Everyone looks for something different in an ideal vacation, but most people can agree that long lines and endless waits aren’t part of anyone’s dream getaway. Obviously, some destinations feature awe-inspiring sights that truly demand to be seen, but the problem is everyone in the world knows about these places.
But what if you could experience the same type of wonder — minus the overwhelming crowds — simply by veering slightly off course? We’ve put together a list of popular “must-see” destinations that actually have an equally impressive, much less crowded alternative right around the corner. Take a look!
Skip: Hollywood Walk of Fame
Believe it or not, Hollywood isn’t teeming with celebrity encounters. Easy-to-recognize stars don’t spend much time walking around in tourist areas. The only major studio located nearby is Paramount Pictures. Instead of your favorite movie star, you are sure to find busloads of tourists and a depressing number of homeless individuals.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame won “Worst Tourist Attraction in the World” in a TripAdvisor survey. An estimated 10 million visitors a year — that’s more than 27,000 a day! — make this sidewalk overcrowded and dirty. Unless you have a handprint fetish and a love for unofficial character impersonators, this kitschy hotspot is an easy pass.
See: Hollywood Reservoir Trail or Beverly Hills
Hiking the Hollywood Reservoir path is a much better, off-the-radar Hollywood experience. The flat 3.3-mile trail provides unique views of the iconic Hollywood Sign, and the paved loop around the reservoir is accessible from Lake Hollywood Drive. Be sure to check closure times to avoid getting locked in.
If you refuse to give up the dream of celebrity sightings, Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades or Malibu are better places to go. Just take a stroll up Rodeo Drive to do some window shopping and a little VIP spotting. Better yet, the latest issue of US Weekly can tip you off to some current public hangouts for celebs.
Skip: New England’s Peep Show
Okay, it’s not that kind of peep show! Nature lovers know that “leaf peeping” in New England is as synonymous with fall as pumpkin spice. Unfortunately, unpredictable weather can throw a wrench into these travel plans. With a window of only a couple of weeks, “peepers” flock to the Northeast in droves at this time.
Cold snaps, humidity and varied rainfall all affect the foliage, which can even vary from one valley to the next. Travelers have to prepare for last-minute plan changes, and this gets tricky with skyrocketing hotel prices that often sell out. Plus, AAA warns of high rates of road rage among the locals. Go figure…
See: The Ozarks in the Fall
Travelers heading to New England to view the gorgeous fall leaves could end up disappointed, but the region still has plenty to see and do year-round. As long as you plan according to the season, it’s a great area to visit — but maybe at a less crowded time.
In the meantime, if your heart is set on seeing the pretty colors of fall, head south instead. The Ozark National Forest in Arkansas offers 1.2 million acres of deciduous forest. Three temperate zones give leaf gazers two viewing windows to catch the change. More varied colors appear in early to mid-October, while late October to early November has bolder hues.
Skip: Daytona Beach
A relaxing beach vacation isn’t the scene you find at Daytona. As a mecca for spring breakers and NASCAR fans, this is where people go to get loud and rowdy. On the other hand, it’s on the Atlantic side of the state, which boasts rougher waters better suited for surfing along Daytona Beach.
Daytona is known as one of Florida’s uglier beaches, and crime is continuously increasing in the area. Vehicles can drive right up onto the sand, so the overall atmosphere feels a little like a big, sandy tailgate event. While this is great for the party crowd, families are sure to experience extra stress about their kids’ safety.
See: Clearwater Beach
Clearwater Beach is a much more tranquil choice, and TripAdvisor recently ranked it “#1 Beach in the U.S.” Located on the Gulf side of Florida, the waters are calm, and the sand is as soft and white as powdered sugar. Even better, the sand is cool to the touch, so no burned feet!
Parking is free in downtown Clearwater, or the $4 Clearwater ferry can take you right to the beach without traffic or stress. Head to the north side for quiet serenity or choose a fun water activity at the marina. You can check out the street performers and craft vendors at Pier 60’s festival on any night.
Skip: Loch Ness
Unless you love conspiracy theories or are looking for kitschy souvenirs, Loch Ness is just another lake. Scotland has much prettier areas — just without the mystique of lake monsters, of course. Crowds gravitate to the loch year-round, but they don’t find anything beyond scenic views.
