Nine Most Disappointing Attractions in Europe

As we all know, Europe is jammed with famous attractions, and some of them are so compelling that actual Europeans have been known to travel from place to place to visit them. You could spend a lifetime seeing amazing sights all over the continent, including thousands of things you’ve not yet even heard of.

But not all of them live up to your expectations or the hype you can easily feel when heading out to see or experience some of the best known attractions. In some cases it’s our own fault that things disappoint us, but in other cases these things just don’t cut it compared to the hassle involved in getting there. Here are nine that can wreck at least part of one of your valuable travel days.

1 – Mona Lisa – Paris, France

Seeing the Mona Lisa in person is an unforgettable experience

Seeing the Mona Lisa in person is an unforgettable experience

Leonardo da Vinci painted a smiling woman during the 16th Century, and somehow the Mona Lisa has become the planet’s most famous piece of art, though very few can explain why. Still, the thing is housed in the magnificent Louvre, which is certainly one of the highlights of a city teeming with highlights, so it’s impossible not to include it on the itinerary of your first Paris trip, right? You’ll finally see what all the fuss is about when you witness this gorgeous canvas in person, because no copy or photograph could possibly do it proper justice.

Welcome to the Louvre, in all of its sprawling maze-like glory. “Okay, I know my guidebook tells me it would take at least 500 years to actually spend a minute with each work of art here, but at the very least I’ve got to see the Mona Lisa (and probably the Venus de Milo as well).” When you finally get close to the room she helps decorate, you’ll know it by the carnival-like crowds and atmosphere. Slink into the actual room, and with enough brute force and determination, you might be able to elbow your way through the mass of bodies to take your own snapshot of Lisa herself, along with the wrists and viewfinder screens of at least a dozen other people in front of you struggling for the same terrible photograph. Got the shot? Good, now get out of here before you faint.

2 – Gondola rides in Venice, Italy

Gondola rides are like being in a tourist parade

Gondola rides are like being in a tourist parade

Before anyone first sets foot in Italy, it seems impossible to imagine anything more romantic than a serene ride through Venice’s stunning canals in a beautiful gondola, with the silence only interrupted by the delightful stylings of your gondolier singing ‘O Sole Mio or possibly an Italian song you don’t even know. And then you get there and realize Venice is more jammed with tourists than Times Square on New Years Eve, even in so-called “off-season.”

Still, the gondola ride itself might be magical and worth a go, until you ask around and discover that a 40-minute ride starts at €80 (over US$100), and quite a bit more expensive after dark. You still may not yet realize that even if you give it a whirl, you’ll instantly be starring in hundreds of candid photos snapped by everyone who can get their camera out of its case in time. There’s also plenty of gondola traffic your driver will have to contend with, so it can be more jarring than amorous along the way. It’s not like you were hoping it would be, but at least you’ll be appearing in dozens or hundreds of photos by fellow tourists, so your disappointing gondola ride will be well documented, at the very least.

3 – Manneken Pis – Brussels, Belgium

Zoom in or you won't even find him in your photo

Zoom in or you won’t even find him in your photo

Unless you happen to be a big fan of modern office complexes and Continental bureaucracy, Brussels is already a bit short on tourist attractions. Sure, you can actually get kick-ass waffles covered in chocolate and other delights on almost every corner, but the most famous “attraction” really has to be the Manneken Pis. What could be more cheeky and fun than a bronze statue of a little boy who is perpetually refilling the fountain below by wizzing into it?

You’ll probably start at the Grand Place, which is one of the most stunning city squares in the world, and walk a few long blocks southwest, until you come across a big crowd gathered around a small fountain. When you find the statue itself, it looks exactly like you thought it was going to, except smaller, and with way more annoying fellow tourists huddled around it than you ever imagined. Even if he’s dressed in one of his many whimsical little costumes, he’s still barely worth crossing the street for. Snap your own photo, and off you go, probably wondering why you came to Brussels in the first place, until you remember it’s all about the beer.

