Category Archives: Travel

7 Popular Attractions that Aren’t Worth the Hype, and Better Alternatives

The world is full of amazing places to discover. Many are in plain sight: no doubt Yellowstone, Yosemite, or Denali are great to visit. There are also countless hidden getaways waiting to be found and explored. But there are also places that might be famous, but really don’t deserve a place on your bucket list. Regarding the latter type of places, if you’ve been everywhere you’ve ever wanted to go and have no better ideas, knock yourself out. But if that’s not the case, don’t bother.

Not Worth It: Mount Rushmore.

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This iconic monument might sound like a must-see, but in reality it’s anything but inspiring. First off, it’s way farther away than you would expect; there’s no good way to get closer than the observation deck picture shows. It’s really small, too, compared to what seeing it online can lead you to believe. It’s also crowded by the hundreds of tourists waiting to take selfies from the front row. Historical significance aside, it’s just some faces in a big boring rock.

Solution: Badlands National Park.

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Only a 90-minute drive from Rushmore is this striking and rugged park that, despite its unappealing name, is certainly worth a drive through. It’s layered and colorful exposed rock and unusual rock formations make it unique among other places in the area. In addition to the scenery, Badlands is home to black-footed ferrets, prairie dogs, jackrabbits, bighorn sheep, and bison, which can be seen frequently to highlight the drive.

Not Worth It: The Great Wall of China.

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The Great Wall is an architectural wonder of the ancient world, stretching over 13,000 miles across western Asia. However, you might be disappointed to find that you won’t see much of it due to…the panic-inducing monstrosity you see in the picture. No, it’s not a fake; that’s actually what it’s like in peak season. Tourists are only allowed on a relatively short section of the wall, so there isn’t really anywhere to escape the stampede either.

Solution: The Altai Mountains, Mongolia

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This extensive mountain range is found on the border of China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Russia. From trekking to climbing to skiing, the area has endless possibilities–and much fewer people. Temperatures in the winter can get a little extreme, but that doesn’t deter everyone. In the spring, there is a lot dense of vegetation, like wildflowers, which make the landscape even more interesting, but in the fall there is much less water and the gorges are more accessible. It’s a huge place so everyone will find something to do.

Not Worth It: The Empire State Building.

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The Empire State Building is one of the most famous landmarks in the US and one of the most well-known skyscrapers in the world, and no wallpaper of downtown Manhatten is complete without it. That’s exactly why you should not waste your money on it: you will notice any photos you manage to take through the dirty glass and chainlink and over the shoulders of all the other impatient and disappointed tourists will be missing something important — that would be because you are standing right on top of it.

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Solution: Top of the Rock. Getting to the top of this skyscraper is no less expensive, but typically less crowded and overall a more rewarding experience. The sweeping views of midtown Manhatten are infinitely better, and the Empire State Building will actually be in your pictures (or Central Park, which there is also a much better view of), which is another big plus.

Not Worth It: The Leaning Tower of Pisa.

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The picture is all you need to talk yourself out of this one. The tower itself isn’t a big deal — many of the buildings around it are actually much more impressive. You won’t get a clear view of it either anytime soon due to hundreds of other people trying to get the cliched “holding up/knocking over the tower” picture. So if you want one of those pics, you’re better off using photoshop.

Solution: Rome

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Only a four-hour drive from Pisa is the ancient city of Rome, with its renown ancient architecture and rich history. While you’re there, step back a couple of millennia and check out the Pantheon, the Colosseum, St Peter’s Basilica, and whatever else you can find. Just steer clear of the Trevi Fountain–it’s a little crowded over there (see the Piazza Navona instead).

Not Worth It: Stonehenge.

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Stonehenge is an outstanding ancient work, the purpose of which we are at loss to understand. The complex patterns it forms with the sun and stars, as well as the amount of coordinated effort that went into building it is sure to light up your imagination. But as fascinating as it is, don’t waste your money and time on it. As you can see, you are unlikely to be alone for your trip. And if the crowds don’t faze you, consider what you get out of it: sure, it’s a cool place, but there isn’t much to do besides stare straight ahead and think, which you might as well be doing from wherever you are now.

