Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Fowler asks: What is a good mix of "Touristy and Authentic Spots"?

Fowler asks: What is a good mix of "Touristy and Authentic Spots"?

Old Nov 17th, 2000, 03:07 PM
wes fowler
Posts: n/a
Fowler asks: What is a good mix of "Touristy and Authentic Spots"?

I found a posting made yesterday by a young college student to be most intriguing. She is proposing a three week visit to Europe that essentially includes most of its major cities, none encompassing a stay of more than two days it seems. More intriguing was her desire to see "a good mix of touristy and authentic spots". I responded to her by suggesting her proposed itinerary was overly ambitious but did not address "touristy and authentic spots" because I'm not sure I know what they are. Is the Tower of London "authentic" since it's been an integral part of England's history for over 900 years or is it "touristy" because of the hordes of visitors it attracts? Is Bath "touristy" and "Blackpool "authentic"? Which holds more appeal? Is a spot authentic if it does not appear in a guidebook or travel literature? Interestingly enough, a recent study of the British Travel Authority indicated that the most popular, heavily visited tourist attraction in Britain is one I've never seen referred to on this forum in over three years of scanning and responding to postings; it's Beaulieu Abbey. So, I'm curious. What's "touristy"? Madame Tussaud's, Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Café? Notre Dame, Westminster Abbey and St. Mark's Piazza? What's authentic? If authentic, when does it become touristy? Can one be both? How and why?
Old Nov 17th, 2000, 03:46 PM
Beth Anderson
Posts: n/a
Hi Wes,

great question. I'll think on it some more, but two things come to mind:

The Eiffel Tower. The first thing which comes to mind when you mention Paris to the average person (I think that's true anyway). Was it built to be an authentic work of art/architecture, or was it meant to be a tourist attraction? It was built for the World's Fair of 1889, undeniably to attract attention/ visitors (and scathing criticism initially)... but it has endured and become an enduring part of Paris. It has witnessed countless historical events and has even survived Hitler's wish to 'topple it into the Seine'... would such a wish have been put upon a 'mere' tourist attraction, or is there a deeper symbolism there... (or am I just rambling...)

authentic? but not too touristy? (yet)... how about Connemara region/County Galway? True, it seems that every third home is a B&B, but nothing is 'in your face'. True, you can get a hand knit sweater in nearly every store in Clifden or Galway, but that doesn't seem too much to bear...

I would say, anything famous on its own merits - historic or artistic to name a few, and NOT built for commercial purposes - would not be touristy in the 'bad' sense of the word... although the Abbey/Tower/Tour Eiffel/Westminster Palace sure attracts a lot of visitors!

or maybe they are just not 'crassly' touristy?

my thoughts are, of course, subject to change on a whim...
Old Nov 17th, 2000, 03:57 PM
Posts: n/a
Wasn't it you Wes, in another thread that stated that you had always avoided touristy places until you discovered that there was a reason that they were touristy? Because in most cases they are of historical significance in the first place. Touristy would be for me to go to DineyWorld or places specifically built(recently) to draw foreigners. Anywhere that we can learn about culltures, events are valid places to go and even though visited by millions per year are historical and not touristy.
My Opion of course.
Old Nov 17th, 2000, 04:38 PM
Posts: n/a

What's the food like in 'Dineyworld' in your 'Opion' ? ( No offense intended ! ).
Old Nov 17th, 2000, 07:44 PM
Posts: n/a
A good mix of "touristy and authentic" spots is probably what you see on your SECOND (or third or fourth...) visit somewhere. You remember how much fun certain touristy places were, and you have the time to discover and enjoy more "authentic" places because you aren't worried about missing the "must sees."
Old Nov 18th, 2000, 04:30 AM
Posts: n/a
Segovia, Toledo, Munich, Oberrammergau, are cities that come to mind when inquired about touristy places that remain very authentic.
Old Nov 18th, 2000, 02:31 PM
Posts: n/a
This is an interesting question to ponder.

My wife and I lived in Europe while I was in the Army and have made over 20 trips back in the years after. We rent a car and explore. The first time we go to a place we usually check out the "name" spots to see what all the write-ups are about. But truthfully we have had some of our best experiences in the small out of the way towns and meeting the local people. That is the authentic part I believe she was asking about.

