Top 10 world's most popular tourist attractions: Crowded but still worth visiting

Sometimes it pays to be unimaginative. Sometimes the cliches really are the best. Sometimes you have to sit back and look at something – a place, an attraction, a restaurant, a bar – and acknowledge that it's incredibly famous and annoyingly popular for a reason: it's really, really good.

There's an increasing, and understandable, tendency among experienced travellers to avoid popular places, to eschew the tourist crush and forge your own path. But there is a case to be made, sometimes, for embracing tourist hotspots. Travel doesn't always have to be a competition to find new things, to beat paths untracked. Sometimes the big, dumb, popular experiences are the most memorable.

Some of the world's finest attractions are so popular that they could justifiably fall into the category of "tourist trap". Yes, you'll have to share these places with millions of other people. You'll be badgered by touts. You'll be poked in the face with selfie sticks.

But you'll also stand in awe at the base of the majestic Taj Mahal. You'll gaze up in wonder at the forest-canopy ceiling of La Sagrada Familia. You'll be overwhelmed by the neon wonderland that is the Las Vegas Strip. You'll stare at the world's most famous art in the Louvre.

Are these experiences original? No. Are they relaxing? Not really. Are they touristy? Yes. But they're good. And sometimes, they have to be done.

THE STREET

THE STRIP, LAS VEGAS

Las Vegas, Nevasa, USA - March 26, 2016: View of the Las Vegas strip on the night, the strip is full of hotel and casino. Is visible in the background the tour eiffel replica tower. SunOct6cover - So touristy so good - text Ben Groundwater
iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.

Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S TOURISTY The casinos of Las Vegas are built almost entirely for the tourist trade, and there's no place with more of these colossal temples to devil-may-care hedonism than The Strip.

WHY YOU SHOULD STILL VISIT The Vegas Strip is either the best place in the world, or the worst, depending on the sort of day you're having. Still, you can't deny the attraction of this buzzing, flashing, chiming, humming place, where everyone is in party mode, and where the feeling of excess threatens to sweep you away.

BEAT THE CROWDS You can get up early and walk the Strip alone, but that's not really the point – this place should be seen in full party mode. For a break, however, visit Fremont Street in Vegas' more intimate downtown area.

Advertisement

MORE Qantas flies daily from Australian ports to Las Vegas, via Los Angeles. The Vegas Strip is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. See qantas.com; visitlasvegas.com

See also: Nineteen things that will shock first-time visitors to Vegas

THE SHOPPING MALL

THE GRAND BAZAAR, ISTANBUL

Istanbul Turkey-August, 27th 2011:Salesman wait tourists in the famous 550-year-old Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul\\\\\\\'s crucial location makes it a hub between East and West, attracting tourists from both Europe and Asia, to its historic and exotic locale along the Bosphorus. SunOct6cover - So touristy so good - text Ben Groundwater
iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.

Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S TOURISTY According to some calculations, this is the most visited tourist attraction in the world, with more than 90 million visitors pouring into Istanbul's ancient marketplace every year.

WHY YOU SHOULD STILL VISIT This amazing warren of 61 covered, shop-lined streets is history in motion, an area that has been in use for the same purpose since 1455. Even if you don't plan to buy anything at the Grand Bazaar – though surely the ceramics, the lanterns, the carpets, the copperware or the jewellery will tempt you – this is a wondrous place to stroll and soak in.

BEAT THE CROWDS Early mornings are always best for beating the crowds in the bazaar, and try to avoid days when there are a lot of cruise ships in port.

MORE Emirates flies from Australian ports to Istanbul, via Dubai. The Grand Bazaar is open year-round, Monday to Saturday. See emirates.com; visitturkey.in

THE THEME PARK

DISNEY RESORTS WORLDWIDE

Anahiem, California, USA - December 21, 2014: Tourists wander around Disney's California Adventure at dusk. California Adventure is a park located adjacent to Disneyland, a major tourist attraction in Anaheim. SunOct6cover - So touristy so good - text Ben Groundwater
iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.

Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S TOURISTY Disney's vast series of theme parks is a tourist-gobbling behemoth, with more than 120 million visitors each year streaming into the company's locations across the US, Asia and Europe.

WHY YOU SHOULD STILL VISIT Got kids? Take them to Disneyland in LA. Or Disney Park in France. Or Hong Kong Disney. Or the Epcot Center. Or Disney's Animal Kingdom. This is a company that knows how to do cheesy, happy, family-friendly good times extremely well.

BEAT THE CROWDS You may not beat the crowds, but you can skip the queues at most Disney properties with a Fastpass, which allows visitors to reserve access to attractions and entertainment in advance.

