My Favorite Cheesy and Overrated Tourist Activities (And Why I Love Them)

By Nomadic Matt | Published May 15th, 2013

the leaning towerHere’s a secret: I love being a cheesy tourist. As much as I love getting off the beaten path and learning about local cultures, sometimes I love the artificial world the mainstream travel industry has created. I think a lot of people think too deeply about travel, as if every moment on the road has to have profound impact and meaning. They are too quick to write off mass tourism. I’ve always found travelers who shun anything “cheesy” to be some of my least favorite. By thinking of their travels as one long romantic novel, they tend to become snobs and can’t just enjoy the moment. Sometimes you just need to take attractions and experiences for what they are – a crowded, overrated, commercialized, mind-numbing, and/or enjoyable escape.

Sometimes travel’s just about having a good time in a different place with new people.

Last year I went on a cruise and partied at Señor Frog’s in Mexico.

And I had a blast.

So today, let’s indulge the cheesy tourist in all of us that we don’t want to admit we have and share some of our favorites. Here’s mine:

Cruises
cruise in the caribbean
Last year, I went on my first cruise in over half a decade and I had a phenomenal time. To me, it wasn’t travel – it was a vacation. It was a way to relax and decompress. There was nothing authentic about Royal Caribbean’s “private beach” in Haiti or the cheesy dance parties on the boat each night but gosh, was it fun. While seven days on a ship were too much for me, there are going to be a lot more cruises in my future. Because sometimes life is about sitting by the pool with a piña colada in hand while listening to the band cover Bob Marley for the umpteenth time.

Disney World
me and mickey mouse
I love Disney World. I love the rides, drinking my way around the world in Epcot Center, the haunted house, Space Mountain, and just feeling like a kid. Being a kid is all about playing pretend and at Disney, it’s not just welcome but encouraged. Disney is overpriced and artificial, but hey, what’s wrong with simply enjoying yourself in a make-believe fantasy land for a bit?

Pub Crawls
pub crawl in europe
Pub crawls aren’t the place to find local watering holes, nor are they the place to meet many locals. Instead, you’ll find touristy bars (filled with tourists, of course) and watered-down welcome shots, but I love pub crawls because part of the fun of traveling is meeting other travelers — and pub crawls are an easy way to do that. Maybe we won’t see each other ever again but for that one night over a few drinks, we’re the best of friends.

The Louvre

The Louvre is one of the most famous, crowded, and popular museums in the entire world. Walking through here is like walking through a Tokyo subway station during rush hour (i.e. crowded). To me, there are far better museums in Paris, but heck, it’s the Louvre. Why miss out? Even if the Mona Lisa is the most overrated painting on the entire planet, you have to go see it.

Venice

Venice is a beautiful city filled with important historic significance but it feels like a caricature of itself. I have no concrete data to prove this, but a number of people who are experts on the region said there are very few true Venetians who actually live in the city. But that being said, getting lost in that maze of tiny streets is incredibly fun, the city makes for an amazing backdrop to a romantic vacation, and even though a gondola ride is 100 Euros, you only live once, right? Let’s live the Venetian fantasy.

Diving the Great Barrier Reef

Wait, what? This is overrated? Yeah, it is! The diving in the reef (at least where the day trips from Cairns will take you) isn’t that great due to large crowds and overfishing. Almost every dive expert I spoke to didn’t see why people were so obsessed with the reef. There are far better dive spots in the country, especially on the west coast. So while you may be sharing your view of Nemo with 50 other people, who cares? It’s the Great Barrier Reef! You can see this thing from space!

The Full Moon Party

Every month about 15,000 people (double during the holiday season) descend on the island of Ko Phangan for this all-night beach party. It’s mass tourism in Southeast Asia at its worst — and it’s some of the best fun I’ve ever had. I enjoy myself so much that I’ve gone 7 times.

Khao San Road

Bangkok’s infamous Khao San Road is awash in dirty backpackers, overpriced beers, touts, and cheesy Red Bull singlets (standard backpacker gear), but it’s one of my favorite spots in Bangkok for a few reasons: there’s great people-watching, you’ll meet some interesting characters, there’s always a party, and if you get off the main drag, you’ll find some actual local Thai bars. When I lived in Bangkok, we would always go here when we wanted an interesting night out.

