Is “too touristy” a putdown or a valid warning?
We’ve all had the conversation. You mention a place you’ve visited, or thinking you’d like to visit, and someone will respond, “Oh no, it’s way too touristy!” The implication is you might be a special sort of someone because you want to go or went there and :::gasp::: possibly even enjoyed yourself.
Paris? Oh no, too touristy. (I love it, Pete is like, “meh.”)Going up in the Eiffel Tower? You’ll wait forever. (We didn’t wait at all; it was in January.) Dubrovnik? Too touristy. (Stayed in the thick of the Old City and we both loved it.) Bruges? Too touristy by far, go to Ghent. (Could be true, loved Ghent, but didn’t make it to Bruges.) The Pyramids? Don’t bother. (Suspect we might feel the same.) Munich’s Hofbrauhaus or Englischer Garden? You’ll hate them, way too touristy. (We loved them! We’re German and we like beer.)
Now let’s face it, all of these places and many more can be considered too touristy, yet they are constantly visited by new and seasoned travelers alike. There’s a reason touristy places become popular. They’re significant – historical (London Bridge) or geographical landmarks (Niagara Falls), pieces of art (little Mona behind her plexiglas case), remembrances (Pearl Harbor), famous (Hollywood Walk of Fame).
So, we wondered, what makes a place “touristy” but not “too touristy” to consider a visit? And what about a place would deem it far “too touristy” to recommend or return? Let’s look: What does “too touristy” mean?
“Too touristy” can mean “too many people” are present. Big parking lots full of buses disgorging their passengers. Interminable queues. Crowded aisles and pathways. A gazillion gawkers in front of the disappointingly tiny Manneken Pis. Getting shoved off the sidewalk before you learn to invoke a “stand your ground” attitude. No place to park in crowded streets. Cruise ships pulling up and letting down the gangplank for the stampede.
“Too touristy” can mean the attractions are tacky or lowbrow – or perhaps lower brow than you, personally. It’s a moving target, in our opinion. We can’t stand the thought of a single minute more in Gatlinburg or Branson, but we know people who stop every time they’re within 50 miles. And Betsy never would have danced with Chubby Checker if we hadn’t gone initially.
Another “See Rock City” billboard would have had us nearly apoplectic, but we’ve stopped at Wall Drug to get bottled water and a free bumper sticker. Graceland? Well, we loved it!
“Too touristy” can mean accommodations and other activities cost more than you think they should. You can’t blame someone for taking economic advantage of desirability. We passed, recently, on a weekend in London. Hotel rooms, in very short supply to begin with, were three times higher than they were on a Tuesday. A two-night stay in an already expensive city was going to cost us an estimated $1000 when everything we wanted and needed – meals, entertainment, a place to sleep, and transportation to get there – was factored. How about anything with Disney in front of it? World, land or store, it’s all way overpriced in our opinion, but they don’t seem to be impacted by the loss of our future business. We know folks who visit Disney on an annual basis, or even more often.
“Too touristy” can mean overly commercial. In Istanbul outside of the Grand Bazaar, we stopped for a quick bite in one of the open air restaurants. We couldn’t eat in peace because every couple of minutes some tout was shoving a box of Chanel No. 5 (yeah, right) perfume in our faces, or dangling a toy on a keychain over our plates. By the time we finished our meal, Pete was practically screaming at them all, and still they wouldn’t stop. We went into the Grand Bazaar, took one look at the streaming crowds in the first passageway, took this photo, and left.
The Mall of America? Let’s not go there, or even say we did, except to duck into Nordstrom and duck back out again as was our habit when we lived in Minneapolis. Anything with “Outlet” in the name? Just, no. Yet these kinds of purely-for-shopping destinations have raving fans who return in every season.
So clearly, “too touristy” is in the eye of the beholder, or the traveler who is self-aware. If you’ve built high expectations ahead of a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit a place you’ve heretofore dreamed all your life of seeing, you’ve got to be prepared for those expectations not to be met, we think.
Yet, we also believe that you shouldn’t rule out visiting that same place or doing the thing you dreamed of doing, because if you don’t, how will you know for sure? Will you honestly be able to say to yourself, “Oh, I dreamed of visiting Prague for years, but I decided not to because someone said it was too touristy” without a little twinge for what might have been? Or, shorter version: “Will I regret not having this moment?”
Over to you, which places have you visited, or would you never visit whether you have or not, because they’re “too touristy” and why?