Bottom 5: After 50 Countries & Countless Cities Here Are My Least Favorites

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least favorite

After 10 Years of Travel Here Are My Least Favorite Places

Looking back at my travels (since that’s as close to travel as I can get at the moment), I recall some of my “least favorite” places to travel. Or rather, I should probably say “most disappointing”, since I feel like that’s what this list is based on. It was much harder to think of entries on here than my favorite countries and places to travel!

Perhaps a controversial list, but a list all the same. All entries on this list have a different reason for being here. And being pretty British about things, I don’t want to say that I didn’t like these places because they’re bad, and I don’t want to give them a bad reputation. I’ll just say that these are some that didn’t sit with me.

And, of course, it’s my personal opinion. If you’ve had a better experience in these countries or places, let me know! I’m always willing to go back and try again, too.

Least Favorite Cities

least favorite places

Paris

Paris Syndrome”. It’s a thing.

Paris syndrome is a sense of disappointment exhibited by some individuals when visiting or going on vacation to Paris, the capital of France, who feel that the city is vastly not as “artistic” and “aesthetic” as they had expected it to be.

(Wikpedia:Paris Syndrome)

I won’t say Paris isn’t amazing, but the unfortunate thing is that it’s hyped up so much. It’s the epitome of romance and the center of French fashion. You’ll see hundreds of thousands of amazing photographs of the Eiffel Tower, couples on a honeymoon, high-end fashion, and great cuisine.

In reality… I mean, it’s pretty grey. The weather is pretty similar to in the UK. So it’s rainy and grey a lot of the time, and also when I last went. (I’ve been a couple of times.)

There are tourists everywhere. Everywhere. If you want to climb the Eiffel Tower you’ll be waiting in line for a long time. And if you want to get a picture with no one else around then… Maybe your only chance is during COVID. It’s not the cleanest of cities and has problems with high crime rates in more suburban areas outside the centre.

What’s more, is the Champs Elysee, that famous street you’ll know, is a massive road with so many lanes. It’s busy, noisy, and near-on impossible to navigate. France has however recently announced a new plan to turn this road area to more environmentally friendly park-style land – so let’s see how that transforms the place!

Another thing to watch out for is the price. It is expensive. And if you want a coffee with a view in one of the main areas, you’re looking at something that will put you back for nearly the same price as a full dinner.

That saying, Paris is lovely and iconic. If you want to put typical “must-sees” above other spots then you should of course head to Paris. It’s just not on top of my list of recommendations.

least favorite places

New York

For all of the American readership; please don’t take this one personally. I guess it’s another ‘Paris Syndrome’ situation. And also a combination of a few factors. Visiting on a school trip… Not having much money… No freedom to explore… Stuck with a group of people I didn’t really know… Jet-lag…

I visited a few years ago for about 10 days with my high school. I was 18 and very independent already. Then I arrived in a country where I was told I couldn’t drink alcohol and had a pretty strict school teacher who wouldn’t let us walk around by ourselves.

It was my first (and last, so far) time in the US and I remember the first thing that shocked me was the pizza slices. I was jet-lagged and it was my first meal. We went into a pizza place to get some quick food. In the UK, we have a ‘restaurant’ called “American Pizza Slice”. Usually, you buy two (or three if you’re hungry) slices of pizza for a bit of a hearty snack. Well, I walked into the place and ordered two. I was pretty hungry, but not that hungry. Anyway, the slice came and apparently American pizza slices in the US are pretty much the size of half a pizza. So I ordered pretty much an entire pizza and now I had to eat it all.

Maybe me and New York got off to a wrong start from there.

I’m sure New York has many incredible things to see, but unfortunately, the main sites didn’t do much for me. As an explorer at heart, I wanted to go off the beaten path, but alas, my teacher thought it too dangerous for an 18-year-old woman and I was stuck with the group – most of whom wanted to shop.

I visited in February and it was extremely cold. Probably the coldest weather I’d ever experienced up until then, making it difficult to be outside for too long.

