Land of backpackers, group tours and luxury river cruises. We constantly hear about amazing places in Europe…
But what are the overrated places to avoid?
1. The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen
Possibly the most famous landmark in Denmark. When you tell somebody you’ve been to Copenhagen, often their response is ‘ooh did you see The Little Mermaid?’
Well, yes. Yes, I did.
But only just! The damn thing is so small that is just disappears behind the swarm of tourists all trying to get their million dollar photo from Copenhagen. It’s also far, far away from everything else! A 10 min walk from the closest road. A 45 min walk from the central train station.
- Want a photo of just you and the statue? Forget it!
- Want a photo of just the statue, sitting there with the ocean backdrop? Tough!
- Want a quick look at it while checking out the rest of Copenhagen on a quick visit? Good luck!
If you’re in a rush – trying to see all of Copenhagen in a quick weekend getaway or part of a whirlwind tour of Europe – perhaps don’t bother going to The Little Mermaid unless it’s actually really important to you.
If you do go, get as close as you can, get the best pic you can under the circumstances and then leave. Crop the photo later to try to make it look a bit more relaxed.
2. Paris. All of Paris
The first time I went to Paris, it was the last stop on a 3 week Contiki tour around Europe. It was September 2008 – just a week after my 23rd birthday, and my first time to Europe (only my 2nd trip outside of Australia!)
We were there for 2 nights – only 1 full day and it was a rush around to see all the major sites. Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Moulin Rouge, The Louvre… I’d been travelling for nearly 6 weeks, and was sick of sitting on a bus day in, day out with the same 50 people.
People told me this was why I didn’t enjoy Paris. It wasn’t that Paris was dull, overrated and packed with tourist – it was that I was not in the frame of mind to enjoy it.
“Paris is a romantic city. Don’t rush around to see the sights – take it slow. Walk around and absorb the atmosphere. Drink coffee in cute cafes. Explore parks and culture. You’ll fall in love with it if you do that!”
So, in 2012 – while living in London – my friend and I decided to make use of the Eurostar and go to Paris for the weekend (aah the advantages of living in Europe).
- We wandered the streets and got lost
- We drank coffee in little cafes
- We explored parks and tried to find culture
Of course, it was Tash’s first time in Paris so we still made sure that our wanderings took in things like the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and The Louvre.
Note: Both times I went to Paris, I looked at the outside of The Louvre – no interest in going inside!
My thoughts the 2nd time around?
Exactly the same! And Tash agreed – she even cut her trip short (she was staying longer – I had to get back to London for work and she didn’t) – paying a fortune to buy a last minute Eurostar ticket.
The trouble with Western Europe is that it’s full of expectations. You grow up with these romantic notions of these places, based on movies and your parent’s stories from when they travelled 30 years ago. You FINALLY get there yourself and – bleh. It’s just a city.
You know what places in Europe I’ve enjoyed the most?
You know what they all have in common?
- I didn’t spend much time in big cities, it was the countryside and smaller towns.
- I didn’t have expectations when I arrived. If you don’t have any expectations then you can’t be let down. Everything will exceed your expectations – and that’s how you really enjoy a place.
If your expectations are let down, you won’t be happy. Even if the place/experience is still good – if it’s not as good as you expected then it will ruin the experience for you.
Go to places you know nothing about. Just show up. Explore. Learn. Have your expectations exceeded!
3. Marbella, Spain
Marbella, Spain – a place I’d heard of but knew nothing about.
This is true of many of the places I go to – I tend to do not much research on a place before I visit. Often, it leads to new experiences. To see places I otherwise wouldn’t have, and to arrive with no expectations means that I can’t be let down – everywhere exceeds expectations!
This time it backfired.
I’d been working on a small farm in the region of Almería for a few weeks, volunteering organised through Workaway. The host was driving down to Malaga for work and offered to give me a lift to anywhere along the way, or in the basic region. I looked at a map, and Marbella jumped out at me – so the next day, off I went with my Workaway host.
The first suggestion that perhaps I’d picked the wrong place? When he dropped me off he said ‘Welcome to Surrey in the sun’
The Reality of Marbella?
So, I love Spain. It’s one of my favourite countries in Europe. I spent several months in Spain – mostly in Andalusia, the southern autonomous region of the country. I love the culture, the language, the architecture that has lots of Moorish (North African/Islamic) influences.
The downside – many places along the Spanish coast are essentially Britain.
- There are more Brits than Spaniards
- There is more English than Spanish spoken
- There is more sunburn than beautiful Mediterranean complexion
Turns out, Marbella is one of these places!
I sat down in a restaurant and ordered in Spanish. The English waiter didn’t know what I meant, and asked me to speak English. Not a good sign. Not going to help me learn Spanish!
I packed up and left the very next day!
Travelling with no planned itinerary, with little to no research can be very rewarding. Especially in an area such as Europe, where the transport is easy and nearly everywhere is relatively safe – you’re not going to accidentally get off a bus in a war zone.
The downside is sometimes you miss out on things that you would have known about with a bit more research and planning. Also, sometimes you end up in places you just don’t like.
