Chalk it up to guilty pleasure, but even the savviest, most sophisticated travelers (not to be confused with mere tourists) can find themselves with a soft spot for an out-and-out tourist trap. We’re certainly not immune, and even though our editors concede that each attraction on this list of over-commercialized hot spots is indeed swarming with sightseers, overrun with overpriced shops and services, and infested with bogus sideshow attractions, they are still – somehow – entirely unmissable. With that in mind, we’ve pulled together 10 top tourist trap tips to help you navigate the thick crowds, whittling down the diversions to just what’s worthwhile, with tips and well-vetted picks for less-trodden haunts where you might even encounter an actual local! After all, at their very core, these tourist traps are popular for good reason (far removed from their ploy to part you with your dollars) – and from time to time, it can even be refreshing to put the jaded jet-setter aside, jumping in with the click-crazy crowds to embrace the wide-eyed tourist within. Check out our Tourist Traps Slideshow for a glance of these crowded, commercialized attractions that we just can't resist!
The Bateaux-Mouches (www.bateaux-mouches.fr) cruises along the Seine River have long been a staple of the Paris tourist trap track (operated in the same vein as several like-minded, knockoff cruise lines, like Bateaux Parisien), but the snooze-worthy prerecorded commentary can put jet-lagged travelers to sleep (yawn). Don’t be roped in by their lunch and dinner cruises either – the mediocre food isn’t worth the high price. Instead, splurge on the quality cuisine of the Yachts de Paris (www.yachtsdeparis.fr), which offers a five-course tasting menu nightly in an intimate setting. Alternatively, mingle with the city’s young and fabulous aboard a summer evening dance cruise and marvel in the Paris sights lit up in all their glory as you dance the night away. Last summer, popular radio station RFM hosted its weekly Night Fever party (http://nightfever.rfm.fr) on the River’s King (www.riversking.fr) boat from June to September (a 2010 schedule has yet to be announced). Many river boats – called péniches – are also available for private cruising, including the above-mentioned Yachts de Paris and River’s King (check out www.abcsalles.com for more rental suggestions and bookings).
There are also several vessels that serve as stationary year-round restaurants and dance clubs. In the shadow of Notre-Dame, Six/Huit (www.six-huit.com) offers a French take on tapas, mixed with live music or DJs. Batofar (www.batofar.org), moored at Quai François-Mauriac in the 13th Arrondissement, serves French fare by day then converts to a funky electro club at night. For a truly unique Seine experience, spend a few nights on a luxury houseboat, which come decked out with all the amenities of Paris’s finest hotels and afford some of the best views in the city. The two-bedroom Paris Yacht (www.paris-yacht.com) – located across from Notre-Dame and the Ile St.-Louis – rents nightly for 300 euros ($410), while the three-suite Viking Paris (www.parishouseboat.com) in the Bois de Bologne goes for 500 euros ($680) per night. For more trip-planning information, check out ShermansTravel.com’s Paris Travel Guide.
Bourbon Street, New Orleans
Nowhere else is it socially acceptable, legal even, to walk around town with an alcoholic drink in hand, expose your boobs and/or nether parts for beads (or, let’s face it, just for the thrill of it), and bounce from one dive bar to another, day or night – perhaps taking a ride on a mechanical bull in one, or downing a Hurricane (a deceivingly lethal local cocktail that masquerades as fruit punch) in another – with reckless abandon. This "girls (and guys) gone wild" stage is debauchery at its finest (or ugliest depending on how you like to party) and all of its uninhibited boozy excess is showcased on the 14-block drag that is Bourbon Street. People come from the world over to partake in the folly and whether or not you choose to, Bourbon Street is a tourist trap spectacle that you simply must see when in New Orleans, even if it means just strolling down the strip to people-watch (daytime or nighttime, Fat Tuesday or any Tuesday, the party-hearty vibe is certain). After staggering up and down the row (more than a few times) ourselves, we’ve earmarked a few places where you can keep your top on and still enjoy a good dose of naughty Nola fun.