One thing I found tough was the stark contrast between rich and poor. The rich walking past in a suit and trainers holding their work shoes, walking past the homeless without lifting a blind eye. Of course, this is something you see in other countries too, but it did leave a lasting memory.

Again… New York was pretty cloudy and rainy the time I was there. Or snowy, perhaps. As someone who loves the sun, even if it’s freezing, this left an impression too. Maybe I just got unlucky, but I don’t remember a single sunny day.

I’m sure if I returned now it might be a different story, and I might be able to enjoy it more. But I think it was mainly the Paris syndrome. I expected New York to just hit me with amazing things. Instead, I think you have to seek them out instead.

least favorite places

Shanghai

Last one for the “underwhelming” list. Shanghai held much promise, but yet again, failed. For me, anyway.

It’s the most modern city in China with beautiful buildings, skyscrapers, what looks to be like incredible shopping and amazing nightlife. In fact, I’ve written a blog about all that here. But I had a tough time finding it, to be honest.

Plus, as someone who prefers more traditional Asia and traditional China, the amount of western influence in Shanghai disappointed me. There are lots of foreigners and there is much influence from the foreign trade that happens there.

The biggest factor is probably the weather. The climate in Shanghai is… wet. And cloudy. I’ve only seen Shanghai sunny one day. Maybe that’s me bringing the rain with me, but I hear stories from other people, too. Rain and clouds affect my experience a lot (as you can tell from my two previous entries), but it matters a lot for Shanghai when one of the biggest attractions is to climb a big tower and have a great view of the city. A lot of the times, you can’t see the tops of these towers as they’re covered in clouds…

I’ve been to Shanghai a few times now and haven’t felt any buzz as such. Not that it’s awful. I’ve been back several times for both work and pleasure. But it gets on this list purely for its disappointing factor. I expected a lot, and in the end, didn’t get much out of it.

shangai least favorite

Least Favorite Countries

Tonga

A risk for writing this while I’m still in the country, (yes I’m still in Tonga), I have to put it in here. While Tonga isn’t one of my least favorite places in the world, it’s one of my least favorite travel destinations. And, I just so happened to be stuck here

Yes, here I live with sun, sea, and sand. It’s beautiful, postcard style turquoise warm waters and white sand, palm trees everywhere and various islands to visit. It is also famous for its whale swims.

But…

There’s something about Tonga that never clicked with me. Which is a shame, since I’m stuck here. As someone who is always out to find out about new cultures and get in with the locals, I find Tonga to be surprisingly closed, especially for travel over a short period of time. 

There’s also not much to… do. When I first arrived here, I had done everything on the main island in one day (really not exaggerating). It’s flat, and apart from the main ‘sites’, there’s really little exploring one can do. What’s more, is that it’s chilled back. Sleepy. I’m sure you may have heard of ‘island time’ and Tonga definitely works on this. Something that doesn’t quite fit with someone who’s used to keeping up with the pace of Beijing life.

So if you’re wanting a few days of sun, sea, sand, palm trees, and whale swims – Tonga is perfect. If you’re looking for walks, hiking, adventure… Tonga might be a bit calm for you.

tonga paradise

India

It’s not like I’ll never go to India again. I never say never. But, I think if I didn’t go again in the next 20 years I won’t miss out and not much will change. Actually, many foreigners I meet who have been to India say the same thing. India hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years and probably will continue to not change much. So if you’re worried about visiting a place before it ‘changes too much’ then go somewhere else first.

So why is India on my least favorite list?

Honestly… I didn’t like where I went to India. I spent 3 weeks travelling the North from east to west. At first, I arrived in Calcutta and went to Delhi, from there I headed way far south to the bottom of India, very close to Sri Lanka. So close culturally and geographically, actually Sri Lanka is one of my favorite countries.

My route is a pretty well-trodden one. But it’s also not like India has the best tourism infrastructure, so even going on a beaten path in India is still fairly rough and you can still have enough adventure. So what went wrong for me?

India is chaotic. I had just come from Bhutan and the contrast was stark. There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Everywhere is… chaos. Loud, dirty, chaos.

