The world is full of wonderful things to see. Choosing mainstream tourism, the one highly promoted by traditional travel agencies often put you face to face with a fact less pleasant. Many destinations are quite different once you arrive there from the moment you were browsing the brochures in search for your perfect place to visit. Highly saturated shots, most of them featuring a surreal blue sky, are able to convince you that everything is better there. In some cases, the reality is another one. Once you zoom out from your attempt to replicate the iconic shot, you can see that each landmark is unable to escape its context. There will always be other buildings there to render useless information in your shots. Most landmarks are overcrowded with visitors all years long, so taking the photo that you dreamed off might be very hard or even impossible.
Many landmarks which can be found inside cities are nothing more than oasis of tranquility even if they are a bit crowded. Once back in the city, there will always be pollution and crowds to take you back in as you deserve. Just to add to all that, visiting many famous places has become a cliché, unable to impress someone hearing the story. Information is just one click away and you most likely were unable to reproduce the famous shots that took you there in the first place.
With all the inconveniences, some landmarks do deserve to be visited by you and you should try to thick them off your list as soon as you get the chance.
1. The Little mermaid
It is quite clear that most landmarks look better in some photos than in reality. This is also the case of the Little Mermaid, the most famous sculpture of Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s enough to the see the second shot in the right in order to understand that this is what you should expect from your visit to the Danish capital.
We are not exactly sure why the statue is so famous, but we can be it has a lot to do with the fact that it was vandalized multiple times in over one century of existence. Only the head alone was cut several types and they even used explosives to knock the statue altogether down.
Nevertheless, Danish authorities are consequently doing restorations work and the monument is an enduring one. Expect a lot of people in the frame if you go to see the Little Mermaid and forget about taking idyllic shots like the one to the left.
2. The Arc de Triomphe
The French capital attracts millions of tourists each year, yet many of its first category objectives are clearly overrated. Take for example the Arc de Triumph. You might look at the image to the left and expect and epiphany while striding under the arc.
Well, we have to tell you that the Arc is positioned inside an intersection 0f many major road arteries, making it one of the most crowded and polluted places in whole Paris. Taking a shot of the Arc like the attached one definitely requires you to put some extra effort in concealing the surrounding building and the unstoppable flux of cars.
Seen from above, the Arc de Triumph is particularly interesting for those obsessed about urban planning. The way streets were cut in order to intersect in a big roundabout is often a story of abuse and of many demolished historical buildings.
3. Mona Lisa
We all know Mona Lisa from photos, but a visit to the Louvre might add a layer of disappointment and frustration. The photo on the left is taken with zoom lenses and many people tend to believe that the picture is big enough to observe details. Move your eyes to the right, where a more realistic image of the whole “visiting the Mona Lisa” experience is described.
A room full of people will never let you truly have a quality time of being just meters away from the world’s most famous painting. Secondly, the painting itself is much smaller than you initially thought and the safe distance will never allow you to get into too much details.
To add to all that, you will always be annoyed by an army of people taking photos of themselves with the help of selfie sticks, so expect to lose patience fast and co-star in many random selfies.
Santorini might look like a paradise for HDR photography, but don’t expect to obtain those saturated colors without some Photoshop involved. In fact, you have to zoom and frame your shot for quite a long time in order to isolate as most white house walls from the less photogenic barren surroundings.
Although most days on the Greek Island are sunny and crystal clear, you will probably never see that blue the way it is in the first photo. Santorini might be a magical piece of and if your enthusiastic about ancient history and about the story of Atlantis, but expect more down to earth landscapes.
Don’t let yourself caught in the mirage of unrealistic expectation, elated by the marketing photo used by your local travel agency. Like every popular touristical destination, Santorini has been shaped by the need of locals to make as much money as possible from everyone coming on its shores.
5. The Hollywood sign
The Hollywood sign is indeed one of the most widely known landmarks in the world, but gorgeous shots like the one to the left can be taken only with good and powerful zoom lenses. Without that, you will have to settle for a shot in which the rest of Los Angeles steals the foreground.
Yes, isolating the Hollywood sign so good might take good skills as well as having a privileged position. As we know, the sign has been copied in many locations around the world, somehow reducing the capacity of the original to produce the expected enthusiasm.
Few people know that before achieving its fame, the sign was used to advertise real estate up for sale in that part of the city. The sign is definitely a sight to see, but once you are stuck in the LA traffic hours each day, you will start to hate it.
6. Central Park
The Central Park is one of the most visited urban parks in the world and definitely a major attraction for anyone visiting New York City. Stranded in a sea of concrete, steel, and glass, Central Park was envisioned as an oasis of silence, highly needed by one of the most crowded cities in the world.
But Central Park acts as a refuge not only for visitors and locals, but also for a large array of animals and birds. Finding trees and green spaces is quite a challenge if your hit the streets of Manhattan, and therefore the Central Park can be seen as the lung of the city.
Putting on display memories of the geological past of the area, it offers a unique glimpse of what can found under the asphalt of New York City. We love both the zoom in and the zoom out shots of the Central Park. The urban context puts the park in the spotlight by creating a vivid contrast.
7. The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is a great way to get to know China’s past before it became a Popular Republic. The imperial palace of the Qing and Ming dynasties is a trip back in time, to another golden era of China. Being home to 24 emperors of China, the Forbidden City lost its imperial role with the abdication of Puyi, the last monarch to rule China.
But going outside from the Forbidden City puts you back in the modern time, facing some of its most daunting problems. We are afraid to even Google the population of Beijing, but we are somehow convinced it has grown since last statistics were made.