Solution: Callanish Stones.

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Stonehenge is not the only ancient monolith in the world. This one, found in Scotland, is just as incredible and a lot more peaceful. Sure, you can get away from the crowds, but you can also you can get up close to these, unlike Stonehenge.

Not Worth It: Times Square.

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Tourists travel here from all over the world. It’s the heart of New York City, after all. It’s also loud, crowded, dirty, and unbelievably expensive. What you see in pictures is colorful billboards and skyscrapers, but what you see in person is more like the dirty sidewalk, shops where a sandwich costs more than your retirement, and an endless sea of loud, angry, impatient people who want to either take a selfie, pick your pockets literally or figuratively, or get the hell out of there.

Solution: Central Park.

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Central Park is one of the three most popular attractions in NYC–the others being the Empire State Building and Times Square. That means it gets a lot of visitors, but it’s a little different from the other two in that, instead of one cramped square or an even more cramped observation deck, it encompasses over 1.3 square miles. It’s huge, given the size and density of the surrounding city–it’s big enough to get lost in, and it would take years to explore everything. Yes, there are areas you should avoid at night, but it’s still a much better place than the city.

Not Worth It: The Great Pyramids.

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The Great Pyramids of Cairo, Egypt are one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It’s incredible to think of how much work went into arranging those multi-ton boulders without only human hands in one pharaoh’s lifetime. However, once again it’s best to think from a distance. To begin, you won’t be allowed inside the pyramids, so forget exploring them (legally, anyway). The pyramids are also smaller than you probably expected; still huge but not THAT big. And you won’t enjoy the crowds either: tourists can be annoying, but so are all the locals desperately trying to sell you their things.

Solution: Aswan.

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This peaceful Egyptian city is found only a day’s drive from Giza and Cairo, and it’s a lot more enjoyable than the latter. The city is home to many attractions, from cruises on the Nile to exquisite ancient temples to camel trips in the dunes. While you’re there, you might want to check out the nearby Abu Simbel temple, and the White Desert, with its standing chalk formations.

Alaska Travel Guide

Alaskans joke that if Texans won’t quit saying they’re the biggest state, they’ll split Alaska in two and make the cowboys third biggest. While a lot of Alaska is frozen solid year-round, it’s still a big state to explore. Because of its size, it’s not easy choosing which part to visit. It’s way too big to road-trip in a week or two so sacrifices will have to be made.

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Regardless of which part you decide to see, there are a wide variety of reasons to go. Wildlife is one of the most obvious reasons people want to see the state. Alaska is home to many types of wildlife, including deer, elk, reindeer, moose, musk oxen, wood bison, red and gray foxes, marmots, porcupines, beavers, coyotes, wolverines, lynx, black bears, grizzlies, polar bears, and tundra wolves. Birds include puffins, osprey, bald eagles, and ten different owl species. Sealife includes harbor seals, dolphins, belugas, orcas, and humpback whales.

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Denali is a good area to see almost any type of Alaskan wildlife. In salmon season (May through September), you can find car-accessible bear-watching spots in Hidden Creek. For a less wild experience, see the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where you can see much of Alaska’s elusive wildlife in huge but safe habitats. While you’re at it, check out the Alaska Sealife Center too.

If you’re interested in cruises off the coast, Glacier Bay and the Hubbard Glacier are some of the best. However, sealife and glacier tours are offered off the coast of many small towns and parks as well, so if you’re near the coast, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find one.

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There is no one perfect place to stay to see everything you want to see, so you could consider staying in several places for a few days at a time. But if that’s off your budget, here are some of the most popular places:

  • Anchorage is a popular place to stay due to it being a big city, but being surrounded almost entirely by wilderness.
  • Seward, a few hours’ drive south from Anchorage, is close to many popular destinations, most notably Kenai Fjords. It’s also a hotspot for boat tours off the cost.
  • Juneau, down in the “panhandle,” is a completely separate part of the state, which is worth a whole separate trip.
  • Fairbanks, up north, is also a good place to stay if you don’t mind the snow and cold. It’s close to Denali, which draws in the most visitors, and it’s a good place for dog sledding. If you want to see the Northern Lights, Fairbanks is the way to go.