Travelling to India alone as a woman I was prepared for the worse. You hear horror stories. But luckily, nothing too awful happened to me, however. However, I say nothing ‘too awful’ in comparison to the worst that could happen. I experienced a few things I’d rather not have, and every solo female traveler should be aware that India is not the safest place.

The thing that was most disappointing is probably the food. I know I’m not alone in saying that one of the only countries in the world where the cuisine is better abroad is India. Love a curry? Indian takeaway on a Friday night? Well, enjoy it. Because that’s probably one of the best Indian dishes you’ll have. You won’t get much better in India, or you might get much worse. Indian food in India is rich and not at all healthy. What’s more, a lot of restaurants won’t be the cleanliest. I’m not squeamish, but there were a couple of places I walked out of for fear of ‘Delhi Belly’. (I’m talking about local restaurants, not more expensive ones or tourist ones).

I appreciate that there are many beautiful areas of India. It’s a massive country. And just like China or the US, you could travel it for years and not see everything. I’d love to go back someday and do the more northern rural areas. But for now, I’ll stick to visiting other countries and enjoy a curry at home.

My Least Favorite Places – Final Thoughts

With this least favorite list, I don’t mean to put off travel to these places. In fact, I hope you do travel there and prove me wrong, or maybe you’ve had different experiences.

In the end, I think ‘favorite and least favorite’ places comes down to the overall experience you had there, and that sticks in your memory. And overall experiences are influenced by a lot of things, not just where you are, including who you’re with, what was going on in your life at the time or how much money you had to spare.

The most important thing is to keep travelling and to keep making these experiences!

least favorite

Zoe Stephens
Zoe is a freelance writer from Liverpool, UK. She spends her time travelling between China, where she is based, and North Korea, where she works as a tour guide for Koryo Tours. You can follow her journey and see her content from North Korea on Instagram (@zoediscovers) and YouTube. You can see more about her life stuck on Tonga on Instagram @ifyouwerestrandedonanisland.

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37 COMMENTS

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37 COMMENTS

  1. What are your thoughts on Thailand? I’ve been there a couple times, and found that it has a great mix – good food, nice beaches, the people were very gracious and the culture seemed elegant to me. Cities anywhere are loud, crowded and dirty, Bangkok included, but the lush countryside is very pretty.

  2. I really enjoyed the honesty and candour of your article. As a Indian, I agree with a lot of what you said, I just wish my fellow Indians would take it as constructive feedback, ones opinion and not as an attack.

  3. I’ve never visited Tonga in person but have heard it has some of the best water in the world, equal to the Bahamas (read: clear and pristine if no recent storms). If I was the author I would be scuba diving and snorkeling as much as possible in the kingdom of Tonga. If you don’t like water that much probably a safe bet to skip this destination?

    • Yes it’s amazing water here. Having grown up near the water, I also love it! I swim about 1K a day and go snorkelling once a week or so, as well as surfing. The only problem is – too much of a good thing! Try waking up with such pristine waters for an entire year and the novelty, unfortunately, does rub off.

  4. Even thought I don’t agree with all of your opinions, I appreciate this article because I think it shows that hype can play a role in travel experiences and someone’s must see destination is another person’s skip. I did not enjoy Bhutan at all, I’m afraid, and I get treated like I am crazy for that while I loved some places that others are less into.
    I like to hear about why a person does not like a place as much as I like to hear about why they do like places as it helps me plan my travels. I have limited to pursue that so I like to know the full range of good and bad and don’t like the general idea of “you have to go here, everyone loves it.”

    • So interesting! Yes I went with a couple of friends to Bhutan and for one of them it didn’t do much for me. I can imagine you get a lot of stick for saying you don’t like it there though. It’s funny how personally people take comments like that!
      I loved Bhutan, but it didn’t make it to my top 5 – no where near. Everyone’s favourite and least favourite are all going to be different since we’re all different people anyway I suppose!

  5. Finally FINALY someone agrees with me about Paris!!! And New York. Both god awful cities have this rep for being so amazing and so cool. Ugh. No. Both are crappy.

