Too often with travel we focus on the good things. Nobody wants to admit to a failed trip, a disappointing visit or a holiday that wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. As such, it can sometimes feel as though there is a certain amount of pressure to have enjoyed every minute. If you didn’t find everything wonderful, were you really travelling properly? Well actually, yes. Like all things in life, travel has ups and downs, highs and lows, and sometimes there are places that turn out to be disappointing to visit. I usually try to focus on the highlights of a trip, the bits I would recommend to other people, but sometimes it’s good to share the places that weren’t so great. If anything, it might reassure someone else that it is ok to have a sub-par travel experience.
I should probably say that there’s a clear difference between finding somewhere disappointing and hating every moment of being there. All of these places had things going for them, they just weren’t quite what I expected. Would I recommend them? Probably not. Would I go back? Possibly, if only to see what I was missing out on or to see if I had a different experience whilst I was there. Without further ado, here are five of the places that I have found disappointing to visit:
If you’ve read my impressions of Hong Kong, you’ve probably realised that I didn’t hit it off with this city straight away. Arriving anywhere jetlagged and having had very little sleep is bound to colour your experience, particularly when you arrive somewhere big, busy, hot and humid. However, my main disappointment with Hong Kong was the food. I’d heard about great street food, exciting markets and a real foodie scene in Hong Kong. I was most likely looking in the wrong places because I didn’t find it. If anything, the smell of the stalls that we walked past turned my stomach and certainly didn’t make me want to try the food! I think there must be a particular ingredient that I dislike, I’m just not sure which one it is.
Our hostel wasn’t great and we had an interesting incident with a cockroach on our second night. We also managed to miss the famous night markets and harbour light show (although we did go to a fire dragon festival which was worth seeing). The first few hours in Hong Kong I hated it, but after our three days were up it had grown on me. I enjoyed what we did in both Kowloon and on Hong Kong Island, and there was plenty that we didn’t manage to fit in. It wouldn’t be my first choice of places to go back to, but if I had to do a stopover there again I’d at least have a better idea of what to expect.
Ah Russell… it became a longstanding joke as James and I travelled around New Zealand that we’d come across glowing recommendations of Russell that we just didn’t understand. It was recommended by tour guides, other travellers, travel guides… we kept having to check that we hadn’t somehow gone to the wrong Russell. Apparently not. We just found it slightly more disappointing to visit than everyone else clearly had.
Russell was the first European settlement and seaport in New Zealand, and is located in the beautiful Bay of Islands. Back in the day it was described as the “hell hole of the Pacific” and was known for fighting, prostitution and lawlessness. Needless to say, it has changed considerably as now you are more likely to see tumbleweed making its way down the main street. There was nothing particularly wrong with the town; it was pretty, it was of historical interest, and had some old fashioned charm. We just couldn’t understand why everyone was so enthusiastic about somewhere with very little to do, when the much more vibrant Paihia was just the other side of the bay.
Portmeirion is an excellent example of how easily influenced you can be by other people’s recommendations. I headed to Portmeirion as part of my trip to North Wales earlier this year – in fact, it was top of my list of places I wanted to see. Why? I’m embarrassed to admit it but I’d been drawn in by the pretty colours and Italianate style of the village that I’d seen in multiple Instagram photos. It had also been recommended as a place to go multiple times by various bloggers that I followed and so I was keen to see what all the fuss is about. I still am.
Portmeirion is photogenic and is not the type of place you’d expect to see in North Wales. However, I hadn’t realised that we’d have to pay to go in (rookie error – not doing research properly!), I hadn’t realised how little there would be to do once we were in, and I hadn’t expected to bring down the average age by at least 40 years. Portmeirion was disappointing to visit because the rest of our trip had been full of unexpected surprises and hidden treasures, whereas this village just didn’t live up to the reputation that had been built up around it.
Vienna is another place that I visited on very little sleep (it seems like the moral of this post is to sleep well before you explore somewhere new!) and so first impressions weren’t wonderful. I do actually remember having a wonderful time at the Schönbrunn Palace and zoo, despite the rain, and can see why these are two of the top attractions. However I expected to be blown away by the rest of Vienna’s imperial architecture, history and cakes, and I just wasn’t. Mind you, the fact that we didn’t even find the famous giant ferris wheel suggests that we were doing something wrong.
Of the places mentioned in this blog post, Vienna is the one I visited longest ago and is the one I’m most keen to return to. I think I’d enjoy going back now for slightly longer (possibly for the Christmas Markets) and staging in a few more cafe breaks with more of a budget than when I was interrailing!
If I went back to Brussels again I think I would have a completely different experience. I went with some friends with the primary objective being to visit the Christmas Markets because we’d read on some online list that they were among the best in Europe. If you’re considering doing the same – they’re not (go to Prague or Cologne instead!). They were ok, but they weren’t anything special. In a way this was good as it gave us longer to explore some more of the city, but there are certain things I wish I had done.
One would have been to visit the European Parliament, particularly as it was just around the corner from where I was staying. Another would have been to hop on a train to Bruges, Ghent, or both, and see their Christmas markets which look as if they would have been much prettier. I had a good time in Brussels, it was just disappointing as it hadn’t been the break I’d been expecting.
Whilst I found each of these places disappointing to visit in some way, I didn’t hate my time in any of them. Thinking back, for a lot of them it was either lack of sleep, lack of research, lack of funds or rain that has probably influenced how I feel about each of those locations. Think there’s something to learn from there!
Is there anywhere that you have found disappointing to visit? Where would you not recommend?