World's Least Romantic Places
Romantic destinations require three key ingredients: beauty, mystery, and a sense of exclusivity. But a foul smell can turn beauty into ugliness in a second, just as being one of thousands lining up to gaze upon a supposedly romantic sight can quickly rob it of its allure.
No one expects towns in the American rust belt or the cluttered backstreets of Mumbai to tug at the heartstrings in the same way as, say, Venice. Yet in some respects they have it easier. Destinations that lay a claim to romance are immediately held to a far more stringent standard. If those iconic hot spots don’t deliver a swoon-worthy stay, the disappointment can be akin to being jilted at the altar.
Paris, for example, may well have written the book on romance, but it sometimes feels like the clichéd Harlequin variety, especially during summertime around the city’s most famous sights, which lure every lovebird within 10,000 miles. The dispiriting result is hordes of camera-toting couples, jostling as they attempt to re-create scenes from Midnight in Paris or Amélie.
Similarly, trekking with your loved one to reach the ruins of Machu Picchu at sunrise seems like romantic nirvana—until you find your physical (and relationship) limits tested by being stuck for days in a 12-person group with a case of altitude sickness or vertigo.
After all, you can’t assume other travelers will be on board with your romantic plans. That’s a lesson Philadelphia-based T+L reader Nanette learned the hard way on a recent cruise: “I expected The Love Boat, but it just ended up being a crazy booze cruise,” she posted to Facebook.com/TravelandLeisure.
Anyone who’s tried to arrange a memorable moment for a paramour knows that romance is tricky to orchestrate. Some of the destinations on our list can live up to their reputations as dreamy getaways—it’s just a matter of navigating their hidden hazards. Others face greater obstacles. But the bottom line: with the right partner and a spirit for adventure, almost anywhere can be romantic.
Honeymooners once flocked to this small town outside of Tokyo. While its glory days are long gone, that hasn’t stopped planners from attempting to reinvent Atami as a romantic destination—for lonely single men. These fans of the dating simulation game LovePlus+ come to Atami with their mobile phones to have photos taken at various points around town. In the final image on the screen, the cartoon girlfriend of their dreams appears by their side. Digital-age romance has never seemed so sad.
How to Find the Romance: Take a midweek jaunt to Hakone, an hour from Shinjuku via the Romance Car train (so named because of the loveseat layout). This picturesque town—famous for hot springs, lakes, and gardens—offers plenty of its own photo-ops including Mount Fuji as a backdrop.
The gondolas that ply Venice’s labyrinthine waterways are now mostly a means to fleece starry-eyed honeymooners out of a quick hundred euros. Unless you’ve had your heart set on it, avoiding those floating tourist traps is easy. But Venice has another dirty little secret. In winter, the Adriatic Sea routinely backs up the ancient plumbing, resulting in a distasteful aroma sure to overwhelm even the most enchanting perfume.
How to Find the Romance: Ditch the crowds on the neighboring island of Giudecca. The view across the canal from the rooftop pool of the Hilton Molino Stuckey Venice Hotel is breathtaking. A breath of fresh air, even.
While this emirate has a cosmopolitan, modern sheen, visitors would be well advised to respect local laws and customs. This is one melting pot of diverse cultures, values, and social mores that can sometimes boil over. Consider the British couple arrested in 2010 for kissing in public. Both received one month in jail but were spared lashes, a common punishment for such crimes. Still, travelers can’t say they weren’t warned: the Dubai Mall displays prominent signage asking guests to abstain from public displays of affection.
How to Find the Romance: Retreat to the desert, where you can stay beyond the reach of judging eyes at Al Maha Resort and Spa, built by the Sheikh Khalifa. The private villas with oversize plunge pools overlook the shifting sands within Dubai’s first national park and are, not surprisingly, fit for royalty.