The Centre & Exhibition hall hasn’t seen a facelift in the last 30-plus years, and the shabby museum has left many visitors disappointed after paying the £9 entrance price. Although it could be an oddball attraction worth checking out if you’re a life-long Nessie believer, it generally misses the mark for anyone else.
See: Loch Awe
For an unforgettable Highland experience, Loch Awe is where you should be heading on your Scottish tour. Measuring 25 miles long, it is Scotland’s longest freshwater loch. Much of the area surrounding it offers the magical feel of an unexplored wilderness.
The village church, Saint Conan’s Kirk, is an inspiring structure with breathtaking gardens and views. Visitors from April through September can explore Kilchurn Castle for free. The adventurous at heart love the 1-kilometer trek inside Hollow Mountain to discover the Cruachan Power Station. A trip to the area isn’t complete without a hands-on falconry experience as well.
Oh, Prague! Does anyone else remember how obsessed Rory Gilmore was with the city throughout the run of Gilmore Girls? It’s a cultural center for indie writers, artists and hipsters alike — and that is exactly what makes Prague so overrated. The Czech Republic capital draws so many tourists that it’s almost impossible to avoid crowds.
Yes, the buildings are beautiful, but they aren’t especially unique in Eastern Europe. Worse, compared to other similar destinations, Prague is surprisingly expensive. Plus, many of the city’s most popular attractions, such as the hourly Astronomical Clock show, can feel a bit disappointing.
See: Riga, Latvia
Riga, Latvia, is off the radar for travelers to Europe, making this city tragically underrated. As the largest of the Baltic States and more than 900 years old, Latvia is rich with culture and beauty. The blend of Art Nouveau and medieval architecture in Riga earned it recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The pedestrian-only town has some of the lowest crime rates in Europe. If you happen to visit during the summer solstice, you can experience the magic of sun celebrations and festivities. Because Riga is close to the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska, the sun barely sets in the city in the summertime.
Skip: Egyptian Pyramids
The great pyramids at Giza are impressive architectural feats, but, sadly, the glory days of seeing them have passed. Previously, lines to visit the pyramids were their own special brand of hell, as they stretched through the scorching desert.
Since 2011, however, continuous civil unrest and terrorism have been a problem in Egypt, and terrorists have injured and even killed many tourists. Local vendors have also become quite aggressive in their attempts to make money. The U.S. Embassy issued a travel warning in 2013 for the Giza pyramid complex, as vendors were practically attacking cars as they entered to pressure them to buy stuff.
See: Temple of Dendur in NYC
Since the last remaining “wonder of the ancient world” is no longer a safe travel destination, you might want to consider a domestic alternative. Commissioned by Petronius, the Roman governor of Egypt around 15 BC, the Temple of Dendur once overlooked the Nile River in Tuzis (known as Dendur today).
The temple faced permanent submersion as a result of the construction of the Aswan High Dam in 1960, so it was dismantled in 1963 and given to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The exhibit opened in 1978 in the Sackler Wing of the museum. Museum guests can now walk through the ancient halls without even needing a passport.
Skip: Plymouth Rock
American history buffs find a particular sense of patriotism in the lore of Plymouth Rock. After all, 400 years ago, the Pilgrims disembarked from the Mayflower after spending months crossing the Atlantic. Legend dictates this rock is where they first stepped on land in the New World.
Unfortunately, the origin of Plymouth Rock is a bit of a hoax. The ship first anchored in what is now Provincetown, Cape Cod. This particular rock didn’t gain recognition until more than 100 years later. If that isn’t disappointing enough, the rock itself is quite underwhelming. At least, it’s housed under a pretty canopy structure for viewing comfort.
See: Plimoth Plantation
For a better take on early American history, venture down to Plimoth Plantation. This living history museum has delighted field trip groups and tourists since 1947. The “English Village” is set to mimic 1624, with historical interpreters dressing and speaking as if they are still in that period. They are trained to not break character to provide an immersive experience for visitors.
The neighboring Wampanoag Homesite offers insight into the lives of 17th-century Native Americans. The staff are all Indigenous Peoples from the Wampanoag or other Nations. They dress in traditional clothing and share both historical and modern aspects of their culture with guests.