Times Square

As someone who lives in New York I can say this is a place I rarely visit, and I don’t really know anyone who goes there either. It’s crowded, it’s filled with aggravating tourists who are too busy gawking and taking pictures instead of walking, and it’s completely commercialized, but it’s home to Broadway, you can watch many interesting street performers, the M&M’S store is a piece of heaven on earth, and sitting on top of the TKTS stairs provides a nice place to watch it all.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa
the leaning tower of pisa
Yes, I took that photo. There I am, trying to hold up the leaning tower (and in another, push it over). In the background are other people trying to do the same. It’s absolutely cliché, but hey, who doesn’t have fun playing with perspective?

Any salt flats

Like the Leaning Tower, salt flats are fun because you can play with perspective. Look, it’s people on your hand. Look, you’re lifting a car! Look, you’re smaller than a backpack. The list goes on. I mean, salt flats are kind of pretty, but once you’ve seen one, the rest are kind of all the same — but sitting there for umpteen hours taking perspective shots never gets boring.

For me, travel is about experiencing the world and learning about different cultures. I like seeing how everything and everyone fit together in the puzzle that is humanity.

But travel is also about having fun.

Not everything we do as travelers has to be some deep, life-changing experience. Sometimes it’s just about relaxing and cutting back with people from around the world while doing something fun — and isn’t that what life is all about anyway?

comments 68 Comments

I always hit up the touristy spots. I’ve actually done most of the things on your list here. How can you go to Paris and not see the eiffel tower? Or pub crawl in Dublin (the one I went to was awesomely put on by our city-walking-tour guide)

No travel ego here, no sir!

I agree with you wholeheartedly! I always say that the important thing about travel is to find balance between the highly touristy sights and the leisurely strolls in the local neighborhoods, for instance.

Re: cruise. YES PLEASE. Real travel isn’t relaxing at all, and sometimes all your body needs is a solid, guilt-free 10 hours of sleep and an endless supply of exotic liquors.

NomadicMatt

….and endless buffets!

It has become the ‘beaten-path’ for a reason -Reason is because those ‘touristy’ places are AMAZING. And being a dorky tourist is almost always a good time!

When you try to hard to be different than everybody else you all just wind up being the same as all those other people that are trying to be different.

Great article!

Spelling error – **too hard** not **to hard**

I have a tendency to save the most famous site for last. I don’t get as excited about the touristy spots, but often have a great time. When I went to Paris, I had to remind myself to see the Eiffel Tower the last morning and had a great time. It took my second trip to New York to see the Statue of Liberty on my third of four days. Again, I had a great time.

I think part of it comes from working my way through school at Disney and growing up in Orlando. I’ve spent a lifetime saying Disney’s fine, but there’s a lot more to see about Central Florida. That said, if you have a couple days in Central Florida, you know how you should spend it.

love the salt flats photo!! :D looking cute with that pic with Mickey, haha u look shy.

I will still keep coming back to Khao San. :D These cheesy touristy places are still part of the culture after all. :D

Bravo! I love checking out and in occasionally on the most touristy places. It also increases appreciation of the off the beaten path places. The Barrier reef is a great example. Yes, its over snorkeled and dived in parts however if you hop a live aboard for week and head to the Northern part of the reef..whoaaa… amazing. Every traveling diver will be asked, “have you dived the Barrier Reef?”

This is all so true, and once you travel with kids it’s hard to avoid the cheese – unless you want to make them social outcasts. That’s why we’ve relented and are taking our kids to Orlando this year for a theme park frenzy!

Karie

I love this post – it’s really about not taking yourself so seriously. Enjoy travel in all it’s different types of splendour!

You come up with the best ideas for posts, Matt! Love this one! As always!!

Hah, I love your list of these touristy things! I always enjoy doing the touristy things in addition to the off-the-beaten-path things whenever I travel. I’ve added the things on your list to my own list now, so thanks! :) I’m hoping to be in Thailand this fall teaching and I’m planning on going to a Full Moon Festival. Maybe I’ll see you there?! Also, I’ve never had a desire to see a salt flat until this post- those perspective photos are great!

That’s great, love the honest review of travel. Way to not get caught up in always trying something off the beaten path but just enjoying travelling for what it is.

