Places to avoid in Europe: Ten tourist attractions that aren't worth the hype

Europe's concentration of great reasons to visit is probably unrivalled by any other continent. But some of its big hitters can't half be disappointing.

The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen

Copenhagen may well have a great food scene and a cool cycling culture, but its icon is phenomenally disappointing. The Little Mermaid is a tiny – and it is much smaller than most imagine – statue on a rock. It is worth an "oh, that's quite cute" and absolutely nothing more. It's about as good as the 14th best piece of public art in most cities.

The Mannekin Pis, Brussels

Speaking of massively underwhelming tiny statues, this effort in Brussels doesn't have any value beyond the adolescent snigger value of "hur, hur, he's having a wee". It's a shame, because Brussels is a massively underrated city, with lots of good quality attractions. Choco-Story, a museum about the history of chocolate, with lots of lovely free tastings, is four minutes' walk away. Go there instead.

The Blarney Stone, Ireland

Blarney Castle is not bad as castles go. But if you're going considerably out of your way just to kiss the Blarney Stone, prepare for crushing disappointment. It's a quite big, dirty piece of rock, and it is not going to bestow you with any special powers. The nearby city of Cork, however, is a cracking place to hang out.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa

Unlike some of the other entries on this list, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is not actively rubbish. It's arguably even quite good. But its reputation as a global must-see is way out of line with what it is: an attractive tower with a slight lean, surrounded by people trying to take "hilarious" photos of themselves. Thing is, the actual cathedral and baptistry next to it are genuinely impressive and worth detouring to Pisa to see.

The Eiffel Tower, Paris

The Eiffel Tower is genuinely great. It's an undeniable masterwork, and tremendous to look at from ground level. But actually going to the top of it to see out over Paris? Well, that turns out to be underwhelming – partly because Paris' charm and beauty tends to lie in the small details at street level, and partly because the one thing you want to have in the photo is the thing you're standing on top of.

The Astronomical Clock, Prague

The centrepiece of Prague's Old Town looks unusual, has been there since 1410, and puts on an hourly show of moving mini-sculptures. But it is definitely not worthy of the massive crowds that gather outside it to see those hourly shows. If you want to see some quirky works of art, Prague has plenty of them, including several barnstormers by David Cerny. The babies climbing up the TV Tower are the most immediately obvious of these.

Praca do Comercio, Lisbon

Lisbon's a great city, full of quirks and atmospheric neighbourhoods. But its big centrepiece feels like a misfire. Praca do Comercio should be great – it looks out over the bulging Tagus river, and is lined with handsome buildings and arches. But it's just too big and empty to feel like it's alive. You half expect a tumbleweed to blow over.

The Spanish Steps, Rome

Rome has no shortage of inexplicably oversold sites, the Trevi Fountain being one of them. The Spanish Steps still attract swooning romantics, though, even though it's basically just a big wide staircase between Piazza di Spagna and Piazza Trinita dei Monti. It's certainly attractive, but it's hard to see what casts the spell. Luckily, Rome has several hyped attractions, including the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Pantheon and Vatican, that absolutely live up to the billing.

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The North Cape, Norway

Cruises head up Norway's genuinely astonishing, fiord-cut coast, treating the North Cape as a natural end point to the journey deep into the Arctic Circle. The most northerly point in mainland Europe it's supposed to be. Except it isn't. And what's worse is that while standing there, looking over the cliffs, you can clearly see the neighbouring Knivskjellodden Cape sticking out over a kilometre further north. Basically, the visitor centre is in the wrong place.

Spanish beaches

Spain does have some quite good beaches, although they're largely a bit disappointing by Australian standards. The problem is they're absolutely crammed with people. Where there's a good strip of sand, you can pretty much guarantee there's been rampant development of holiday resorts next to it. Spain's strengths don't lie on the coast – they're in the cities and mountains.

See also: Oversold Australia: Ten major attractions that don't live up to the hype

See also: Ten tourist attractions in the US that aren't worth the hype

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