Tuesday, 4 September 2007

News From Virgin Money


Research reveals Eiffel Tower and Stonehenge top blacklist of most disappointing sightseeing spots

The Eiffel Tower and Stonehenge are the tourist ‘hotspots’ that leave the most Brits cold, according to research by Virgin Travel Insurance that reveals the most disappointing sights at home and abroad.

More than five million people visit the Eiffel Tower every year, but almost a quarter of British tourists have dubbed the world-famous Paris landmark a flop.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in the Louvre, New York’s Times Square, and Las Ramblas in Barcelona all feature in the top ten foreign spots that fail to live up to our expectations, while The Angel of the North, Blackpool Tower, and the Princess Diana Memorial make the blacklist in the UK.

The findings have been explained by travel expert Felice Hardy, who suggested reasons why Brits gave certain landmarks the thumbs down, and warned that visiting some of the world’s most popular sightseeing spots was often more likely to leave us feeling stressed out and ripped-off, than inspired, thanks to pickpockets, endless crowds and expensive ticket prices.

She claimed Brits might be turned off by worst offender the Eiffel Tower because it was 'frustratingly overcrowded and overpriced’, and admitted that many would consider Stonehenge ‘just a load of old rocks’. She branded the Mona Lisa ‘disappointingly small’ and marked down Blackpool Tower for being ‘a forlorn monument to yesterday’.

Instead, Hardy reckons we should be using our imagination and heading off the beaten track to find the ‘wow factor’, and suggested hidden gems abroad such as the Treasury at Petra in Jordan, the Tarako Gorge in Taiwan, and the Cappadoccia Caves in Turkey. Closer to home, Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, Holkham Bay in Norfolk and The Isle of Skye in Scotland are among the best of Britain’s tourist sights.

“It’s easy to be swayed by brochures that opt for the mainstream and focus on clichéd tourist sights around the world, but many of them are overcrowded and disappointing,” says Hardy.

“Pick carefully and don’t always go for the obvious - natural phenomena are usually more exciting than the man-made, and can be wonderfully free of tourists.”

Jason Wyer-Smith, spokesperson for Virgin Travel Insurance, who commissioned the report, adds:

“ It seems thousands of Brits are returning from their hard earned holidays feeling a bit let down when famous tourist spots don’t live up to expectation. The key to holiday heaven could well be seeking out the hidden gems rather than joining the crowds in holiday hell.”

See the full blacklist of Virgin Travel Insurance’s Most Disappointing Sightseeing Spots, along with Felice Hardy’s comments, below:



1. The Eiffel Tower
In 1889 it was no doubt a miraculous and illuminating achievement, but then so too were the automobile and the electric light bulb. Frustratingly overcrowded and overpriced. If you like nuts and bolts, you’ll get more fun from a Meccano set.

2. The Louvre (Mona Lisa)
A disappointingly small painting permanently framed by a capacity audience of tourists straining to block your view. Dan Brown must share the blame with Da Vinci – his book has doubled the crowds.

3. Times Square
A Disney World without Cinderella’s Castle, but with extra side orders of neon that makes the head spin uncomfortably. As a revamped centre for family fun it’s better now than the seedy vice centre it became in the 1970s. But it fails to recapture the glamour of the 1920s when it was the entertainment capital of America.

4. Las Ramblas, Spain
The Covent Garden of Barcelona suffers from an increasing lack of attention to quality control. Spanish poet Frederico Garcia Lorca described it as ‘the only street in the world that I wish would never end.’ All too often these days a tourist trip ends in a visit to the police station to report pickpocketed wallet or even a daylight mugging.

5. Statue of Liberty
Unlike the seaborne passage of millions of 20th-century immigrants, who glimpsed it before being processed at nearby Ellis Island on their way to the Land of the Free, it’s simply not worth the journey. Access to Liberty herself is restricted. Visitors these days are not permitted to reach the crown or the torch.

