5 Disappointing Historical Sites around the World

You’ve traveled miles to stand before a historical site but now that it’s before you, all you can muster is a sinking feeling of disappointment. Sadly, some sites do not live up to our expectations, whether our hopes are too high or the surroundings dim the amazement.

Here are 5 of the most disappointing historical sites in the world:

1) Stonehenge, UK

Nestled in the depths of England’s countryside is a circle of standing stones that dates back (according to some) to 2400–2000 B.C.

Thought to have been built by the Neolithic people, Stonehenge still baffles historians as to how these stones came to stand there and what is their purpose—theories include an astronomical observatory or burial ground.

Why it’s disappointing

Common complaints include that the stones are smaller than expected, the site is expensive, there are too many tourists, there is a noisy road running next to the site, but most annoyingly, the stones are roped off.

A distant view of Stonehenge for the non-paying visitors. Photo by The-E.

2) The Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only remaining site of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and as such features highly on many people’s lists of sites to visit.

Situated just beyond Cairo, the Great Pyramid is thought to have been built as far back as 2500 B.C. as a burial chamber for the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu.

Why it’s disappointing

Surprise at the location is perhaps the reason most visitors are left feeling disappointed. Within clear view of a gargantuan highway and developed to within meters of the ancient site, the desert stretches in one direction only while the rest of the area comprises shops and fast-food joints galore.

The Great Pyramid within a short distance of fast-food joints. Photo by noaman.

3) Chichen Itza, Mexico

When El Castillo, the main pyramid at the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, expectations were no doubt doubled overnight.

Located in the Yucatán state, El Castillo towers over 70 feet, is thought to have been built sometime between the 9th and 12th centuries and attracts over 1 million visitors each year.

Why it’s disappointing

There are two main complaints. First, you can no longer climb the temple, a common practice at other Mayan sites. Secondly, the abundant souvenir sellers and cleared landscape have removed any sense of the site’s ancient past.

Tourist route to El Castillo. Photo by ezragildesgame.

4) The Forbidden City, Beijing

Work started on the Forbidden City in 1406 and for over 500 years it was the imperial palace from the Ming through the Qing Dynasty.  For many years the complex was off limits to the public (hence the name), which is perhaps one reason why today it is one of China’s most visited attractions.

Why it’s disappointing

For many, the first red-roofed temple is stunning, the second almost equally so, but by the time you have seen over a dozen of the same type of structures (there are nearly 1,000 buildings in total) it can be difficult to muster up a sense of amazement.

Also, add crowds that only China can produce and guided tours that are too detailed for most visitors and it isn’t surprising that most sightseers leave feeling flat.

Temple after temple at the Forbidden City. Photo by tenshots.

5) Pompeii, Italy

Infamously destroyed at the hands of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., Pompeii was a Roman city partially buried under volcanic lava. Lost to the world for over 1,700 years, Pompeii was rediscovered in 1748 and has since been an archaeological wonder.

Over two million tourists flock to the city’s remains each year, but many are left feeling deflated.

Why it’s disappointing

Roped-off rooms of stone and other ruins are all that remain from the tragedy that is Pompeii, and while no one wants to the see the true reality of such destruction, there is more left to the imagination than there is to see. The lack of decent signage at the site doesn’t help either.

Bear in mind though but as with any tourist attraction, every experience will be different, and with the right attitude and well-managed expectations, you can be wowed where others find only disappointment!

What is this, again? At Pompeii. Photo by luzer.

What did you think of these famous historical sites? Are there others that you found disappointing? Let me know in the comments below.

If you liked this article, you might also like: 9 Most Mathematically Interesting Buildings in the World.

Main photo: The sites we expect aren’t always what we get by archer10 (Dennis).

Note: The views expressed in this article are not those of Tripbase’ but are those of the author’s and of the various visitors to these historical sites who were left feeling disappointed!

18 thoughts on “5 Disappointing Historical Sites around the World”

  1. Oh, I forgot:

    Why it’s disappointing

    It ignores all the significance and impact of the places, it assumes one particular kind of expectations and it overestimate insignificant details.

  2. Yes, it is disappointing that you can’t climb El Castillo, but I still thought Chichen Itza well worth the visit. And I LOVED Pompeii! I don’t think it’s fair to criticize places just for being roped off – as popular as all these sites are, if people were allowed to just crawl all over them, they would wear away quickly.