Paris’s Iconic Sights
Ideally, romantic places should give off a special je ne sais quoi, a sense that no other couple has set foot there. In France, that illusion requires serious effort. The country attracts 76.8 million tourists a year, more than any other, according to a United Nations World Tourism study from 2010. You can bet a good portion of them are lovebirds intent on a romantic stroll along the Champs-Élysées, a keepsake photo atop the Eiffel Tower, and a passionate kiss on the Pont Neuf.
How to Find the Romance: Seek out intrigue in the burgeoning 10th, 11th, and 12th arrondissements, which are just as swoon-worthy (intimate restaurants, 19th-century canals, and leafy promenades) minus all those swooners.
Mykonos in High Season
The cobblestoned alleyways and whitewashed houses draped with sprays of vibrant bougainvillea of this fabled Greek island make for an idyllic afternoon stroll, if you happen to be there in off-season. If not, an entirely less desirable personality emerges, as these same streets fill with spring breakers, stadium-size speakers, broken bottles, and other party detritus.
How to Find the Romance: Rent a villa off-season (October to March), when prices are lower and locals have time to make you feel welcome.
Honeymoon Hotels of the Poconos, PA
Coal and diamonds are close geological cousins, but unfortunately that doesn’t make the anthracite-rich environs of the Poconos a diamond in the rough. While the mountainous northeastern region has billed itself as a romantic weekend getaway, decades of mining have left many area towns feeling depressingly industrial, and the accommodations can be, well, kind of chintzy. This is, after all, the birthplace of the heart-shaped tub.
How to Find the Romance: Big industry and wealthy industrialists go hand-in-hand, so seek out the sort of places the swells frequented at the height of the mining boom. The Dorflinger-Suydam Wildlife Sanctuary, for instance, was once a retreat for a glass magnate and is a short drive from the swanky, under-the-radar Lodge at Woodloch.
Cancún’s Hotel Zone
The coming of spring is celebrated in Cancún with the clink of plastic cups and the toast of cheap margaritas. That’s not to say that many romances have not taken their first lurching steps at this fabled resort area on the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula—it’s just that the romance may well have been intended to last only the night.
How to Find the Romance: Head an hour down the coast to Tulum, on the Riviera Maya, where romantic restaurants and boutique hotels dot the shore. The only disturbance during a midnight stroll might be from the turtles, which lay their eggs there every summer.
Bangkok’s Patpong Road
During the Vietnam War, Bangkok became an infamous destination for GIs seeking a bit of R&R. The sex industry that flourished as a result remains—the number of male tourists from rich Western countries still outnumbers females two to one—and it adds a sleazy edge to some restaurants and bars, notably along the Patpong Road strip.
How to Find the Romance: The sleaze is largely a city problem, so head to remote romantic regions like the Golden Triangle (a former opium farming region) instead, where the trumpeting of elephants replaces the blast of car horns.
Machu Picchu, Peru
The awe-inspiring ruins of Machu Picchu belong on any respectable bucket list, just not necessarily your honeymoon registry. The fantasy of summiting 7,970 feet to the Incan ruin with only your beau by your side is just that: a fantasy. In reality, the four-day Inca Trail hike should be booked six months in advance, and that’s to secure a spot among a group of 12. It’s all too possible someone will freak out over the precipitous trail or succumb to altitude sickness. Prepare to have your relationship limits tested.
How to Find the Romance: Get a God’s-eye view of Machu Picchu instead, by taking a helicopter tour over the ancient site.
Tahiti isn’t in danger of losing South Pacific–bound lovebirds to this U.S. territory. Guam is more notable for its chain stores, fast food joints, and the largest Kmart on earth than for indigenous cultural charm. The 170,000 locals also consume more Spam per capita than anywhere else. And if there’s anything less romantic than canned ham, we don’t want to know about it.
How to Find the Romance: For the heart-pounding rush that comes with storm-watching, time your visit to Guam’s typhoon season (August–October). Settle into JAL Hotel Nikko’s 16th-floor restaurant, where you can see the clouds and rain gather force and then slam over Tamuning’s Gun Beach. Otherwise, opt for Bora-Bora.
