Iconic Insta Travel Shots - and Whether They're Worth the Trip

Thanks to Instagram’s geotagging function, certain specific travel destinations, sometimes reducible even to a specific frame, have gone viral, attracting visitors from all around the world. Some of these spots are a genuine reflection of the beauty and awe these places inspire, or constitute a rewarding little gem on top of a great trip; getting that perfect Insta shot. It can be frustrating insisting that a place ‘looked better in real life’ when sharing pictures from your trip, and these places certainly aren’t that. However, in some cases, the danger falls the other way, where places fail to live up to their digital hype or become so overcrowded that the experience is ruined. In this list, we explore some of the most iconic Insta travel shots on the planet, and whether they live up to the hype.

Chefchaouen – Morocco

Located in North-West Morocco, just south of Tangier, this beautiful little town has gained huge popularity as a tourist destination due to its distinctive blue colouring. The entire old town, from the restaurants, to narrow side alleys and terraced houses, are painted in this distinctive shade of blue. Because of its bright colouring and attention to detail, the town is bursting with creative and beautifully framed Insta spots to brighten your feed. With good value accommodation and hundreds of tiny side-streets to explore, this town is much more than just a pretty Insta shot, making it well worth the adventure.

Verdict: Worth it

Gate of Heaven – Bali

This archway, located within the Lempuyang Temple complex isa staple shot from any tourists trip to Bali. Images depict a figure silhouetted beneath the arch; the image perfectly reflected in the still water of the lake below. Except there isn’t a lake. Instead, locals sell small mirrors to tourists to place beneath their cameras, creating the illusion of a water reflection where there in fact is none. On top of this, getting your turn to stand under the arch often requires waiting in a queue under the hot sun. Instead, try a lesser visited temple such as Batuan Temple, located just south of Ubud. Here you can enjoy fewer crowds, just as many photo ops, and you can even bring your own mirror if you are still craving that beautiful shot!

Verdict: Not worth it

Sultan Suites Terrace - Cappadocia

Doubtless you’ve seen the incredible images of Turkey’s ballooned, rocky scenic area in central Anatolia. Cappadocia has been dubbed the “most Instagrammable place on earth” and there is one spot that stands above the rest. When Sultan Cave Suites decided to place a roof terrace on top of their hotel, little did they know the hit it would be, drawing influencers and travel enthusiasts from all over the world. Perched among exotic cushions, accompanied by a lavish breakfast spread, in front of breath-taking views, these pictures may have been taken at 5 in the morning (the balloons only go up at sunrise), but it is certainly an incredible sight. It has been known that these shots at the cave suites can have queues (the breakfasts are just for pictures), but copycat hotels all over town offer similarly stunning views for a fraction of the price. Alternatively, there is also the free lookout point in town, to capture the beautiful sunrise.

Verdict: Worth it

Horseshoe Bend – Arizona, U.S.  

This quirk-of-nature bend in the river in Arizona used to be a hidden gem, found only by dirt track off a highway. However, thanks to Instagram’s geotagging function, visitors have managed to find it easily on their maps and make the long journey down specifically to see it. The shot is certainly beautiful, but due to overcrowding, and the unstable number of visitors for the poorly maintained infrastructure of the site, the visit is underwhelming and frustrating. Instead, the Glen Canyon Recreation Area boasts plenty more sites of beautiful natural scenery, and even similar river-bends. Hop in your car a few miles further and discover a genuine undiscovered gem for yourself.

Verdict: Not worth it

Glenfinnan Viaduct – Scotland

The Glenfinnan Viaduct has traditionally been seen from the perspective of your train window as you cross it, but recently, eager tourists are keen to get a shot from the side, where its scale can be seen in all its glory. Particularly for fans of Harry Potter (think of Harry and Ron chasing the Hogwarts Express in their flying car), this site is about as close to the world of Harry Potter as you can get, with the awe-inspiring Scottish landscape in the background. To avoid crowds, try to visit during an off-peak season, although many choose those periods specifically to fall in line with the seasonal journey of the Jacobite Steam Train. This train looks remarkably like the Hogwarts express, therefore making a beautiful addition to any photographs.

Verdict: Worth it

Hallstatt – Austria

Hallstatt is undeniably a beautiful town, and it perfectly captures the sleepy beauty of Austria’s alpine villages, nestled on the banks of lakes. However, all photos of Hallstatt have been taken from the same angle, and on closer inspection, there is plenty left out of this beautiful frame. From tour buses, to big hotels and tourist-traps all over town, Hallstatt has left its salt mining past behind to cater exclusively to tourism. Austria is full of small towns such as this, making it a big mistake to choose Hallstatt. For a truly local, Austrian experience, try lakeside towns and villages such as Gößl, Steinbach am Attersee or Traunkirchen – or follow a map and stumble upon one for yourself!

Verdict: Not worth it

Quarry Bay – Hong Kong

Hong Kong is famously densely populated, and Quarry Bay is the most staggering example of this. 5 apartment blocks arranged in an E shape tower up to the sky, individual units stacked together and rammed in. For fans of dystopian architecture (such as the now demolished Kowloon Walled City), or for those with an interest in the cyber-punk worlds of films like Blade Runner, this is a fascinating pilgrimage. Though making a powerful image, this is one of those sites that truly do not convey photographically the scale and power of such a building style, therefore making it a location that is well worth the visit.

Verdict: Worth it

Starting from Skratch? Here’s a Few Tips to Get Started:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Itjc14Fm-gs&t=137s - interesting YT doc about geotagging and its impact on the environment



The Best Insta Alternatives

⛩ Gate of Heaven - Bali

Kuta Beach Gate, Melasti Beach Gate, Handara Gate

🏰 Hallstatt - Austria

Gößl, Steinbach am Attersee, Traunkirchen

🌅 Sultan Suite Terrace - Cappadocia

Mithra Cave Hotel, The Museum Hotel, Rox Cappadocia

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Hannah Orde
August 30, 2023
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