The Dirtiest Tourist Destinations

The following tourist destinations are renowned for their mystique and popularity but also for their bacteria. In fact, some of these could probably boast not 25 million visitors a year but 25 zillion (if we include Staphylococcus epidermidis, Streptococcus salivarius, and E. coli O157:H7). Talk about mass tourism!

In 2009, TripAdvisor listed The Blarney Stone as the dirtiest tourist attraction in the world. When I kissed it last year, I certainly hadn’t brushed my teeth in a few hours. I’m sure I left a colony of little fellows on it (all very friendly and fresh-smelling of course). But what about the three hundred people that day who went before me?

I hate Venice, so I’m going to list Piazza St. Marco as the second dirtiest tourist destination. There’s the pigeon guy who feeds these flying rats so much that they flock to the piazza in biblical-plague proportions. Piazza St. Marco in Venice is a pigeon toilet. Then when Venice floods—and it often does—the sewage washes the pigeon crap away. Thank goodness for sewage. Venice is a tourist trap to be avoided until Italy decides it’s more than a sinking toilet.

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul is a wonderful place. Entrance is free, and tourists are allowed to spend as much time there as they want. Istanbul should stop letting tourists into The Blue Mosque . . . or replace the beautiful carpet with marble or granite or some other surface that doesn’t absorb the bacteria off the tourists’ feet. I managed to stay for five minutes. It was a hot day, and quite frankly The Blue Mosque smelled like The Blue Lockerroom.
I’m including The Shoe Fence in New Zealand just because I like my picture. Some lists of the dirtiest tourist attractions include The Bra Fence, but that’s rubbish. Bras aren’t dirty. Shoes are dirty and smelly and grungy. Shoes rock when it comes to bacteria.

Have you been to the “Great” Pyramids? Then you’ll know that to get there you have to drive through a village with a drainage ditch full of trash “flowing” through it. And when you get to the pyramids, there’ll be dozens of men trying to cheat you out of your money by getting you to put on a headress and take a picture of a camel (who’s crapping all over the place). Egypt has bigger problems right now than crapping camels, but when one of the world’s greatest wonders is surrounded by such filth, who wants to go? I wouldn’t go again.

I love Brazil, so I’m making this criticism out of love. The Copacabana smells like urine. It’s the public bathrooms every hundred meters. It’s hard to keep a beach clean when that beach can host a million tourists at once. Rio de Janeiro represents Brazil to the world. Careful, Rio. You’ll be another Acapulco if you don’t clean it up.

One of the dirtiest tourist destinations is Oscar Wilde’s grave in Paris apparently. It’s so on my list! I’ll be in Paris later this spring, so I’ll be sure to kiss the headstone. I need some lipstick though.
The dirtiest place you’re likely to go this year? It’s your hotel room, and specifically the bed in your hotel room. North America is smack-dab in the middle of a bedbug pandemic. If you’re not checking every hotel before you go, you should. While the plague is not limited to run-down holes (West End Studios in NYC was my own horror story), you get what you pay for. If you’ve booked a room in New York City for $30 a night, you might think about wondering why.

TripAdvisor has just released their list of the dirtiest hotels in Europe. It’s not astounding that four of these hotels are in London, which has never been the cleanest place on earth. Four were in Amsterdam, though. I’ve never stayed in a dirty hotel in Amsterdam, so I can’t confirm this. The dirtiest hotel in Europe? The winner is Club Aqua Gumbet in Turkey, from which I’ve just returned (the country, not the hotel). My hotel was spotless. TripAdvisor is an excellent source of information. Who would book a hotel where 90% of TripAdvisor readers would not recommend the hotel?

The world is a dirty place, but the irony is WE make it that way. Here’s to a cleaner year of traveling this great planet of ours. Hand sanitizers are neat presents. Listerine. Love Listerine.

I must be off (to gargle),

PS! A friend just sent me this link. Oh the shame, the shame!
PPS! If you liked this post, you will LOVE The Ten Worst Air Passengers of 2010. I promise. 


  1. 1. I am glad I'm not the only who dislikes Venice. And it is not even dirty in the smelly way, but in the "dirty old men grab my butt every 4 minutes" way.

    2. I have to add Peru. Every time I go I immediately pick up giardia and spend the next 3 months in pain. I love that country so much though, so I keep going back (my stomach hates me).

  2. Oh, yes, Aly. I got food poisoning in Cuzco. And Puno was a very dirty place. Very true. Still love Peru, though.

  3. Missing from your list are the two M's, Malaysia and Morocco.

    Malaysia is the stench capital of the world - every town and city stinks of bad drainage. This can vary from decayed fish to human excrement. It is the distinctive aroma that greets you everywhere. Aided and abetted by all drainage going untreated into the rivers - gray/black scum covered odour-de-foul in every built up area.
    Fortunately, drinking tap water and most food outlets won't make you ill.

    Morocco should be famous for it's millions of acres of rubbish bag fields. You know when you are nearing a town or city because that's when you have to drive through them.
    Sea swimming is a no-no everywhere except the most expensive high class resorts - all other beaches match the garbage bag fields(even then, you can't be sure what has drifted across from the garbage tip beaches next door.
    I have a very strong stomach, and probably an equally high resistance to most bacteria -I've eaten most things in most parts of the world without more than a twinge or two.
    Morocco, however, had me beat. A week in hospital on a drip feed beat (followed by five days of only plain boiled brown rice). Conservation of water shouldn't extend to not washing hands or dishes - especially when selling food.


  4. I totally agree with those, Mike. And don't forget Bangkok. A feast for the nose. I posted something about Bangkok a few weeks ago. Human waste is pumped into the river that tourists (like me) cruise in the evenings on large dinner boats. Yum yum.