MORE Disney theme parks are located worldwide, and are open year-round. See disneyholidays.com

See also: Going Solo: What it's really like to fly the Millennium Falcon at Disneyland

THE ANCIENT RUIN

THE COLOSSEUM, ROME

Rome, Italy - April 22, 2015: Inside view of the Colosseum in Rome Italy April 22, 2015. Sunny spring day with a group of people in the foreground and tourist walking by. SunOct6cover - So touristy so good - Ben Groundwater
iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.

Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S TOURISTY There are few landmarks more recognisable than Rome's Colosseum. Visitors flock in their millions to see this almost 2000-year-old venue of gladiatorial battles, executions and dramatic re-enactments.

WHY YOU SHOULD STILL VISIT The Colosseum is incredible, in the truest sense of the word. How was this thing built? How has it survived? It's also a work of architectural beauty, as well as being one of the world's most important historic relics. You can live and breathe Roman history when you set foot in the Colosseum.

BEAT THE CROWDS Take a guided tour of the Colosseum after dark (tickitaly.com), when the temperatures have cooled and the crowds have disappeared. Alternatively, visit Roman amphitheatres in Pula, Croatia, or El Djem in Tunisia.

MORE Emirates flies from Australian ports to Rome, via Dubai. The Colosseum is open daily, year-round. See emirates.com; coopculture.it

See also: Aussie in Rome reveals what it's really like to live in Italy

THE CHURCH

LA SAGRADA FAMILIA, BARCELONA

Cathedral of La Sagrada Familia. It is designed by architect Antonio Gaudi and is being build since 1882. SunOct6cover - So touristy so good - Ben Groundwater
iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.

Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S TOURISTY Every visitor to Barcelona – and there's a lot of them – wants to see Antoni Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece, the spectacular Sagrada Familia. You'll have to share an experience here with tens of thousands of others.

WHY YOU SHOULD STILL VISIT This might just be the pinnacle of architectural achievement, and it's not even finished. Gaudi poured so many inspired ideas into the design of this church, with its 18 towers, its three separate facades, its forest-like interior and its colourful, playful lighting. There's nothing else like it in the world.

BEAT THE CROWDS Book ahead – book online. That way you'll skip the long queues waiting for tickets and walk straight in. Also, try to visit early in the morning. It opens at 9am daily.

MORE Singapore Airlines flies from Australian ports to Barcelona, via Singapore. The Sagrada Familia is open daily, with tickets from €17. See singaporeair.com; sagradafamilia.org

See also: Twenty things that will shock first-time visitors to Spain

THE RESTAURANT

KATZ'S DELICATESSEN, NEW YORK

NEW YORK CITY - CIRCA 2018: A crowd of people wait in line outside the famous Katz's Deli in the Lower East Side of Manhattan on Houston Street. SunOct6cover - So touristy so good - Ben Groundwater
iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.

Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S TOURISTY You know that famous scene in When Harry Met Sally, when Meg Ryan is really enjoying her meal? That was shot in Katz's Deli, New York. The famous sandwich shop has featured in several more films and is well known to tourists and locals alike.

WHY YOU SHOULD STILL VISIT The food is really, really good. Katz's famous pastrami on rye is a whopping hunk of meaty deliciousness – one of New York's, if not America's, best sandwiches. In fact, the deli's full range of kosher treats is almost uniformly excellent. It's even worth navigating the infamous ticketed ordering system to get your hands on.

BEAT THE CROWDS Try to visit in the middle of the afternoon on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday to experience Katz's at its least manic.

MORE Qantas flies daily from Australian ports to New York, via Los Angeles. Katz's Deli is open daily, including all night on Saturdays. See qantas.com; katzsdelicatessen.com

See also: How to see the best of New York in just four days

THE MUSEUM

THE LOUVRE, PARIS

Paris, France - February 7, 2015: Louvre museum at dusk on February 7, 2015 in Paris. This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in France displayed over 60,000 square meters of exhibition space. SunOct6cover - So touristy so good - text Ben Groundwater
iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.

Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S SO TOURISTY The Mona Lisa,Venus de Milo. Works by Michelangelo and Botticelli, by Egyptian masters and Greek legends. All of these are housed in Paris' famous Louvre, and more than 10 million people call in annually to see them. Given the museum is closed every Tuesday, that's more than 30,000 visitors a day.

WHY YOU SHOULD STILL VISIT Even if you decide to skip the Louvre's most famous works, you will still be dazzled by one of the finest collections of art in the world, from all points in history and all points of the compass. You could spend days in the Louvre and still not see everything.

