It is no surprise at all that Stonehenge has come top of a list of the most disappointing UK tourist sights. The setting detracts hugely from the stones. The World Heritage site sits between two busy A-roads, with a tall wire fence to keep out non-paying visitors. Entrance is via a tunnel beneath one of the roads, and the stones themselves are roped off and can only be viewed from a distance. Forget about the mystic, prehistoric stone circle in the centre of Salisbury Plain. Visiting Stonehenge is more akin to going to the nearest out-of-town supermarket.
The plans to put one of the roads into a tunnel and downgrade the other still don’t seem to be any nearer fruition. The situation has been described as a national disgrace, and I quite agree. I did once hear one interesting angle on it, which was that if the roads were closed and the visitors’ centre was moved a few miles from the stones, tourists from certain parts of the world would no longer be so keen to visit, as they like to arrive, have a quick look, then leave – the “tick off the sights” school of tourism rather than travellers looking to experience something. Could this be contributing to the various authorities’ failure to agree on improving the area around the monument? As far as I’m concerned, removing some of those tourists would only further enhance the experience.
Taking a quick look at the full list of “disappointing” and “must see” sights in the UK and the world, some of the places on the list are surprises, others less so. The London Eye (No. 6 most disappointing in the UK) is an amazing structure both when viewed from outside, and even more so when inside taking a “flight”. On the other hand, I agree wholeheartedly with the interviewees on the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain (No. 5 most disappointing) which looks quite awful, and is an ugly scar in a pleasant park. I can’t understand Bill Bryson’s enthusiasm for it, although maybe he was able to view it without tourists completely covering it, which probably enhances its appearance ever so slightly.
As for the sights abroad, I have to confess I have yet to visit any of them. I’m surprised to see the Eiffel Tower on the list, but then anywhere high up with a view will impress me.
I’m not surprised to find the Pyramids listed, ever since I saw a photo that showed just how close they are to the city (this photo, and others by the same photographer, show what I am talking about). It seems Egypt’s World Heritage site has suffered the same fate at the UK’s: the setting spoils the experience. Before seeing that photo, I always imagined the pyramids were in the middle of the desert, with sands stretching away as far as the eye could see.
Finally, I’m not surprised that tourists are disappointed by the Statue of Liberty. Since it reopened following the terrorist attacks of 2001, visitors have no longer been able to climb the statue at all, but only to view it from the bottom. Given that restriction, I have no intention of ever visiting the statue. But I think the Americans’ overzealous security might actually have saved me from disappointment. People who did visit pre-September 2001 tell me that the queues lasted for many hours; but when visitors finally reached the top, they were allowed no more than half a minute to admire the view, before being forced to descend again. I think I’d rather find a different attraction to visit!