What These Famous Tourist Destinations Actually Look Like Compared To Instagram

You know those people you follow on Instagram who always post the perfect pictures when they’re traveling and you just think “how did they take this?” We all know that guy from your first-year psych lecture who visited every temple in Thailand or the girl you went to high school with who hit every landmark in Europe.

Well, it turns out it’s not hard to get perfect pictures while traveling — all you have to do is get up really, really early. We’re talking before the sun rises. The early bird catches the worm – and the best Instagram photo, which the photos coming up prove.

Basilica La Sagrada Familia on Instagram

sagrada familia travel blogger
Photo Credit: Instagram / @alittleblondeinparadise
Photo Credit: Instagram / @alittleblondeinparadise

There are two secrets to getting the best photos of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona: great lightning and strategic camera placement. La Sagrada Familia has been under construction for over a century, so be prepared to see evidence of that and place your camera accordingly if you don’t want the cranes and scaffolding as your background.

La Sagrada has been under construction since March of 1882 and has an estimated completion date of 2026, for a total of 144 years to finish it.

Sagrada Familia in Reality

sagrada familia barcelona 2015
Photo Credit: David Ramos/Getty Images
Photo Credit: David Ramos/Getty Images

Current architect Jordi Fauli says that once the project is “finished” in 2026, they’ll still be lots of interior work to be finished by artists and sculptors in order to “complete the symbolic narrative that Gaudi set out to provide.”

There’s no denying that it’s a beautiful structure regardless of the construction, and over 3 million visitors come to see the basilica every year, so it’s clearly still worth the trip.

Bright And Early On The Brooklyn Bridge

brooklyn bridge Emily Mandagie
Photo Credit: Instagram / @themandagies
Photo Credit: Instagram / @themandagies

If you’re looking for that perfect Instagram picture of the Brooklyn Bridge to show everyone what a fun city-hopping tourist you are, the earlier the better. Travel bloggers Emily and Berty, who run the Instagram account @themandagies, recommend showing up about 30 minutes before sunrise for the best pictures on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Just FYI, sunrise in the summer in NYC could be as early as 5:20am. So while the rest of us are sleeping soundly in our beds, you go ahead and get that pic for the ‘gram.

The Commuters Probably Don’t Want To Be In Your Pictures Either

brooklyn bridge reality with tourists
Photo Credit: Instagram / @danielasantiago_journalist
Photo Credit: Instagram / @danielasantiago_journalist

This post by Instagram user Daniela Santiago is a much more realistic photo that you can snap on your trip to NYC. It still shows off the beauty and the architecture but also shows off another famous aspect of New York: the crowds.

Walkers, bikers, and runners are all trying to just live their regular lives and are likely to be in the background of your photos unless you’re willing to show up before the city that never sleeps is fully awake.

The Great Wall Of China

great wall of china all alone
Photo Credit: Instagram / @sijiasworld
Photo Credit: Instagram / @sijiasworld

The Great Wall of China is around 21 million meters long, so they’ll be other people along with you every step of the way. Surprisingly, travel blogger Sijia was able to get this perfect solo shot without getting up at the crack of dawn! Her tip? Go to the Mutianyu section instead of Badaling.

Mutianyu is a little harder to get to, and a tougher climb to the top, but is considered to be less saturated by tourists and more authentic.

Just You And A Few Hundred Others

great wall of china in reality
Photo Credit: Instagram / @vadeantsopinions
Photo Credit: Instagram / @vadeantsopinions

If you’re looking for the closer, more accessible option and you don’t mind a few (hundred) people in the background of your pics, Badaling may be the option for you.

Badaling is an easier climb to the top and is closer in distance to Beijing than the Mutianyu entrance, which is why it’s the significantly busier section of the two. Despite all the other tourists, there will still be plenty of room for you. The wall is supposedly wide enough to fit 10 soldiers side by side, or five horses.

