6 Ways to Spot a Tourist Trap

Tourist traps lure in unsuspecting tourists. They try to fool you into thinking they offer a good representation of what the country has to offer and what the locals eat all the time. Tourist traps might look appealing from the outside, but they usually leave you with empty wallets and unfulfilled appetites. You might be saying to yourself, “I’ve traveled a lot, I can definitely spot a tourist trap.” However, they aren’t all chains with big, flashing lights, t-shirts for sale, and frozen drinks. Here are 6 ways to spot a tourist trap in any country.

1. There’s a Large, Eye-Catching Menu Out Front

< Ways to spot a tourist trap: big menus >
Ways to spot a tourist trap: huge menus and other attention-grabbers

Typical in big cities. Most restaurants on some main strip will have big menus with pictures of the entrees. If you see mostly fried food, run away. Restaurants that advertise “American” food like cheeseburgers and pizza are definitely not authentic. If the menu is lit up and looks like it’s competing with its neighbors, it’s a tourist trap. Move on if the menu offers a deal, like a baguette, fries, and a coffee for 7€. If the catchy menu looks too good, it’s probably a tourist trap.

2. The Host Stands Outside Trying to Entice You Inside

You know who I’m talking about. The host or hostess stands in front of the restaurant trying to talk you into coming inside, usually spitting out some nonsense about being a TripAdvisor or Yelp top-rated restaurant. They might offer you a free drink, free appetizer, or even free bottle of wine if it’s a slow night and there’s a lot of competition nearby. A free bottle of wine might sound too good to pass up, but the price of the entrees won’t make up for those 4 small glasses of wine. If they have to convince you that it’s a good restaurant, it probably isn’t a good restaurant.

3. Everything is Translated Into English

< Ways to spot a tourist trap: English menus >
Ways to spot a tourist trap: an authentic menu should be in the local language

If you do happen to stumble inside a tourist trap, you’ll know it as soon as you look at the menu. In cities, menus will usually have the native language plus English on it, but if the menu is completely in English, they’re expecting you. If it’s in perfect English, that’s even worse. Authentic restaurants tend to stay authentic both in their food and their language, however the servers can usually help you decipher the menu. In fact, just ask the restaurant staff what they recommend and go with that!

4. Most of the Patrons are Tourists

The best way to find an authentic restaurant is to find out where the locals eat. You can ask a store owner or other local, or just walk by any restaurant and look inside to see if the patrons are locals or tourists. Find out where the locals go and follow their lead. If a place is full of English-speakers, pass it by.

5. There’s a Line of Restaurants in a Row

< Ways to spot a tourist trap: Restaurant Row >
Ways to spot a tourist trap: the whole street in lined with restaurants.

If you’ve ever stumbled onto Restaurant Row, you’ve found the tourist section of the city. It’s usually well-lit with plenty of souvenir shops and restaurant after restaurant with menus or hosts out front. If you’re still not quite sure, check your comfort level: if you feel overwhelmed with too many people trying to force you into their restaurant and start avoiding certain areas of a city, those are the tourist traps. The local, authentic restaurants are usually tucked away down a side street or hidden under a non-lit sign. If it looks like someone’s home, it’s a keeper. If it’s one of many, avoid, avoid, avoid.

6. The Restaurant Offers Stereotypical Foods

< Ways to spot a tourist trap: stereotypical foods >
Ways to spot a tourist trap: restaurants offer stereotypical foods. (But you can’t go to Italy and not get pasta…)

A lot of times, the locals don’t eat what is stereotypical of the country. Americans don’t eat cheeseburgers every day, Italians don’t eat pizza every day, Mexicans don’t eat tacos every day, and Spanish don’t eat paella every day. In fact, stereotypical foods are best made at home and locals don’t go out to a restaurant to order it. If a restaurant says it’s voted #1 for best paella, it’s probably a tourist trap.

Have you fallen into the tourist trap? Do you know if a restaurant is a tourist trap and don’t care? How can you tell if a restaurant is a tourist trap? Let me know in the comments below!

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6 Ways to Spot a Tourist Trap

P.S. You might also love Why I Won’t Stay at an All-Inclusive Resort and 10 Reasons Why Traveling is a Terrible Idea

13 thoughts on “6 Ways to Spot a Tourist Trap

  1. Good advice. I can remember in Rome all the American/English speaking people standing outside of restaurants trying to get in. We knew to avoid these places. Never thought about “restaurant row”, thanks.

  2. The Temple Bar area in Dublin always has people outside with menus trying to entice people into their restaurants. That whole area is a real tourist trap I’m afraid to say. But there are some jewels with bookshops, cafes and boutiques.

  3. Wow, while you’re right, some tourist places are very easy to spot, others are sneaky and know what they’re doing to even experienced travellers. I’d always try and go local where possible. Thanks for the tips! 🙂

  4. Haha this is so typical for big tourist hotspots! I’ve gotta say that I do go here once in a while when I’m craving western food (especially when I’m in SEAsia..)

  5. I can’t stand when the host/hostess tries to convince you to come in. I have even had times where they offer free drinks. Good places don’t need to do that.

    1. One place in Malaga, Spain offered us a whole bottle of wine! That was actually too good to pass up and we went “touristing.” They were SHOCKED when we paid with a Spanish debit card! I think they thought it was stolen haha 🙂

  6. Big yes to numbers 2 and 5. I often see people falling prey to the touristy restaurants in Rome and leaving Italy saying the food is not that great. If they’d visited places that had largely Italian clientele, they’d have a very different opinion….Another thing to add is location! Restaurants right on the main square tend to be overpriced traps in many cases!

  7. Completely agree with every single point on this, especially the menus translated into English…and several other languages. I’ve learned that whenever a restaurant says “authentic (insert culture here) food” then thats a red flag and definitely far from authentic. The best restaurants are often found hidden down a little alley with 5 things on the menu and no one speaks English. It’s an experience haha, but totally worth it 🙂

    1. it’s the best food and also the best culture experience if no one speaks English and there are only 5 typical dishes, usually something you’d never eat otherwise (like, ahem, bull testicles in Spain????)

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