4 – The city of Saint-Tropez in France

Even the locals would prefer you visit a nearby city instead

Even the locals would prefer you visit a nearby city instead

This is another one where any blame for disappointment lies solely with the visitor rather than with the place itself. Many of us tourists think to ourselves, “If St. Tropez wasn’t the most awesome-est town on the French Riviera, then why would a huge cosmetics company name an aloe vera-based sunless tanning product after it?” And what about the much older Bain de Soleil lotion, whose sultry jingle always promised us that “Saint-Tropez tan”? I don’t know about you, but I’m heading there to see it all for myself!

And then you get to Saint-Tropez, and discover it’s actually just like about a dozen or more other nearby towns on the Côte d’Azur, except this one is insanely crowded with cars and other tourists, who’ve obviously bought into the same hype and flawed reasoning. No doubt that Saint-Tropez is nice, as long as you are rich and can find a place to park, but there’s really nothing mystical and especially sexy about it, and you’d have been better off going to Saint-Maxime or Cap d’agde or Camargue or Cassis or Sete or just about anywhere else in the area.

5 – The interior of the Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain

Hard hats are optional

Hard hats are optional

This is an unusual member of this unflattering list because the exterior of this famous under-construction cathedral is every bit as astonishingly beautiful as you can imagine. In case you aren’t familiar with it, this bizarre cathedral was designed by noted Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi, and construction began in 1882. The building is supposedly being funded solely by donations, which helps explain why it’s still very incomplete over 125 years later, and isn’t due to be finished for 20 or so more years, if ever at all.

So you walk around it once or twice, and take note of the jaw-dropping shape and playful details all around, and you pay the €11 to get in to finally see the inside and take it all in. Walk through the doors, and you are suddenly reminded that they weren’t kidding about this ‘under construction’ thing, as you are now surveying an active building site, with workers and heavy equipment to match. Your admission fee also includes an informative museum in the basement, but it doesn’t include the €2.50 you’ll have to pay to ride the elevator to near the top, where you can get good views of Greater Barcelona and the unfinished roof. The elevator line is always very long, which was recently made worse now that they closed the claustrophobic spiral staircases previously available for impatient and athletic visitors.

6 – London Bridge – London, UK

This bridge isn't really famous in spite of its famous name

This bridge isn’t really famous in spite of its famous name

This is one where there is no one to blame but us idiot tourists. We get that catchy song stuck in our heads as children, and until we learn otherwise at a much later age, the “London Bridge” is by far the most famous span in the world. Sure, we had reason to suspect that it might have fallen down at some point, but we can easily confirm that a bridge of that name continues to exist in the English capital.

So we arrive in London, and aside from Big Ben, there’s no higher priority than finally being able to see what all this fuss is about. Those who actually manage to make the trip, will find the plainest bridge over the Thames imaginable, and our souls are instantly crushed. It turns out that the amazing Tower Bridge not far away is pretty spectacular, as is the new Millennium Bridge, and even the old “London Bridge” that now lives in Lake Havasu, Arizona isn’t bad. If our childhood nursery rhymes can betray us like this, who can we ever trust in the future?

7 – Little Mermaid statue – Copenhagen, Denmark

Smaller than you'll expect, even with "little" right in the name

Smaller than you’ll expect, even with “little” right in the name

Copenhagen is another gorgeous city filled with beautiful people, which lacks a super-famous tourist attraction most people have heard of before arriving. The closest thing this wonderful city has is this statue dedicated to the famous fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen in 1837. The Little Mermaid statue, as you’ll read in your guidebook, was unveiled in 1913 and is most famous among locals for all the times her head and arms have been sawed off by vandals.

