10 Beautiful Places in the World (That Actually Kinda Suck)

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Our world is chock full of amazing places. Seriously, go out your front door, start walking in any random direction, and chances are that you’ll probably hit something interesting within a few hours. It could be a meadow, a groovy street you’ve never visited before, a windswept stretch of coastline, or even just an all you can eat noodle bar offering free drinks to every unshaven customer. Hey, amazing is a relative concept.

The trouble is, most of us don’t do our own exploring. We comb guidebooks or the internet for places that crop up in top 10 must-see lists, and then we go exactly where everybody else does. And while some of these places genuinely are amazing (take a bow, Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu, and the Grand Canyon), some actually suck far more than you’d reasonably expect them to. In the mood for a flagrantly biased, wildly unscientific look at the world’s most overrated beauty spots? You’ve come to the right place…

10. Dresden, Germany, is Soullessly Ugly

Dresden’s nickname is “Florence on the Elbe.” That’s a mighty claim to fame, and it’s absolutely not overstated… provided you’ve just discovered this article in a crashed time machine and are reading it prior to February 13, 1945. That was the night Allied aircraft firebombed the ancient city, turning this architectural treasure into the urban equivalent of the charred lumps you get at the bottom of a firepit. So why, pray, do people still think of Dresden as beautiful? That’s probably because they’ve seen pictures of it after its partial reconstruction was finished, in 2005. The key word there is “partial.” Aside from a tiny fraction rebuilt in the center, most of Dresden today is soulless concrete housing blocks.

The guys in charge of reconstructing postwar Dresden weren’t West Germans keen to rebuild their shattered country. They were East German Communists, keen to show off the endless possibilities of Soviet concrete. When Kurt Vonnegut – who survived the firebombing of Dresden as a prisoner of war – visited the city after reconstruction, he claimed it “looked a lot like Dayton, Ohio.” No offense to residents of Dayton, but literally nobody in the history of the world has looked at Ohio’s sixth-largest city and said “this reminds me of Florence.”

9. Dublin, Ireland, is like Getting Mugged by the Monopoly Man

The capital of Ireland, Dublin is stop number one for millions of Americans proudly tracing their family’s history and/or looking to get falling-down drunk on Guinness. It’s a city that’s beautiful, historic, literary, and small enough to get a handle on, unlike it’s British behemoth of a cousin London. Sounds great, until you happen to inquire about the prices. At that point, you’ll find yourself weeping over your empty wallet as all your hard-earned cash evaporates in a haze of whiskey fumes.

Dublin is an expensive city. Yep, even if you’re used to NYC or London. Even if you’re used to Singapore. Dublin is the second most expensive city for expats in the entire Eurozone, beaten out only by Paris. But Paris at least doesn’t pretend to be anything but classy and haughtily unaffordable. Dublin advertises itself as your friend, as the jovial Irish guy you wanna share a drink with. It’s only afterwards that you realize he’s snatched your wallet mid-swig, and probably made off with your pants, too. Even tourism experts have called the city a “rip off.”

8. Iceland is Drowning Under Tourists

The entire population of Iceland is a mere 334,252, about the size of Santa Ana, California. The number of annual tourists to Iceland is over 2 million, or about the same as the population of Houston. Imagine the entire citizenry of Houston upping sticks and deciding to spend three months in the summer swarming through the streets of Santa Ana, taking selfies, clogging up traffic lanes, and generally acting like Americans on vacation (i.e. like jerkwads). Everything would vanish under a sea of ten gallon hats and Texan attitudes to gun safety. Well, that’s basically the permanent condition that Iceland lives in.

There’s no doubt that Iceland is a beautiful country, with rugged, awe-inspiring vistas, and stretches of remote road that can feel like driving on another planet. The only trouble is, those remote roads and rugged vistas are now jam packed full of Americans, Brits, Canadians and Germans clutching selfie sticks and talking about how there are way too many tourists in Iceland these days. Oh, and they’re also probably drunk, and acting in a way that’s guaranteed to annoy the locals. Thanks to drunk tourists, Iceland now has a major problem with people pooping in public areas. Do you really wanna add to these gross statistics?