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When it comes down to individual locations, it’s not an easy choice. There are way too many to choose from. However, since it’s unlikely you’ll get a chance to see them all, here are some of the most popular, most interesting, and most scenic, and best rated places in the state:

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#11: Mendenhall Glacier. This one is located only a few miles from Juneau, which makes it one of the most popular glaciers in Alaska. It’s also one of the most easily accessible, since trails from the visitor center go right down to it.

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#10: Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. In this park and the small town near it, you will find museums dedicated to the history of Klondike, gold rush-era log cabins, and the largest gold nugget ever found.

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#9: Hubbard Glacier. The Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier in North America, and one of the fastest. Because of it’s (relatively) fast movement, it’s common for large chunks of ice to break off into the ocean, which is why boats can rarely get closer than a half-mile from the face.

#8: Sitka National Historical Park. While it’s known chiefly for its totem poles, there is a lot more to discover. It’s located on the site of a battle between the Russians and the Tlingits in 1804, and as a result, the park has an odd combination of Tlingit and Russian culture. But along with the artifacts and buildings, there is also a lush rainforest and a scenic coastline that make Sitka a good park for hiking and camping.

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#7: Fairbanks. The town of Fairbanks in central Alaska is popular mostly because of how common it is to see the northern lights. It’s also a good place for dogsledding. However, know that temperatures go well below freezing day and night, and the snow can be heavy enough to keep people stranded at home.

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#6: Seward. It’s proximity that makes this town a must-see. In addition to the town itself, it’s close to Kenai Fjords, Resurrection Bay, the Alaska Sealife Center, and many more popular destinations.

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#5: Alaska Highway. The Alaska Highway a scenic route that runs all the way from British Columbia to Fairbanks. It’s a good route to take if you intend to drive to Alaska, and the views are worth seeing. The towns along the road offer places to stay, and there are plenty of attractions along the way.

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#4: Glacier Bay National Park and Reserve. Glacier Bay is known for its whale-watching tours, but it’s also a good kayaking/camping spot, with over 700 miles of shoreline to explore. Sealife is the main attraction, which is plentiful and includes harbor seals and humpback whales. Tour boats and cruise ships are the easiest way to enter, since there is only one road.

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#3: Tracy Arm Fjord. This is bigger and better version of the Mendenhall Glacier. The waterway is often no wider than a half mile, but the 3000-foot cliffs, glaciers, waterfalls, and wildlife, make it a spectacular natural wonder that’s a can’t-miss if you’re in the Juneau area.

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#2: Kenai Fjords National Park. This park is located just a few miles from Seward, or a two-hour drive from Anchorage. Hiking, whale-watching, climbing, and visiting active glaciers are just a few of the activities found there. The Exit Glacier is one of the major attractions.

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# 1: Denali National Park. Denali is simply a can’t-miss. It’s a big place, like everything in Alaska, so even within the park you will have to choose what to see and what to miss. In the spring, you will find endless fields of wildflowers in the pristine, untouched wilderness. Moose, elk, bison, reindeer, lynx, bears, and tundra wolves are no stranger to the park, though some of the above mentioned are elusive and hard to spot.

Iceland Travel Guide

Iceland is full of many different types of scenery. Despite being a relatively small country, a one or two-week visit will hardly scratch the surface of the scenery to be found.

If you’re looking for waterfalls, take a look at Gulfoss, Dettifoss, Seljalandsfoss, Goðafoss, Hraunfossar, and Glymur. Check out Eyjafjallajökull, Keilir, Hekla, Landmannalaugar, Hvannadalshnúkur, and Kirkjufell if climbing mountains are closer to your style. If geothermal lakes interest you more, check out the Blue Lagoon, Lake Myvatn, Viti, Grjótagjá, and lakes in Landmannalaugar.