Skip: Four Corners
Not all overhyped tourist destinations attract huge crowds. This one is actually far enough in the middle of nowhere that you will probably only wait in line 10 to 15 minutes to see it. Still, it isn’t all that exciting once you finally make it. Yes, you can stand where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah all meet. The spot also overlaps three sovereign nations: the U.S., Navajo Nation and Ute Nation.
Besides the photo op and some occasional Native-ware vendors, there is literally nothing else to do at Four Corners. Factor in the lack of flushable toilets and the heat, and the $7 per person price tag feels like highway robbery.
See: Grand Canyon
If you do find yourself in the middle of America’s Southwest, then definitely stop at the Grand Canyon. For only $30, you can drive as many as 15 people into the national park to experience some of the most amazing sights ever created. Plus, your pass is good for seven days if you want to take your time and explore this natural wonder.
While roads and overlooks can get congested, the canyon has plenty of spots to take in the views all by yourself. Skip the glass, horseshoe-shaped Skywalk bridge at the West entrance, though. Those breathtaking views come with a $50-plus price tag, and cameras aren’t even allowed!
The legendary Versailles Palace is as beautiful as the hype claims. Unfortunately, everyone and their cousin knows this and wants to go see it. That means you can expect to see more of the backs of people’s heads than the “Hall of Mirrors.”
As the palace wasn’t blessed with the wonder of modern A/C, visiting anytime the weather is warm can quickly turn into a miserable and claustrophobic experience. The vast gardens are amazing, and the open space has the bonus of less congestion. As many seasoned travelers can tell you, if you can’t resist going, pick an overcast day or stay outside the palace.
See: Rundāle Palace
Known as the “Versailles of Latvia,” Rundāle Palace offers a perfect alternative to the better-known French counterpart. This palace was an early design of Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who went on to build the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg.
Much of the opulence today is the result of extensive restoration. The World Wars weren’t kind to the palace. Germans used it as a hospital in WWI, and the Soviets used it as a school and stored grain in the Duke’s throne room during WWII. Despite all that, the beautiful gardens still feature their original topography.
Skip: South of the Border
If you’ve ever driven down the East Coast, you’ve seen the miles and miles of billboards for South of the Border. After passing dozens of them, you might be tempted to check out the hype. Don’t. Just keep driving.
Everything about this roadside attraction feels sun-faded and nicotine-stained with a touch of subtle racism. Built during the glory days of the “Great American Road Trip,” it screams of 1950’s kitsch. The video arcade and amusement park have seen better days, and nothing screams “South Carolina” like the roadside fireworks stores.
See: Kings Dominion
Travelers on the East Coast need to venture a little north to Doswell, Virginia, where they can find the 400-acre Kings Dominion amusement park. The park hosts more than 60 rides, including one of the largest collections of roller coasters.
Admission starts at $40 for an adult and includes the water park. This makes it one of the most affordable theme parks around these days. Soak City is expanding in the 2020 season with a new sub-area called Coconut Shores. This multi-level water play structure and children’s wave pool will add to the fun of the attraction for families.
Skip: New York’s Little Italy
Is there a more popular U.S. foodie mecca than New York City? The melting pot nature of the city means authentic fare in nearly every cuisine imaginable. However, don’t let the name of this particular area fool you. Little Italy is more of a tourist trap than a zone for delicious Italian eats.
This postage stamp neighborhood nestled next to Chinatown is all about hawking Big Apple souvenirs and subpar Italian food like (Gasp!) Sbarro. Locals know that the good stuff isn’t found in Manhattan. Instead, they venture to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx to satisfy their cravings for Italian-American food. Further east, it gets even more authentic.
See: Boston’s North End
Now if you want real Italian-American food, you need to head a few hours east to Boston. As a city that is altogether underrated in comparison to New York, Boston is where Italian restaurants are still family-owned by locals. Hanover Street in the North End is one of those magical places where every restaurant is good.
The spots along side streets are yummy too, but there’s an unspoken rule that they are reserved for the regulars. Locals call Mike’s Pastry a tourist trap, but it’s a Boston institution that makes the exact cannolis that everyone else tries to copy.