Beware of frat-boy-packed bars like Pat O’Brien’s (www.patobriens.com) and Cats Meow (http://catskaraoke.com). Instead, head to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar (www.lafittesblacksmithshop.com), the oldest watering hole in the French Quarter, serving up pints, some super-sugary Hurricanes, and an inimitable old-school atmosphere (it’s lit only by candles at night and there’s usually a piano player performing). Or, try the Famous Door or Preservation Hall (just off Bourbon on St. Peter’s St.; www.preservationhall.com); each offer regular live music (mostly of the jazz variety). You don’t have to eat greasy pub grub in this nabe either. The Bourbon House Seafood and Oyster Bar (www.bourbonhouse.com), from the same owners as the acclaimed Commander’s Palace (www.commanderspalace.com), serves fab oysters in an ideal setting for people-watching, thanks to its floor-to-ceiling windows facing Bourbon Street. Galatoire’s (www.galatoires.com) is another prime dining choice in the party zone, with an old-world ambience and classic Creole menu. The Royal Sonesta Hotel (www.sonesta.com/neworleans_royal) occupies an entire block on Bourbon yet manages to provide a refined escape from the mayhem; the hotel is also home to Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse, which showcases nightly jazz performances and burlesque shows late night on weekends. For more trip-planning information, check out ShermansTravel.com’s New Orleans Travel Guide.
El Caminito, Buenos Aires
La Boca, a somewhat rough-and-tumble working-class nabe set off to the southeast of the capital, sees tourists make a beeline for the heartbeat of its brightly colored barrio – El Caminito (Little Lane). This short pedestrianized strip, flanked by vividly painted buildings, doubles as an open-air art museum, and as a virtual tourist trap carnival for camera-clicking tourists. Overpriced and overcrowded shops and eateries serve as the backdrop to pushy peddlers and overzealous street performers (blink and you’ll be whirled away for photo-worthy poses with tango dancers who will quickly put their hands out). Commercialized it is, but missable it's not. Historic authenticity defines the quarter, whose corrugated-iron tenement buildings were first painted in polychromatic colors by the 19th-century Genoese immigrants who settled this old port area (eager to brighten up their dismal dwellings, they used whatever leftover paint they could scrounge from the docked boats); La Boca also lays claims to being the cradle of the seductive tango (in fact, El Caminito takes its name from a popular 1920s tango song).
Follow the photogenic street, with its iron-railed balconies and picturesque window frames, east to La Vuelta de Rocha (on the elbow of the Riachuelo River) to take in the arts scene at Fundación Proa (www.proa.org), an excellent modern gallery showcasing rotating exhibitions of Latin American art, set in a converted 19th-century Italianate mansion; expect a schedule of hip musical and cultural events (don’t miss the second-floor terrace for views of the quarter). Skip the strip’s myriad souvenir shops and seek out local artists’ wares at the alfresco street fair fronting the museum and bordering the café-lined river – it brims with handicrafts, jewelry, and artwork; likewise, the nearby Centro Cultural de Los Artistas (www.buenosaires.gov.ar) allows you to peruse local artwork while having a peek inside one of the former tenements. Grab a bite at Patagonia Sur (www.restaurantepatagoniasur.com) – though pricey, the gourmet eatery by celebrity restaurateur Francis Mallman features fine Argentinean dishes (with a predictable focus on meat), and remains one of B.A.’s best-kept secrets. Tip: Get to El Caminito early in the day, before the bus-tour crowds convene, when the natural light is most flattering to the bright hues; after nightfall, the area is considered unsafe due to rampant petty crime. For more trip-planning information, check out ShermansTravel.com’s Buenos Aires Travel Guide.