  3. Ahhh…the dirty little secrets of the world, revealed. Just as I suspected, Stonehenge is hard to see behind that fence. The pyramids are almost lost in an ocean of refuse and suburban buildings….

    I too was completely disappointed by Chitchen Itza and Tulum but felt like some sort of travel heretic saying so. Thanks for so bravely coming out of this closet.

  4. Stonehenge was a dissappointment for also our family, we had watched many documentaries about it, but it was much maller than we expected especially if you add up the big rain storm of that that after a travel of many km’s….It was expensive, crowded and the sound of audioguide was not enough to hear compared to wind and crowd.

  5. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed by Chichen Itza, but all the vendors surprised me. I still enjoyed visiting. I think any major tourist attraction is going to have crowds, and if it’s something you want see then that’s just something you’ll have to get used to.

  6. We last went to Stonehenge about 2 years ago. I’ve just looked at the ticket prices – £20.30 for a family (2 adults, 3 children) doesn’t sound expensive to me?

    It is maintained by English Heritage and like the National Trust, an annual membership is excellent value and will give entrance to any of the English Heritage sites.

    I believe there is a significant upgrade going on to the surrounding infrastructure at Stonehenge.

    I’ve also been to Chichen Itza and the Pyramids of Giza. I didn’t find either of them disappointing. Many of these older places have stopped people climbing on them to prevent them being damaged. Some people were even chipping bits of stone off to take them as souvenirs. The organisations looking after this historic sites have a duty to protect them.

  7. I guess the problem with all these sites is their enormous popularity – but they are popular for good reason and I wouldn’t go as far as to call them disappointing.

  8. For travelers to Beijing, a great tip is to visit Coal Hill (Nanshan) behind the Forbidden City – incredible views into the park itself and not a tough climb. The rooftops look great from above, and it only costs 2 RMB. The tricky part is finding a clear day to go (stupid smog).

  9. I have visited two of these places.

    I agree with Pompeii, we also visited Ephesus in Turkey in that was a lot better. My Pompeii article: http://filipdemuinck-kristelpardon.blogspot.nl/2011/11/sin-city-of-pompeii-destroyed-by.html

    The forbidden city however was amazing for me. The enormous inner sqaures and the buildings were just amazing. I have not written about my visit to the forbidden city so I can not share it with you. At that time I was not yet writing on a blog.

    Very good article.


  10. I haven’t visited them all, but Pompei and the Forbidden City are amazing. If you have any tiny historical knowledge you cannot possibly find them disappointing, especially Pompei. I agree it’s badly kept by local municipality, but it’s amazing how you can visit entire houses, sense how was life there and what was the purpose of the city nearly 2000 years ago.

  11. I think the thing with historical sites is that you always need to bring a bit of imagination. It’s as much about the history as it is about what you can see now. Sometimes it helps to block out all the people around you and try to see it for how it was thousands of years ago.

  12. Think it is unfair to include Forbidden City, what can you do with the number of visitors?? There are just too many people (hence visitors) in China. Control them by having ordinary Chinese to wait for 8 years for a visit? Or made them going through a tough screening process before a visit?
    Similarly, can anyone suggest how to limit the number of structures? How? Demolished some structure? Or restrict visit to some of the less prominent structure? Any good suggestions?

  13. we were lucky to have visited Chichen Itza when you could climb it. It was amazing. I can’t imagine how touristy it is now. I agree with you on the Forbidden City. By the time our tour ended, we were ready to get out of there. I think I even wrote post about it. “The Never Ending Forbidden City” or something like that:) We’ve been to the Pyramids a couple of times. Last year with the revolution, it was nearly empty. When we originally went, we hired a camel to see it away from the crowds. It was an awesome way to view it. Haven’t been to Pompeii and I must admit we chose to skip Stonehenge when in London. I’ll probably go in the future because as someone said above in the comments, they’re popular for a reason, and still worth seeing…even if they disappoint in the end:)

  14. I disagree about the pyramids but huge YES on the Forbidden City for different reason – there’s NOTHING there. The city was damaged/destroyed several times so the only thing that’s left is huge empty spaces with a series of (empty) structures. Virtually no ornamentation. The only decent part is the garden.

    Tienamen square across the street…equally disappointing. HUGE empty space!

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