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The Golden Circle route (which can be driven around, but tours are offered too) is one of the most popular areas to visit. It begins in Reykjavik and takes as long as you want it to, from six hours to a full week. It includes Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and the Geyser Geothermal Area, but detours can be made to include the crater lake Kerid, Langjokkul Glacier, the Thjorsardalur Valley, and the historic town of Skalholt.

There are reasons to visit other than the scenery, too. Aurora Borealis, or the Northern lights, is visible most clear nights between September and April. In the summer, milder temperatures of up to 70° F (22° C) draw in visitors wanting to explore the island without heavy winter gear. Icelandic seafood is known to be excellent any time of year (although some traditional Icelandic food is not usually appreciated by tourists).

Reykjavik is a popular place to stay due to the abundance of tours that start there, but there are hotels available in central Iceland, which provide more proximity to day-trip destinations. Check out Sandhotel and Fosshotel in Reykjavik, Hotel Ranga and Hotel Vík in the South, Ion Adventure Hotel (pictured) in the Southwest, and Fosshotel Myvatn in the Northeast. Exotic and unusual hotels are also available in Iceland, from log cabins and igloos to the famous Bubble Hotel that’s actually more comfortable than it looks.

There are a lot of great places to go–too many to choose from if you have limited time there. These are the 12 best must-see places to visit in Iceland:

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#12: Gullfoss Waterfall. Gullfoss is considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, and its an essential part of any trip to the South of the island. It’s a part of the Golden Circle route, so a lot of tours include it.

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#11: Kerlingarfjöll. This mountain range is one of Iceland’s most interesting, despite being basically the middle of nowhere. Huts are available to rent, but camping is more common.

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#10: Reynisfjara Beach. Found near the village of Vik in southern Iceland, Reyisfjara is known around the world for its black sand and unusual rock formations. It’s only a few hour’s drive from Reykjavik.

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#9: Asbyrgi Canyon. Asbyrgi translates to “shelter of the gods” in Icelandic, and the place has an interesting legend behind it. In addition to a great view, there are many hiking trails around the area.

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#8: Thingvellir National Park. In this park, the most famous part of the Golden Circle tour, you will find the Oxara waterfall and the Nikulasargja Gorge (aka Money Gorge), along with other photo-worthy destinations.

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#7: Lake Myvatn. While its pretty far North from Reykjavik, it’s worth the drive if you have the time. There are plenty of geothermal lakes that offer a cheaper and less crowded alternative to the famous Blue Lagoon, as well as geothermal caves and underground lakes to swim through.

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#6: Landmannalaugar. The most scenic parts difficult to access and there are not many services to be found, so you need to pack your own food, gasoline, and camping equipment. But once you’re there the lava fields, colorful hills, and striking peaks make up for the inconvenience.

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#5: Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. Located in the Northwest tip of Iceland, the Hornstrandir Reserve is an extensive nature reserve that is open for hiking and camping, though a guide is recommended.

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#4: Skaftafell National Park. There are many things to do in Skaftafell. The Crystal Cave is a popular ice cave worth seeing if being under several dozen feet of shimmering blue ice doesn’t give you claustrophobia. Tours of the glacier are also available, with the right equipment. The Svartifoss with its oddly regular columns and the Hundafoss are the two most famous waterfalls in the area.

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#3: Blue Lagoon. The geothermal spa Blue Lagoon is one of the most iconic experiences in Iceland. It’s easily accessible and close to Reykjavik, which makes it a popular tourist destination. However, be warned: it’s a little expensive.

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2#: Kirkjufell Mountain. This is basically the Matterhorn of Iceland. Along with Kirkjufellfoss, the waterfall, it is one of the most visited natural locations in Iceland. It’s pretty remote, but the good news is it’s only a two-hour drive from Reykjavik, so it’s a good day-trip from there.

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#1: Reykjavik: The picturesque town of Reykjavik is Iceland’s biggest city, as well as its capital. It’s the most popular place to stay, and the start of the Golden Circle route. It’s a must-see not because of the scenery, but the convenience and proximity.

Additional resources for planning a trip: Iceland Travel, Guide to IcelandIceland 24afar.com’s and Oyster.com’s hotel lists.