Angkor Temples Of Instagram

angkor wat temple in Cambodia
Photo Credit: Instagram / @jetsetjansen
Photo Credit: Instagram / @jetsetjansen

There are three main temples in Angkor Cambodia that draw tourists every year — Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm was made famous back in 2001 thanks to Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider, which was partially shot at the Ta Prohm temple is Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Angkor Wat temple is the one place that the “early bird gets the worm” rule doesn’t seem to apply though, as sunrise and sunset are the most popular times to visit.

When To Avoid The Crowds Of Angkor Wat

angkor wat sunrise march 2018
Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images

The Angkor Wat temple itself is considered to be one of the (new) 7 Wonders of the World and has been deemed a UNESCO world heritage site, so it’s quickly become a must-see when planning a trip to Asia.

The peak tourist season is December and January, so if you don’t mind the humidity, plan your trip for March-April or July onwards. May and June are monsoon season so maybe don’t plan your trip for those months unless you’re looking to wear a head-to-toe poncho the whole trip!

The Louvre

musee du louvre instagram professional photo
Photo Credit: Instagram / @gatchy_commercial
Photo Credit: Instagram / @gatchy_commercial

The City of Lights’ most famous museum looks pretty good here, but it’s hard to say how much effort (and maybe photoshopping?) it took to get this tourist-free picture.

@gatchy_commercial is a professional photographer living in Paris whose taken beautiful pictures at every worthy spot in Paris, but we want to know how much prep actually goes into getting these perfect pics. The Louvre is always worth an Instagram moment, but the next slide shows a more attainable but still like-worthy version of the photo…

Tuesdays = Less Tourists

musee du louvre realitic
Photo Credit: Marianna Massey – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Marianna Massey – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

Your best chance of getting a photo that isn’t filled with other tourists is to visit the Musee early and visit it on a Tuesday. The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, so there could be fewer people visiting, though let’s be honest, there will still be lots of tourists doing the same thing as you.

Make sure you leave yourself a day to also come back and actually go inside the museum. Expand your horizons, learn something new, all that fun stuff.

Iceland’s Sky Blue Lagoon

blue lagoon iceland edited
Photo Credit: Instagram / @s_mok02
Photo Credit: Instagram / @s_mok02

Iceland’s Blue Lagoon has medicinal healing powers supposedly, (much like another thermal body of water coming up soon). The Blue Lagoon was actually formed as a ‘waste pond’ for a nearby geothermal plant. Due to the unique minerals in the water, once it flows through the plant’s turbines it can’t be reused, so they decided to funnel it all into a “lagoon.”

The lagoon was started in 1976 but wasn’t officially open to the public until 1992, and by that point, enough people had heard about it that it became the most visited destination in Iceland.

More Grey-Blue Than Ice Blue

blue lagoon iceland reality
Photo Credit: Instagram / @wemapjourneys
Photo Credit: Instagram / @wemapjourneys

The water in the lagoon sits around 100F so no matter what time of year you visit you’ll be plenty warm. The temperature of the water is due to an 800-year-old lava field nearby that keeps the water temperature regulated.

There’s no doubt it’s a beautiful feat of nature (with the help of some man-powered redirection into the lagoon), but you should also be prepared that it may not look quite as blue as it seems to on Instagram. There are filters to change that though!

The White Exterior Of The Taj Mahal Really Absorbs All Kinds Of Colors

taj mahal instagram
Photo Credit: Instagram / @teresamineiro
Photo Credit: Instagram / @teresamineiro

Another early bird getting up before the sun in order to bring us the best possible Instagram pics. What I want to know is what poor friend or significant other did they also drag with them at 5 am in order to take the photo? Where’s their credit?

Similarly to La Sagrada Familia, Teresa said snapping this pic was all about good lighting. “Early in the morning it gets the most amazing shade of orange as the white absorbs the first rays of sunshine.”

