The Tricks To Make Tourist Trap Visits Great

I’m headed to Europe and I actually usually prefer it in winter than spring. At Christmas time in Paris it’s cold and many things are closed, but you have Christmas markets and there are few tourists and it’s not as if it’s as cold as in the Northeast United States (where I lived before moving to Austin). In contrast I’d never go to Rome in summertime, because I don’t want to spend my holiday primarily with American teenagers.

Nomadic Matt makes the important point, though, that places are only touristy if you spend your time in touristy places.

But touristy places have their place! They’re popular for a reason, and if you haven’t seen them before you should probably visit them yourself to build cultural context. You should go to the Eiffel Tower. Maybe you don’t need to waste a meal eating there, though Le Cocottes is walkable (though not a super quick walk) and quite good.

Some restaurants frequented by toursists are actually quite good. L’Ardoise always sees a bunch of Americans staying at the nearby Westin Paris – but is excellent and an excellent value, classic French fare with a price fixe menu.

And Angelina’s on the Rue di Rivoli (next to Le Meurice Hotel) is an absolute tourist trap. Yet the hot chocolate *is* absolutely incredible. I was first turned onto it over a decade ago by the Emmy-winning co-writer of the Oscars who used to pair with Billy Crystal. Artie Lange, from MADtv and the Howard Stern Show, who took the same recommendation said that the place “changed his life.”

I’m a big fan of popular attractions during shoulder season. There are fewer people – fewer tourists – but the same great things to do and see much of the time. Go to the good ones at the right time. See if there are ‘skip the line’ options with a bit of advance planning. And research where to eat nearby that the rest of the tourists don’t go… unless they’re actually going for one food item. You can skip most of the food at Angelina’s, though, you’re going for the hot chocolate not the savory items.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Great tips! We did a few days in Venice with our kids (8, 6, 3) last August on our way to a real vacation in Slovenia. The city is jam-packed with tourists but by staying across the canal in Dorsoduro we were still able to get most places easily on the vaporetti or by walking and it was much less crowded. There was an interminable line to see St. Mark’s Basilica and the campanile, but beyond those we didn’t miss out on anything we wanted to see. (My personal highlights — the Frari, Scuola di San Rocco, Il Redentore, San Giorgio Maggiore — were all empty or lightly visited.) We had no problem getting tables at the restaurants we visited in Dorsoduro, but that might have been because we ate at more kid-friendly times earlier in the dinner hour :).

  2. As an empty nester, I’ve been taking a week between TG and Xmas in great cities – NYC (always wanted to go to the Macy’s TG Day parade since I was a kid), London, and Shanghai so far. Paris and Tokyo are next up.

  3. Agree with you. For the people that turn up their noses at “tourist traps” you can miss out. We took a 2 week trip to Italy last fall (Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome). While we spent plenty of time just wandering around and exploring we definitely went to see the Last Supper, took a tour of Venice (with Gondola ride), went through the Uffizi Gallery and Accademia in Florence and did the Colosseum/Vatican tours in Rome. Yes they were “touristy” but also very interesting and would feel like I missed out if visited these cities without seeing some of the famous attractions.

  4. Before visiting a tourist trap, book admission tickets one, research the attraction, its history, and the best times to visit. Knowing what to expect and when to go can help you avoid crowds and make the most of your time there. Most tourist attractions are busiest in the middle of the day. Going early in the morning or late in the evening can help you avoid the crowds and enjoy the attraction in peace.

  5. We actually enjoy winter trips with low crowds and the Christmas markets although some of the markets end up being crowded. I wouldn’t take a free trip to Europe during the summer months, too hot and too crowded and too expensive. People with kids might have to go then but otherwise I’d avoid those months.

  6. Did Paris and Nice in January. Hardly any crowds. The weather in Paris was a bit dreary, but not that bad. However, I found out right before we left, that was the time of the year that the top of the Eiffel Tower is closed for maintenance. We couldn’t get to the top, but it was nice anyway. Also, Nice and Monte Carlo were not busy at all and great weather there.

  7. I wouldn’t refer to any of these places mentioned in the article or within the comments as “tourist traps.” Sure they can cost a pretty penny, but I don’t think of them as exploiting tourists. A tourist trap in my mind is similar to a high-priced dungeon museum or sex museum. The other sites are beautiful attractions and historical sites that are meant to be seen. Free or for a fee. And I agree…off season is the best! Sure the weather might not be perfect; however, my best photos have been taken when there are no tourists around.

  8. A trap by definition is something or some place you cannot get out of. May be a new definition of “tourist trap” is needed? Or a new terminology?
    We go to touristy places because they have been made famous by other tourists. Be it a museum, attraction or restaurant. Why else would one go there?

  9. I tend to think of tourist traps where a large group of entertainment venues spring up out of nowhere, leveraging from one specific nearby attraction. Gatlinburg, TN was one example, and neighboring Pigeon Forge, TN. Maybe people now go to those places with no intent on visiting Great Smoky Mountains NP – the original attraction. Gatlinburg had a real Las Vegas Strip feel.

  10. Want to skip the lines at Angelina’s? Go to the take out counter and buy a bag of hot chocolate mix.
    Enjoy it at your leisure either latter at the hotel, or even better when you are back home.

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