Gondola Rides, Venice
It may be cliché, but it’s still a travel sin to visit Venice and not paddle quietly along its winding canals in an iconic long black boat. Yes, gondola rides are expensive . . . but even though official rates start at 80 euro ($110) for 40 minutes (rising to 100 euro, or $140, after dusk), you don’t always have to pay the full tourist trap price – or opt in for the generic treatment. As rates and ride length are almost always open to negotiation, it pays to haggle with a few different gondelieri before settling on a final fare. To avoid the hassle, you can opt to book online in advance – Viator (www.viator.com) offers 35-minute evening tours for $60 a person and includes romantic perks like an accordion player and serenader – but be prepared to share your ride with up to five strangers, while sitting on rickety stools (as all gondolas can hold up to six passengers, you’d probably be better off just finding some friendly passersby willing to share on the spot and splitting the 80 euro tariff). Or, for a true taste of the 1,000-year-old profession, grab an oar and give gondolier-ing a go on your own! Row Venice (www.rowvenice.com) offers intensive 2-hour sessions in a traditional sandolo – a type of long wooden rowboat that’s a cross between a gondola and kayak.
If you want to impress your friends back home sans the workout (and have some money to blow), the Hotel Cipriani (www.hotelcipriani.com) offers a splurge-worthy Casanova massage aboard a modified gondola. You’ll be lathered in a sumptuous concoction made with SPF, coffee oil, and peach milk during this 40-minute treatment in a hidden corner of the Venetian lagoon (a private area off the Grand Canal). But for ultimate bragging rights, shack up at the Locanda Art Deco hotel (www.locandaartdeco.com) and book the exclusive service of one of Venice’s two female gondolieri, Alexandra Hai (the hour-long ride costs 90 euro/$120 and includes a bottle of champagne). Just looking to see the sights? Vaporettos (www.actv.it), local public water buses, are much less costly and provide a great way to hop between Venice's six sestiere (neighborhoods). The cheapest, most basic bet is a traghetto crossing on the Grand Canal; these no-frills public gondolas will whisk as many as 20 people at a time (usually standing) across Venice’s main thoroughfare for just 50 euro cents ($.70). For more trip-planning information, check out ShermansTravel.com’s Venice Travel Guide.
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
Many come to Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar (www.grandbazaaristanbul.org) with dreams of precious curios, buttery leather, and intricate hand-woven carpets (all on the cheap, of course), yet leave bewildered, exhausted, and even empty-handed. Indeed, the Grand Bazaar is a battleground, a maze, a teeming stockpile of treasures protected by iron-willed shopkeepers – and if not approached in the right mindset and navigated properly, it can be a disappointing endeavor. Regardless of how you feel about this shopping mecca (or shopping in general), the massive covered market (which spans some 76 acres and contains over 4,000 vendors and over 50 stall-lined alleyways) is a must-see for any visitor in Istanbul – aside from stellar shopping, sights include the Old Bedesten at the Bazaar's center; its huge iron doors and domed ceilings date back to the mid-1400s.
If you plan on strolling through and browsing casually – think again. One, crowds prevent lazy wandering (between 250,000 and 400,000 locals and tourists alike visit daily), and, two, if you show the slightest interest in an item you will likely be approached by the shopkeeper with a sales pitch and a starting price for negotiation, and most likely some follow-up pressure to purchase. But, there are ways to handle the surly sellers and avoid being swindled: Do your research beforehand to get a sense of what items should cost (note, if you quote a price that the seller agrees to, you will be expected to purchase the item – that’s considered a deal) and stray off the main tourist trap drag, Kalpakçilar Caddesi, which stretches from the entrance at Nuruosmaniye Gate to the Beyazit Gate, for better-priced shops and less-stressful sales. Expect to get a little lost – there are 21 entrances/exits to the market but the two most obvious are Nuruosmaniye and Beyazit – and go early (we’re talking 9am) and not on Saturday (note the market is closed on Sunday) for fewer crowds and possibly better prices (the first sale of the day, called the siftah, is considered sacred by the Turks). Street signs are confusing so pick up a map at Havuzlu (www.havuzlurestaurant.com), the Ottoman restaurant just outside the Beyazit entrance. Seek out shops like EthniCon (rugs made of recycled kilim; www.ethnicon.com); Sait Koç (amazing jewelry; www.saitkocjewellery.com); and Abdulla (towels, linens, and soaps; www.abdulla.com) – and for a smart splurge that will offer you your best bet on avoiding tourist trap prices, consider hiring a personal shopper (www.istanbulpersonalshopper.com).
