Crowd waiting for the astronomical clock to chime in Prague’s Old Town Square
Photo: Carolyn Coles

There are (usually) good reasons why certain attractions are on every tourist’s itinerary. But are big crowds reason enough to take them off yours?
Old Town, Prague

Prague has become one of the most popular destinations in Europe, and tourists cover the cobblestones of the medieval Old Town. Those small winding streets weren’t built for such numbers, and even heading out before dawn doesn’t guarantee you’ll be alone.

What you can do is escape to one of the parks on the opposite bank of the Vltava River. From there, you get the skyline panorama and can move at a slower pace.

Pyramids of Giza, Cairo

Almost 5,000 people a day truck out to the Pyramids at Giza, and while there are various ways to try and get away from the crowds (long desert walks and camel, horse, and helicopter rides), if you want a closer look you’ll have to join the masses.

Another option is to head ~5km farther south to Saqqara and spend some time checking out the Step Pyramid of Djoser which, though still famous, doesn’t see nearly as many boots as Giza.

For more tips on travel in the region, review the expert advice in What NOT to Do in Egypt.

The Tower of London, London

Built almost 1,000 years ago, this tower was originally designed to keep people in. Now it’d be great if it worked the other way.

Should you want to see the Crown Jewels — the Tower’s biggest attraction — you’ll be herded in by uniformed Beefeaters and herded out again before you can even take a quick snap of the world’s largest diamond.

Long queues form no matter what time of day or night you go, but for a different experience in the Tower, reserve tickets (at least two months in advance) for the Ceremony of the Keys.

Forbidden City, Beijing

Closed to outsiders for centuries, the ancient palace of the Emperor of China contains close to 1,000 buildings, is spread over an area of 720,000 sqm, and is now one of the most popular places on the planet — even Starbucks has set up camp in one of the ancient halls.

Get to the city at least half an hour before opening so you can be among the first in line, and hit the big-name sights first, before more of the 9 million annual visitors start to pour in.

Photo: stevehicks

Taj Mahal,
Agra

Crowds are a fact of life in population-dense India, so competition for body space at a site like the Taj Mahal will always be intense.

Try crossing to the opposite side of the Yamuna River for the big-picture view (complete with mud, sewage, and trash underfoot) and a chance to be, almost, alone.

Times Square, New York City

A simple street intersection, Times Square might be one of the more surprising tourist attractions in NYC. To experience the neon overload, you’ll have to negotiate super-crowded sidewalks while trying not to step into the path of a city bus.

The early hours of the morning are a good time to find some relative quiet in Times Square, but in a city made for people watching, is that really what you’re after?

Photo: mararie

St. Mark’s Square, Venice

With water for streets, there isn’t a lot of real estate for tourist feet anywhere in Venice, but St. Mark’s Square gets particularly overrun.

Whether you’re visiting the Bell Tower, the Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Church, or just sipping espresso in an open-air cafe, expect the company of thousands — even when it’s flooded.

There are ways around this. Check out Fresh Ideas: Venice by Kayak and Sightseeing in Venice for (Almost) Free for more.

Cancun, Mexico

Blue skies, white-sand beaches, and crystal water…boxed in by some of the world’s most tasteless tourist infrastructure. To make it worse, every inch of what little beauty Cancun has seems to be covered by either a pasty, overweight tourist or a puddle of regurgitated spring break tequila.

Cancun is a lost cause. There are better options all along the Yucatan, such as Playa del Carmen, Isla Holbox, and Celestun, though it probably won’t be long before they join the casualty list.

Photo: malias

Notre Dame, Paris

The interior of this famous cathedral is usually not the place for silence, contemplation, or tranquility.

There are just too many damn tourists.

Visitors have one saving grace, however — during a service (times and dates posted outside the entrance), a more authentic and peaceful experience is possible.

Should you even explore big-name sites in the City of Lights? Find out in What NOT to Do in Paris. Or, just tour Notre Dame via Google Street View.

What’s the most frustrating tourist trap you’ve ever encountered? Share your experience in the comments.

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