There’s some trouble in this Caribbean paradise, which has seen bouts of gang violence, mostly in poor areas of Kingston. That isn’t typical tourist territory, but as a result, armed guards are common at Jamaican resorts—which some couples may find more off-putting than reassuring. Do your homework to steer clear of spring breakers and to distinguish any cheesy all-inclusives from fab ones like Couples Tower Isle.
How to Find the Romance: The good news is it’s easy—even in partying Negril, there are alluring properties like the Rockhouse Hotel, a cluster of thatched-roof bungalows above an aquamarine cove (most have private patios or sundecks).
Napa Valley, CA
The promise of sun-kissed vineyards that cultivate Cabernet amid quaint towns just a short drive from San Francisco has drawn couples for several decades. The resulting crush has transformed Napa Valley into a high-priced destination, whose tourists tend to be of the wine-snob varietal. Even if you score a reservation at one of the swanky restaurants, it’s all too likely you’ll miss it—stuck in traffic.
How to Find the Romance: Time your trip to the late fall or early spring for fewer crowds, or head for Walla Walla, WA, where informal winemakers offer tastings at a refreshing price and restaurants follow the locavore creed.
Russian novel Dr. Zhivago may boil over with passion, but the capital city of Moscow can be quick to put out the flames of romance. Dreary Soviet architecture outnumbers medieval holdovers like St. Basil’s Cathedral, and the weather is equally gray much of the year. Then there are the high prices, notorious traffic jams, and the sleazy, even intimidating, nightlife scene (bouncers do “face control”).
How to Find the Romance: While some will appreciate Moscow’s kitsch and new hangouts like Bar Strelka, it’s St. Petersburg that wins most couples’ hearts, with its grand pastel-colored palaces and canals for strolling. Come in summer to experience the White Nights and join the late-night crowds gathered to watch bridges rise across the imperial city.
There’s an aura of forbidden love around Havana, so close and yet so off-limits to Americans. Visitation rules have recently loosened, allowing a select few tour operators like Austin-Lehman and Friendly Planet to launch authorized 2012 trips. Pioneering couples are likely to find the stuck-in-time city to be grimier than its nostalgia-colored image. The street hustlers and limited infrastructure are other reality checks.
How to Find the Romance: Get your fix of faded charm in Cartagena—a 16th-century walled city on Colombia’s northern coast—where the sultry music of choice is often Cuban. Horse-drawn carriages do loops in the streets surrounding Plaza de Bolívar, where some historic buildings have been remade as elegant, intimate hotels.
Key West, FL
Margaritaville knows how to party, or at least how to bar-crawl along Duval Street, a rowdy strip complete with tacky souvenir shops. Once the stomping grounds of Ernest Hemingway, the self-declared Conch Republic embraces its quirky arts scene, from the annual costume-filled Fantasy Fest to performances at the Red Barn Theatre. But those looking to star in their own romance will find it easier elsewhere.
How to Find the Romance: Head for the beach, specifically, the Keys’ lovely Bahia Honda State Park. You two can snorkel in Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, just offshore, and then retreat to secluded Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, accessible only by boat or seaplane.
Morocco’s most populated city has a reputation for being more fast-paced and progressive than, say, Marrakesh, but it falls short in the exotic allure department. Lovers hoping to get lost wandering picturesque streets will be disappointed by the small medina, aggressive hawkers, and limited number of attractions beyond Hassan II Mosque.
How to Find the Romance: Take things slow in the Atlas Mountains, where you can hole up at Douar Samra, a Berber home converted into a cozy hotel whose eight rooms have handwoven fabrics, fireplaces, and panoramic views.
Rio de Janeiro
You two only have eyes for each other, but once you touch down in Rio…? Girls from the Ipanema neighborhood aren’t the only ones with sex appeal, and those scantily clad locals can get a little too distracting. And while there’s lots of buzz about Brazil’s rising profile lately, gang violence still plagues parts of the city as does the threat of dengue fever.