For food, forego the busy Bazaar vendors and instead head to Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi Selim Usta (www.sultanahmetkoftesi.com), just steps outside of the marketplace, with a small menu that focuses on izgara köfte (delightfully spiced and grilled meatballs), or try Boukoleon Fish Restaurant (www.boukoleon.com) for excellent seafood and mezes. For more trip-planning information, check out ShermansTravel.com’s Istanbul Travel Guide.
Hollywood Boulevard, LA
In Los Angeles, Hollywood Boulevard takes center stage for throngs of visitors searching for a true taste of Tinseltown history. Despite a seedy past riddled with botched facelifts and half-hearted reinventions, the famed thoroughfare’s latest rebirth seems decidedly more permanent.
Start at the recently renovated Roosevelt Hotel (www.hollywoodroosevelt.com), site of the first Academy Awards show. Just down the street, the Hollywood & Highland shopping complex (www.hollywoodandhighland.com) is home to the Kodak Theatre (www.kodaktheatre.com), where the Academy Awards are currently held. The outdoor complex may be packed with chain stores, but it offers a perfectly framed view of the iconic Hollywood sign. Ignore the unauthorized knockoffs of costumed Disney characters that patrol the courtyard of adjacent Grauman's Chinese Theater and catch the latest blockbuster at this classic movie palace. The nearby Grauman's Egyptian Theater (www.egyptiantheatre.com), site of Hollywood’s first movie premiere is home to the American Cinematheque (www.americancinematheque.com), which screens rare, classic, and avant-garde films.
Big sightseeing buses ply the boulevard during the heat of the day, so opt to visit post-sunset, when a clutch of cool new restaurants and hotel bars outshine the tourist traps, attracting local hipsters and trendier tourist types alike. Slip into a spacious banquette and order a carafe of Chapoutier rosé at Delphine (www.restaurantdelphine.com), a posh French bistro located within the swank new W Hotel (www.starwoodhotels.com/whotels), which debuted in January 2010 (near Vine Street) and takes design cues from Barbarella and A Clockwork Orange. Alternatively, bask beneath a 65-foot skylight at EAST (opened October 2009; www.east-hollywood.com) and sample dishes like lobster brioche or drunken sake-infused tofu. For more trip-planning information, check out ShermansTravel.com’s Los Angeles Travel Guide.
The Strip, Las Vegas
Glitzy, gaudy, and altogether over the top, the 4-mile, neon-infused Las Vegas Strip (officially dubbed Las Vegas Boulevard South) hardly needs an introduction. For the more than 40 million tourists that traipse its regularly reinvented sidewalk attractions each year, the irresistible Strip is a tourist trap epitomized. Survive the worst of the tourist crush by bedding down at sophisticated smart-splurge properties like the all-suite, cosmopolitan theHotel at Mandalay Bay (www.mandalaybay.com) on the Strip’s southern fringes (it’s the site of the best pool in town, the Bathhouse Spa oasis, and the swank Mix Lounge, which draws locals and visitors alike for its stellar views and scene), or try the opulent, new Mandarin Oriental (www.mandarinoriental.com/lasvegas), one of the city’s rare non-gaming resorts, situated within the December 2009-debuted CityCenter complex (www.citycenter.com). Hotel guest or not, do make time to explore CityCenter – while still a tourist lure, it's managed to steer blissfully free of tackiness with a tasteful 500,000-square-foot, high-end shopping district, Crystals, for retail therapay; and several hotel spas primed for rejuvenation (at the Mandarin Oriental, Aria, and Vdara properties alike; www.arialasvegas.com; www.vdara.com).
