Liar, liar, pants on fire.
Famous fakes and copycat tourist attractions are big business nowadays. Just look at Las Vegas’ Eiffel Tower, Nebraska’s bizarre “Carhenge” homage to Stonehenge, or China’s smorgasbord of rip-off replicas of landmarks like Tower Bridge, the Sphinx, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. At least these novelty attractions are up-front about their falsity, but what about the tourist attractions that aren’t quite so forthcoming in their deceptions? Here are 15 tourist attractions you might not have realized were lying to you.
La Mitad del Mundo
WHERE: Quito, Ecuador
If you’ve been to Quito, the chances are you’ve ventured out to explore La Mitad del Mundo, aka the equator line monument and complex. And yet, the location is all wrong. The real “center of the world” is around the corner at the neighboring Inti Nan Museum. The confusion dates back to 1736, when French explorers screwed up their calculations, and by the time anyone realized this, the monument was already in place. Regardless, tourists still flock to take photos straddling the not-quite-middle-of-the-world.
INSIDER TIPMarking out midpoints is a historically tricky business. Even the Greenwich prime meridian marker in London is incorrectly placed, according to modern GPS systems.
WHERE: Verona, Italy
Art, so the philosophical theory goes, imitates life. Therefore, it seems logical to assume that prolific playwright and poet, William Shakespeare, took some inspiration from his surroundings every once in a while. Except—where Juliet’s Balcony in Verona is concerned—that’s categorically false. For one, Shakespeare likely never even visited Verona and, perhaps most crucially, Juliet is just a fictional character. That doesn’t stop the house and balcony capitalizing on people’s love of love though.
WHERE: Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States
Many “historical” locations in the US are thinly veiled replicas or poor reconstructions—Teddy Roosevelt’s New York birthplace, anyone?—but Plymouth Rock is just plain wrong. While legend goes that Plymouth Rock marks the site where the Mayflower Pilgrims made land, conveniently ignoring the fact that they arrived first to Cape Cod, it wasn’t until some 121 years later that the boulder was “identified” as the Pilgrims’ landing place. Also, it’s just a rock?
Warsaw Old Town
WHERE: Warsaw, Poland
Every good weekend-break-city worth its salt needs a charming historic downtown and Warsaw is no different…except Warsaw’s “Old” Town is nothing more than a reconstruction, built in the post-WWII period. However, unlike other lying attractions, this one gets a snark-free pass; the original Old Town was decimated by German bombs before being carefully—and pretty accurately—reconstructed by a band of researchers to create the “New” Old Town we see today.
WHERE: Athens, Greece
Much like Warsaw’s Old Town, the Parthenon is actually just another careful reconstruction. While marketed as a relic from 438 BC, this Athens landmark received substantial damage from Venetians in the 17th century and was heavily restored in the ‘70s. Combine that with the fact that the Parthenon’s famed Elgin Marbles are currently located in the British Museum in London, and you might want to give this “quintessential” Greek attraction a miss on your next visit.
WHERE: Berlin, Germany
In theory, Checkpoint Charlie—once the crossing point from East to West Berlin—has the potential to be quite an interesting attraction. In practice, it’s a crowded, inaccurate replica of the original, soundtracked by ahistorical dance music and filled with tourists queuing for a) photos with cosplaying “military officials” or b) fake passport stamps.
INSIDER TIPThe actual Checkpoint Charlie building can be found in the Allied Museum in Dahlem, Berlin.
House of the Virgin Mary
WHERE: Mount Koressos, Turkey
If it seems unbelievable that we can pinpoint with any accuracy the former home of the Virgin Mary, that’s because it is. And yet, that doesn’t stop the House of the Virgin Mary—also known as Meryem Ana Evi—drawing curious visitors and devoted pilgrims from around the world. The proof for this wondrous discovery? The vision of a 19th-century nun, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich. Notably, the Catholic Church has remained tight-lipped over this site’s supposed authenticity.