How to Find the Romance: Head for the hills and bed-and-breakfasts of Rio’s Santa Teresa neighborhood, which has a more low-key, bohemian vibe. Or trade Rio’s teeming beaches for rustic beach towns in the northeastern state of Alagoas; Pousada Patacho’s five whitewashed rooms have vine-draped terraces with hammocks and lounge chairs.
Bali’s Kuta Beach
Romance can bloom on the island of Bali, as documented in the bestseller (and subsequent Julia Roberts film) Eat Pray Love, whose third quest culminated here. But conditions aren’t favorable along chaotic Kuta Beach; backpackers, hawkers trolling the sand, and accelerating development crowd out its natural beauty.
How to Find the Romance: It’s a short drive from Kuta to the village of Canggu, where, amid rice fields and gardens, you’ll find Desa Seni, a cluster of thatched-roof antique wood villas brought here from across Indonesia and decorated with crafts. After a morning yoga class, explore nearby black-sand beaches and Tanah Lot temple.
Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand
With more resident sheep than people, New Zealand conjures up images of open countryside and varied natural wonders. The lakeside city of Rotorua, for instance, is famous for its mud pools and hot springs. It would be just the setting to heat things up, but before you get up close to that steamy geothermal activity, you’ll smell it—the odor of rotten eggs pervades what’s known as “Sulphur City.”
How to Find the Romance: Some visitors report adjusting easily to the local odor, and its force varies depending on your location and wind patterns. Improve your odds by staying at an outlying hotel such as the contemporary Hamurana Lodge (rooms have deep soaking tubs). Then recover with fresh ocean breezes at the affordable resort Waoku Lodge, two hours’ west of Rotorua.
Niagara Falls, NY
The falls are still majestic and worth admiring, but this isn’t the idyllic honeymoon destination it may once have been. Gaze in other directions, and the scenery will make your spirits sink: chain restaurants, casinos, overpriced hotels, and busloads of tourists.
How to Find the Romance: Go to the Canadian side, which has better views, and go only for the afternoon. Base yourselves in nearby Toronto, one of T+L’s Hottest Travel Destinations of 2012. The city has undergone a dramatic change in the past few years, led by remarkably hip restaurant, fashion, and nightlife scenes.
Pigeon Forge, TN
This town is a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, an area so awe-inspiringly beautiful that it has become America’s most-visited national park. Which means lots of kids and traffic—especially in summer and leaf-peeping season. The Titanic Museum—a Disneyesque reproduction of one half of the 1912 liner—recently joined area attractions like Dollywood and hillbilly-themed mini-golf.
How to Find the Romance: If you find kitsch romantic, you can get married on an exact replica of the Titanic’s Grand Staircase by an ordained “captain.” If not, flee the tourist traps of Pigeon Forge for your own private hill cottage set on 4,200 acres in the Great Smoky Mountains at Blackberry Farm, a T+L World’s Best Awards winner.
San Juan Hotel Strip, P.R.
While you might assume an island retreat is perfect for romance, do your homework to pick the Puerto Rico destination that will satisfy your expectations. Large resort chains dominate the Condado and Isla Verde areas of San Juan, offering convenience and beach access to you—and other couples in hundreds and hundreds of rooms. They dilute the quintessential Caribbean island vibe that can set off sparks.
How to Find the Romance: Skip over San Juan and explore the more authentic, slower rhythms of Puerto Rican towns like Rincón—or of adjacent island Vieques, with its enchanting bioluminescent bay.
Atlantic City, NJ
Though it’s betting on a comeback—thanks in part to HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, which puts the spotlight on its glamorous 1920s heyday—this East Coast gambling destination doesn’t offer the best odds when it comes to romance. On the contrary, it could be fodder for a lovers’ spat if, say, you don’t know when to walk away from a bad hand and lose a month’s salary.
How to Find the Romance: Take a break from the casino, and spend some quality time together. Book a Club Room with coastal views at the Borgata’s Water Club, and then top it off with a soothing couple's treatment at the on-site spa.