  6. Wow, Zoe!
    Amazed that I concur with your assessment and opinions. Maybe because I do feel often that the warmth of the people is one the most memorable aspects of any visit. Have traveled innumerable times to Paris and New York, and I fail to “get” the mythical fascination with the aloof and cold atmosphere. Probably media has perpetuated the myths.
    Thank you for sticking your neck out.

  7. Very surprising to see that you did not have any problem with food In Bangladesh & Sri Lanka but you did not like food in India. All this places have almost identical food and way of cooking. Coz once upon a time they were same country. Can believe that you don’t like food in India but liked it in Sri Lanka & Bangladesh. Anyway I respect your opinion. Cheers.

    • Actually my main reference to Bangaldesh and Sri Lankan food in comparison to Indian food was the cleanliness. Of course, I can’t generalise Indian food that much because it is so big, and the food so varied. But my overarching opinion and memory is that.

  8. This is a good post to get people talking. I think people will like places based on their personal preferences. For example Paris is a nice place to visit but the Eiffel Tower is very underwelming. It’s a Grand Canyon like experience, you show up see it and feel forced to make more out of it than it is. The main sites are cliche’. You have to visit the whole city. I’m not defending Paris specifically but all places are like that from Branson to Moscow. It’s like people spending tons of time planning the “perfect” vacation and being disappointed because it doesn’t go exactly as planned.

  9. India hasn’t changed much in 20 years? Seriously? Lady, either you are too naive or you traveled with your blinders on. In one of your comments you said that you found the food too oily, but in your write up you stated that you traveled to down south as well and you ate local. Do you even know that many South Indian dishes do not use oil at all. So please do not pass any judgement on a country depending upon what your exposure has been, especially about Indian food. You can stay in India for a month, have four meals a day and I can bet my life that not a single item will be repeated. Unless you have tried those many food items, kindly reserve your comments. God bless.

    • Since I’m not able to travel for months in one country at a time, I spend a lot of time trying to get as much information and learn as much as I can by speaking with other travellers too, and I have to say my comments on Indian food and travel in India are not unique. But nevertheless, it’s also just my opinion. It’s the same if someone was to say they didn’t like Chinese food in China. There are 1001 different dishes, and I think Chinese food is amazing. But I can totally understand why other people wouldn’t like it. This article is an opinion piece and it quite clearly states that and my intentions at the beginning and end. It is no attack on India, or Indian food as a whole. If people have better experiences, great. If this articles makes people want to go and see for themselves, great. Simply offering my two cents and if you don’t agree then that’s fine too!

  10. While I agree with all of the comments, I appreciate being able to discuss the not-so-fabulous trips and Zoe at least explained fully why her experiences were disappointing for her. I do believe that weather is a huge factor in having a good first impression. Food as to quality and expense can make or break the experience. If one has to worry about personal safety – the experience is degraded. So we want the off-the-beaten-track experience with excellent inexpensive lodgings and food, while meeting generous and friendly people. Ironically most favorite places wouldn’t be somewhere that one would want to stay long-term, i.e. one day in Tonga is fun – one year – not so much. I loved Dubai (in winter with family) and was fearful the entire time I spent in Nairobi and French Guyana (as a young single female). Just my 2 cents.

  11. As an adult, to retain and post your NYC impression from travels at age 18, when you were disappointed that you could not drink alcohol, the fast food portion was too large, and you were not permitted to explore b/c your teacher would not let you wander, is not just unexpected given the headline, it’s theft of my time, I’ll never get that minute of wasted time nor this one back. Now I’m going to have to memorize these authors’ names to avoid this in the future. I get so much value from many of these posts, but this one, not so much. Ahhhh, another minute wasted.

  12. I loved Tonga. My Zoom background is Big Mama’s Yacht Club, and it makes me happy every day.
    But I’m fine if I never set foot in the Netherlands.
    How lucky are we?

  13. Interesting article for sure. However, and just my opinion, is that just maybe you should adjust your expectations.

    From reading it seems like you have all these huge expectations of what the places may be and I’m guessing you’re getting that image from travel blogs, websites, magazines, or The Points Guy, and then when the place doesn’t live up to an imagine created in the mind by others, you’re left feeling deflated.

