedy, and you don’t really want to be there after dark. Throngs of tourists crowd the area during all seasons and don’t have any idea to stay out of the middle of the damn street for us drivers who actually have places to be.
Grauman’s Chinese Theater is kinda cool but also underwhelming and I hardly bat an eye any more at the stars along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Am I cynical? You betcha. But am I realistic? Also yes. Like everywhere else on this list, it’s somewhere you have to go to say you’ve been but aside from saying you’ve been there, I find that Hollywood isn’t the exciting place that the movies make it sound.
Oh and most movies are made on the other side of the Hollywood Hills in Burbank, so even then it’s kind of misleading.
Conclusion: Don’t expect the glitz and glamour that the movie industry has created. Hollywood is overall dingy and overrun with tourists, enter at your own risk.
5. Boston Tea Party Ships
Every American child learns the story of the Boston Tea Party. Honestly, children from other countries probably know the story of it as well because they’re much more educated than many Americans. Here’s a quick history refresher:
Back in the 1770s, colonists in the Americas were mad that the British, their government, was taxing the hell out of their tea. All Brits and colonists (half-British, half-Americans) LOVED their tea but King George was making tea so expensive by raising taxes. The colonists were mad and demanded “no taxation without representation” but King George didn’t care and kept taxing them. So, one night in 1773, some colonists dressed up as Native American Indians and snuck on board ships that were docked in the Boston Harbor and loaded with tea. Instead of capitalizing on the situation and taking tea for themselves (which I would’ve done), the colonists dumped all of the tea off of the boats and into Boston Harbor, creating the largest batch of cold tea the world had ever seen. Take THAT King George!!
I finally made it to Boston for the first time last year. While there, I made sure to visit Boston Harbor because I had heard about it since I was a child. There is a Boston Tea Party Museum so my parents and I thought we’d check it out. We saw a small boat in the harbor that looked like it was from the colonial era and assumed that it was a small-scale replica of one of the boats that the colonists sailed on at the time.
So we went inside the museum and intentionally accidentally walked on to the boat. Once I was standing on the deck, it seemed even smaller. And I’m only 5’3”! Someone yelled at us to get off of the boat so my mom and I complied and went back to the gift shop. We asked one of the workers, who told us that this was in fact a 1:1 replica of the boats who lost its tea cargo on that infamous night.
That boat was so small I still don’t firmly believe that it was the size of the ones used in the Boston Tea Party. It was so small I’m shocked that it could’ve ever made it across the Atlantic Ocean. I’m still doubtful that it’s actually a 1:1 ratio but I guess I’ll believe the tour guide in the meantime.
Conclusion: This is such an important part of history, you must see it when you’re in the area. Even if you just drive past the Boston Harbor and the tiny ship, it’s worth it. Just don’t expect to see a ship, it more closely resembles a rowboat.
6. Leaning Tower of Pisa
If you want to watch dozens of people do what looks like a poorly-coordinated version of Michael Jackson’s thriller dance, then Pisa is the place for you.
Everyone wants that iconic shot of them holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I wanted that picture too and even got one. But the entertaining part is watching everybody ELSE try to get that picture.
Before I traveled to Pisa, I had been under the impression that it was just the tower that was there. Nope, there’s a whole complex surrounded by beautiful green grass. I was actually shocked and impressed when I went to Pisa, but that was due to my prior ignorance. Most people actually say that Pisa disappointed them, which is why it’s on this list.
I can see why it disappoints people. There are many vendors outside of the complex, all trying to get you to buy their phallic-symbols of the Leaning Tower. Aside from the tower, there isn’t really much to do in Pisa. That’s probably what contributes to most travelers being severely underwhelmed at the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Conclusion: Definitely go if you’re in the area! It’s a half-day trip from Florence and isn’t worth a lot of time. But if you’re close by, check it out and make your own decision as to whether or not it’s underwhelming.
7. Little Mermaid Statue
The Little Mermaid Statue hanging out in Copenhagen’s harbor is a prime example of something that you want the “money shot” in front of and then you can turn around and leave. Which is exactly what my parents and I did.
