These are Britain’s 10 most overrated tourist attractions
A new survey based on TripAdvisor comments has ranked Blackpool Tower the most complained-about attraction in the UK. In fact, so allegedly dire is the seaside town’s 518-feet high pastiche on the Eiffel Tower (which doesn’t feature in the list) that it has been placed second-worst in the world, with 9.4 per cent of all reviews deemed “poor” or “terrible” – topping the list was the Palace of Versailles.
A major caveat needs mentioning before we unpack the trashing of the Tower. Because TripAdvisor reviews have form when it comes to nonsensical negativism. Helvellyn in the Lake District was recently slated for being too “hilly”, and there are hard-to-please reviewers who denigrate the Great Wall for being “too long” and beaches for being “too sandy”.
The knockdowns of Blackpool Tower include angry protests that you can’t ride up to the top when the wind is too strong (health and safety), an “awful” 4D film (a matter of taste) and the elevated price (a matter of choice). It costs £56.50 per adult to access all six parts of the tower, but that includes a circus, an aquarium, the famous ballroom, a dungeon, a Madame Tussauds and the Tower Eye at the top. By comparison, London’s Madame Tussauds is £42 at the door.
But Blackpool Tower deserves a break. Where else do you get, in one location, the most beautiful ballroom in Europe, all the aforementioned family-entertaining facilities and, when the sea breezes are favourable, absolutely breathtaking views of the Irish Sea, Isle of Man, Snowdonia, Bowland’s Fells, Yorkshire Dales, Pennines and that epically long, sandy beach below?
Blackpool Tower is, indisputably, handsome and unique. It’s the only ultra-famous attraction to be found in a UK seaside resort apart from a handful of vintage piers and Brighton’s Royal Pavilion. It’s a monument rich in historical and social significance that make it, in its own way, as totemic as the Tower of London. For Blackpool Tower is a beacon of democratic hedonism. It is a powerful symbol of Blackpool’s roots as the UKs first genuinely working-class seaside resort. It is celebratory – perfectly in tune with a town that has long embraced diversity and LGBTQI+ visitors.
In any case, you don’t have to pay anything at all to admire it. That simple fact makes it much better value than many other celebrated buildings and popular attractions. About 18 million people visit Blackpool every year. Think of all the people who didn’t complain about the Tower. Some people just like to moan – and Lancashire’s most loudly laughing, joy-filled seaside town was never for them.
Ten truly over-rated UK attractions
The National Gallery
Trafalgar Square is on track to become as hideous as Leicester Square. From the “passionate” singer who performs at volume to the continual stream of aimless sightseers to the numerous construction sites that clog surrounding streets, it’s a place any self-respecting Londoner avoids. Something of the Square’s grimy grimness has penetrated the august halls of the country’s National Gallery where, once you get past the handbag-check, you find hundreds of people who have come in just to slouch on a bench and catch up on their texting.
Ninety per cent of the art on show is ignored. The remaining – Van Gogh, Leonardo – is mobbed by selfie-snappers and phone-artists. The gallery is just too big and unwieldy, and while we justly celebrate the fact the UK’s largest museums are free to enter, this makes them ideal boltholes for when the rain comes lashing down or when the kiddies need the loo. It’s time we de-nationalised all these mega institutions and spread the art around.
The jutting edge of southwest England, with its rugged cliffs, rocky shore, bracing westerlies and pounding surf should be one of the most beautiful spots in Europe. For its gannets, fulmars, shags and rare choughs, it should be a birder’s nirvana. Instead, the landmark has become a sprawling carpark with ugly, view-ruining man-made constructions that house “experiences”, cafés and kiosks. “Head to Lands End for a full retail fix,” hollers Visit Cornwall. No thanks.
The fells, lakes, becks and dells of Cumbria are rightly celebrated as some of the most alluring landscapes in the UK. Windermere, seen from a summit, is a long, dark and mysterious body of water that will put any walker into full Wordsworth mode. But, as a quick glance at this map indicates, nature has not been left alone to inspire us.
Instead, Windermere has become the region’s most congested honeypot, with all sorts of “visitor services” offering “lake cruises”, shops touting either technical wear or naff tweeds, and “things to do”. The latter is a British obsession. We need to re-learn how to do nothing.
The Houses of Parliament
The corner of Whitehall and Parliament Square is one of the most unpleasant road junctions on earth. The problem here is the sheer volume of tourists either mulling around and idling – as if they don’t even want to be here – or else taking photos of one another getting in and out of the battered (and not even very old) red phone boxes or pointing idiotically at Big Ben.
Oxford’s ancient colleges
You can’t go in these in term-time unless you happen to be studying there or have been invited to a posh dinner. Yet, still you see people craning their necks around “hallowed” corners to gawp at the quads and gasp at the ecclesiastical architecture.
The whole point of these edifices is their connection with scholarly erudition, silent reading and devotion – to knowledge and/or God. There’s something needy, sycophantic and just off about people not lucky enough to get in travelling to Oxford to see how the other half study – and making a commotion while they’re at it.
This is potentially a great museum, thanks to its vast and varied collections of objects related to the applied and pure sciences. If you’re interested in flight or fossils, time or the oceans, maths or motion, you’ll find something to educate and provoke.
However, thanks to the current fad for adult-free curation, the bosses at the Science Museum target kids and youth above all else and if you pick a bad morning, then welcome to the busiest and biggest crèche on earth. It’s all queues and giggles and crocodiles of bright green tabards, with no opportunity at all for careful reading, observation or actual science.
The Cavern Club
The Beatles have always been a tourism problem. How do you celebrate their youthful years in their home city of Liverpool in a way that isn’t totally corny? To be fair, the guided tours – including the bus-rides to the Fab Fours’ homes – are enjoyable and quite illuminating. But this so-called “Cavern Club” is both a completely fake space, constructed long after the original was caved-in by developers, and also unusually grotty. The thing is, seedy dens are superb when they are alive with the original music, fun and drink, but this touristy temple to a long-dead era hits all the wrong notes.
Almost anything TV-related is sure to disappoint. Padstow, as a township, should be quite pleasant, given its handful of quaint buildings, hilly edges and riverine setting. But food – basically glorified fish and chips – and the fame of chef Rick Stein have led to a constant jam of traffic – human and vehicular. Tourism’s fatal flaw is when something becomes a victim of its own success. Padstow is over, too well-cooked, like those very dry battered cods you get in dodgy chippies.
Piers were originally built to provide well-heeled promenaders with an airy, sand-free site to accompany their friends or family while at the seaside. They can be seen as a way for a town to “own” the shore, penetrating into the chaos of sea, or as a way to bring the wildness and ocean winds closer.
Paignton Pier in Devon, sadly, is a lesson in how to destroy a pier. Its moderate length is completely covered in amusement arcades full of bleeping, boinging, money-grabbing machines that, at best, issue hapless gamers with fluffy toys destined for landfill. The few outside areas at the far end are covered in more games and rides. The entrance is a pong of fast food and more machines. Truly awful.
Now here’s a tower that deserves a few bad reviews. A symbol of corporate development, a shadow on the sorrowful Thames, a blocker of treasured views of St Paul’s, and a Babel of dubious wealth and vulgar excess, this glass pinnacle of overpriced apartments and soulless hotel rooms is all the things Blackpool Tower isn’t. Victorians erected buildings to make people look up and dream; Late Elizabethans and Early Caroleans throw up monuments to keep them out and keep them under.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article included an image of Ambleside Pier which is operated by Windermere Lake Cruises Limited. The pier attracts excellent reviews on Tripadvisor and should not have been used to illustrate this article. We apologise for this error.