Your expectations will naturally build as you take the surprisingly long and out-of-the-way walk along the harbor, and your only real clue that you are getting close is the crowd of bewildered tourists assembled who are taking their own photo and asking each other, “THIS is what we walked all the way out here for?” The Little Mermaid statue is about 4-feet tall and looks more like an ad for bad posture than a city’s proudest landmark. Take your own photo, and try to get as little of the industrial harbor-front across the water in the background. It wouldn’t be quite as bad if the delightful Carlsberg Brewery weren’t on the complete opposite side of town.

8 – Dublin Castle – Dublin, Ireland

This is the only view that even remotely looks like a castle

This is the only view that even remotely looks like a castle

Anyone who has toured Prague Castle or Edinburgh Castle is conditioned to expecting a lot when visiting a historic structure named after a European capital, so it’s natural to have high hopes when arriving at this one on the Emerald Isle. When you pass through the authentic main gate and see the chess-piece-looking Record Tower (see photo) across the parking lot, it’s easy to get carried away assuming you’re about to see a cool dungeon and the place where the knights used to pour hot oil on attackers. But hopes are quickly dashed when you discover that the tower is all that’s left of the ancient structure, and the entire rest of this ‘castle’ is really just a “government complex” as its Wikipedia page charitably calls it. Welcome to a reasonably modern conference center where quite a bit of exciting government meetings and receptions are held.

The tour itself is kind of interesting, and the end of the trek sees a mini-highlight as you get to go underground to see where some original walls were uncovered, on your way to the gift shop. Anyone interested in the history of Ireland and especially of its contentious relationship with Britain will be entertained, but those who hoped to see an actual castle will feel ripped off. Most kids love castles, but not this one.

9 – Live Sex Shows in Amsterdam, Netherlands

The infamous banana trick is more entertaining than the 'live sex'

The infamous banana trick is more entertaining than the ‘live sex’

Quite a different “attraction” from all the others on this list, Amsterdam is known as a city where anything goes, and in many ways it actually lives up to that reputation. You can still buy and smoke weed at any one of about 150 ‘coffeeshops’ throughout this gorgeous city, and you can still gawk at the flirtatious working girls behind the red-lit windows in the Red Light District. And according to what your buddy told you, you can also pay to go into a theater to watch a real couple doing it right in front of your popped-out eyes.

Stroll on up to one of the three similar theaters in Amsterdam that feature this form of ‘erotic’ entertainment, and you’ll first have to deal with a multi-lingual doorman who’s spent years learning how to get every last euro out of every last passerby. You’ll pay at least €30 per person for the treat of being seated in a club or theater where you’ll watch a sideshow-style series of demonstrations, the most famous of which involves a banana.

You do eventually get to see a couple having actual sex on the stage, and people typically describe live sex shows as: mechanical, bizarre, overly choreographed, and/or boring. The one exception might be the many stag parties that come here, because that sort of alcohol-fueled mayhem can really turn into a great and hilarious bonding experience with enough wasted guys in the right frame of mind, and you won’t remember it anyway.

Additional photo credits:
Venice by P_D on Flickr. Little Mermaid by James Grimmelmann on Flickr, Mannekin Pis by jonk on Flickr, London Bridge by wallyg on Flickr, Mona Lisa by Ben Harris-Roxas on Flickr, St. Tropez by Mat Strange on Flickr, Sagrada Familia by jfeninygo on Flickr