I enjoyed reading this, thanks Matt

Interesting about the salt flats! I’ve done a lot of cheesy touristy things, but I don’t believe I’ve ever been to a salt flat. Where is this one you photographed?
Tasha

NomadicMatt

Namibia

I totally agree. You have to allow yourself to be a tourist once in awhile and just enjoy what’s laid out before you. Otherwise you run the risk of thinking you’re better than all that. None of us are. I loved the Eiffel Tower, so what? It was magical. I love all the art museums in Europe because I love art and getting lost in these huge structures we don’t have in Portland.

Traveling is all of having fun…. and often, fun is just about perspective. It’s great to have life changing experiences on the road, but it’s also just as great to sit back, relax, and be cheesy.

However, I’ve never done a real cruise (I’m not counting my Antarctica cruise) and never pictured myself enjoying one. I see myself reacting more like the way David Foster Wallace did in “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” But after reading this post, maybe I should reconsider and at least give it a chance.

Hahaha I couldn’t agree more with this post. We “independent” travelers are often too proud to admit that we too take cheesy salt flat photos or want to visit Times Square. Thanks for being open about it! ;)

NomadicMatt

Backpackers are usually the first to take the cheesy photos!

Marylou

haha! I agree with that..

Sometimes, it can’t just be helped to become the stereotypical tourist who wants to hit the popular spots. So what? You didn’t come all the way from home to NOT see those spots, as cliched as they can be. If only to add to your personal “been there” check list – that alone is worth the hassle. I visited the Louvre on a Wednesday (extended schedule day) and fortunately it wasn’t *that* crowded. Being so big, there are actually lots of passages where you barely cross paths with someone else! A friend of mine went to the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia some years ago and took all sorts of silly pictures – which he’s obviously proud of. Good for him.

I tend to find that most people who consider themselves “well-traveled” can be quite snobby about the places they visit, saying they don’t go to places where “tourists” go; they only go to off-the-beaten-path spots because they are real travelers. I not only find this a little insulting, but I find it unfortunate. Who goes to Paris but skips the Eiffel Tower? Most places are touristy for a reason — because they’re worth it. Some might be over-rated, but they’re still worth the experience, and like you said, they’re a lot of fun. Refreshing post.

NomadicMatt

Thanks. I couldn’t agree more.

I walk through Times Square almost every day for work (when I’m home) and even though I’m usually shouldering tourists to get through, every so often I find myself looking around and realizing that this is a place that was so magical to me as a kid and I’m lucky enough to live right by it now. It might be overrated, but all those lights are pretty darn impressive!

Don’t forget Bourbon St in New Orleans! I often feel the need to visit the uber touristy spots (come on – a trip to Paris isn’t Paris without the Eiffel Tower!!!) I feel, they have become so over crowded and cheesy because they are generally worth a visit! While I have yet to see Mona Lisa’s smile, I will make it to the Louvre one of these days….darn the once a week closure…didn’t plan my last overnight in Paris very well!

I don’t see how the Great Barrier Reef is over rated – sure, there is much better diving elsewhere, but I don’t see a PADI course in my near future, but having done a few tourist dives in Cairns, I have to say – WOW – best afternoon ever! Totally worth it! It is a magical underwater world and I will be going back!

I know my continued life on the road will include experiencing the amazing cultures of the world, living amazing adventures and including the part of travel culture which includes the crazy cheezy touristy places! It is just part of travel…one could say it is part of the modern day culture!

Mig

Entertaining post. It is okay to be cheesy. It makes for good pics. Clapping when the plane lands… not sure about that. Great photo on the salt flats! LOL :)

So true – touristy things become touristy for a reason (usually because they are in some way epic!). However, in my experience, they are almost always best when supplemented with a bit of off-the-beaten-path adventure for a bit of perspective! ;)

NomadicMatt

Life is about variety, right?

I agree with all of these places! They’re popular for a reason, right? Especially Khao San Road. I love it because it’s not pretending to be something that it isn’t. It’s a place where you see far more foreigners than Thai people, and no one is trying to convince you that it represent the reality of Thailand. The main strip is a cheap place for backpackers to crash and get drunk, and I really like that everyone visiting and working there just accepts and embraces that.

