Believe the hype: 12 tourist attractions that will exceed your expectations

They don't all live up to the hype. There are plenty of tourist attractions around the world that will leave you severely underwhelmed, wondering if you've missed something, pondering how these things ever became tourist attractions in the first place.

I'm thinking things like the Spanish Steps in Rome. It's… a staircase. Big deal. Or what about Hollywood Boulevard, that's just tacky and touristy? Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie surely can't impress many visitors. Same with Bangkok's floating markets, or London's Leicester Square, or, you'd have to say, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

Head-scratchers, the lot of them.

There are, however, plenty of famous and heavily touristed destinations and attractions around the world that won't leave you feeling underwhelmed. These places became famous for a reason: they're amazing. You won't regret paying them a visit. 

Taj Mahal, India

Prepare yourself, because the world's most famous monument to love is truly moving. How can a block of polished marble set in maybe India's ugliest city inspire such emotion? Maybe we'll never know exactly, but you can't fail to be blown away by the Taj Mahal.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

You may have to share the experience with 10,000 of your closest friends, but seeing the sun rise behind this ancient ruin is one of the highlights of world travel. Angkor Wat is just as mesmerising and impressive as everyone tells you it is – and you haven't even begun to explore the rest of the temple complex.

Uluru, Australia

It's just a big rock, right? A red hunk in the middle of the desert. Big deal. Except anyone who's been there will tell you that Uluru is so much more than that. It's almost impossible to pin down what's so amazing about our big red hunk of stone, but it more than lives up to the hype. 

Queenstown, New Zealand

By now, pretty much everyone on the Eastern Seaboard has been to Queenstown. It's an adventure Mecca, your friends will tell you. It's stunningly beautiful. It's affordable. And by now everyone would know that all of those things are absolutely true, and more.

Pizzas in Naples

Travellers tend to be chronically underwhelmed by the quality of pizza in Italy – but those travellers haven't been to Naples. In this, the home of pizza, the humble margherita is elevated to culinary perfection, served up by gruff men in aprons who've been working the word-fired ovens their entire lives. You won't be disappointed.

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Machu Picchu, Peru

You've waited your whole life to see it, and there it is: extensive Incan ruins perched on an Andean mountaintop, surrounded by steep green slopes, rushing rivers in the valley below, mist drifting through the cold air. I don't know how you could fail to be completely blown away by Machu Picchu.

New York, USA

That's right: the whole city. This place is hyped up so much, reviewed so glowingly by tourists, loved so unashamedly by locals, that it would have to be at least a bit of a let-down, right? But it's not. New York – bustling, friendly, cool, tasty, edgy, funny New York – is everything it's supposed to be. You'll never want to leave.

The Serengeti, Tanzania

There are downsides to this famous game reserve in Tanzania, not least of which is that you'll have to share your experience on its golden plains with a few thousand other people just like you. But that still can't detract from the beauty and romance of a slowly setting sun, the silhouettes of acacias on the horizon, and the sight of a pride of lions stalking their prey.

Sistine Chapel, Vatican City

You might not be impressed with Leonardo's masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, but Michelangelo's crowning glory, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, can't fail to amaze. Even with the overly officious "shooshers" roaming the aisles and the crowds of gawkers pushing past, you have to be awe-struck by this beautiful work.

Blue Mosque, Turkey

You've seen a thousand photos of its soaring minarets and huge grey domes, but to see Istanbul's Blue Mosque in the flesh is still one of world travel's great experiences. Step inside and you can be wowed all over again, this time by more than 20,000 handmade tiles that line the walls.

Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt

It's a shock when you realise that this ancient wonder of the world has all but been enveloped by the urban sprawl of Cairo. However, even that can't detract much from the beauty and majesty of the 4500-year-old Great Pyramid, a sight every traveller should see.   

Great Wall, China

It depends where you go. If you opt to see the Great Wall at Badaling, you'll get something like "Great Wall Disney", a pristine, restored section of wall populated by a million tourists. If you step off the beaten track somewhere like Jinshanling or Simatai, however, you'll get to see this wonder of the world in all of its crumbling, isolated glory – surely a far more impressive sight.

What places and attractions do you think live up to the hype?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

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