Leave a Comment

  • Slomads Travel said at 2014-09-02T23:39:58+0000: Hearing about anything enough before actually experiencing it first-hand definitely carries that danger of disappointment... This is actually a lot of the reason why I don't like to research too much before I go somewhere new. :)
  • The Backpacker Report said at 2013-12-13T17:22:32+0000: totally agree, the mona lisa is a complete letdown
  • Don't worry Just travel said at 2013-08-26T18:47:42+0000: What an interesting and very original post. I certainly agree that the Mona Lisa was a disappointing experience. It is nice to know that I am not alone in my thinking. Congratulations on this thought provoking list.... I would be very happy if you took a look at my travel blog as well. Thank you.
  • Jennifer Smith said at 2013-08-29T17:00:36+0000: You do know that the famous London bridge moved to Lake Havasu, AZ in the 60s and reopened in 1971.
  • John M. Hatfield said at 2013-07-18T18:27:25+0000: I hate to tell you this...and, I'm sure I'm not the first...... but, Edinburgh Castle is not in Ireland, it's in Scotland.
  • Crissi Mora said at 2013-02-16T08:11:59+0000: Why don't all of you just stop expecting to be "wowed". maybe you'd enjoy everything more.
  • Susan Birkenshaw said at 2012-07-24T23:03:00+0000: I got my travel bug from my Mother who insisted that we travel and travel and travel, more! This began 50 years ago and meant that I have the honor of seeing many of these highlights for the first time "before crazies, before the need for horrible, intrusive security walls and before the onslaught of tourists" - then, they were smaller than I expected, yes but up close and personal in a very powerful way - thanks mom! Now, as I travel I search for places that are more available and more personal - we're loving South America - more and more.
  • Leah de Jager said at 2012-07-24T23:27:20+0000: Disagree with a few of these. When we went on a gondola trip in Venice I think we saw two other gondolas the whole time. We went on a weekday at about 7pm in May. I also expected the Mona Lisa to be smaller than it was so was surprised when it was bigger. The room was nowhere near full when we were there (about 7pm on a Friday night in April) despite visiting in the free-for-under-26s timeslot. We easily got up near the front to get a photo with NO wrists and cameras in shot.
  • Paul Elverstone said at 2012-07-24T21:23:56+0000: In England, London Bridge is more famous for the Americans buying it thinking it was Tower Bridge! And anyone who isn't moved by the interior of the Sagrada Familia has no understanding about how nature influences architecture. The interior is a masterpiece of design.
  • Terri Fogarty said at 2012-07-24T21:33:26+0000: I think Mont St Michel in France is terribly over rated. It is beautiful from afar. Once you get on the island, you feel like a sheep being herded up the road past all the tourist traps.
  • Salam Kahil said at 2012-02-07T12:58:46+0000: It was beautiful to see all these places. But North American tourists are very difficult to please. Show me better places In North America with such history and beauty to visit and see. It is not only "The Little Mermaid statue" you would be visiting but the famous fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen in 1837. You are supposed to think of when you are looking at it. Sorry I forgot, you are just tourists and not thinker. Stay home all of you.
  • William Murphy said at 2012-05-19T16:56:51+0000: I think that the photograph of Dublin Castle is one of mine and most of what is in the photograph is in fact the "Chapel Royal". The tower "The Record Tower" is part of the original castle. I visit on a regular basis and I certainly can understand why most visitors are disappointed because despite the history the place comes nowhere matching what a normal person would consider to be a castle.
  • William Murphy said at 2012-05-19T17:01:23+0000: I really like Brussels but I cannot understand why Manneken Pis is a tourist attraction. For some reason it appears to be popular with female visitors from Japan (maybe the tour operators do not give them any option except to visit). It is a waste of time and no one can actually tell you the real history of the statue... I have a feeling that it was created as a tourist attraction.
  • Margaret Buckworth said at 2012-02-07T02:11:03+0000: This is an old list...3 yrs old. Sagrada Familia does not look like a building site inside anymore. It is so inspiring now. A highlight of our trip.
  • Signe Holm Andersen said at 2012-02-05T21:38:48+0000: At least we have beautiful people ;)
  • Allan Mckinnon said at 2012-02-05T11:50:08+0000: I totally agree about the mona lisa, but with that being said, the mona lisa is housed in a building containing the greatest diversity of art I can imagine anywhere. If I get back to Paris, I want to spend at least three days at the Louvre. You get so overcome during the exposure to all of the art work, you start moving faster, more like taking an inventory than relishing in all that greatness; which in my case, resulted in feeling cheated at having missed so much. ��You need some processing time to come back the next day and do some more.
  • Lane Morgan said at 2012-02-07T22:33:56+0000: I love this article! I have to admit Ive been to 6 of the 9!
  • Tasha Pablo said at 2012-02-05T03:19:27+0000: The church next to Dublin Castle is actually beautiful and we just walked in through the open doors, no tour necessary.
  • Krasimir G. Ch said at 2012-02-07T12:35:45+0000: I have 7.
  • Stu Thompson said at 2011-06-16T16:06:15+0000: When I first read the title of this post "Little Mermaid statue" popped into my mind. Soooo disappointing. And I've sprung the "sorry, no, that's the Tower Bridge that looks cool...this ugly thing we are walking on is the London Bridge."
  • Vaibhav Lohia said at 2011-07-19T14:13:01+0000: I have been to 1,2,3.5,6,7 and yes BIG disappointments, especially Mona Lisa.
  • said at 2011-06-21T12:23:24+0000: I saw Manneken Pis and the Little Mermaid without crowds, but I was disappointed nonetheless. BTW, the Mona Lisa is not painted on canvas.
  • Andrew Steven said at 2011-06-08T19:11:47+0000: Oh I think Mozart's house (where he was born) in Salzburg, complete with doll dressed up in a crib, is still the most cringe-making tourist attraction in Europe. Make time to see that one!
  • Marco Crepaldi said at 2012-03-28T10:03:23+0000: Abbastanza d'accordo!
  • Koen Van Hamme said at 2012-09-02T08:42:24+0000: Disagreeing 100% with Manneken Pis, Mermaid an Mona Lisa. I think most tourist have bent expectations. I mean, you KNOW that what you are going to watch is just a bronze statue of a little boy peeing... What do you expect? That he's going to start dancing and doing magic tricks? Look beyond the simple statue... it's about the great legends behind it.