This has happened on several occasions during my 10 years of travelling the world. The upside of having no set itinerary – you can just leave if you don’t like it… Or you can extend your stay if you do like it!
Places can surprise you – sometimes in a good way, and sometimes in a not so good way. Either way, this is what I travel for – to learn about places and cultures first hand!
4. Dracula’s Castle (Bran Castle)
Everyone has heard of Dracula. Everyone has heard of Transylvania. But does everyone know that they’re REAL!?
I’m not joking! Transylvania is a large region of Romania, in Eastern Europe. The famous Dracula, although a fictional character in Bram Stoker’s novel, is based on a real person – Vlad Tepes AKA Vlad the Impaler.
So… While in Romania, why not visit “Dracula’s Castle” ?!?!
Because – IT’S NOT HIS CASTLE!
The castle in Bran – just outside Brasov – is the place famously known as Dracula’s Castle. You know why? Because somebody is very good at business and capitalising on popular culture. Vlad never lived here. He really has no provable connections to Bran.
Some people say that Bran Castle is similar to how Bram Stoker described it in the book, so it must be the inspiration. However, Bram Stoker never actually went to Romania to see it and get inspired!
The castle itself is kinda cute. But it’s tiny! Not particularly overwhelming. And very well kept – aren’t castles meant to be cool ruins on top of a mountain?
The other downside to Bran Castle? TOURISTS! Tourists everywhere!
Overall, Romania doesn’t have many tourists – not by European standards anyway. There are enough that you can find hotels, guesthouses, information for getting to places… But you never feel crowded. You never need to queue to see something. In a lot of places, you’ll actually be the only person there.
Not at Bran Castle! It’s like every single person in Romania is in this tiny town at once. Tourist souvenir shops everywhere – the first I’d seen in 2 weeks in Romania. Argh!
Bram Stoker sounding similar to Bran & stake are only coincidences… As far as I know.
Visit some REAL Dracula / Vlad Tepes sites, not the fake ones.
- Sighișoara – a beautiful medieval town, that still has its complete city walls and citadel. It’s the birthplace of Vlad Tepes
- Cetatea Poenari – the REAL Dracula’s castle! This is the castle that Vlad Tepes actually lived in and ruled from. It’s in ruins now, on top of a mountain (I told you – castles go on mountains!), and much more difficult to get to – but worth it
5. Manneken Pis – Brussels
When I was in Brussels, I did a free walking tour. I do enjoy the free walking tours that you get all over Europe, and in a growing number of places around the world. You get a good insight into a place from locals, or backpackers/students who have lived in the city for a while, fallen in love with it and enjoy sharing their knowledge and passion with people.
So, during the tour, the guide announced that we were about to go to the most overrated, crowded attraction in the city… Manneken Pis!
Has anybody been to Copenhagen? Did you see The Little Mermaid? It’s tiny, isn’t it!? I bet you were disappointed. Well guess what…? Manneken Pis is Brussels’ version of The Little Mermaid. Small, disappointing, and crowded with tourists!”
He wasn’t kidding! It’s even smaller than The Little Mermaid, but at least it’s in the city centre. But the tourists! It’s like a moshpit trying to get close enough to see him and take a decent photo – watch out for pickpockets!
There is a girl version – Jeanneke Pis – elsewhere in the city, that is less famous and really about the same level of disappointing.
If you’re in Brussels, you have to see both Manneken Pis and Jeanneke Pis. They’re fun, they’re hilarious – and if you’re there during certain times of year then you might even see them dressed up in funny costumes, like Santa.
Just beware, they’re small, there are heaps of tourists, and it will be difficult to get close to them. Also, watch out for some very well practised pickpockets!
6. Great Britain. Not so great
So, Marbella ain’t so great because it’s so British… What are my thoughts on The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
First off – how long does the name of the country have to be? Really!? How do you write that on a form?
Don’t even get me started on:
- The weather – have you even heard of summer?
- People complaining about the weather – even more annoying than the actual weather!
- The plumbing – where is the water pressure? My shower on a small Thai island is better!
Really, there is just so much mediocrity and disappointment here that I think it warrants its own post!
…Watch this space.
Go to London. See Big Ben. Party in SoHo.
Really – there are much more interesting places in the world to travel. South East Asia, Eastern Europe, Central & South America. Go somewhere with a new language, culture and amazing mountains to hike. Go somewhere you know nothing about.
Perhaps visit the UK briefly, and then have an adventure such as travelling from Northern Ireland to Australia overland! Spend most of your time in Northern Ireland (I spent 2 years!) – it’s by far my favourite place in the UK.
This post is not meant to deter you from travelling, or from seeing these places – I’ve seen them all (some of them more than once)! It’s meant to be humorous, yet factual.
Go to these places, see them for yourself – but you’ve been warned – keep your expectations in check!
Then, go somewhere new. Go somewhere amazing. Go somewhere that you know nothing about, and let the real adventure begin!
Have you been to these places? What did you think? Agree with me, or think I’m crazy?
Have you been somewhere that you felt was overrated?
Let me know in the comments section below.