Forego the bland buffet standbys in favor of memorable epicurean havens, like L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (at the MGM Grand; www.mgmgrand.com), Thomas Keller’s Bouchon (at The Venetian; www.bouchonbistro.com), or Circo, little sister to Le Cirque (at the Bellagio; www.bellagio.com). The latter’s terrace makes for a refined perch to take in the queen of the classic Strip attractions – Bellagio’s dancing fountains – free from the gawking streetside hordes; combine a meal and show with a duck inside to the surprise cultural pocket of the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art (www.bellagio.com), home to a series of rotating fine-art exhibitions (past headliners have included Monet and Andy Warhol).
Stroll the Strip on weekdays to avoid the biggest influx in crowds, and keep in mind that though the boulevard is best admired under light at night, you’ll have the sidewalks largely to yourself in the early AM hours (from 6am to 9am). Give your feet a rest and zip along on the seven-station monorail ($5 per ride; runs between the Sahara and the MGM Grand; www.lvmonorail.com), or opt to take on the motorized traffic, albeit in style, with Harley Davidsons, Porsches, and 50’s Cadillac convertibles just a few of the toys to play with at Dream Car Rentals (www.dreamcarrentals.com). For more trip-planning information, check out ShermansTravel.com’s Las Vegas Travel Guide.
Temple Bar, Dublin
At night, Dublin’s Temple Bar district teems with tourists from across Europe and beyond, attempting to drink like the Irish (but mostly just getting drunk) in “authentic” pubs and raucous nightclubs. During the day, however, the lot of pub crawlers gives way to a more sophisticated visitor. Over the past two decades, organizations like the Temple Bar Cultural Trust (www.templebar.ie) and TASCQ (Traders in the Area Supporting the Cultural Quarter; www.tascq.ie) have worked together to promote the district as a destination for art, theater, and shopping. Independent galleries like relative newcomer Sebastian Guinness Gallery (opened 2008; www.sebastianguinnessgallery.com) and seasoned veteran Graphic Studio Gallery (www.graphicstudiodublin.com) present exhibitions of contemporary artists from Ireland and beyond (the likes of which include Irishman Niall Naessens and American David LaChapelle). Weekends are abuzz with the Temple Bar Food Market (held in Meeting House Square; www.templebar.ie), Temple Bar Book Market (in Temple Bar Square; www.templebar.ie), and Designer Mart (which features artwork, jewelry, and other handicrafts, on Cow’s Lane; www.templebar.ie).
That’s not to say there aren't any nightspots worth visiting in the neighborhood for those looking to wet their whistle. The Porterhouse Temple Bar (www.porterhousebrewco.com), one of five bars run by the Irish microbrewery company of the same name, boasts nine homemade beers and a smart take on traditional Irish food. One of Dublin’s oldest pubs, the Palace Bar on Fleet Street still manages to attract the locals to watch a match over a pint; it hosts live Irish music upstairs Wednesdays and Sundays. For a more sophisticated evening, try the modern and trendy Morgan Bar at chic boutique Morgan Hotel (www.themorgan.com) or Octagon Bar at The Clarence (www.theclarence.ie); the latter is owned by U2’s Bono and the Edge. For more trip-planning information, check out ShermansTravel.com’s Dublin Travel Guide.
Times Square, NYC
The most shameless tourist trap of them all, Times Square (www.timessquarenyc.org) is a glitzy crossroads for overpriced chain restaurants and flashy, carnivalesque attractions that seem less inherently Manhattan and more Mall of America. A no-fly zone for locals (unless it’s rush hour), millions of tourists flock to this hectic stretch of Broadway from 40th to 53rd Streets (between Sixth and Eighth Avenues) each year to see what all the fuss is about, but end up eating lackluster food at exorbitant prices and getting mercilessly ripped off. Don’t worry – the “Crossroads of the World” does have its redeeming graces, and there are ways to ensure you get the most bang for your buck, even here. Repeat and new visitors alike will be delighted to discover that, since May 2009, Duffy Square and two lanes of traffic in the area’s epicenter have been closed off to cars as a pedestrian plaza – with tables and chairs, 16-foot-tall ruby-red bleachers (situated atop the new TKTS booth), and free Wi-Fi now permanent public features.