BEAT THE CROWDS Do not, whatever you do, visit on the first Saturday of the month when entry is free and the crowds are insane. Best strategy is to book online; admission without pre-booked tickets is not guaranteed. If you want to risk it, arrive early and try to be one of the first in at 9am, or visit on Wednesday or Friday evening until 9.45pm, when the museum stays open late and everyone else is off having dinner. You can see how busy the museum is by downloading an app called Affluences.

MORE Singapore Airlines flies daily from Australian ports to Paris, via Singapore. The Louvre is open Wednesday to Monday, 9am-6pm. See singaporeair.com; louvre.fr

See also: Thirty seconds each: Louvre's new queuing system for Mona Lisa

THE NATIONAL ICON

THE TAJ MAHAL, AGRA

Taj Mahal in sunset light, Agra, India SunOct6cover - So touristy so good - text Ben Groundwater
iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.

Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S SO TOURISTY This is probably the world's most famous monument to love, the mausoleum for Mumtaz Mahal, favourite wife of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. It's incredibly beautiful and also incredibly popular, with more than 8 million visitors annually.

WHY YOU SHOULD STILL VISIT All of the photos and all of the stories you may have seen or heard about the Taj Mahal still won't prepare you for its life-affirming beauty. This really is a spectacular building, surrounded by gardens, fountains and ponds that accentuate its loveliness. Everyone should see it.

BEAT THE CROWDS You have to get in early. The grounds open 30 minutes before sunrise, and you want to make sure you're one of the first through the gate. The dawn photos will be spectacular. Alternatively, take a boat ride on the river that runs behind the Taj, the Yamuna, for excellent tourist-free views.

MORE Air India flies direct from Sydney to Delhi, with train transfers to Agra. The Taj Mahal is closed Fridays and open every other day from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes before sunset. See airindia.in; irctc.co.in; tajmahal.gov.in

See also: What to do after you've visited India's 'Wonder of the World'

THE TRAIN RIDE

THE ROCKY MOUNTAINEER, CANADA

sunjun23canada Rocky Mountaineer Canada railway train ; text by Keith Austin ; SUPPLIED via journalist https://www.barberstock.com/rockymountaineer
SunOct6cover

Photo: Rocky Mountaineer

WHY IT'S TOURISTY This is no commuter train. No one is enjoying fine-dining meals and sitting under a panoramic glass ceiling as they make their way to work. The Rocky Mountaineer is a train and a journey set up purely for tourists – but that doesn't make it any less spectacular.

WHY YOU SHOULD STILL DO IT The journey from Vancouver in British Columbia to Jasper or Banff in Alberta is one that takes you through some of the most beautiful alpine scenery in the world, travelling high through the pristine Rocky Mountains, where you can spot bears, or gaze at lakes, or contemplate your next five-star meal.

BEAT THE CROWDS Numbers are capped on the train, so you never have to worry too much about crowds. Of course, travelling low season (April or October) could increase the likelihood of extra space on board.

MORE Air Canada flies from Sydney to Vancouver direct. The Rocky Mountaineer runs from April to October. See aircanada.com; rockymountaineer.com

See also: The world's 20 greatest train journeys

THE CAFE

PASTEIS DE BELEM, PORTUGAL

Portugal, Estremadura, Lisbon, Pasteis de Belem Cafe. Exterior with blue awning and queue of people to entrance. (Photo by: Eye Ubiquitous/Universal Images Group via Getty Images) **Single Use Only**
SunOct6cover - So touristy so good - text Ben Groundwater
Credit: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

WHY IT'S TOURISTY If you travel to Portugal, you want to eat pasteis de nata, or Portuguese tarts. And so it makes sense to go to the source, to the bakery-cafe that first popularised this legendary sweet treat: Pasteis de Belem in Lisbon.

WHY YOU SHOULD STILL VISIT It's rare that such a famous place lives up to the hype, but Pasteis de Belem does just that. The Portuguese tarts here are out of this world. They're slightly blackened and caramelised on top, with an eggy, sweet filling resting in a cup of wafer-thin, shatter-crisp layers of fresh pastry. There's no point just ordering one – you'll want at least three to yourself.

BEAT THE CROWDS Arrive early. Doors open at 8am daily and you want to be there soon after. Alternatively, the shop is open until 11pm for late-night sweets. It's also worth trying the excellent pasteis at Manteigaria, also in Lisbon.

MORE Emirates flies from Australian ports to Lisbon, via Dubai. Pasteis de Belem is open 8am-1pm daily. See emirates.com; pasteisdebelem.pt

See also: 'World's best' food? Yes, this place actually lives up to the hype

WAY TOO TOURISTY: EIGHT PLACES TO AVOID

TIMES SQUARE, NYC

This is one of the most visited tourist "attractions" in the world, an oblong – not even a square! – patronised by some 50 million gawkers a year. And what do they come for? Big screens with bright lights? Giant billboards? Overpriced restaurants? Sounds amazing.