Skip: The Alamo
While this sounds like blasphemy to any native Texan, the Alamo isn’t all that impressive in person. The story of the Alamo is amazing, and it would be hard to find a more beloved place that inspires such pride in a battle that was lost, but the building itself is simply underwhelming. You can skip the inside altogether, as there’s not much to see unless you really insist on seeing a few artifacts.
Like all of South Texas, it’s hot outside. The passionate tour guides try to offer some distraction with their rousing renditions of the revolution. As a “Shrine to Texas Liberty,” the Alamo takes itself a bit too seriously for the taste of non-locals.
See: San Antonio River Walk
Instead of wasting time at the Alamo, experience the unique blend of culture San Antonio offers with a little stroll. Once home to the Payaya people, San Antonio draws influence from its original Spanish settlers and its later German immigrants. The culture of each ethnicity has melded into a beautiful flavor that isn’t found elsewhere.
The River Walk acts as the heart of historic San Antonio. Lined with all kinds of restaurants, shops and museums, the path along the river allows visitors to enjoy a tasty meal in a magical outdoor setting. Stretching 15 miles, this waterway is also the largest urban ecosystem in the U.S.
While Amsterdam has a certain appeal in some circles, visitors looking for more than a “good trip” are sure to be disappointed. In a word, the city is dirty — and not just in a sexual way via the Red Light District and its connections to human trafficking and violence against women.
Plastic bottles, cigarette butts and trash litter the ground and water everywhere you go, which is extra upsetting, considering how expensive it is to visit the city. The cheapest hostels — which most Americans would not want to stay in — cost about the same as a 4-star hotel room in other cities. Pricier “hotels” often mislead you and stick you with communal facilities you would expect to find at a hostel.
Maastricht is where to go for an enjoyable Dutch experience that is inspired by Spanish, Roman, French and Belgian influences. Unlike the lackluster buildings in Amsterdam, Maastricht architecture boasts both medieval and futuristic designs.
A stroll through the cobbled old town is steeped in history. Bisschopsmolen gives you the opportunity to learn about and eat bread made from grain ground by the oldest working watermill in the country. The best Dutch wines come from the grapes of the local vineyards. You can even stay at a 15th-century Gothic monastery that has been transformed into a 5-star hotel.
Skip: Sistine Chapel
As the center for one of the biggest religions in the world, Vatican City attracts people from all walks of life. Even for the devout, the level of opulence found here can seem overwhelming when compared to the greater world scene. Every surface is dripping with gold, velvet and jewels as a testament to great wealth. It’s beautiful but also inspires a little discomfort for anyone who is remotely philanthropic.
Of course, art lovers want to see one specific thing when venturing through the museum complex: the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. While the six-year masterpiece of Michelangelo is nothing to take lightly, neither are the crowds of people also craning their heads up for a look.
See: The Louvre
Instead of battling the crowds for that one ceiling, head on over to the Louvre in Paris for more world-famous art than you can see in a single day. Don’t overlook the ceilings in this palace museum, either.
While many complain about the long queues to get in, you can reserve your exact time slot in advance online. The museum also provides step-by-step walking tours, so you can see exactly what you want. A word to the wise: Don’t stress about seeing the Mona Lisa if it’s too crowded, as it can be a bit of a letdown in size for many enthusiasts.
Skip: The Blarney Stone
Do you know what everyone needs, especially after all the recent turmoil and fear? To share germs by kissing the same rock, of course. Irish tradition dictates that visitors bend over backwards to kiss the Blarney Stone. What will you receive for your efforts? The gift of speech and who knows how many nasty viruses!
Urban legend also claims that local kids pee on the stone at night. That’s pretty gross for something Rick Steves calls one of the top 10 tourist traps in Europe. Save yourself the $18, a potential nasty bug and hours of waiting in line. Check out some better Irish offerings instead.
See: Bunratty Castle and Folk Park
Instead of risking catching a potentially deadly disease, step back in time with a stop at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. Built in 1425, this castle was once home to Vikings. It boasts of being “the most complete and authentic castle in Ireland.” For a few hours, you can live like a lord by partaking of a true medieval four-course feast within the castle.
The adjacent “living village” takes you back to 19th-century rural life. Folk Park features more than 30 buildings on 26 acres. Children are sure to enjoy the magic of the Fairy Trail, which includes a fairy university, fairy library and fairy shopping village.