We’re not germaphobes, but some attractions are just plain gross. Here are six tourist attractions you might want to avoid unless you have a jumbo-sized bottle of hand sanitizer and, in some cases, a strong stomach.
Seattle Gum Wall
The Seattle Gum Wall dates back to 1993 when patrons of the Market Theater began sticking gum on the wall as they waited in line along Post Alley at the Pike Place Market. City officials made several attempts to get rid of the gum but eventually gave up and made it an official tourist attraction in 1999. It’s estimated that the 15-foot-high, 50-foot-wide wall now holds millions of pieces of gum.
Double trouble: Just as disgusting is Bubble Gum Alley in downtown San Luis Obispo, just off Higuera Street. Nearly 2 million pieces of gum adorn both sides of the narrow alley.
Update, November 2015: So long, gum! Crews are steaming off the Gum Wall to get rid of the estimated 2,000 pounds of gunk.
Blarney Stone, Ireland
Some say it was the pillow of the Biblical patriarch Jacob; others say that it was the stone David hid behind when he fled from Saul. A few even claim that the Blarney Stone was the rock that gushed water when struck by Moses.
But, there’s a general consensus that this chunk of limestone, part of the battlements of Blarney Castle, is one of the “germiest” tourists attractions in the world. That’s because more than 400,000 people kiss it every year, hoping to receive the gift of eloquent speech.
Extra: It may not get as many visitors, but a fragment of the Blarney Stone, discovered by petroleum engineers in 1939, sits on a stand in front of the Electrical Engineering Building at Texas Tech University. Seniors that kiss the stone reputedly receive the gift of gab.
Oscar Wilde’s Tomb, Paris
For years, the Irish dramatist’s admirers slathered on lipstick and kissed his tomb, leaving behind a greasy patchwork of lip prints. Several attempts were made to clean the massive memorial, but each time a little more stone wore away. Thanks to a recently added glass partition that now keeps visitors at bay, the tomb is not quite as unsanitary as it once was, but the thought of all those slobbery kisses from years past still makes us cringe.
Karni Mata Temple, India
It’s a temple full of rats. Here, shoes aren’t allowed inside, and you may catch visitors drinking the water the rats drink from or eating their leftover food, both of which supposedly bring good luck. The rat temple has roughly 20,000 furry residents, all supposedly reincarnated Indian storytellers and descendants of the Karni Mata, an incarnation of the god Durga. Come before sunrise or late at night, when the rats come out to gather food, to see the temple overrun by them.
St. Mark’s Square, Venice
This piazza in Venice is known for its pigeons, which are both a nuisance and extremely unsanitary. It’s not just that the pigeon droppings make a disgusting mess, but the droppings are associated with several diseases. Venice recently made it illegal to feed the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square — it was already illegal to feed them elsewhere in the city — so while we doubt the pigeons will ever leave entirely, someday the square may be slightly less unhygienic.
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood
The infamous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre — technically now the TLC Chinese Theatre — is a virtual Petri dish of germs. Or, at least, the sidewalk in front of the Hollywood landmark is. Since 1927 when the theatre opened, celebrities have been asked to leave imprints of their hands and feet immortalized in cement, and tourists stick their hands in the indentations. If you plan to plan to join them, bring plenty of hand sanitizer.