Weird tourist attractions around the world: The places I just don't get

The queue snakes across Dam Square, as it does most days. There are plenty of things to see in Amsterdam, but this attraction in the centre of town always seems to be popular.

What is it, you wonder? Maybe it's part of the Rijksmuseum, that historic Dutch gallery filled with masterpieces from across the ages. Or it could be the infamous Sex Museum, with, well, other pieces from across the ages. Or maybe it's just a particularly good purveyor of poffertjes (those tasty little Dutch pancakes).

But it isn't any of those things. Walk a little bit closer, to the front of the line, and you see what all these people are queuing to experience: Madame Tussauds. That's right. In this city of masterpieces and museums, of cafes and canals, of bikes and breweries, people are spending half their day lining up to see wax figurines of celebrities.

I don't get Madame Tussauds. Particularly not the Amsterdam iteration. I don't understand why people would travel to an exotic European country, full of culture and appeal, and then pay to go and look at a wax George Clooney.

It's not my idea of a good time. But then, there are plenty of popular tourist attractions that I don't get.

I don't understand the little mermaid statue in Copenhagen. Well, I understand it: it's a small statue of a mermaid. But how did it morph into something so famous? How has it become the touristy symbol of the city?

And how about the Spanish Steps in Rome? You arrive expecting to find one pretty spectacular staircase. This is the Italian capital, after all, where 1000-year-old ruins await around every corner, and medieval piazzas aren't even blinked at.

But the Spanish steps are just plain old steps. No ornate decorations. No stunning views. And yet they're packed every day with tourists taking photos and posing on the steps and probably secretly wondering if they're missing what all the fuss is about.

In Sydney, what's going on with the fish markets? It's not a bad place to buy seafood, but as a tourist attraction, this one's a head scratcher. It's one of the least picturesque spots on the harbour, and the action inside doesn't exactly rival the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. Yet it's frequented by travellers from around the world.


Anyway, back to Madame Tussauds. What gives? Why do people line up so long and pay so much to see this?

I have no idea. But Madame Tussauds, for me, does serve a purpose. Whenever I need to remind myself of just how subjective the travel experience is, of how things that appeal to me may not necessarily be appreciated by others, and vice versa, I only need to think of Madame Tussauds.

Obviously, some people love it. The same way they love the mermaid statue in Copenhagen, or the Spanish Steps in Rome, or even the fish markets in Sydney. What floats a traveller's boat is an extremely personal thing.

Me, I'd like to spend my day in Amsterdam hanging out in the Jordaan area, eating apple pie at a café called Winkel, wandering the fresh food market at Noordmarkt, sitting in the sun outside one of the "brown pubs" and drinking fruity beer with lemon in it while I watch people walking past.

But some travellers might consider that a complete waste of time. Not a single van Gogh painting viewed. Not one wax figurine posed next to. Can you even say you've been to Amsterdam?

In Copenhagen, I'd take the time to check out Christiania, the weird hippy commune plonked in the middle of city. In Rome I'd go to Testaccio and eat all the good food there. In Sydney I'd go down to Bondi, or do the Bridge Climb, or take the ferry across the harbour, or bar hop in Surry Hills, or go to White Rabbit or the Brett Whiteley Studio.

But the things I like aren't always the things everyone else likes.

Travel is subjective. That's why guidebooks are so dangerous. It's easy to fall into the trap of trusting them completely, of assuming that the attractions that appeal to everyone else will be the attractions that appeal to you. And so you go along to see them anyway.

You might have this lingering doubt in the back of your mind – like, this sounds kind of dumb, but it's in the guidebook, so…

So you go anyway, and you aren't impressed. People are into different things.

You don't have to go to that museum, or see that statue, or visit that gallery, to feel like you've properly "done" a destination. You just need to do the things that appeal to you. Even – sigh – if it's Madame Tussauds.

Which tourist attractions around the world make no sense to you?



See also: Nine awesome attractions in unusual locations
See also: Hell is other tourists: How to avoid them
See also: How to beat the queues at the world's busiest attractions