I totally agree, Matt. I was in Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, Finland a couple of days ago. That’s a place that’s just built for tourists. You can go on reindeer safaris, send a postcard with an ‘official’ Santa Claus stamp and visit the ‘real’ Santa Claus in his office, which is located exactly on the Arctic Circle. I think that’s just cool! It’s free to wander around, but there are so many souvenir shops that it’s hard not to buy something. I genuinely loved spending an afternoon there!

Sammi

i totally want all those cheesy pictures to look back at when i’m older. i don’t want to just be telling people about places they’ve not heard of, i want to tell them that hell yeah i tried to push pisa back up, and i saw nemo on the great barrier reef and it i was like “duuude” :)

lord if you don’t want to do at least some of these things (the only thing i really am not that interested in is the louvre, but i am not hugely interested in the whole of france) then you’re travelling for the wrong reasons- go, have fun! :)

Matt,

Completely agree abut the cruise – so relaxing. I have been dying to get the shot against the leaning tower of Pisa. Both Savi and I love exploring the offbeat places, but never miss a chance to savour the really touristy bit too – there needs to be a balance, right ? :)

Love your post and yes, I like being spontanous and hit off to the touristy part of travel abroad and even at home – in Switzerland! Why not? I also enjoyed a tourist city bus ride in Barcelona, where i just had 1 1/2 days for the exploring bit!
To everyone their own, but don’t be judgemental on others – and Enjoy! Had to smile at your comment about the Louvre and Mona Lisa, very well remember walking down this corridor and following an lady from across the Atlantic, who in a very resolute way made her way through the crowd (and little old me, just followed her trail with my husband) and voila, there we were …..only I was quite dissappointed :(. Anyway, been there, done it and did document it!
Thanx for this refreshing post!

Word!!
My favorite cheesy touristy activities are: the cruise at Halong Bay, downhill biking in Ubud, Bali, Songkran festival on Khaosan Rd! Woohoo!

Well, I’ve made no hiding of the fact that I love Disney and cruises. When I got deeper into blogging, however, I realized that those two things weren’t necessarily the “cool” thing to write about. So I stopped for a while, and I hated it. Yes, I was writing about other things I enjoyed, but I was intentionally avoiding the things I loved the most and the work suffered. I gave up caring what’s the cool thing to do anymore, and have written about both many times since. In fact, I’m setting sail on the Oasis of the Seas on Saturday!

NomadicMatt

I like the Oasis. Did it last year.

Ha, love the post and yes, we have done most of the cheesy activities you mentioned here. But let’s face it, we all love to do the little cheesy things when we travel, that’s part of what makes travel fun, there’s always time for serious things too! I love all your photos by the way :)

NomadicMatt

Thanks!

Sarah Elder

Aww yeah Pisa! I definitely stopped there for a whole hour, saw the tower, and continued on to Florence :) totally worth the stop!

NomadicMatt

I was there for all of 3 hours.

That salt flats photo could never be wrong, it’s amazing!! I can’t wait to join the tourists for a full moon party, who cares if its over crowded if its a good time??

I live in London and I’m constantly surrounded be tourists taking typical photos and getting in the way, but I’m not annoyed I’m envious! They are having a great time and there’s no shame in that.

NomadicMatt

Join them!

You make some very good points. It’s great to get off the beaten path but nothing wrong with indulging as a true tourist sometimes.

Well done with the post Matt! I love the photos, and hope one day we can accomplish some part of our dream and bucket list. We’re still 9 months old as fulltime travelers and I believe we have a lot ahead.

I like your attitude. I used to be too concerned about what “real travelers” considered “authentic experiences.” While I do admit that Venice seemed to be run mostly by people who were bused in from out of town, you know what, I loved it!
It doesn’t kill you to do these things sometimes. What does kill you, is listening too much to nay sayers!

NomadicMatt

Exactly.

I think that people are so focused on not being an ordinary tourist and try to look for `local experiences` – they at the end become the actual cliches themselves and end up missing some rewarding experiences because they are too busy trying to be local.

This makes me think owning a DSLR has made me far too serious. I need to embrace my inner idiot.

NomadicMatt

I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R’ US kid.

