16 Places That Look Better in Images Than In Real Life

Stephanie Allen

Times Square

When you look at pictures of certain cities and landmarks, it’s easy to be in awe and to want to see them in person. Unfortunately, the in-person experience doesn’t always live up to the promise of the photos. 

What makes a location a bust? It may be a monument that looks less than majestic, the environment, or the people making a place less thrilling in person. It can be hard to reconcile photos versus reality, and some of the most disappointing places in the world may come as a genuine surprise.

1. Mount Rushmore, USA

Mount Rushmore
Credit: Depositphotos

As one of the world's most famous and recognizable monuments, the faces of four of the greatest presidents of the United States – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln – look impressive in photos. 

In real life, the monument is considerably smaller than it appears in pictures and videos, and it’s not in great shape. Built from 1927 to 1941, it’s aging and showing signs of wear and tear from the elements, requiring constant maintenance and repair. Also, its South Dakota location is on contested Indigenous land, complicating its legacy. 

2. The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy

The Leaning Tower of Pisa
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The Leaning Tower of Pisa is an architectural marvel in that it not only stands without collapsing, but visitors can also go inside and climb to the top. It’s one of the most photographed places in the world.

The landmark is also a heavily traveled tourist area filled with people taking selfies to appear as if they’re holding it in their hands. Some visitors to the site describe their disappointment in how small the structure is, at only eight storieshigh. 

3. The Liberty Bell, USA

The Liberty Bell
Credit: Depositphotos

One of the enduring symbols of American freedom and patriotism is the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Even though it has a large crack on one side, it’s still a priceless artifact from the United States' early years. 

In photos, the Liberty Bell appears massive, but in reality, it’s only three feet tall, with the bottom measuring twelve feet wide, and weighs around a ton. It’s a letdown for anyone expecting a bell the size of a small dwelling. 

4. Stonehenge, U.K.

credit: depositphotos

It’s unknown who built the 4,000-year-old site, but it’s believed to be of spiritual significance. The stones are large, and it remains a mystery how they were moved and arranged. 

Despite Stonehenge's wonder, more than a few visitors say they feel underwhelmed seeing it in person. Maybe they expected something magical to happen during their visit, but it isn’t quite as stunning as in photos. 

5. New York City, USA 

The Statue of Liberty and New York City skyline at dark
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Photos of the New York City skyline show a region marked by numerous architectural marvels that hint at a vibrant, active metropolis. Few cities, if any, have a skyline that rivals NYC. 

Being in New York City is a far different experience than the photos depict. The streets are congested with gridlocked traffic, and the sidewalks are equally congested with people who aren’t giving warm and fuzzy vibes. 

6. The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China
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China’s most well-known attraction took centuries to build and stretches for miles. When you look at pictures of the Great Wall of China, it looks like the fortress it was intended to be.

In person, it’s not nearly as formidable. On average, it’s between 20 to 23 feet high, with the highest part measuring approximately 46 feet above sea level. The 13,170-mile length is certainly majestic but not easily visible at every point.

7. The Alamo and the San Antonio Riverwalk, USA

The Alamo
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The Alamo is an American historic site famous for the Battle of the Alamo of 1836. The photogenic former mission and the adjacent San Antonio Riverwalk are two of the most popular destinations in Texas. 

In 2023, both places were labeled among the world’s most overrated and expensive tourist traps. The Alamo is a three-acre complex of several buildings, but the main building, the chapel, is much smaller than it looks in photos. 

8. The Colosseum, Italy

Colosseum in Rome, Italy. Ancient Roman Colosseum is one of main tourist attractions in Europe. People visit famous Colosseum in Roma city center. Scenic nice view, photo of Colosseum ruins in summer
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Although it dates back to ancient Rome, the Colosseum is still a place of interest for travelers from around the world. An estimated six million visitors visit it annually, and its legendary history helps to make it popular. 

Pictures of the Colosseum show the structure's incredible ruins, but you don’t see the massive crowds outside and long lines of people waiting to get inside. That’s bound to take away from the experience. 

9. Taj Mahal, India


The gorgeous Taj Mahal is a marvel to behold on the outside. It took 22 years and 22,000 artisans to construct it onlyadds to its mystique. 

The Taj Mahal was built as an outsized tomb for an emperor’s third wife. When guests go inside expecting a suite of rooms, they’re disappointed to find that it’s an ample space built around a small mausoleum.  

10. Old Faithful, USA

Old Faithful
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The US’s most famous geyser, located in Yellowstone National Park, is one of nature’s wonders. Its name comes from the predictable timing of its eruptions. 

Pictures of Old Faithful show a geyser surrounded by lush forests. In reality, Old Faithful isn’t the biggest geyser in the park, and it’s hard to get a close view because of the large crowds of tourists.

11. Sydney Opera House, Australia

Credit: Depositphotos

Australia’s Sydney Opera House is an iconic building that’s recognizable for its distinctive architecture. American singer and actor Paul Robeson was the first to perform at the venue. 

The structure's design may be of interest, but unless you’re attending a show, there’s no real reason to go see it. It’s one of those places that is better seen in photos. 

12. Washington Monument, USA

Washington D.C.
Credit: Depositphotos

The monument dedicated to the first president of the US is a commanding presence on the National Mall for its sheer height. It’s adjacent to the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, another major attraction in the District of Columbia. 

Being able to go inside and to the top of the Washington Monument sounds great until you see the long line to take a 70-second elevator ride to the top of the monument. Then you have to try to look out of one of the monument’s eight windows, which are crowded with other visitors. 

13. Venice, Italy

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Venice, Italy, is best known for its gondola rides, as seen in movies and photographs. Although this image seems very romantic, it isn’t based on reality. The water is murky partly because of the pollution caused by gondola rides. 

If being environmentally toxic isn’t enough, there’s also the real chance of encountering obnoxious tourists, like those who overturned a gondola because they wouldn’t remain seated and kept taking selfies. 

14. Mall of America, USA

Mall of America
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The largest mall in the US, the Mall of America, is a dream spot for shoppers and tourists alike. It has every retailer one can imagine, 100 places to eat, rides, and several attractions,

While the Mall of America is unlike any other mall in the country, it’s also just a mall but super-sized. Who wants to walk around a mall so big you need a GPS to find your way out? 

15. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio De Janiero
Credit: Depositphotos

Rio is famous for its white sand beaches, clear ocean waters, rich culture, and natural beauty. Seeing photographs of the best of Rio makes you want to book a flight as soon as possible. 

What you don’t see is the high crime rate and abject poverty of the favelas or shanty towns that occupy so much of the city. The poorest Brazilians' conditions will never be seen in travel promotion ads. 

16. Times Square, NYC, USA

Times Square
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

In photographs, Times Square dazzles and amazes at nighttime when the billboards and neon signs are brightly lit. The instantly recognizable spot looks like it’s the center of the world.

Visiting Times Square during the day means crowds, traffic, and tourist traps as far as the eye can see. At nighttime, it’s still the same, but the bright lights make it more than a bit overwhelming to take in.

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Krabi Thailand
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Maldives Hotel
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