The Biggest Tourist Traps In Europe, According To Rick Steves

If you've ever done a little research for your upcoming trip to Europe — whether you're going to Ireland or Italy — you've probably utilized Rick Steves' expertise. The travel professional has written guidebooks and columns and produced television and radio shows about the continent. Steves has been helping travelers make the most of their dream European getaways since 1976 when he started his business — Rick Steves' Europe — and even began guiding his own tours to the continent. If you're going to Europe, Rick Steves is the man in the know.

Even though no one loves a European vacation quite as much as Steves, it doesn't mean it's all fun and games across the pond. Just like any other beloved destination, Europe is littered with tourist traps that anyone looking for an authentic experience should avoid as much as possible, even if they're so-called "must-visit" spots. Here are the worst European tourist traps Steves has pointed out through his decades in the business.

Blarney Stone, Ireland

Blarney Castle is a beautiful stone fortress surrounded by rolling green hills, a flowing river, and delightful fauna. Unfortunately, it is difficult to appreciate its beauty thanks to the crowds of tourists lined up to kiss the castle's most famous resident — the Blarney Stone. It costs 13 euros to access the castle grounds, where you can then line up to smooch the stone under the watchful eye of an unfriendly assistant. "The best thing about this lame sight is watching a cranky man lower lemming-like tourists over the edge, belly up and head back, to kiss the stone while an automated camera snaps a photo — which will be available for purchase back at the parking lot," said Steves. Instead of wasting your time at the stone, spend more time at the scenic castle instead.

According to lore, kissing the stone (whose origins are unclear) will grant the kisser "the gift of gab," or the gift of being able to speak articulately and influentially. You better hope that the "cranky man" has a good grip on you. Otherwise, the only gift you'll get is an injury. Around 400,000 tourists visit the Blarney Stone every year, but they don't all leave as satisfied customers. "Unless you believe the legends of kissing the stone, it is completely pointless and leaves you with a sense of wondering of why you came there in the first place and wasted a whole afternoon out of your life," said one Tripadvisor user.

Blue Grotto, Italy

The Blue Grotto, a mountain cave filled with cerulean waters off the coast of Capri in Italy, hits all the marks of a typical tourist trap. You'll pay 23 euros to take a boat tour there, and the boat will be stuffed to the brim with tourists like yourself. Once you get to the Blue Grotto, even more boats will be lined up, waiting to get inside. You have to pay another fee to get into the grotto via dinghy, which is also difficult given the low height of the cave. Your boat captain is likely to sing cheesy Italian songs. And after all this, you'll spend just a few minutes inside the grotto looking at the namesake blue water. But despite all of this, Steves loves the "beautiful tourist trap." "It's just glorious," he said. "And if you're going to Capri, it's a delightful thing."

Emperor Tiberius agreed. According to legend, the Roman emperor used the Blue Grotto as his own private swimming hangout. It's undoubtedly one of the most beautiful sea caves in the world. Although some modern visitors love the serene vibe inside the intimate cave — especially given the otherwise bustling nature of a trip to Italy — not everyone agrees with Steves. "Huge waste of time and money," said one Tripadvisor user. "Take that money, invest it into a great dinner elsewhere."

Clovelly, England

Clovelly brands itself as an ancient fishing village that was once owned by the Queen of England, which continues to maintain a nostalgic charm with no cars and just one cobblestone street called "'Up-a-long" or "Down-a-long," depending on which direction you're going. But how many towns have you visited have an entrance fee? The first sign that Clovelly isn't all it's made out to be is that it costs £9.50 per person just to enter, and that likely won't be all the money you spend once stepping foot into this now privately-owned village. "A one-street knickknack town selling useless goodies," Steves said. Some of its visitors agree.

"Immediately after paying, the first of a barrage of tacky trinket shops and poor expensive food joints meet you," said one Tripadvisor user. "The visitor center is just a commercial trap," said another. It's a sad ending for a village that was once an important fishing port known for its herring and mackerel. It was even written about by Charles Dickens, who called it "a message from the sea." William Turner also famously painted the village in 1824. But that wasn't enough to save it from vendors hawking cheap souvenirs and overpriced, mediocre food typical of tourist epicenters. If you're stuck in Clovelly already, though, it's only one hour from a British amusement park that's a must-visit for space and sci-fi fans.

Geneva, Switzerland

Geneva (Switzerland) is situated around the 224-square-mile Lake Geneva from which the Rhone River flows, and it is often the first city that comes to mind to tourists thinking of Switzerland. Part of the reason for the city's prominence is due to being the home of the United Nations Palace of Nations building. However, according to Steves, those aren't good reasons to head to the small city. "It's pleasantly situated on a lake — just like Buffalo is," said Steves. "While it's famous, name familiarity is a rotten reason to go somewhere."

