Behind the Lens

Behind the Lens

What’s it really like to visit the most popular sights in the world?

Disappointment is bound to happen at some point when traveling, especially in this media-dominated age.

We build these places up in our minds, liking and pinning impossibly beautiful photos as the big departure date gets closer. It’s no wonder that sometimes reality just doesn’t live up to those Insta-perfect expectations. The real world is not carefully filtered for optimal lighting and edited to neatly hide any blemishes in the scene. In Rome, for example, I was shocked to realize that there were probably more tourists than locals in 75% of the places we visited. The ancient, beautiful, historic city of Rome was there, but it was hidden behind hordes of tourists, obnoxious hawkers, and the ever-present click of cameras all around us.

In the interest of showing these big name attractions as they truly are, I invited several bloggers from the travel community to share the places that have surprised them along the way. You’ll notice they all have a common theme, which is the overwhelming amount of people distracting from these gorgeous sights.

The Trevi Fountain | Rome Italy

Beautiful, isn’t it? The Trevi Fountain is one of the most popular attractions in Rome, and with good reason! The classic structure is simply stunning. Based on this photo, I always imagined it would be one small part of a giant piazza, but in fact the opposite is true. The square is so small, compared to giants like Piazza Navona, that Dan and I literally walked right past it without seeing any hint of the fountain! The Trevi Fountain, once we found it, dominated the tiny little square, which was packed with fellow tourists. The crowds I took in stride, but being smushed into such a small area was an unpleasant surprise. That being said, we loved the fountain enough to return twice during our trip! Crowds are just an unfortunate reality of any major tourist site.

To read more about our trip to Rome, click here.

Follow me on Instagram: @adventurethegreatwidesomewhere

Christ the Redeemer | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is probably the busiest tourist attraction in town. It’s located on top of the Corcovado mountain, which naturally limits the amount of people who can physically be on site at the same time. Depending on when you arrive, you can hardly move!

Luckily there’s more to see up there than the monument itself. From all angles the view is truly amazing! Sugarloaf mountain (another top local attraction), for instance, faces Corcovado. But you have to be patient to get a spot and take THAT postcard picture.

As someone who lived in Rio for close to 10 years, my tip is to arrive early, around 8 am. In addition to being easier to go up and down the hill, you avoid gigantic queues. Even at that time, don’t expect to find the place half empty… But at least your experience will be way more pleasant.

Thank you to Renata Pereira for sharing her beautiful photos and tips for visitors! Check out her website for more incredible spots in Rio and some seriously gorgeous video inspiration!

Follow Renata on Instagram: @renatapereira.tv

The Pantheon | Rome, Italy

Dome of the Pantheon in Rome. Photo Credit: Lisa Grabelle

My husband, and two young daughters set out on a quiet August day to stroll through Rome’s squares taking in the beauty of the city’s most famous monuments. As I was reading to my family from a tour book about our next stop, one of the best preserved ancient Roman buildings, the imposing and one of kind circular temple, the Pantheon, we turned a corner into the Piazza della Rotunda and became one with a mass of literally thousands of screaming teenage girls.

Screaming fan girls wait for their favorite celebrity outside the Pantheon in Rome, Italy. Photo Credit: Lisa Grabelle

We did not understand their Italian cries of joy util we found someone who spoke English and explained to us that the two redheaded boys at the center of this hurricane of humanity were Ciuffi Rossi, two youtube teen sensations who sang cover songs. My family will never forget this once in a lifetime….surreal experience. Surrounded by screaming fans and an army of police guards, we squeezed our way through the throngs (tightly grasping our girls’ hands) and escaped to the tranquility and utter silence of the magnificent architectural wonder of the Pantheon. The ultimate contrast…the ultimate memory!

Thanks to Lisa Grabelle for this humorous look at the Pantheon. Lisa writes for the family-friendly travel website, Hilton Mom Voyage, as well as top-rated, We Said Go Travel. Lisa lives to travel and believes “don’t just visit the destination…live it!”

Follow Lisa on Twitter: @obsessedwtravel

Mount Batur | Bali, Indonesia

Mount Batur, also known as Kintamani Volcano, sits in the North East of the island of Bali. It is a volcano, but not currently active, and stands at 1717m. I was hoping to get some romantic, quiet time with my new husband as part of our honeymoon trip but because of the great amount of trekkers, it is extremely crowded along the way and on the summit. Although it’s busy, it’s a good atmosphere and well worth the effort.

Thanks to Sarah Berthe of Travelosio.com. Sarah is a travel addict with passion for underwater world, scrumptious food and (tequila) sunsets . She is on mission to dive her way around the world with the greatest dive buddy in the world, her husband Olivier. She has been to Raja Ampat, Indonesia to dive with the mantas, wobbegong sharks, bumphead parrotfish and gazillions of other wonderful marine creatures. Her bucket list includes diving with the hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos Islands and humpback whales in Tonga.

Follow Sarah on Instagram: @travelosio

Château de Versailles | Paris, France

A strategic shot of the ceiling in one of the salons of Versailles. Photo credit: Michelle Vogel

If you’ve ever watched Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, mention of Versailles might conjure images of lavish echoey halls filled with velvet, gold, and macarons. You might expect to experience peaceful walks through the French gardens with gravel jostling underfoot. As it turns out, a visit to Versailles these days – especially in the summer – will find you pushing and shoving your way through the castle along with thousands of other strangers.

Overcrowded rooms, the reality of visiting the Chateau de Versailles. Photo credit: Michelle Vogel

If I’m being honest, though, the crowds didn’t stop me from enjoying my Versailles experience. We had to get creative to snag shots of the grounds without tons of strangers in them, but it remains one of the most beautiful and impressive places I’ve visited in/near Paris.

Thank you to Michelle Vogel of Mishvo in Motion. When not hunkered down writing up articles for her travel blog, Michelle can be found singing, reading books about the meaning of life, or eating olives in bulk.

Follow Michelle on Twitter: @mishvo

Seeing all these photos of crowded attractions almost makes me happy that places like Machu Picchu and the gorgeous towns on the Amalfi Coast are already considering ways to lessen the impact of mass tourism! What do you think? Have you ever been to a place that was not what you expected? Comment below and tell me all about it.

Bonus: the backside of the Venus de Milo at the Louvre! We visited first thing in the morning in May and it still garnered a crowd!


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