6. Spanish Steps, Rome
Whatever way you look at it the Scalinata della Trinita dei Monti, which takes its more popular name from the 19th-century Spanish Embassy in a nearby palace, is just an outdoor staircase. In mid-summer its 138 steps become a communal park bench for backpackers and other foot-weary pedestrians.

7. The White House
Deceptively small in appearance – it looks more like a Lego model than the real thing – even though it does have 132 rooms and 32 bathrooms. Free tours of a limited amount of rooms ­(mainly state dining rooms) are possible, but not the Oval Office or anywhere else of interest. You can, if you like, ask questions of the Secret Service Tour Officer positioned in every room, like: “Which way to the exit?”

8. The Pyramids, Egypt
The Great Pyramid is the only one of the Ancient Seven Wonders of the World still in existence. All the others were destroyed by earthquake, arson, or Christian Crusaders. Pity, because the Hanging Gardens of Babylon would have been much more interesting – and considerably cooler. Heat, hawkers and camel drivers combine to make any visit an overwhelmingly stressful ordeal.

9. The Brandenburg Gate
The triumphal arch built in the late 18th century to celebrate a Prussian victory was ironically dubbed the Gate of Peace. It became an Icon of the Iron Curtain when it was built into the Berlin Wall in 1961. T our guides will tell you that the arch is now an icon of unification. Actually, it’s still a rather dull 18th-century arch. Don’t buy a chunk of die Mauer – the Wall – from a street vendor. It won’t be genuine.

10. The Leaning Tower of Pisa
Thanks to British engineering skills in a £20million rescue operation, the 12th-century bell tower no longer leans at quite such an extreme angle and visitors can again climb its 294 steps. Its reopening – it was closed to the public for safety reasons in1990 – will rekindle some interest. But as it is now unlikely collapse for at least 300 years so there’s no need to hurry to visit.


1. Stonehenge
No one knows why it is here or what it was built for 4,000 years ago. Similarly, thousands of annual visitors now ask themselves: “Why am I here?” Stonehenge is an isolated pile of rocks in a usually muddy field marking the junction of the traffic-laden A303 and A344. It’s just a load of old rocks.

2. Angel of the North
Affectionately known as The Gateshead Flasher, this 20-metre £1- million steel angel has a wingspan of 55 metres. The whole windswept sculpture at the entrance to Tyneside is anchored by a base of 165 tons of concrete. The Angel briefly looked more worldly in1998 when jokers clothed it in a No.9 Alan Shearer football shirt.

3. Blackpool Tower
It’s an ersatz copy of the Eiffel Tower with its base steeped in fairground attractions and an amusement arcade. Time was when the tower was the central attraction of the most popular seaside resort in Britain. Now it stands as forlorn monument to yesterday. The bulk of British beach tourists have long since gone abroad in search of sunshine.

4. Lands’ End
The ancient Cornish called it appropriately the End of the Earth and, unless you happen to have just walked or cycled from John o’ Groats, it’s probably the last place you want to be. Depending on your direction it is the first or final place in England, but most of the rest of the country is more appealing.

5. Princess Diana Memorial Fountain
The fountain that resembles a colourless wet skateboard park has received a drenching from its critics since it opened in 2004 (and regularly closed for maintenance). It begs the question: just how relevant is it to Diana’s memory?

6. The London Eye
The queues are huge and when you finally get on this Ferris Wheel, it goes too slowly to offer any form of excitement. On dull and rainy days, of which in London there are many, the slowly revolving view is as fascinating as watching paint dry.

7. Brighton Pier
Slot machines, low-key theme park rides, and fast food stands dominate what at its rusting heart remains a classic Edwardian seaside structure. To say that its owners lack imagination in its current development is being polite.

8. Buckingham Palace
They’ve been changing the guard at Buckingham Palace since long before Christopher Robin went down with Alice. These days the ceremony is so crowded that, unless you get there hours early, your view will be restricted to the back of a head in front of you. Some of the state rooms are open to the public – but only in August and September when the Queen is in Scotland – and entry is an expensive £15. The White House may be less impressive, but at least it’s free.

