The moniker “tourist trap” isn’t a complimentary term for a destination, implying it wastes money and time. But some popular sites worldwide have value despite being labeled as tourist traps. Check out this list of places that are so awe-inspiring, unique, or enlightening that it’s worth every minute and every dollar spent.
The Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
Over 12 million immigrants to the United States came through Ellis Island’s immigrant processing center during its years of operation. And since 1886, those immigrants passed under the watchful eye of Lady Liberty, a gift from France to the United States to commemorate the country’s centennial. At her feet is emblazoned the poem “The New Colossus,” written by Emma Lazarus as a fundraising effort for the statue’s base. These words inspired millions to sail across the ocean for the “American Dream:”
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The Niagara Falls straddles the New York and Canadian border. While most people have seen it in photos, no picture can reproduce the roar of the three waterfalls thousands of feet wide. It’s not the tallest waterfall in the world, but the sheer volume of water coursing at one time makes it so remarkable.
During the busiest tourist times during the day, more than 168,000 cubic meters (6 million cubic feet) of water go over the top of the falls every minute. And while you can drop plenty of money if you splurge on boat rides and adventure packages, entry to Niagara Falls State Park – the oldest American state park – on the New York side is free.
The Great Wall of China
If you can visit the Great Wall of China, don’t balk. This is the largest man-made project in the world, and it took over 2,000 years to build. It stretches over 12,400 miles from the east to the west, crossing 15 Chinese provinces. While the part of the wall in Badaling is conveniently located near Beijing and is being restored, which draws many tourists, you can visit many less-popular spots along the massive fortification.
Nowhere else in the world is frozen in time like the town of Pompeii, Italy, where the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius buried the town and its inhabitants in ash, preserving them as they were in the autumn of 79 AD. The catastrophic eruption’s volcanic ash preserved everything from the paving stones on the street to bread left in ovens. It gives a haunting insight into how the townspeople lived until their last moments.
The French Quarter, New Orleans, LA
Bourbon Street can be jam-packed and frankly smelly during the busiest times of Mardi Gras, with parades, drinking, and merriment. However, the French Quarter is also a history-rich area with plenty to teach you leisurely if you schedule your visit for off-peak times of the year. Great food, excellent music, charming historical buildings and hotels, cool art galleries and shops, and even ghost tours are on offer. Visit the French Quarter, the original New Orleans, to experience its unique French, African, and American culture.
Alcatraz Island is best known for its federal prison, but it also has the first lighthouse on the West Coast and the first U.S.-built fort. There are also beautiful gardens, tide pools, bird colonies to explore, and breathtaking vistas over the San Francisco Bay.
This Cambodian destination is considered the largest religious structure in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records. It was built in the early 1100s as a tomb and a memorial to a great king named Suryavarman II. The temple to Vishnu takes up more than a square mile. Its beautiful bas-reliefs show scenes from the Indian epic Ramayana and the life of Suryavarman.
On the exclusive list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Angkor Wat is historically and culturally significant and enormous enough that exploring it will take several days.
The Pyramids of Giza
Yes, there are tons of tourists, and scams are a risk, but it’s worth it to see these famous wonders of the ancient world. The enormous limestone blocks, moved by manpower alone, are amazing to see. The pyramids are at least 5,000 years old and are the only one of the 7 Wonders of the World to be mostly intact. Savvy travelers recommend traveling by Uber or hiring a tour company to avoid scammy fees.
The Grand Canyon
It costs just $35 to purchase a Grand Canyon National Park pass, good for a weeklong visit. With 1,904 square miles of park to discover, you will still have trouble seeing everything. Bigger than the state of Rhode Island, the Grand Canyon’s amazing peaks and valleys are caused by tectonic uplift. It is a culturally significant place to the Hopi, a Native American tribe who believe the canyon is a gateway to the afterlife.
The canyon has plenty of natural curiosities in addition to its picturesque views: it has fossils of ancient marine animals from before the time of dinosaurs and pink rattlesnakes only found there. The drive from the north visitor center to the south visitor center is over 200 miles.
Christ the Redeemer
Christ the Redeemer is a statue that was finished in 1931. It is 98 feet (30 meters) tall, and its horizontally stretched arms are 92 feet (28 meters) long. The figure has become a symbol of both Rio de Janeiro and all of Brazil as a whole. The Catholic Church wanted to build a holy shrine on Mount Corcovado because it could be seen in many places in Rio de Janeiro.
The statue’s size is awe-inspiring, no matter your religious background. You can take a train, van, or hike to the statue. Buy your train tickets in advance to avoid wait times.
The Louvre, Paris
Francophiles must visit this culturally significant museum. Louvre Museum Paris shows how French society has grown and changed over time. The Louvre Museum is a huge building on the bank of the Seine. It has been there for centuries and has seen war and peace. Generations of people have been amazed by how expansive and amazing its collections are. It is the largest museum in the world at over 15 acres, and can take days to explore fully.
The National Mall
The National Mall is a big green area with many trees, but that’s not why it attracts so many people yearly. Some 65 memorials to veterans, presidents, and other notable Americans comprise the National Mall. It goes from the US Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and ends at the Potomac River. More than 25 million people go to the National Mall every year. People like to visit the Smithsonian museums, the statues and shrines, and the top of the Washington Monument, which has the city’s best views.
Best Cities to Vacation in That Don’t Require Renting a Car
When planning a vacation, there’s enough to worry about without stressing over renting a car, where to park it, and whether you can afford the extra insurance. What if you simply choose a location designed for people without cars and skip the rental car altogether? You could plan on walking, rent an e-Bike, or Uber when the occasion calls for it. It will still be cheaper than renting a car. Here are some of the absolute best cities for vacationing without getting behind the wheel.
10 Countries Travelers Won’t Visit as a Tourist for Ethical Reasons
When planning trips abroad, safety is a top concern for most people. This is why destinations that pose a threat to personal security often get overlooked by American tourists. The fear of potential harm, be it to themselves or their loved ones, is a significant factor that can dissuade individuals from visiting certain regions.
Want to Tour the US Olympic & Paralympic Museum? Here’s What You Can Expect
You don’t need to be a sports fan to appreciate the US Olympic & Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs. In fact, having watched the Olympics isn’t even a requirement to enjoy your visit. Although being an avid fan will undoubtedly heighten your experience, the interactive displays and decade’s worth of Olympic artifacts in the 60,000-square-foot facility can inspire even the least enthusiastic “sports fan.”
20 Most Popular Museums in the US to Visit in 2023
Take a look at the most popular museums in the U.S. Along with descriptions of the museums, readers can learn about exhibits and artifacts.
Unleash Your Inner History Buff: 27 Fascinating Washington DC Museums
We explore 27 museums you can tour while visiting the nation’s capital. Washington DC museums are plentiful and offer a variety of learning experiences.
This article was produced by Our Woven Journey.
Karee Blunt is a nationally syndicated travel journalist, focused on discovering destinations and experiences that captivate and inspire others through her writing. She is also the founder of Our Woven Journey, a travel site focused on inspiring others to create memory-making adventures with their loved ones. Karee is passionate about encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone and live the life they dream of. She is the mother of six kids, including four through adoption, and lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. You can learn more about Karee on her about me page.