The Taj Mahal Gives Something For Everyone

taj mahal mausoleum
Photo Credit: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images
Photo Credit: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images

For those of you who actually want to get a normal amount of sleep while on vacation, you can still get some pretty impressive pictures at a normal hour of the day! This Wonder of the World does all the work for you. Just make sure your finger isn’t covering the lens and you’ll be good to go.

Did you know that it took 22,000 workers to construct the Taj Mahal? Which, coincidentally, is about the same number of tourists that’ll be in the background of your photos…

Budapest’s Szechenyi Baths

Szechenyi baths budapest
Photo Credit: Instagram / @travelwithmeyl
Photo Credit: Instagram / @travelwithmeyl

The mineral waters of the Szechenyi baths in Budapest are said to have healing powers, which is why so many people flock there. Those magical healing powers are also the reason why the baths are basically never empty from open to close. Blogger Melanie Drogba says she got up at 6 am to be able to get a solo shot in the thermal waters.

There are indoor and outdoor pools at the bathhouse, the largest of which sits around 75F on an average day. The indoor ones can range up to around 100F so steer clear of those in the summer.

The Real Purpose Of The Baths

Szechenyi baths men playing chess
Photo Credit: Michael Steele/Getty Images/IAAF
Photo Credit: Michael Steele/Getty Images/IAAF

This photo is about as real as it gets for the Szechenyi baths. People playing chess, particularly older gentlemen (they’re young at heart), are a common sight within the thermal waters. No Instagram-sponsored poses for them!

Did you know that another popular tradition at the Szechenyi baths is a beer bath? It’s a popular Czech tradition to bathe in beer, and it’s available to visitors of the thermal baths, offered for tubs of one or two people. Just to clarify though, they’re not pouring bottles of beer into a tub, only the ingredients used to make beer. A little less fun, I know.

The (Overbudget) Sydney Opera House

sydney opera house instagram @elisaeves
Photo Credit: Instagram / @elisaeves
Photo Credit: Instagram / @elisaeves

Considered to be one of the new 7 Wonders of the World, the design came from a competition where 233 designs were submitted. The Sydney Opera House cost about AUS$102 million to construct (approx. USD$70 million) but it was initially estimated to cost around AUS$7 million (USD$4.8 million) so it seems like they went a little overboard, but it certainly paid off.

The majority of the cost of the House was paid for by a State Lottery as well, so even though they went wildly over budget, it didn’t really cost them.

Sydney Opera House

sydney opera house
Photo Credit: Instagram / @tonyshiphoto
Photo Credit: Instagram / @tonyshiphoto

How many people does it take to change a lightbulb at the Sydney Opera House? Probably a lot, considering they change 15,000 every year. They have to keep everything bright and shiny for all those tourists, 363 days a year. Its closed Good Friday and Christmas, even though the House is staffed 24/7 365 days a year.

Whether you’re using your iPhone with the screen you cracked 6 months ago and never replaced or a professional camera, it’s not hard to get a good shot of the Opera House. It’s just all those people keep getting in the way!

Spanish Steps

spanish steps bologna palazzo
Photo Credit: Instagram / @sassychris1
Photo Credit: Instagram / @sassychris1

Why are they called The Spanish Steps when they’re located in Rome? Instagrammer Christina was the first to admit “capturing [the] Spanish Steps is a little tricky to compose but that’s the challenge.”

She certainly did a good job, but at least we know the rest of us aren’t expected to be able to get such a good shot. It helps the self-esteem to know that when you’re looking back at your own pictures from your trip to Rome.

Spanish Steps Are The Spot To Be

spanish steps populated
Photo Credit: Instagram / @alexsvalbard
Photo Credit: Instagram / @alexsvalbard

The pictures that you took after a glass or two of wine (when in Rome, right?) probably look more like this. Pretty busy, but emphasis on pretty.

The lesson to take away from this is in order to get the best possible Instagram pictures you can either 1: get up at the crack of dawn – or even slightly before – or 2: lower your expectations. We recommend going with option 2 (as if the majority of us weren’t doing this anyway.)