9. White Cliffs of Dover
You can see them from the Prince of Wales pier or better from a cross-Channel ferry. Dame Vera Lynn sang famously in WWII of bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover, but screeching seagulls are your more likely companions. Once you’ve seen them, you’ve…er…seen them.

10. Big Ben
To be minutely precise, Big Ben is the name of the big bell inside the tower of the Houses of Parliament adjoining Westminster Bridge, and not the clock at all. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll know what time it is – time to go somewhere else. The only way to get inside is to arrange a visit through your local MP.



1. The Treasury at Petra, Jordan
The feeling of coming face to face with The Treasury – a 45-metre high by 25-metre wide temple hewn out of the limestone – after winding along the 1200-metre corridor is so fantastic that you almost believe you have come across a hidden city that no one has yet discovered.

2. The Grand Canal, Venice, Italy
Just as Canaletto painted it. Gondolas ply their way along the main artery of Europe’s most fascinating city, flanked by magnificent restored palazzos. Smaller canals and a fascinating maze of narrow alleyways lead off on both sides.

3. The Masai Mara, Kenya
Nothing prepares you for the sounds and scents of the African bush and nowhere on earth is nature so prolific. The Big Five of lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino hug the limelight. But it is the supporting cast of giraffe, zebra, hippo, wildebeest and cheetah that help make any safari a success. A hot-air-balloon ride is one of the best ways to see the area – it’s environmentally friendly and gives a completely different perspective of the animals. Sunrise and sunset over the Mara is not to be missed.

4. Sydney Harbour Bridge, Australia
Climbing 134m to the top girder of Sydney Harbour Bridge provides a bird’s-eye view of the city. The feeling of achievement is as strong as the breeze whipping through your protective suit. Anyone can do it, but stepping out onto the first horizontal span induces a feeling of vertigo. However, an ingenious running karabiner allows you to be permanently hooked by a wire to a safety rail throughout the climb. Once you are out over the water all feelings of fear are left behind as the map of Sydney unfolds beneath you.

5. Taroko Gorge, Taiwan
Mornings start early at Taroko Gorge if you are to walk any of the trails before it becomes too hot and humid. The 2km-long Paiyang trail includes clambering through tunnels and a cave, which goes under and behind a waterfall, where it ‘rains’ inside. Bats squeal and reel above as you teeter along the narrow ledge trying not to fall into the deep water. Taroko Gorge was the backdrop for the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and JK Rowling would love it here.

6. Kings Canyon, Northern Territory, Australia
One of the unsung wonders of the Red Centre, a giddy rock formation as great as Ayers Rock (now renamed Uluru), but one that has so far escaped commercial exploitation. Kings Canyon at sunset provides an optical feast. Take the Rim Walk – the views from the top are dizzy-making, the plant life abundant, and the rock colours of fiery red, ochre, burnt umber and charcoal are spectacular.

7. Cappadoccia caves, Turkey
This is one of the world’s most ancient inhabited areas, with a bizarrely beautiful landscape that stretches back 60 million years. Fierce volcanic activity, coupled with river and wind erosion, left a bizarre legacy of unusual rock formations in the Göreme region – known as ‘fairy chimneys’. Cave houses were carved out of the volcanic rock during the 19th century and today there are beautifully preserved and available for visitors to stay the night.

8. Lake Titicaca, Peru and Bolivia
It is the highest commercially navigable lake in the world at 3812m above sea level and is located in the Andes on the border of Peru and Bolivia. The lake is so big – it measures 190km by 80km, with an average depth of 107m – that it can be seen from space. Some 27 rivers empty into the lake, and it has 41 islands.

9. Cable Beach, Broome, Western Australia
Cable Beach is one of the finest beaches in the world; a sweeping 22km of perfect white sand fringed by the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. Broome itself was at the centre of the ‘Pearl Rush’ of the 1880s, when the discovery of mother-of-pearl brought brief fortune to the town.