PIAZZA SAN MARCO, VENICE

Venice's largest and most famous square would be truly lovely without all the people. As it stands, however, this is an extremely popular location, and it's far better to swerve it in favour of some of the island city's lesser-known attractions.

LITTLE MERMAID, COPENHAGEN

The name should be considered fair warning. Copenhagen's Little Mermaid statue really is small, and it's set in a pretty uninspiring location, and its worldwide fame still seems fairly baffling to many of those who go to see it.

AVENUE OF THE STARS, HONG KONG

Hong Kong - February 9, 2015: Clapperboard in Avenue of Stars. In the distance is Victoria Harbour. Located in the Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong. SunOct6cover - So touristy so good - text Ben Groundwater
iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.

Photo: iStock

If you think the Hollywood Walk of Fame is tacky – and, spoiler alert, we do – then how about a knock-off version of it in Hong Kong? The city's Avenue of the Stars honours the big names in local show business and doesn't have a lot to offer foreign visitors.

STONEHENGE, UK

England Stonehenge SunOct6cover - So touristy so good - text Ben Groundwater
iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.

Photo: iStock

Like Piazza San Marco, Stonehenge would be great – except in this case, its popularity has forced authorities to hold tourists miles back from the formation itself, meaning your brush with this fascinating site will probably be best done with the help of binoculars.

MADAME TUSSAUDS. EVERYWHERE

You'll find outlets of the world's most famous wax model museum spread throughout Europe, Asia, North America and even Australia. The question is why you would want to give up your precious time in any of those locations to look at wax models of celebrities.

MANNEKEN PIS, BRUSSELS

OK, here's the deal: there's a small statue of a little boy and he's doing a pee. Sound like a sight you should build your day around? Of course not. And yet Brussels' Manneken Pis is so famous that people seem to think they should.

HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME, LOS ANGELES

You might be impressed with famous faces, but how about just famous names? That's all you'll find: words printed on the ground. And this part of Los Angeles is pretty unattractive. Still, that doesn't stop people from visiting.

PLACES TO AVOID THE TOURIST HORDES

ROMANIA

ANNUAL VISITORS: 2.8 MILLION

Despite the rugged beauty of its mountain landscapes; despite its wide array of outdoor activities; despite its ancient churches and monasteries and its medieval towns; despite its thriving cities; despite its relative affordability – still, few tourists seem to make it to Romania. We're talking 2.8 million a year, compared to France's 89 million. Get there now. See romania.travel

GEORGIA

ANNUAL VISITORS: 4.8 MILLION

This is a little-known country on the rise, a place of stunning landscapes and a rich history. Georgia, deep in the Caucasus, is home to one of the world's oldest wine cultures, to a thriving food scene, to verdant valleys and towering mountains, and to local traditions that are easy to tap into in an organic, genuine way, thanks to the lack of many other travellers to share the experience. See visitgeorgia.ge

SRI LANKA

ANNUAL VISITORS: 2.3 MILLION

Poor Sri Lanka. A year ago you would have quoted this country as one of world tourism's great success stories – and then the Easter bombings happened. Sri Lanka's monthly visitor numbers went from almost 250,000 in March this year to 40,000 in May. The country is recovering, but it's a long, slow road. For travellers seeking a welcoming destination with few other visitors, you could do far worse than this amazing island. See srilanka.travel

MONGOLIA

ANNUAL VISITORS: 529,000

Eagle Hunter with his golden eagle in Bayan-Olgii, West Mongolia. Hunting with eagles is a traditional form of falconry found throughout the Eurasian Steppe. SunOct6cover - So touristy so good - text Ben Groundwater
iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.

Photo: iStock

You want peace and quiet? Mongolia has a population density of 1.9 people per square kilometre. Even Australia has a comparatively whopping three. And half of Mongolia's population lives in one city. This is a land of wide open spaces, where to depart Ulaanbaatar is to depart the known world, to see nomadic families roaming broad, treeless plains, and to enjoy rich cultural experiences with not a single other tourist around. See visitmongolia.com

BELIZE

ANNUAL VISITORS: 489,000

Belize packs a serious punch for such a modestly sized and awkwardly positioned country. Here you can explore Central American jungles or hang out on Caribbean beaches. You can scuba dive the world's second-largest barrier reef or check out ancient Mayan ruins. And you can do all of this without feeling like you're in a total tourist trap. See belizetourismboard.org

See also: Hot spots: The world's fastest growing destinations for 2019 named

See also: The top destinations for 2019 named by the experts 

Comments