Considering I live in the middle of nowhere (at least, as middle-of-nowhere as you can get while still living in the Netherlands), it may surprise the casual reader to hear I don’t make a habit of avoiding popular places.
To the contrary: I might live in the Dutch countryside, but I take pretty much any excuse to go to Amsterdam. I’ve blogged about Parc Guell in Barcelona, the London Eye, and Hamburg’s Christmas markets. I spent seven months in Melbourne and more than two years in Queenstown, New Zealand. Clearly, I have zero qualms about visiting big tourist destinations.
But you see, it’s not simply that I “don’t mind.” I don’t just tolerate trodding the touristy path; I’ve actually come to love it.
This is not a defense of famous destinations. It’s a celebration of them.
Getting that classic shot of Tower Bridge in London
I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of giant crushing crowds or long lines or super jacked up prices. I’m not into pick-pocketers, scammers, or pissy locals who seem to almost deliberately get in your way so they have something to complain about. I don’t think anyone travels hoping to encounter any of the above — but when your destination is a famous attraction or oft-lauded city, it’s highly likely you will.
That being said, it’s a shame how often touristy places get reduced to crowds, scams, and high costs. Sometimes, all that pomp and circumstance can actually be, dare I say… fun.
I love visiting places I’ve heard about a million times. I treasure the hype, the butterflies, the build-up of anticipation as the moment grows closer. When I do arrive, I get a thrill out of seeing my imagination — cobbled together from the words or photos of others — come to real, tangible life before me. It’s like waking up from a dream and finding what I was dreaming about standing next to me (you know, minus how terrifying that sounds).
I like picking up on details I haven’t seen anyone else mention, or finding an angle I haven’t seen anyone else take. I enjoy comparing my experiences to others I’ve heard and trying to understand why and how they differ. It pushes me to think outside the box and be more creative in my approach. It’s a challenge I don’t always excel at, but I gain something from trying nonetheless.
Let’s not forget: almost every iconic spot is iconic for some reason. The fact that 10 million people have experienced that reason before you doesn’t have to destroy or weaken its effects. The Grand Canyon is still grand, the Sydney Opera house is still photogenic, the Taj Mahal — well, I haven’t been to that one yet, but I’m gonna go ahead and speculate that it’s still pretty god damn majestic.
Climbing over Amsterdam in front of the Rijksmuseum
Do I also have a fondness for more underrated destinations? Sure. A big chunk of my blog is devoted to the Netherlands outside of Amsterdam, and the glories of my home state of Minnesota — which lies well outside of the typical tourist path of NYC > Las Vegas > LA.
Do I realize that, hey, some particularly well-known places are literally crumbling under the pressure of so many people? 100% yes. We should all be aware of the impact our tourism is having on the places we visit, and do our best to lessen it where possible.
Do I understand that people have plenty of perfectly valid reasons for not wanting to visit busy spots? Of course. I’m certainly not telling you that you should do anything — especially something that will make you unhappy or unhealthy in any way.
I can only speak for myself. And for myself, the hype has enhanced my experiences far more often than it’s detracted from them.
Inside the Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona
At the end of the day, no one ever really visits the same exact spot as anyone else, because no one comes at it from exactly the same point of view. My photographs of famous landmarks may not look very special to you — but they sure do to me.