If you’ve ever been on vacation, you’ve likely found yourself compelled by travel books, tour guides or even a bucket list to check out a popular or world-famous attraction. But some of the most popular attractions in a tourism hotspot are known as ‘tourist traps’ — establishments that target tourists with overpriced experiences and souvenirs.
With a notorious reputation for long lines, colossal crowds and bank-breaking gift shops, one survey revealed that two in three American travelers will avoid visiting attractions known as tourist traps. Those that have visited one can be left feeling underwhelmed, as the same survey revealed that 67% of travelers have experienced tourist traps that led to an inauthentic experience.
But with so many sights to see and so little vacation time, how can we tell which attractions might not be worth the visit after all? To find out, our analysts at Casago figured there was no better place to turn than TripAdvisor, where we scoured thousands of reviews left for attractions in the U.S. and all over the world for the opinions of visitors gone before. Read on to discover what we found out…
We Found the Biggest Tourist Trap in Every Country and State
We searched for the phrase ‘tourist trap’ on TripAdvisor (with no location filter applied) to find the global attractions with the most mentions of ‘tourist trap’ in accompanying reviews. We then searched for the biggest tourist traps in each country and U.S. state by customizing the location settings and carrying out the same search, ranking the attractions by the number of ‘tourist trap’ mentions.
- Four of the top 10 biggest tourist traps in the world are located in the U.S.
- Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is the biggest tourist trap in the U.S. and the world, counting 1,049 mentions of the phrase ‘tourist trap’ in reviews
- Edinburgh’s Royal Mile beats out top London attractions to be the UK’s most notorious tourist trap (with 505 mentions)
- Barcelona’s Las Ramblas street (793 mentions) is the second-biggest tourist trap in the world, followed by Hawaii’s Dole Plantation (708 mentions)
Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco Is the Biggest Tourist Trap in the World
Our map reveals the biggest tourist trap in every country, based on the number of times the phrase ‘tourist trap’ is mentioned in accompanying TripAdvisor reviews. Attractions range from restaurants and markets to geological features and world-famous landmarks. Still, the biggest of all is Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, California, which counts more ‘tourist trap’ mentions (1,049) than any other attraction in the world.
Situated on the northern waterfront of San Francisco, the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood is home to souvenir shops, restaurants and attractions. It receives around 12 million visitors annually as one of the city’s top tourist destinations. But not only do the locals steer clear, with SFGate calling it “the most universally derided neighborhood in all of San Francisco,” it also attracts the ire of tourists online.
Reviews mentioning the phrase ‘tourist trap’ highlight the district’s “overpriced restaurants” and “tacky touristy tat,” while others take issue with the local wildlife (“a desperate seagull attacked my fried calamari”). On the plus side, some reviewers interpret the phrase ‘tourist trap’ positively.
Meanwhile, the “soooo crowded” Eiffel Tower comes up top in France, as does Niagara Falls in Canada, where one reviewer complained that “every attraction dumped you into a gift shop.” The Trevi Fountain in Italy’s capital also takes the tourist trap title, with write-ups describing the crowds and expensive shops and restaurants nearby.
The Biggest Tourist Trap in Every U.S. State, According to Reviews
You may associate tourist traps with bustling city centers, but the U.S. has a long history of unusual roadside attractions all over the country designed to tempt drivers off the road and into the gift shop. If you’ve driven across America, you may have encountered the ‘world’s biggest’ monuments or attractions that stoke your curiosity with endless billboards. We’ve mapped the biggest tourist trap in each U.S. state according to TripAdvisor reviews.
Among the tourist traps with the most mentions are restaurants, monuments, museums, marketplaces and malls. Some attractions are entire streets or districts, like Times Square in New York, the Albuquerque Old Town in Albuquerque, and the Historic River Street in Savannah, Georgia.
Two Elvis Presley-related attractions also feature on our map: the Elvis Presley Birthplace & Museum in Mississippi and Graceland in Tennessee, with one reviewer leaving the following message about the latter on TripAdvisor: “Say no to Graceland the tourist trap from hell.”
San Francisco, Barcelona and Hawaii Home to the World’s Most Notorious Tourist Traps
Our data reveals the top 10 biggest tourist traps in the world, ranked by the number of mentions of the phrase ‘tourist trap’ in accompanying TripAdvisor reviews. Four of the top 10 tourist traps can be found in the U.S., among them the world’s biggest (Fisherman’s Wharf) and the Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans.
In second place after Fisherman’s Wharf comes Las Ramblas (793 mentions), a bustling boulevard in Barcelona that sees more than 200,000 people walk it every day. One TripAdvisor reviewer called it “crowded with tourists and vendors selling cheap trinkets … and pickpockets,” no doubt referencing that the street is Europe’s worst pickpocketing hotspot. According to one expat blog, locals avoid this street “like the plague.”