Steves said that unlike some other Swiss cities, such as Bern or Luzern, Geneva can be "sterile" and lacks the authentic Swiss feel that tourists are often looking for on their vacation. It makes sense, considering the cosmopolitan destination is home to many high-end chain stores, as Switzerland is one of the most expensive European countries to travel to. Many travel bloggers seem to feel the same, writing that Geneva isn't worth visiting and doesn't have enough interesting sites to make it earn a spot on itineraries. "Our experience to Geneva was not good," said one Tripadvisor user. "There is very little to do in Geneva except a visit to the lake which is one of the many available in Switzerland/Europe."

Killarney, Ireland

According to Ireland's official tourism website, Killarney, Ireland is so beautiful that it launched "a billion postcards ... and a billion [social media posts.]" Apparently, it got a little too much hype. According to Steves, Killarney is just an overblown tourist trap filled with tour buses. "The town is a sprawling line of green Holiday Inns and outlet malls littered with pushy shoppers looking for plastic shamrocks," he said. To no surprise, Killarney didn't take kindly to the comments, and locals banking on funds from tourists had some words for the travel professional. "What Rick Steves truly knows about Killarney, he could write on the back of a postage stamp, with a paint brush, in block capitals," Irish Hotels Federation Kerry branch spokesman Michael Rosney told At least on St. Patrick's Day, Killarney is the place to be, as it's one of the best places to celebrate the iconic holiday in Ireland.

However, tourists seem to be siding with Steves on this one. One travel blogger had his own thoughts to share on the Ring of Kerry, a drive around the Iveragh Peninsula in Killarney National Park known to highlight the area's rocky coastlines, lush greenery, and winding roads. "Personally, I thought the Ring of Kerry is very overhyped," said "It is a lot of driving on narrow roads with scenery that looks like everywhere else in western Ireland."

La Boqueria Market, Spain

For foodies, there's nothing like a local market to introduce you to native cuisine and get acquainted with a new culture. But don't bother doing that at La Boqueria Market in Barcelona, said Steves. He called it a "tourist trap," and so do countless others. "I found everything very expensive and it didn't have the genuine feel to it," said one traveler on Tripadvisor. "Just too 'touristy' for my taste." It's a shame, as the market traces its roots back to 1217 when vendors sold meat on the site in open-air stalls. But in 1985, a massive parking lot was built, and in 2011, La Boqueria was remodeled to be an open-air market with glass paneling, removing much of the market's authentic charm.

Although, according to the market's website, all of its products are high-quality and local Catalans shop there, it's hard to believe that, considering the reviews. Also, the market's website is in English rather than Catalan or Spanish, and it has an online shopping portal (although at least that part is in Spanish), so it is clearly marketed towards non-native tourists. If you want to check the market out just for kicks but avoid the many tourists snapping photos with their iPhones, visit La Boqueria Market before 11 a.m. — it opens every day at 8 a.m., so the earlier, the better.

Land's End, England

When you think of Land's End — the most southwestern point in England — you probably imagine the fairy-tale version of the end of the world, immersed in quiet contemplation and seldom-traversed dirt paths. But sorry, tourists — the real Land's End is nothing like that, said Steves. "It's a tacky tourist trap where greedy businesses have chewed up whatever small bit of charm or authenticity this place might once have had," he continued. "Come here only if you want to be able to say you've been to Land's End. (Consider lying.)" Even the Land's End tourism website seems unable to dispute this sad fact, as although it boasts about the area's views of the 200-foot cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean, it doesn't skirt around the fact that adults might hate it.

"Children will love the theme park atmosphere, whilst many adults might prefer to avoid it," it said. Plus, despite the paragraphs of text describing the spot's beauty, it doesn't seem to advise of much of anything there actually is to do there rather than taking "an "Instagrammable" photo." If you need further evidence that Land's End is a tourist trap, just look at its long list of attractions, like a 15-hole indoor miniature golf course with special effects and a 4D cartoon movie for kids that squirts water and blasts air at opportune times, none of which seems very Land's End-esque.

London Dungeon, England

In theory, the London Dungeon is an exciting way to learn about a millennium of English history through the work of more than a dozen interactive shows with special effects in a haunted house-like experience. But in reality, it's an easy way to lose £35, stand in a long line, and feel like you're back in middle school listening to a greasy preteen boy tell dirty jokes. Steves called it "gimmicky, overpriced, and a terrible value," and even Frommer's called the London Dungeon out for being one of the worst attractions in the entire city. "Avoid it like the plague," the guidebook series said. If you are forced to go to this cringey attraction, just follow the advice of one Tripadvisor user. "Pro tip: bring a flask and have a nip every time someone makes a 'meat' joke. You'll either be so cocked everything is fun, or in a kitch-proof stupor."