7. Varanasi, India, is Where the Ganges Becomes Toxic Sludge

Varanasi is the spiritual home of Hinduism, a place where enlightenment fuses with mind-blowing architecture to create something completely unique. The centerpiece of this is the mighty Ganges, which flows through the city, washing away sin with its powerful waters. At least, that used to be the case. Today, the Ganges is less a river than it is a rolling wave of sludge so toxic it’ll either give you superpowers or just outright kill you.

Factories, sewage pipes, private bathrooms, and tanneries upstream all dump their waste into the Ganges as it makes its way across India. Elsewhere, the water is hived off for industrial uses, meaning what is left is unable to keep up a healthy flow. The result is a river of sludge that gets sludgier and sludgier as it snakes its way towards Varanasi. By the time it reaches the city, it can’t even really be called a river anymore. It’s more of a chemical swap that’s decided to go walkabouts. This is a doubly major issue, as one of the main reasons to visit Varanasi is to bathe in the river (seriously, don’t actually do this).There are clean up operations underway, but they’re behind schedule, over-budget and, frankly, not very effective.

6. Stonehenge, UK, is Right by a Busy Road

Imagine being at Stonehenge during the solstice. The eerie silence just before the sun rises between the perfectly aligned rocks would be magical. Or at least it would be, if that eerie silence wasn’t being broken by the sound of car horns, roaring engines, and gridlocked drivers yelling at one another. Yep, despite being an ancient wonder supposedly in the middle of nowhere, Stonehenge is actually close to a road. And what a road. Known as the A303, it is the key link between London and the counties of Devon and Cornwall. That’s the same Devon and Cornwall that Londoners drive to en masse every single weekend and public holiday.

Believe it or not, this is an improvement. Prior to 2013, an equally busy road went within yards of Stonehenge itself, meaning you could contemplate the mysteries of the universe while spoiled kids yelled out back windows and threw things at you. Still, even the newly diverted road leaves the monument smothered with an unceasing din of traffic. The good news is the British government has plans to build a tunnel. The bad news is archeologists say it will undermine Stonehenge’s foundations.

5. Dracula’s castle, Romania, is Surrounded by a Forest of Tacky Stalls

Maybe we’re asking a bit much to expect somewhere known as Dracula’s Castle to be free of tacky roadside stalls. But there’s ordinary roadside tat, and then there’s the sweeping miles of stuff that plagues Bran Castle in Romania, the source of Bram Stoker’s inspiration for his novel. You’ve probably seen pictures of the castle, looking suitably European and forbidding, surrounded by a sea of forest. What those pictures don’t show is the far-bigger forest of tackiness that surrounds the real one.

Approaching Bran Castle is like approaching Disneyland… if Disneyland were run on a budget of six dollars and staffed entirely by people who’d ditched their Goofy costumes for vampire trinkets. There are stalls selling vampire teeth. Stores selling vampire masks. Stores selling stuff you couldn’t possibly need in a billion years, but still has vampires on it. There is even a theme park replica of the castle, within spitting distance of the actual castle.

The worst part? Romania is full of beautiful castles no-one has ever heard of, all of which you can explore without some dude hassling you to buy fake rubber bats.

4. The Maldives is like Putting Yourself in a Beautiful Prison

Those screensavers of pristine white beaches lapped by crystal clear waters you’re always seeing on your mom’s old laptop? There’s a good chance they’re pictures of the Maldives, a tiny collection of islands in the Indian Ocean that banded together to form one – very spread out – state. To be sure, the islands are as beautiful as those pictures suggest. But entering an island paradise isn’t quite as simple as hopping the first flight to its capital, Male. Unless you’re very wealthy, or have done your research, your vacation in the Maldives could wind up being very expensive or very claustrophobic.