Dublin’s popular Temple Bar ranks fourth, attracting TripAdvisor reviews with titles like “The Tourist Trap to kill all Tourist Traps” and scathing write-ups of the district’s “overpriced, terrible Guinness.” Two German attractions also appear: Berlin’s historic Checkpoint Charlie and the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, where one reviewer experienced long waiting times and expensive food.
Times Square and the Hollywood Walk of Fame Among the Biggest Tourist Traps in the U.S.
We know by now that Fisherman’s Wharf is the most notorious tourist trap in the U.S. and the world at large, but which other attractions rank as the biggest tourist traps in America? Our analysis reveals that after Fisherman’s Wharf comes the Dole Plantation in Wahiawa, Hawaii, counting 708 mentions of the phrase ‘tourist trap’ in TripAdvisor reviews.
This historic pineapple plantation boasts its own Pineapple Express miniature railway and one of the world’s largest mazes. Still, the attraction left a bitter taste in many reviewers’ mouths, with one labeling it “the worst attraction in Hawaii” and another deeming it “shlock-city, one overpriced touristy item after another.”
Among the other top 10 biggest tourist traps in the U.S. are New York’s world-famous Times Square, which sees 330,000 people pass through every day, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which a 2019 study named the worst tourist attraction in the world. One underwhelmed visitor to LA’s most iconic sidewalk warned: “if there aren’t lots of tourists in the way, there’ll be people trying to make you part ways with your money.”
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and Top London Attractions Rated Biggest Tourist Traps
Counting 505 mentions of the phrase ‘tourist trap’ in reviews, our research reveals that the biggest tourist trap in the UK is the Royal Mile, a stretch of cobbled road in Edinburgh spanning 1.81 km (or one Scots Mile). Connecting Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, two of the Scottish capital’s top tourist destinations, it’s no wonder this street receives a footfall of over four million people every year.
With great footfall, however, comes a great many souvenir shops, and the Royal Mile is lined with them — much to the chagrin of the Edinburgh World Heritage (EWH) trust, which in 2019 warned that the historic road was in danger of becoming a “tourist ghetto.”
The next two attractions in our ranking are both in London: the London Eye and Covent Garden. Drawing 3.75 million visitors annually, the London Eye is one of the city’s most popular attractions, despite being an “overpriced tourist trap,” according to one review. Meanwhile, the famous shopping district Covent Garden is labeled a “tourist trap of expensive designer outlets” on TripAdvisor.
The Biggest Tourist Traps in Every Country and State
If you’re planning a trip and have a particular attraction on your itinerary, use our interactive table below to find out whether it ranks as one of the biggest tourist traps in the country or U.S. state based on the opinions of tourists gone before.
How to Not Fall Into a Tourist Trap
Our analysis reveals that some of the world’s biggest tourist traps, according to reviewers, are also among the world’s most iconic landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower, which some tourists may center their entire trip around visiting. Others are popular points on the bucket list, like Niagara Falls or the Taj Mahal.
If you’re heading to one of these must-see places, shop around for discounts if there’s a steep ticket price and research the quietest times to go (tickets may be cheaper for off-peak periods). See if you can buy a ticket in advance as well to save on long lines and crowds at the ticket booth.
To avoid tourist traps altogether, Insider recommends avoiding places with long lines, crowded areas and gift shops, and attractions that are popular on Instagram and have their hashtag (e.g., #LondonEye). When it comes to getting something to eat, you should steer clear of restaurants with employees outside trying to draw you in.
One of the best ways to have an authentic experience of a new place is to go off the beaten track, dining where the locals recommend and taking a scenic walk through quieter streets. If you’re on the lookout for a souvenir, consider skipping the keychain and scoping out locally made crafts instead.
Methodology & Sources
To find the biggest tourist traps in the world, we first searched for the phrase ‘tourist trap’ on TripAdvisor without setting a location filter, which defaults the search setting to ‘worldwide.’ We were then able to gather the names of attractions/places, addresses and the number of mentions of the phrase ‘tourist trap’ in accompanying reviews. The world’s top 10 biggest tourist traps are those with the highest number of mentions of the phrase ‘tourist trap’ in reviews.
We then repeated this process by changing the location filter on TripAdvisor for each country and each U.S. state. We removed entries that indicated that the attraction/place was not a tourist trap, e.g., if the review contained word combinations such as ‘not a trap,’ ‘not a tourist trap,’ ‘not tourist trap,’ ‘not trap,’ ‘wasn’t a trap’ etc.
For our world analysis, we set a minimum threshold of 10 mentions of the phrase ‘tourist trap.’ For each country and U.S. state, the threshold was set at five or more mentions.
Please note that tourist traps can refer to a range of experiences and impressions about a place, including how it looks, where it’s located, the general atmosphere or the style of the service. Not all mentions of ‘tourist trap’ necessarily equate to a poor experience from the person who reviewed the attraction.
The data was collected in January 2023.