For unique rather than mass-produced wares (if you must buy an “I Heart NY” T-shirt, avoid the expensive souvenir shops and pluck one off a street vendor for no more than $5), scope out whimsical artisan knickknacks at American Craftsman (www.anamericancraftsman.com), sift through a substantial inventory of show tunes at Colony Music (www.colonymusic.com), or poke your nose into the International Center of Photography Museum Store (http://shopping.icp.org/store) during one of its free Friday evening book signings, complete with DJ and complimentary wine. On Fridays at noon, line up for a free 2-hour tour (no reservations required; www.timessquarenyc.org) outside the restored Embassy Theater for a guided glance of all the epicenter’s hot spots. Avoid pedicabs (at $1 a block, they’re a classic rip-off) and steer clear of the nexus during workday rush hours, unless you want to be run over by frustrated workers battling their way through Midtown’s tourist belt.
For dinner, resist the urge for greasy breadsticks at a crowded Olive Garden, or to pay $9.95 for a slice of overrated cheesecake at Roxy’s, and, instead, down shots of homemade cranberry-infused vodka and authentic borsht at the Russian Samovar (www.russiansamovar.com), just a few blocks north on 52nd Street. Likewise, sample first-rate sushi at trendy Blue Fin (www.brguestrestaurants.com), a sophisticated see-and-be-seen seafood mecca located at the base of the W Hotel (www.starwoodhotels.com/whotels). Give comedy show canvassers the silent treatment (otherwise, you’ll end up at a mediocre laugh factory with surprise drink minimums) and take in an acclaimed Broadway show (after all, you can’t meander down the Great White Way without seeing a play!). Afterwards, stop by the Broadway Lounge atop the 47-floor Marriott Marquis (www.nymarriottmarquis.com) and ogle at the action below (the $14 cocktail is well worth the view, and you can often snag a window seat even without reservations). Have a whim for a swim? Pick up a disposable swimsuit ($20) at the Grace Hotel’s (www.room-matehotels.com) front desk and order a Manhattan at the swim-up pool bar. Come July, bed down at the brand-new InterContinental Times Square (www.ichotelsgroup.com), which promises uninterrupted views of the cityscape from virtually all of its 607 rooms and a French-bistro helmed by celeb chef Todd English. For more trip-planning information, check out ShermansTravel.com’s New York City Travel Guide.
Victoria Peak Tram, Hong Kong
The presence of Madame Tussauds screams “tourist trap," so the wax figure of Jackie Chan at the boarding area of the Victoria Peak Tram (www.thepeak.com.hk) is the first sign that Hong Kong has capitalized on its star attraction’s “must-see” status. Ascending Victoria Peak via the 1,365-meter-long tram ride (billed as the world’s steepest funicular), one might expect a total reprieve from Central HK’s hyperactive shopping diversions, but two overwrought malls, Peak Tower and Peak Galleria, anchor the thronged attraction. Our advice? Skip the product push and venture out on one of several lushly landscaped nature walks that swathe the peak to truly appreciate the “jaw-dropping vistas” promised in tourist brochures. If you have a full hour, head out on Lugard Road, which encircles the peak and offers an ever-changing view over Central Hong Kong, Kowloon, and Victoria Harbour. If the kids are in tow, take a 10-minute stroll to the playground on Mount Austin Road. When it comes time to refuel, book a window seat at Pearl on the Peak (www.maxconcepts.com.hk), a Western cuisine-inspired restaurant from Australian celebrity chef Geoff Lindsay, with 270-degree views of the city (do note this is not a t-shirt and jeans type place, so leave the tourist garb at the hotel). Alternatively, grab the ingredients for a picnic at the PARKnSHOP (www.parknshop.com) supermarket in Peak Tower before heading out on the trail. Go on a weekday morning to avoid the most intense crowds . . . and hope for clear skies! For more trip-planning information, check out ShermansTravel.com’s Hong Kong Travel Guide.