We were once driving through Scotland and happened on local sheep herders out testing their dogs. We sat for two or three hours watching the men and their dogs herd sheep and time them. No admission, no crowds, only the participants were there. One gentleman explained the rules to us and how expensive these intelligent dogs are. That was authentic and one of the highlights of the trip....better than Loch Ness or Edinburgh Castle.

If you only go to the areas that are in the guide books, you miss a lot of Europe. A good mix is necessary, but I am afraid many people do not do a "mix" at all. End of speech.
Old Nov 18th, 2000, 02:54 PM
Posts: n/a
I feel that many travelers, particularly those with little experience, often confuse "touristy" with "frequently visited" or (somewhat) "crowded".

I find young people often omitting first rate attractions in favor of second-rate or third-rate destinations just because they believe 'too many' people visit the top spots.

Just because something is 'popular' doesn't mean it's touristy. It's probably, in fact, a good indication that it's worth seriously considering inclusion on the itinerary.

"Touristy", to me, are those spots that aren't 'native' to the environment. For example, Euro Disney was 'created' to attract tourists just a short time ago. The same can be said of the Eiffel Tower, though it has become >the< symbol of Paris over the last 100 years, thus receiving 'authentication'.

And just because something was created to 'manufacture' tourism doesn't mean it's not worthwhile for many. Disney Land/World/Euro are certainly manufactured experiences. That doesn't make them any less fun for families, at least those living relatively nearby. While I could well understand the family of four down the street going to California specifically to see Disneyland, et al, I'd feel differently if they went to France and the major part of their visit was at EuroDisney.

Net, semantics aside, places that get lots of visitors probably have significant merit, and one should seriously consider visiting at least once. If the place one plans to visit is obscure and rarely visited, and one has not visited the 'important', more frequented, places nearby, one might consider whether one is intentionally passing up something quite worthwhile just for the sake of being contrary ... and perhaps proving one's lack of judgement.

In the end, 'labels' like "touristy" and "authentic" are probably not very constructive. Better questions in developing an itinerary may be similar to these:
- what are my interests?
- what do I hope to learn?
- what do I hope to experience?

Old Nov 18th, 2000, 05:20 PM
Posts: n/a
An exprience somewhat like Bob's,on our trip to Italy last year, we really enjoyed watching a water polo match being played at night between 2 local teams of 16-20 year olds at Santa Margherita Ligure. Was a lot of fun. Just a few locals watching, mainly the families of the boys.Cities that come to mind are Karlovy Vary, Cesky Krumlov,Bamberg,Rothenburg,Assisi,Orvieto...
Old Nov 19th, 2000, 01:30 AM
Posts: n/a
If I can preface my remarks by saying that the following is MY opinion and that as far as I'm concerned you are all entitled to your own, even if you thoroughly disagree.

There are shades and checks and balances. Edinburgh Castle is touristy but I'd not dream of suggesting you miss it out. The Edinburgh ghost tours are put on for tourists and are not "authentic", but they're great fun and you learn a bit about Edinburgh's history, so go for it.

But a "Scottish Night" at one of the big hotels...blech! I'd rather go to Sandy Bell's pub and see who's in for the crack that night.

I've seen people whove visited, recommend McTavish's Kitchen's- a group of cafes on the west coast which do "Scottish" entertainment, and whose threshholds I would not darken.

Highland Games are an interesting phenomenon. For decades the Braemar Gathering has attracted tourists because the Royals go. Over the hill in Strathdon, we locals have much enjoyed the Lonach Gathering instead, for its lack of pretension. Then 3 years ago Billy Connolly bought the local "Big Hoose" and he has taken to inviting Hollywood types to stay for the Lonach weekend. So now the Lonach is awash not only with the Robin Williams and Steve Martins of this world, but also hordes of people who have come to see them. More touristy? Yes. less authentic? not yet...

There's nothing wrong with vistitor centres and interpretation facilities for tourists; but I hate the fakery of "Scottish Nights" and the widespread sale of tartan tat.