Crowdedness and pollution are a reality outside the Forbidden City and if you take a shot to include Beijing, you cannot stop to wonder how the island of ancient history survived in an ocean of modernity.
8. Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore is an iconic place and every American has a duty to visit it at least once in a lifetime. Carved on the slopes of the mountain, the faces of the American presidents are clear signs that the founding fathers are there to watch and make sure that democracy and freedoms are being respected.
The zoom in photo, revealing details of the faces, is truly astonishing. You can only imagine how much effort was put in this piece of work and how much back and forward was needed before you could call it complete. The overview photo gives an idea of the scale at each the project was taken and also on how it altered the surrounding landscape.
We can also see that there is plenty of space on the mountain for new faces to be added. The only thing we wonder about is who will be worthy enough in order to be put side by side with the legends. We clearly see no one worthy of Mount Rushmore amongst the 2016 candidates.
9. The Acropolis
Zooming in on the Acropolis might take you back in time to the moment Athens achieved is greatest influence in the Ancient World. The elegance of the shapes and proportions definitely survived to impose themselves as one of the most copied and reproduced style of architecture.
The neo-classicism created many replicas of the Acropolis all around the world. But if we zoom a bit out, we begin to see the context. Once a glorious outpost of arts, science, and politics, Athens is now the capital of a nation which struggles terribly to govern itself.
The majestic Acropolis is a bit anachronistic with the economical situation of Greece, a country which came inches close to bankruptcy last year. Nevertheless, once on the Acropolis, is quite easy to isolate the Parthenon and other ancient structures from their present-day context and take guidebook shots like the one to the left.
10. Niagara Falls
At the border between Canada and United States, the Niagara Falls is one of the most visited landmarks in the world. Judging by the photo on the left, you might assume that the waterfall is positioned in a pristine natural environment. Well, the photo on the right did the right amount of zoom out in order to prove you wrong.
The banks of the Niagara Falls are far from being left in their natural state. Accommodating many sign of our attempt to make our world as anthropic as possible, this might be quite a surprise for you, especially if you consider yourself a nature lover.
But we have to give authorities credit as they managed a good balance between recreational, commercial, and industrial uses of the waterfall’s potential. Hydroelectric potential has generated the need for a lot of constructions and installations to be accommodated along its shores.
11. Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia is a mandatory stop while in Barcelona and it’s easy to understand why. Its rich exterior and interior ornamentation bare the mark of architect Antoni Gaudi. Although far from being completed, the cathedral is impressive by its sheer scale and by the way it is capable of dominating Barcelona’s skyline.
Both shots presented here are great and we can definitely say that both details and the urban context add up to the touristic potential. It’s interesting to know that the construction of Sagrada Familia relies on public donations in order to continue, although a big part of the cost is also covered by the visiting fees.
The best guess is that the monumental work will be completed in 2026. We have to admit that there is nothing sure about that, as groundbreaking took place 134 years ago.
12. The Brandenburg Gate
The Brandenburg gate is the symbol of the unified Germany and acts as a touristic hotspot for Berlin. But the shot in the left gives you little information about the true context in which the monument is positioned. Looking at the right hand photo is enough to understand that in a place like Berlin the high density of buildings spares no one.
Taking a shot in which to see only the Brandenburg Gate is quite hard to do and hundreds of tourists passing by each moment make our mission even more difficult. Although surrounded by other more modern buildings, the Brandenburg Gate emerges as the true focal point of Berlin.
The beginning of the Tiergarten Park can be seen on the right shot, marking a part of the city which can easily be considered its oxygen source.
Stonehenge is a place straight out of fantasy books and you can feel the mystery flowing in the air. No mind can devise a simple explanation why our ancestors put so much effort in carving, transporting, and arranging heavy blocks of rocks.
We are all used with iconic shots of the Stonehenge complex, like the one on the left, but we sometimes fail to acknowledge the fact that the monument is literally in the middle of the field. As some point in history, as the land containing Stonehenge switch hands, buildings began to emerge around, substantially reducing the impact it had on the visitors coming here for the first time.
In 1928 the land was purchased by the National Trust, in order to preserve it. The landscape of Stonehenge was returned to the state we know today. The biggest transformation was allowing the fields to develop wild chalk grassland vegetation, after decades of agricultural activities in the area.
14. Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is often regarded as India’s most prized jewel. A monument build by one of its Mogul rulers to commemorate his lost wife, it is now a magnet for tourists coming from all corners of the world. The Taj Mahal is mostly known by photo like the one in the left.
The front view of the monument reveals the four towers, as well as the garden, with the implied Photoshop tuning. Many tourists discover with disappointment that the image promised by their touring agency doesn’t match reality. In a city like Agra, clear blue skies like the one in the left shot has become a rarity in recent years, mostly due to fine particles pollution.
The shores of the nearby Yamuna River are not exactly the paradise for photography. Pollution is the biggest problem India is confronting at the moment, and it’s enough to change your framing of the shot in order to view another face of tourism, one no one tells you about.
15. The Great Pyramids
We all know the three pyramid complex at Giza as one of the most enduring monuments human kind was able of producing along the centuries. Most of us expect an experience similar to the one on the left while visiting Egypt to see the Great Pyramid and its smaller neighbors.
Nevertheless, the proximity of the famous landmark is far from being a barren desert where adventures can happen like in Indiana Jones. Giza is a fast growing addition to Cairo and tourism has certainly encouraged many Egyptians to establish their businesses as close as possible to the pyramid complex.
Although the 3 pyramids still have a lot of desert around them, it is not sure how much it will take before it will become full of new hotels and other touristic facilities. Zooming too much out often reveals that even the most emblematic landmarks around the world cannot escape the growing trend of urbanization.