To make it even worse, the London Dungeon is located on the heels of the London Eye and the claustrophobic Sea Life London Aquarium, making it an uncomfortable experience for anyone who doesn't like crowds. Things get even worse for all your senses once you walk in the door — the London Dungeon even promises that you'll "smell" the dark figures of London's past. Not ideal when considering the attraction that chronicles stories of people like anonymous serial killer Jack the Ripper and convicted witch Elizabeth Sawyer, not to mention plagues.

San Gimignano, Italy

Take one look at San Gimignano's elegant skyline of 14 towers hovering over the Tuscan countryside, and it's tough to imagine that it's anything but real-deal Italian. However, every other tourist has that same idea, which is why the place is often full of visitors as well as those trying to make a quick buck off of newcomers. Steves thinks San Gimignano is still worth a visit — with a few adjustments. "Despite its tourist-trap feel, it's still worth slotting into your Italian itinerary — especially if you can sidestep the hordes who descend during the day," he said. "I find the charm of San Gimignano is easiest to enjoy after hours, when most tourists have gone back to their buses, vendors have made their money, and the town recaptures its magic."

Steves recommends that tourists spend the night at a bed-and-breakfast or farm in the nearby countryside so they can stay in San Gimignano after-hours and see the medieval town in its all glory. He also recommends that tourists stay in town for a meal, as San Gimignano is known for its Tuscan cuisine, with ingredients like wild boar (prepared in a variety of ways) as well as saffron. Don't forget to pair your dinner with a glass of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a renowned Tuscan white wine originating in the beautiful area. After that, Steves said, is the perfect time to see sights, like a Romanesque cathedral featuring art from the 14th century.

The Plaka, Greece

The Plaka is Athens' oldest neighborhood, reminiscent more of the style of the Greek islands rather than the busy city that it's in since most of its streets are pedestrian-only. It is also relatively more upscale than other neighborhoods in the Greek capital. Unfortunately, people who make their money off unsuspecting tourists flock here, and it's pretty much universally understood by travel bloggers and writers that it's an eye-roll-worthy tourist trap. Steves called it an "extremely touristy old quarter," and he's hardly the only person to think so.

It "houses overpriced restaurants and souvenir shops that can leave the budget-traveler bamboozled, making it the place of one of the most famous Athens tourist traps," according to Acropolis. However, the Plaka isn't all bad news. If you venture off the main throughways (Kydathineon and Adrianou) and onto the streets, you'll find hidden-gem courtyards and amazing Greek restaurants with dedicated local followings, such as Saita Taverna which is run by a Greek husband-and-wife. If you want to steer clear of the tourist trap restaurants in the neighborhood, then look out for (and avoid) any eatery with hosts hustling you to eat there or photographs of the restaurant's dishes posted outside. Plus, although most stores sell typical tourist goodies like postcards and magnets, you'll also find more interesting shops selling items such as antiques, handmade jewelry, and wood-carved décor.

Time Travel Vienna, Austria

If the thought of the London Dungeon made you want to cringe, then Time Travel Vienna won't make you feel much better. This is another phony attraction, Steves said, which is "about $25 and 45 minutes wasted in a tacky succession of amusement-park history vignettes — much of it only in German." As Steves says, the attraction's website states that the guide presents Time Travel Vienna in German, but visitors can use audio guides to listen in their native languages. At least the audio guides are free.

No matter the language, visitors will see the rich history of the city reduced to animatronic wax figures of the royal Habsburg family "talking" about the history of the House of Habsburg, a grotesque pit of Plague victims, and a virtual reality ride where you'll watch fake people do the Viennese waltz. Unfortunately, more than 2 million people have learned about Vienna this way, including one disgruntled Tripadvisor user. "Uninteresting, poor quality, a waste of time," they said. "The history of Wien is told in a simplistic yet unclear way, the technology is backwards, and the air inside the rooms stinks. Not educational no matter how young you are."

Titisee, Germany

If you've ever been to the Jersey Shore, Lake George, or any other body of water that has attracted a hoard of touristy shops and restaurants, then you don't have much need to go to Titisee, an alpine lake in Germany's Black Forest. "Titisee was dripping with all of the kitsch that one might expect in a Black Forest version of Myrtle Beach," said one Tripadvisor user. "T-shirt shops and the such lines the streets as over-dressed pedestrians and cars blaring music at "look at meeeee" volumes drove by."

Rick Steves agrees, querying why it was ever built up at all, as the lake is such a modest size. "One glance and you'll be wondering why they even bothered to develop this dull spot into a tourist attraction — it's a toss-up as to which is bigger: the lake or its parking lot," Steves lamented. But Titisee isn't all bad news. If you stay away from the touristy shops (unless you're looking for a cuckoo clock to take home), you can hike around the lake, which is mostly flat. It's also undoubtedly one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. For a more challenging hike with great views of the lake and surrounding forest, hike up Hochfirst Mountain instead.