Our Uber driver told us that the Little Mermaid statue was right on our route into town and we asked him if he could stop for 5 minutes just so we could get our picture. He was so friendly and gladly pulled over… behind the 20 tour busses. I’m not even being dramatic, my parents and I counted at least 20 massive air-conditioned coaches.
Not only were there hordes of aggressive tourists clamoring for a picture with the Little Mermaid herself, but the statue itself was underwhelming. She sits on a little rock just beyond reach and is maybe three feet tall. Maybe. Yea, she might be cute but I don’t know why something so small is portrayed as being so great.
After my parents and I squirmed our way to the front, we snapped exactly 4 pictures and then hightailed it back to our Uber. Done in 6 minutes flat.
Conclusion: It’s a bit outside of the main town and with the price of ubers, cabs, and gas, I wouldn’t recommend going unless you’re close by. And when you do go, be prepared to be trampled on slippery rocks.
8. Old Faithful
She is old. She is faithful. She is always going to do the same thing and I don’t know why everyone gets so worked up about her.
Yellowstone is a breathtaking National Park and you definitely need to visit if given the opportunity. It’s dangerous and has something that can kill you around every bend but beside imminent death, it is a spectacular park. Personally, I think the other geysers around the park are more impressive than Old Faithful. Yes, she’s a classic, but it reminds me of hundreds of people crowded around a sprinkler valve on your lawn that broke and is spewing water.
In comparison, some of the morning pools that DON’T erupt are breathtaking. Their colors and shapes are so spectacular and inviting you almost want to jump in them. Don’t — they’re thousands of degrees and you will die instantly. But they’re beautiful to admire, so don’t get too hung up on watching Old Faithful erupt.
Oh I forgot to mention that the smell of sulfur is everywhere. You can’t escape it. They don’t tell you that stuff in guidebooks, so the smell can definitely detract from the experience.
Conclusion: Another thing that you must see before you die. Old Faithful doesn’t last that long and isn’t super thrilling for me, but she’s a bucket list item. DO go and check out the rest of Yellowstone because I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
9. Mannequin Pis
Don’t know what the Mannequin Pis is? I didn’t either, until 2014. It’s this little statue that is a fountain that literally pisses out water into the fountain. Hence the name.
My parents and I had a short stopover at the Brussels train station and they insisted that we go check it out. We followed the crowds to this tiny street corner to all watch a cherub pee. And there was a pretty big crowd too.
That was the tiniest little pissant I’ve ever seen.
The statue is maybe one foot tall and his stream is honestly embarrassing for the little guy. I don’t know why he’s famous but it was entertaining watching everyone take inappropriate pictures with the little guy. And the other littler guy.
Conclusion: I STILL don’t know why this guy is so famous. But if you’re in Brussels and more specifically, in the area, go watch him pee.
10. Panama Canal
Up until my freshman year of college, I was under the terribly wrong impression that Panama City Beach was in the country of Panama, not Florida. Which is a valid conclusion for me to have made, right?
Well, it’s NOT, in case you were also confused.
When my parents and I went to Panama, we were there on a fairly short layover. So we did what anyone else would do in our position. We went to see the most famous thing about Panama – its canal.
Since we weren’t sailing through it on a cruise ship, we went to the Panama Canal Museum to watch a ship pass through the locks. It was not very exciting. The water fills the locks verrrryyyyy slooowwwlllyyyyy and you can hardly tell that anything is happening. Although I understand that the canal helped to modernize our world, it isn’t very exciting to sit and watch. I imagine that if I were going through the Panama Canal on a cruise ship, the experience would have been much more fun. A few years later, my parents sailed through the canal on a cruise ship and thoroughly enjoyed it. But if you go to watch the ships from the land, don’t expect an action-packed show.
Conclusion: Very anticlimactic but its biggest wow factor is that its invention modernized the world.
Okay if you’ve made it this far I guess I should tell you some sites that DID live up to the hype.
1. Great Pyramids of Giza
I can’t even lie, I got emotional when I first saw the tips of the Great Pyramids peeking up from the Giza Plateau. They had been my number one bucket list item for years. I had even minored in history in college and studied ancient Egyptian history. To say I love ancient Egypt would be an understatement.