Ed DeWald

I love this post! I took a year off to travel and do the cheesy touristy things! Koh San Road, couldn’t stop going there! Great Barrier Reef, I paid extra for the underwater camera to prove I was there! The Louvre, Eiffel Tour: Just saw them yesterday. I made a bee line for the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, then high tailed it out of there. I’m loving every minute of being a tourist!

I definitely feel this sentiment. Popular tourist attractions get that way for a reason, because they’re actually worth seeing! And while I never used to do pub crawls, I went on a couple here in Porto, Portugal and had a blast. Definitely a great time.

A healthy dose of some tourist activities never hurt in my book. Plus it always makes for some good pictures (and stories)!

I am so glad that you, Nomadic Matt, backpacker extraordinaire, all round cool dude, wrote this. And took those wacky photos!
Sometimes ‘touristy’ places are popular because they are iconic, because they are historic and sometimes they are popular because they are fun.
There is nothing wrong with having fun on your travels.

I wouldn’t use the word cheesy, but popular. These attractions are popular because they are unique and worth a visit, even if you are one that loves to get off the beaten path.

NomadicMatt

I wouldn’t say Disney is too unique but popular, yes.

NomadicMatt

Your sarcasm is dually noted :)

My two guilty holiday pleasures are cruises and Disney World. Everyone should experience them at least once. I thought I would hate both and ended up adoring them both. Yes I love culture and spiritual holidays etc but sometimes its nice just to go with the flow.

Tracy

I absolutely agree that you must do things that are not quite “highbrow.” We were just on a transatlantic cruise to Europe with 3,000 very much older folks, but we had a fantastic time! Massages and time by the pool, dancing all night in the disco because you don’t have to go anywhere for 8 days…it’s a rough life. I have also greatly enjoyed the Sound of Music tour (shrink wrapped bus and plucky English guide included!) in Salzburg. The Vatican Museum is also amazing, but most people just high tail it through to get to the Sistine Chapel. And of course, being from Upstate NY, we all love the Niagara Falls cheesy tour on the Maid of the Mist. These are things that must be done! We took the obligatory shot of the Coloseum in Rome, then hunted for the best artichoke in town in the Jewish Ghetto. You must see the time honored sites to get a sense of why a place is famous. We were supposed to get to Peru for Macchu Picchu, but it was the year of the floods and we went to Arequipa instead. I hear MP is in similar danger of being over run and that there are plenty of other more amazing ruins to see, but things are famous for a reason! My boyfriend is something of a travel hacker/mileage runner, and I hope to see plenty more of the world soon! I will also unabashedly state I love your blog. Big fan :-)

NomadicMatt

Thanks Tracy! I’m glad you are a fan!

Pamela

Hands up to these.
As overrated as things are, it is about making your mark.
Although cheesy but you need to have a been there, done that story to tell.

Really fun post Matt and so very true! It is fun to do the tourist thing!
For most of it, we are in the one area one time in your life, may as well be a typical tourist for a few hours!

Hi Matt! I love this post. Travelers should just do what they feel drawn to, even if it’s touristy. Balance is good.
Btw, your blog is one that really inspired me to quit my job and travel. It was the best thing I’ve done and I learned so much about myself. Thanks for making this blog and sharing great tips and stories.

Agree Matt. Some things are popular because they’re easy and fun, and sometimes, that’s all I want. Other times I want to challenge myself. Nothing wrong with going the easy (and cheesy) option sometimes.

I learned to scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef and it was amazing! I would love to go back someday.

Scuba diving is my dream I would love to go for it someday. Really amazing photographs. Beautiful views. Great Photography.

Excellent Post !

You have to do the cheesy tourist spots, it may seem lame but how many times in your life will you be at the leaning tower of Pisa, you NEED that photo of you trying to hold it up.

PS Pub crawls are always fun.

On one of my first overseas trips I had the displeasure of travelling with someone who was adamant that everything popular was bad! I too love getting off the beaten path but at the point when the Eiffel Tower gets dropped off your itinerary because it’s “too touristy”, I think you need to rethink!

Josh

Touristy things are popular for a reason…they’re fun! Sure, if you buy the $15 collector cup outside [INSERT FAMOUS LANDMARK] you’re probably a chump but the landmarks are famous for a reason. And who doesn’t love Mickey Mouse?

Leave a comment