    Rather than going to these places with high expectations why not adjust that of your own and allow yourself to create your own thoughts and images rather than hoping that what you see and get lives of to what someone has already planted in your mind.

    • I think expectations play a role in all travel for sure. I still find myself getting overly excited for certain destinations even though I know they probably can’t live up to it. One that did, St. John’s Newfoundland.

    • Yes and no. If we don’t have any expectations of a place, absolutley zero, how should we travel there in the first place? Tonga is a paradise pacific island, Shanghai is a big modern city, New York a city that never sleeps, India… too many!, and Paris, romance, fashion etc… I actually read very little in terms of travel blogs, websites and magazines. I can’t remember the last time I did to be honest. Most times I rock up to a country and then plan my journey once I’m there, first reading travel blogs when I get there. But it’s difficult to travel without preconceptions that are in our daily lives – and maybe that’s why I loved Bangladesh and Sri Lanka so much – there really isn’t much info on them and most people know not but about them before you go, so they don’t have to live up to any expectations!

  14. I agree with the comments about Paris. The beauty of the city is definitely not in the most iconic tourist site. It’s the neighborhood’s and the squares where people are hanging out and the little restaurants – that sort of thing.
    New York – as an American who has only been there for a total of three days of my life, I don’t have any desire to rush there, but then I don’t love big, busy, noisy, dirty cities. That said, I had a fantastic day trip there: took the train from D.C. to Penn Station, got out and spend the whole day walking from one end of Manhattan Island to the other, got back on the train and headed for the Adirondacks. I’d love to do day or very short overnight trips to see the Christmas hoopla or to go to Broadway shows. Otherwise, I think the best parts of the U.S. are our public lands – period. Also, if you come from a country that has had cities and development for thousands of years and is relatively jam-packed with people, the open space in the Midwest and Interior West can be exhilarating.
    India – I only spent a short time there and most of it was in Dehli – a bit much for someone like me who doesn’t like big cities like me, but also absolutely fascinating and truly educational to see what people do to survive and function in a wildly overpopulated country. I ate some really, really good Indian food there. Haven’t eaten Indian food in England so I can’t compare, but I have had dinners cooked by Indian friends. I thought it was quite comparable.

  15. you know calcutta hasn’t been called that in a few years ?

    my only suggestion to you is to maybe you want to wait a few years, before you can appreciate places like calcutta, nyc, and shanghai .. its sorta like beer – when you have it at 15, it tastes like crap; but if you wait a few years, its like the elixir of the gods !!

  16. You lost credibility with me when you said Paris was underwhelming. If you think that then you’re not doing it right…

    • There’s literally an entire word made for the feeling of Paris being underwhelming – certainly not something unique I thought up.

    • People either seem to love Paris or hate it – very divisive city which I find interesting. It is pretty evenly split in my experience too which I think many people find surprising.

  17. Right after I read this “The thing that was most disappointing is probably the food” in India, I stopped reading anymore of your opinions. Anyone who says India or for that matter anywhere in Asia, food is disappointing should understand their own limitations and maybe you have a very particular taste.

    How many of the western countries can one get freshly cooked food?

    • I think it was so disappointing to me for two reasons because firstly you look forward to it so much so the bar is set so high, then when it’s just really not that great or very different from expected, of course you’re disappointed. A lot of it was about it being too oily or some places I went to in all honesty I had to walk out of because some places just weren’t clean – and I’m really not squeemish or picky with that kind of stuff!

      Of course, I’m sure someone who travels to India and only eats in high class tourist restaurants or hotels wouldn’t be of this opinion. I literally just ate local food the entire time.

  18. Did you stay in the 1 and only see the the major tourist stuff? The real beauty of Paris is the different arrondissements away 1,2, 7 and is super touristy and overpriced, if you get further away and stay in 18, 19, 10, etc its where the true beauty of Paris shines. The metro is so efficient and quick, you can get to the 1 in a couple minutes from outer arrondissements. Learning about the different arrondissements really made our Family Trip to Paris magical

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