Seeing them in real life is an indescribable experience. Many people are disappointed because there are guides who try to get a tip from you, people trying to sell you a camel ride, vendors begging you to buy their miniature pyramids, and the insurmountable heat.
I hardly noticed any of it because I was so mesmerized by the nine pyramids. Yes, there are nine (see below). This right here shaped so much of human history. Standing there, you can’t help but be impressed.
So screw whatever you hear on the news and book your trip to Egypt to see the pyramids ASAP.
2. Köln Cathedral
On my first European Tour, my dad drug us to every church possible. He wanted to go see the Cologne Cathedral so badly. I didn’t. But, he was paying for the trip so who was I to say no?
I literally had zero idea of what to expect and didn’t even know where the church was in relation to the train station. My dad said that he had read that the cathedral was “close to the train station” and that “you can’t miss it with the tall spires”. Okay, so we’ll look for a tall spire and start walking. Can’t be too hard.
My exhausted family walked through the slightly confusing train station toward an exit that we hoped would point us in the right direction. We walked out of the station doors and BAM, the Köln Dom nearly slapped us in the face. It was RIGHT IN FRONT OF US. When you read things that say you can’t miss the cathedral… you CANNOT miss the cathedral.
3. La Sagrada Familia
My jaw literally dropped when I first saw La Sagrada Familia. I had known that it was some church but didn’t know much else when my dad said that we were going to see it. I begrudgingly went along with him because I had no other choice. We traveled on the subway to the stop along with the crowds and then picked a random subway exit. I climbed out of the subway and saw just another Barcelonan street in front of me.
Then I turned around.
The spires of La Sagrada soared up into the sky and the church was maybe 30 feet away from me. I’ve never been so shocked and impressed all at once. My entire family was speechless. To this day, over five years later, it remains one of the most impressive reveals of all time and is probably tied with Cologne.
4. 9/11 Memorial
The 9/11 Memorial is on my list for a different reason than most. The events that happened there, on September 11, 2001 single handedly transformed the world we live in in a matter of hours. And it’s important that we don’t forget the events of that day. As someone who was born in 1996 and was 5 years old at the time of the terrorist attacks, I still remember that fateful day, where I sat wedged between my parents in their bed in our motor home as we watched the towers crumble. I, along with other people my age, are the youngest people who will remember 9/11. In a weird way, I feel as though it’s partially our responsibility to remind younger generations just how much that day changed the course of history.
Overall, the memorial is very tasteful. There are two reflecting pools in the footprints of the two tours that are engraved with the names of the lives that were lost. The actual museum itself is a must-visit. It walks visitors through the events leading up to September 11 and even includes the victims of the bombing that occurred several years prior.
As someone who lived through 9/11 it had me remembering things that I had forgotten through my life. There are actual items from the buildings themselves and they have been preserved and displayed to teach the world for generations to come.
Today, the 1776-foot Freedom Tower stands as a huge middle finger to the extremists who committed the worst terror attack on American soil. The elevator to the top gives you great views over Manhattan but the important part is to visit the memorial itself.
5. Neuschwanstein Castle
Neuschwanstein is what fairytale dreams are made of. The quaint green rolling hills of Bavaria create the perfect backdrop as the Austrian Alps soar up behind Neuschwanstein. We took the Deutsche Bahn train to get there and even though we still had a long train journey left, my mom said, “Oh look, there it is!” at a random castle.
Nope… Neuschwanstein Castle is literally SO MASSIVE that we could see it from miles and miles and miles away. The closer we got, the more it loomed over our heads like a magnificent pearl.
If you want the money shot of Neuschwanstein, you have to climb up a bridge to see a waterfall. My mom thought we were just dragging her to another waterfall until she turned around on the bridge and saw Neuschwanstein just feet away from her.
It is completely worth traveling all the way to the Austrian border to see Neuschwanstein. Live your life as a Disney princess, it’s worth it.
6. Burj Khalifa
How could the world’s tallest building NOT land on my list?
The Burj Khalifa is so massive that you need to be far away to photograph it properly. And no matter where you are in Dubai, you can see it rising from the sand like a needle. Or you could be hallucinating. After all, it is pretty hot in Dubai.