Older comments on Nine Most Disappointing Attractions in Europe

21 April 2009

I went to #1,3, and 7 and enjoyed them all. And NONE of them were crowded. Often I was the only one at the attraction. Also, most of these are already next to something interesting. It’s not a big deal to stroll along the water or cross the street. C’mon. Are you really going to be that close and NOT go to it? It’s not hassel and wont wreck your day. Just go to them.

01 April 2009

I agree with all of them. (Well, don’t know about the live sex shows in Amsterdam unless you count the back alley action we saw there 36 years ago.) The Mona Lisa is the worst – and people with cell phones that they stick up in the air in my viewing space make it so.

12 January 2010

They should build a rolling conveyor belt next to the Mona Lisa, each tourist gets 2 seconds to look.

Andy Mesa
20 January 2010

To this day I consider the €11 I spent to go inside the Sagrada Familia as the biggest rip off of all the sights I’ve seen in 50 European cities.

The Little Mermaid statue should be viewed via canal tour, it’s only about $5 and you see a lot more than just that.

Patricia Morrise
11 July 2010

Croatia is totally is one of my favorite places. Another one is Bulgaria, just fantastic especially the have the best natural park,where only hiking is allowed.

Zhang Fan
07 March 2011

the Sagrada Familia is amazing…!! but it really takes a long time to wait for the elevator…

22 March 2011

Decided to come see the original before reading the new list, and I’m amused at how many of these I’ve seen (at least the outside of).

Both the Mona Lisa and the interior of La Sagrada Familia I knew in advance not to expect much. I adore Gaudi but didn’t even bother going inside.

The London Bridge comment made me laugh, because we really SHOULDN’T expect anything of it, but do anyway!

The only one I semi-disagree with? Mannekin Pis! Yes, it’s a tiny statue of a boy peeing surrounded by tourists. But if you’re not on a mission to see it, the touristy-ness of it is really funny. Seeing busloads of Japanese tourists making peace signs in front of said statue of a little boy peeing (wearing an interesting outfit)? Priceless.