There are over 1,200 islands in the Maldives. The largest, Gan, is a mere 2.26 square kilometers. That means every resort is its own private island, and getting between them ain’t cheap. Unless you’re cool being trapped around the same people day in, day out, with nothing but the resort to see, you’ll have to shell out around $800 for a 15 minute seaplane flight to another island. That’s just one way. It’ll cost the same to get back, and “getting back” could well mean to an island resort that has nothing for you to do but drink. Great for unadventurous drunks. Hell for literally anybody else.

3. Bagan, Myanmar, is Plagued by Ham-fisted Temple Restorations

A collection of thousands of ancient temples spread out across an endless, rolling plain, Bagan in Myanmar looks like the sort of place you would be willing to kill to visit. For sure, it’s one of the most Instagrammable spots in Asia. But those awesome photos taken from afar and showing the distant temples wreathed with mist miss out on one very important piece of context. Historically, plenty of those same temples weren’t exactly cared for. They look like they do today not because that’s how they’re meant to look, but because the previous military government hamfistedly put them back together again without having a clue what they were doing.

Bagan’s restoration work is bad. Not just “not great”, but actively bad. The temples were put back together using cruddy, low-grade cement, and with regular bricks instead of faithful materials. While this isn’t always clear to the untrained eye, you can sometimes stumble across evidence of this shoddy workmanship as you walk around. The end result is a kind of Disney-fied version of Burmese history that’s about as authentic as the It’s a Small World ride. There’s a reason UNESCO listed Pyu in Myanmar but refused to touch Bagan with a bargepole.  

2. Germany’s Romantic Road was Invented by Travel Agents

The Romantic Road. Even the name is evocative, conjuring images of stately medieval towns, ancient castles, and more beautiful nature than you can shake a stick at. Running through Germany from the town of Wurzburg to Fussen in the Alps, the road sounds like the very definition of old fashioned European romanticism. There’s just one problem with that. It ain’t old. It’s not even something the Victorians came up with. It was invented by travel agents in the 1950s, and you better believe it’s as jam-packed with tourists as that implies.  

West Germany in the 1950s was just emerging from the shadow of WWII, and needed all the money and non-Nazi publicity it could get. So a bunch of travel agents designed a theme route that would show off their country at its best, and slapped an evocative name on it. While a lot of the stops on the route are indeed nice to look at, some are seriously overrated. Wurzburg, for example, is like someone took the best bits of Prague and made them smaller but still kept the same number of tourists. Rothenburg Od Der Tauber is like someone tried to see how many tour groups they could cram into one space before everyone started killing one another in a Mad Max-style orgy of violence. Our advice? Leave the beaten track and try Nuremberg instead.

1. Disney World Florida is as Magical as Cholera

As a kid, you probably dreamed of going there. Disney World in Orlando, Florida, is the biggest of the Disney amusement parks by far, and the one which advertises itself most aggressively. All of which simply proves the old adage that bigger is not necessarily better. Disney World has the worst rides, the emptiest swathes, and the least charm of all the parks in the Disney franchise.

This might not be such a pain on its own, but it’s also the most expensive. In a strange inversion of the logic that more money=better quality, Disney World charges more for an experience that’s significantly less enjoyable than that in its California, Paris, Shanghai or Tokyo sister parks. One major issue is that it’s just so spread out, getting from one place to another becomes a dispiriting experience. There’s also the issue of how worthwhile each place is or isn’t. While the Anaheim, California park doesn’t waste a square meter of space, the Florida version puts aside a huge area for the Epcot Center. No-one in their right mind wants to voluntarily visit the Epcot Center. But, hey, if you’re in the area anyway, you might as well head down the road and check out the superior Universal Studios. You’re welcome.

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3 Comments

    • Correct.

      Been following Simon for years and this list has a couple glaring flaws, No.1 being huge. Disney World is everything it is advertised, and EPCOT is awesome.

  1. You have obviously never been to Dresden… It’s magnificent (and no, I’m not writing from a time machine). And while I agree on the tour groups in Rothenburg, the town itself is absolutely charming. Nuremberg though, is largely unimpressive. – I’m fully with you on Stonehenge, but maybe you should (re)visit Germany.