10. Jungfraujoch, Switzerland
This is the greatest of all achievements of the Victorian railway pioneers, a rack-and-pinion mountain railway that takes you from Kleine Scheidegg, above the ski resorts of Wengen and Grindelwald, to the highest station in Europe at 3454m. The underground route passes behind the North Face of the Eiger. A window cut into the rock has been famously used by mountain guides to rescue injured climbers.


1. Alnwick Castle, Northumberland
A glorious medieval castle that may seem foreboding, and certainly its history is full of drama and intrigue. It’s a recognisable film location from Harry Potter and Elizabeth, to Becket and Blackadder. The castle offers a wide range of attractions with excellent facilities and some engaging and entertaining tours.

2. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, County Antrim
For over 300 years, the rope bridge has provided local fishermen with the only means of access to Carrick-a-Rede Island. Locals and visitors wobble over the 30-metre chasm to test their nerve and head for heights – and take in the staggering scenery. A walk along the base of the cliffs towards the rope bridge will bring you past rare stalagmites and a small cave of calcite pillars before finally reaching the rope bridge.

3. The Royal Crescent, Bath
The Royal Crescent is a stunningly beautiful road of 30 houses, laid out in a crescent shape. It was built in the late 18th century and is among the finest examples of Georgian architecture found in Britain. The city is founded around the only natural hot springs in the UK and is a World Heritage site.

4. Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Southwark, London
The Globe Theatre that Shakespeare knew was built in 1599 and burnt down in 1613 before being completely destroyed in 1644 to make room for tenement housing. In Elizabethan times it was a noisy, smelly place that would be crammed with up to 3,000 people. The reconstructed theatre opened in 1997 and, as in the original Globe, it is open to the sky and its stage projects into a large circular yard surrounded by three tiers of steeply stacked seating. The new building was designed to be as faithful a replica as possible and it certainly is very evocative, albeit without the smells. You can easily imagine what it must have been like when Shakespeare came to work here every day.

5. The Backs, Cambridge
This is the serene and unspoilt area where the most beautiful colleges of Cambridge University back onto the River Cam. From King's College Bridge you can get a glorious view of the college, founded in 1441 by Henry VI, and its famous gothic chapel. The River Cam runs beneath the bridge and this is a great spot from which to watch punts leisurely drifting by.

6. Holkham Bay, Norfolk
Unblemished sands stretch for seven miles across Norfolk’s unspoilt north coast, and when the tide is at its lowest it takes 20 minutes to walk to the sea. The beach is so photogenic it was used as a backdrop for the film Shakespeare in Love. Holkham is the largest nature reserve in Britain, incorporating salt marshes backed by pines and teeming with bird life.

7. Lyme Regis and the Jurassic Coast
The 95-mile-long area stretches from Orcombe Point near Exmouth in Devon to Old Harry Rocks near Swanage in Dorset. It contains some unique geological features and includes examples of different landforms such as the natural arch at Durdle Door, and the cove and limestone folding at Lulworth Cove. Paleontologists from all over the world come here to study the 160-million-year-old fossils around Lyme Regis and Black Venn beach.

8. Tate St Ives
When you arrive in St Ives it is the unusual purity of the northern light that strikes you. This explains how an ancient fishing port near the Atlantic tip of Cornwall’s coast came to have such an effect on the development of painting in Britain during the second half of the 20th century. Art galleries abound in the narrow cobbled streets and the most famous is Tate St Ives, which sits in a dramatic position on Porthmeor Beach and is designed to show works of art in the surroundings in which they were created.

9. Isle of Skye, Scotland
The largest and most northerly island in the Inner Hebrides has some extremely spectacular scenery of cliffs and caves, and abundant wildlife including the golden eagle, sea eagles, red deer and the otter.

10. The Eden Project
Nothing prepares you for your first glimpse into the 200-ft depths of Bodelva pit in the industrial heartland of mid-Cornwall. Inevitably, the Eden Project can never be more than a parody of paradise, but it is a pretty powerful one. The pit is covered by more than the species of plants on the planet - The Wow! factor kicks in as you approach the viewing platform, and focal point is on the two giant latticed domes – one of them is big enough to house the Tower of London – that form the largest greenhouses on earth.

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