Skip the Colosseum? Give Prague a Pass?
Speaker's Corner: Eva Holland sees an emerging trend in the world of travel advice, and she's not happy about it
09.02.09 | 10:24 AM ET
Is it too soon to call it a trend? I’ve been reading an awful lot of advice lately about steering clear of “over-rated” tourist attractions, and now—just in time for you early, early Christmas shoppers—Dorling Kindersley has released the ultimate guide to tourist-trap avoidance.
The Road Less Travelled offers “1,000 fresh and fascinating alternatives to hundreds of well-known tourist destinations and sights; including alternatives to the Carnival in Rio and the beaches of Thailand, the most-visited national parks, over-rated restaurants and holiday cliches.” So, for instance, it recommends Avebury over Stonehenge, or offers a whole slew of urban alternatives to Prague.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for travelers knowing our options. It’s only been a couple of months since I was praising Budget Travel’s “Better Than…” series, after all. But what I liked about that approach was the lack of cheap negativity accompanying the suggestions. It wasn’t about tearing down the most famous spots and the unthinking hordes that visit them. This excerpt from “The Road Less Travelled” in the Times Online doesn’t manage the same civility.
Here’s what the book had to say about Rome’s Colosseum, for example:
Italy’s most-visited sight is often crowded and usually has long queues. The entire building is a traffic roundabout and the interior is too precious to host concerts. Your visit will be even more memorable if you fall victim to a pickpocket.
Huh? The Colosseum gets written off because it’s not a live music venue?
It’s the same in the other over-rated-attraction-avoidance stories I’ve come across, as writers seem to compete for the snappiest put-down. Over at Yahoo! Travel, one writer decrees that Petrified Forest National Park doesn’t do much besides bringing visitors “an hour closer to the grave.” Awhile back, another writer described the Grand Canyon as “The Not-Bad Canyon” and “The ‘If you’re 10 miles away, go and see it’ Canyon.” And you might recall the controversy Chuck Thompson stirred up when he questioned why anyone would go to Ground Zero just to “watch a bunch of guys in hard hats milling around.”
These sorts of articles fall back, inevitably, on complaints about excessive crowds. The point isn’t always that the Colosseum, say, isn’t worth seeing, but rather that the Colosseum isn’t worth seeing from within a sea of people—and to a certain extent, I can sympathize. We’d all like to enjoy these spots privately, on our own terms. But, as my mother used to say, “Life’s not fair.” Instead of taking our toys and going home (or, in this case, decamping to a less popular attraction), why not do our best under the circumstances? An alarm clock is a good first step—I’ve had St. Peter’s Basilica and the ruins at Ephesus entirely to myself thanks to an early morning effort. Traveling in the off-season can help, too.
But even in peak season, at the busiest time of day, you won’t see me giving up the chance to see some of the world’s finest natural and architectural treasures—even if I have to risk a “holiday cliche” or two en route.