There's a thin line between having a keen appreciation of your history and how it's shaped your culture and falling into the "Brigadoon" "Prince amang the Heather" stuff which retails so well to the mass market
Old Nov 19th, 2000, 02:24 PM
wes fowler
Posts: n/a
There's an interesting tidbit in an article in today's New York Times travel section that may be relevant to this discussion. As we tourists and travelers board the Metro to scurry from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower and from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame and on to Sacre Couer so we can say we've seen and experienced Paris, we perhaps ignore the perfect opportunity to experience the "authenticity" of one of the world's great cities. A quote of Franz Kafka in the Times article on Paris' Metro captures the concept of "authenticity" perfectly: "The Metro furnishes the best opportunity for the foreigner to imagine that he has understood, quickly and correctly, the essence of Paris." I think too many of us when boarding the Metro are so concerned about the economics of a carnet of tickets vs. a single ticket's cost, so concerned about looking out for "gypsies", clochards and prospective pickpockets and so concerned about whether we've interpreted the Metro's maps accurately that we fail to realize that we're in a true and "authentic" environment that warrants our full, inquisitive attention.

Art, you've misread me if you sense that I've avoided touristy places. It's true I avoid conducted tours, restaurants with tourist menus, Marriotts, Sheratons, Best Westerns,and Madame Tussaud's, all of which seem to be cropping up everywhere. I can revel in the experience of Westminster Abbey or the Uffizi or Brussels' Grand Place or the Tuileries. Understanding and appreciating the craftsmanship of builders of medieval cathedrals, the artistry of gallery hangings, the opulence of Guild houses in a Belgian square and the history surrounding what is now a lovely park can blur the mind and the eye to what may be hordes of tourists. Knowing what to see and more importantly why you want to see it can give you Kafka's authentic "essence" of a site both in the present time and in its place in history.
Old Nov 20th, 2000, 10:28 AM
Posts: n/a
Philosopher Wes, and others,
This reminds me of my refusing to see Star Wars when it came out. Everyone I knew, including my parents, was raving about this movie, insisting I must see it, and I flat refused. For years I described that as the only really rebellious thing I'd ever done, but that's another story. Was it worth seeing?--like a heavily visited European site--possibly/probably/it depends on one's values; for it's time, the movie was probably remarkable. I did not see it until it was rereleased a few years ago. I guess my point is, my stance about Star WArs and a college student's wanting to avoid sites 'touristy' probably have one thing in common: youth, and/or a desire to prove that one is not a follower of the crowd.

Your point about the Tower of London is well taken. I'll never forget my first glimpse of the Colosseum in Rome; while undeniably touristy now, it was also undeniably an authentic and important site in ancient Rome. Do modern Romans visit the Colosseum? Probably not, but they may well pass by it regularly, so it may be an authentic part of a Roman's daily life. I'd say that a site can be both authentic and touristy. Whether any particular site is worth a visit is entirely subjective.
Old Nov 20th, 2000, 12:38 PM
Posts: n/a
I'll weigh in on this one, too (good topic, wes, and the responses have been very enlightening).

There's touristy, and then there's touristy. The Eiffel Tower is touristy, but it was built to be touristy, and it IS part of the city, so it's an okay touristy for a traveler. The London Eye is touristy, but it was built to be touristy, it's not yet part of the city, but it's still an okay touristy for a traveler. The Thames River or Seine River cruises are REALLY touristy (so are the Big Red Buses and the Big Yellow Buses), but they provide a good service so they're ok for a traveler. The London Dungeon is touristy, it was built for tourists, it doesn't provide any service, and it's cheesy - no traveler worth her salt would waste her time there (sadly, Evans Evans Murder Bus Tour now includes part of this atrocity). DisneyEuro/World/Land should not be thought of as a tourist attraction related to any city/state/country. It is unique and should be thought of separately "I went to Florida and saw manatees, dolphins, beautiful beaches, and the Swimmers' Museum...AND I went to Disneyworld". If you visited Georgia and Disneyworld, you could only claim Georgia as the state you toured.

Then there are authentic sights that have become touristy, but the sights are so incredible, you don't really care - the Roman Coliseum comes to mind. Then there are the authentic sights which have yet to become touristy, but I can't reveal those, or I'd have to kill you.
Old Nov 20th, 2000, 01:03 PM
Posts: n/a
And then there are activities that were once authentic, but now only exist because of tourism. The best example to me is Afternoon Tea in England, which would have disappeared 50 years ago with the drastic reduction in the number of idle rich, had tourists looking for "ye olde englishe" experience not taken up the slack.
Old Nov 20th, 2000, 02:26 PM
Posts: n/a
Hi! Wes I've been reading your postings about 2 yrs now and have always found them interesting, even when i disagreed. How about this proposal: A place is authentic as long as it is unvisited by anyone except the locals one the first visitor arrives it becomes touristy.

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Manage Preferences - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell or Share My Personal Information -