  5. I now have a strange urge to wash my hands. And the whole of Scotland. The Shoe Fence is fantastic. Now I know where unloved footwear goes when it's dumped!

  6. Okay, I was amused and doing find until you mentioned bedbugs in north America. Now I'm itchy. LOVE this though--very amusing angle of tourism. I HAD heard that about the Blarney Stone, but none of the rest of these.

  7. Haha! Great information - you make international travel sound so appealing ... !!! So glad OZ down under didn't make it onto your list - or was that just a glaring oversight?!?!?! A million flies can't be wrong!!

    Happy travels!!

  8. Wow. I can't even imagine how anyone could hate Venice. Sure the crowds are annoying but how can you hate the way the water sounds as it washes up on the buildings or the way you can hear dishes being washed a few streets over after dinner. I love the beauty of decay that is Venice. This is an interesting post though.

  9. Hi, Bethany! Well, the experience or relationship between person and place is different for everyone. My experience with Venice is that the people who live and work there would very much like the tourists to go away. They serve you mediocre food at exorbitant prices (or rather good food at impossibly exorbitant prices). If you want to stay in a hotel that has good facilities and good service (that doesn't cost 200 euros a night), you'll probably need to drive to another city. And then you'll be treated with astounding rudeness and arrogance. Nah. Venice stinks.

  10. aww, This is a topic which I never have in mind when travelling! So thank you for reminding me that I have to be more careful and not to kiss/touch everything I see :)It's a very interesting list..and The Shoe Fence, what's the story behind it?

  11. Ha! what an awesome angle. I've always heard that the Blarney Stone is gross.

  12. Haha, I enjoyed reading this post. I've enjoyed some wonderfully dirty places throughout my travels.

    I have a friend who deals African antiques and always has some deity and funerary statues blanketed with libations (I don't even know what) sitting around. I'm sure there are some serious germs on those!

  13. Steffy! I was just over on your site. Lots of fun. The collection place is a phenomenon that you can find all over the world. Bras, keys, locks, and shoes. The Bra and shoe fences are both in New Zealand. Hmmmm. Maybe it's a Kiwi thing?

    I can only imagine that one day a woman hung a couple of bras on a fence to dry and then died. To memorialize her passing, all the women in the town hung their bras with hers. Then came the tourists of course. This must have begun in the 60s when women were getting rid of their underwear in droves.

    Then the men wanted their own fence. All the had were their old shoes. And so on.

  14. I think that Venice is a wonderful destination.I had a great time there and I was very pleased with the <a href=">Venice hotels</a> offers.I recommend it to everyone.

  15. I'm going to Morocco soon so the above comment is a bit of a concern....never had any problems in Tangier so hopefully won't have any further south.

  16. Ha, I'm off to Venice in two weeks for the carnival. Given that it's February there will hopefully be no pidegon feeder.

  17. Yeah, the blue mosque smells like my high school locker room...x 10. So much feet smell.

  18. I notice a lack of India in your post. Just throw the whole country on this list. While I LOVE India with all my heart, the sanitation problems there are MASSIVE.

  19. Hey, Adam. Yes, I've certainly read about the sanitation problems in India. India's not on my list because I haven't been there. Once I've had my own little Slumdog Millionaire episode, I'm sure I'll update my list.

    Anita, what did you find wonderful about Venice? If you're there during the biennale, OK. Last year I enjoyed the art exhibits from around the world. I said something nice about Venice. I hope everyone's happy.

    inka, buy a mask from a reputable artist. A good one will cost about 80-100 euros. Look around before you buy. You'll be able to see the difference between the good masks and the tourist crap very quickly.

    Robin, Morocco is a hole. I'm sure you'll prove me wrong, and I hope you have a wonderful time.

  20. i have been to Egypt a couple of times, i didnt find it the way you did. it hot though. I like the photo of the shoe fence

  21. I never really thought of how dirty all the public monuments are. There's a couple I've touched recently in Germany that you're supposed to touch for good luck, but after reading this, ugghhh, they were probably covered in germs!

  22. Ok, Christopher....
    I'm going to give you an A in the "Keeping it real" department. have certainly gotten the wheels in my head turning on this post. Excellent food (for lack of a better word) for thought. Bleechhh!

  23. The more we travel, the more we expose ourselves to bacteria. No way around that. We have to be aware--as travelers--that we are traveling on the bacterial level as well.

  24. The entire city of Beijing is pretty dirty. No tissue or soap and towels in any bathroom... totally gross!

    Also- Venice?! really... it's lovely!

  25. I'd vote for India for sure.
    My shoes were stolen at the Taj Mahal (because I was too tight to pay someone to watch them) and I had to walk barefoot to the closest shoeshop. I was paying so much attention to the rubbish on the ground (and trying not to step on human poo) that I didn't realise I walked right past my hotel to get to the shoe shop, where I was royaly ripped off for a pair of sequined flipflops.
    The flip flops were slightly small, so the next morning's outing across the river to watch the sun rise over the Taj Mahal was another mind-the-poo journey.
    Late last year we went to Con Dao Island in Vietnam, one of Travel+Leisure's must-see untouched island paradise destinations. I was horrified to see what was washed up on the beach in front of our villa -- nappies (diapers), tin cans, plastic bags, instant noodle wrappers, a flourescent light bulb (one of the long ones) and a pair of Tommy Hilfiger boxer shorts (how's that for germy?) It was so gross I actually took photos.

  26. Oh my Lord, Dropout. (Un)fortunately I haven't been to India. After reading the responses here, though, I'll have to give it (or at least the dirtiest parts of it) an honorary place on my list.


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