Even if the sheer size of the Burj Khalifa doesn’t impress you, the workings underneath the skyscraper is impressive. It has an entire mall, all connected to the subway through an intricate maze of air-conditioned passageways. Emphasis on the fact that air conditioning exists.
If you’re in Dubai in the evening, you cannot miss the Dubai water show. It was designed by the same man who designed the Bellagio water show and as a big fan of his Vegas creation, this show did not disappoint me at all!
For more advice on visiting the elusive United Arab Emirates, check out my posts about it here and here!
7. St. Peter’s Basilica
I’m rounding out my churches by saving the best for last. It’s no surprise that the biggest church in the world is well… impressive. I’ve heard that people won’t go just because it’s Catholic and the Catholic Church has done some shady things in the past and they’re not Catholic blah, blah, blah.
Grow up and go visit it for the importance it has in literally shaping world history. Plus, you may be fortunate enough to get an audience with the Pope himself!
The Vatican City is the smallest sovereign nation in the world and that right there is worth a visit. On top of that, the Vatican Museum is home to so many incredible artifacts from around the world. You add that to the fact that this is the largest church to exist on Planet Earth and you have an absolute trifecta. There’s no reason to NOT go to the Vatican City.
8. Niagara Falls
Nothing can quite prepare you for standing next to millions of gallons of water rushing over a cliff just feet away from you. There’s some scientific anomaly that gives the area a static feel to it and sometimes it literally makes your hairs stand on end.
Even without the static charge, the falls are absolutely magnificent. I’ve heard that a voyage on Maid of the Mist is even more outstanding than standing near the falls but I can’t speak to that since I’ve never taken the boat trip.
When you go to Niagara Falls, you must visit the Canadian side. It has superior views over the falls than the American side, plus crossing the border into another country is always a fun time (be sure to ask for a passport stamp!)
9. Grand Canyon
There’s a reason that it’s called the GRAND Canyon. Seeing it in person is so surreal that it literally looks fake. You know those backdrops that you take family photos in front of? That’s literally what it looks like when you gaze out across the canyon.
Fun fact is that a lot of people die each year by trying to pee into the canyon. Yes, you read that right. My guides have told me that they find men at the bottom of the canyon with their pants pulled down. It’s evident that men are the weaker sex…
10. Palace of Versailles
What do you get if you mix Trump Tower with an antique store and an unnecessarily amount of obnoxious tourists? You get the Palace of Versailles!!
This site deserves a spot on both of my lists. It’s here because it’s the most aggressively over-the-top, self-indulgent, gaudy, and gilded thing I’ve ever seen. The Palace of Versailles is so beautiful and grand you can just imagine Marie Antoinette and Louis VI walking through these halls. However, the palaces is so unbelievably over the top I can completely understand why the French peasants decided to chop off their heads. I probably would’ve done the same.
The Palace of Versailles is beautiful, there is no denying that. However, the thing that makes it underwhelming about it is the fact that your visit there will be overpowered by hoardes of obnoxious tourists. This is an iconic place to visit, and one of the most important spots in France, if not the world. And with fame comes tourists – and they come by the busload – hundreds of busloads.
The sheer amount of tourists that descend upon the Palace of Versailles daily is mind-boggling. Unfortunately, the tourists detract from the beauty and prestige of the palace. You’re shuttled through the rooms of Versailles like you’re in a line at Disneyland. There is no photography allowed but there are so many tourists (most of them Asian) shoving to get a picture that the guards have given up enforcing the photography rule. Maybe it’s because the palace is in France, and everyone knows France’s reputation for NOT being friendly, but the tourists at the Palace of Versailles are ruthless. Even the staff isn’t exactly amicable. The Hall of Mirrors is so jam-packed with tourists that it’s difficult to even SEE the infamous mirrors. So although it’s a superb place to visit and admire, the overwhelming amount of tourists will likely disappoint you.
But, at the end of the day, these lists come down to the kind of experiences each person has. And for better or worse, people tend to have similar experiences at these places.
What about you? Have you visited any of the above mentioned locations? Do you think my list is accurate or am I WAY off in my conclusions? Let me know down below!