WHERE: Aswan, Egypt
Philae Island—thought to be the burial place of Osiris—is home to several hieroglyph-covered temples, dating back over 2000 years. While the incredibly well-preserved temples are entirely authentic, the location is a little deceptive. The original Philae Island, situated in a River Nile rapid, was a flood risk, so a rescue campaign was spearheaded by UNESCO in the ‘60s to relocate the priceless ruins to a new, manmade location—Agilkia Island on Lake Nasser.
The Bridge on the River Kwai
WHERE: Kachanaburi, Thailand
You’ve probably heard of the film The Bridge on the River Kwai—which depicted the construction of the Burmese “Death Railway”—but did you know that the bridge never actually crossed Thailand’s River Kwai? In fact, the Death Railway crossed the nearby Mae Klong River; so, to satisfy disappointed tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of the infamous and erroneous bridge, the Thai government simply rebranded the part of the Mae Klong with the bridge as “Kwai Yai.”
The Four Corners
WHERE: (Allegedly) New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona, United States
Fans of Breaking Bad will be familiar with the Four Corners Monument which supposedly straddles New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona; however, this multi-state marker is actually a lie. Due to some 19th-century technology screw-ups, the Four Corner Monument is about 1,800 feet east of where it should be (although the borders are legally accurate). And beyond the supposed inaccuracy of the cool-in-theory, dull-in-practice marker, it’s situated in the middle of the desert, so trekking out for a photo probably isn’t worth the hassle.
Gates of Heaven
WHERE: Bali, Indonesia
Logically, we all know Instagram pictures never show the full story and yet, we want to believe. Which explains why the internet collectively freaked out recently after realizing that the (literally) picture-perfect, lake-like reflection which appears in nearly every Gates of Heaven photo at the Lempuyang Temple was simply achieved by placing a mirror beneath an iPhone camera.
WHERE: Tlaxcala, Mexico
Despite being sandwiched between the states of Tlaxcala and Puebla in Mexico, you’d be forgiven for thinking Val’Quirico was a medieval Italian hamlet at first glance. After all, that’s what it was designed to resemble; however, while marketed as a town in its own right, Val’Quirico is actually a purpose-built tourist complex in Santa Agueda…think Cancún with a rustic, inland edge. What do you mean you thought you were in Tuscany?!
221B Baker Street
WHERE: London, United Kingdom
Literature fans—or just the Benedict Cumberbatch obsessed—will know that fictional detective Sherlock Holmes lived at 221B Baker Street, London, an address which now houses the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Except that the museum is actually situated at 239 Baker Street and simply lays claim to the “221B Baker Street” address. The real 221B Baker Street is, obviously, a little further down the road.
INSIDER TIPPutting aside the fact that Holmes is a fictional character, Baker Street’s numbers didn’t even go as high as 221 when Arthur Conan Doyle was writing the novels.
WHERE: Kanab, Utah, United States
Over the years, the sandstone erosion Moqui Cave—which some believe isn’t even a naturally formed cave at all—has served as an Anasazi shelter, prohibition-era speakeasy, and dancehall. Nowadays, according to visitors, it’s a gift shop masquerading as a natural history museum, one which has absolutely no proven connection to Native Americans and is owned by the distinctly non-Native Chamberlain family.
Moroccan Tree Goats
WHERE: Marrakesh, Morocco
How and why would a natural phenomenon, like tree-climbing goats, be falsified? The answer is, as ever, capitalism. While goats do climb the Argania tree to reach its fruit, they don’t typically do so with the picture-perfect precision and round-the-clock regularity tourists on the road between Marrakech and Essaouira demand. So, local farmers started bringing in goats and coaxing them into the trees, before charging charmed visitors for photos.
INSIDER TIPTo see “authentic” tree-climbing goats, stick to southern Morocco where the Argania trees are endemic, stray from the tourist trail and visit around June when the fruit the goats climb to find is ripe and plentiful.