It's an hour on line to the top of the Empire State Building and $82 for a cab from Haneda Airport in Tokyo. The Louvre Museum is closed on Tuesdays, Eva Peron's grave in Buenos Aires is nowhere to be found, and the cashier at Tim Hortons in Dubai is giving out donut holes instead of change because she's run out of dirham coins.
The Associated Press sent reporters on a typical tourist's itinerary one weekday in June in five cities around the world — New York, Paris, Tokyo, Dubai, and Buenos Aires — to compare prices and hassles, and they came away united in one conclusion: A tourist's life is exhausting.
PRICES AND PLEASANT SURPRISES
But there were some pleasant surprises. One was just how hassle-free and affordable it is to be a tourist in Dubai, which is perceived as one of the world's most expensive cities. A day in Dubai ran about $80, including three meals, a $14 taxi from the airport that took just 10 minutes, a museum visit and a ticket to see the view from the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.
Only Buenos Aires was cheaper for the day's itinerary, at just over $60. New York and Tokyo were about the same, just under $135, while Paris proved most expensive, at $164.
Dubai and Buenos Aires proved cheapest for hotel prices as well, with three-star hotels found through Priceline.com for a weeknight in June charging $39 to $181 in Dubai and $58 to $210 in Buenos Aires.
Tokyo's three-star hotels priced through Priceline.com for a weeknight in June also turned out to be cheaper than one might expect, at $80 to $295, while New York and Paris tied for most expensive hotels, $145 to $409 for Manhattan and $118 to $705 for Paris.
Other good news: Decent food could be had for reasonable prices in all five cities, with breakfast at about $5 and dinner under $30, even in places tourists frequent (though a waiter in Paris lived up to that city's reputation for rude service when he refused to repeat the wine options).
And tourist areas in all five cities seemed clean, safe and relatively free of aggressive vendors and panhandlers. (Two exceptions, neither unbearable: Pesky touts on a shopping street in Buenos Aires called Calle Florida whispering, "U.S. dollars, buy, sell?" and merchants at the souk in Dubai calling out, "Hello, come, come my friend!" and even "Welcome, Mr. John!")
There were frustrations, too. Good luck finding a skyline view in Buenos Aires, where the Obelisco, a storied landmark, is closed for renovation, and the rooftop cafe at the PanAmerican Hotel is only open to hotel guests. Our reporter was also unable to find Peron's tomb in the cemetery at the Recoleta church. A guard at the gate gave directions, but after 15 minutes of wandering without spotting a sign, our correspondent gave up.
Buenos Aires was also tied with New York for longest time getting in from the airport — a one hour, 15 minute ride in the Argentine capital, with the same torturous length of time from Kennedy Airport into Manhattan once you combine the wait for the cab with the trip. Another annoyance in New York: the promised flat fare of a $45 cab ride turned out to be more like $58 with tolls and a 15 per cent tip.
But Buenos Aires did well when it came to inexpensive, authentic, easily procured food. Breakfast was cafe con leche with medialunas (crescent rolls). Lunch was a choripan sausage with lettuce and tomato in a freshly baked baguette, with a soft drink, $7, followed by a second afternoon indulgence of apparently irresistible empanadas, three for $2.25. Dinner took two hours in keeping with the Argentine tradition of a late, leisurely meal and was a mere $17 for red wine, soup, and prime beef.
In Dubai, the ticket for the Burj Khalifa was the most expensive single item on that city's itinerary, at $29 ($6 more than the Empire State Building and $10 more than the Eiffel Tower). But with a ticket bought in advance, the wait to get to the top of the Burj was a mere 12 minutes, compared to an hour at the Empire State Building in New York and three hours at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, where the elevator was broken the day our reporter went. (At one point during the interminable wait in Paris, our poor correspondent declared that he had "lost the will to live," but the typical wait at the Eiffel Tower when the lifts are running properly is said to be less than a half-hour.)
The Tokyo tourist experience also seemed more affordable than the perception of an expensive city might suggest, if you subtract the astronomical cab fare from the airport. (Our reporter took a taxi from Haneda Airport, which serves a growing number of international tourists, but the fare from Narita International Airport is even higher at $300.)
The day in Japan's capital also seemed remarkably free of hassles, perhaps in keeping with the Japanese reputation for efficiency (and as long as you don't brave the city's packed subways at rush hour). That cab ride from the airport might have been pricey but it took only 20 minutes; there was no wait to get up to the top of the Tokyo Tower, and the ticket was only $10; admission to Sensoji Temple, an important cultural site, was free, and a walk in Ueno Park was pleasant. Lunch, an eel bowl with rice plus tea, was $8, and dinner at a popular sushi chain just outside Japan's biggest fish market in Tsukiji, one of Tokyo's most popular tourist destinations, was $25.
THE ZEN OF TOURISM
Mostly tourists are philosophical about the challenges of visiting world-famous places. "You know when you're on vacation, you're going to have lines," said Michele Berke of Phoenix, Ariz., waiting with her husband and 14-year-old daughter for the elevator going down in the Empire State Building.
And sometimes their experiences surprise them. Despite the rude waiter encountered by our reporter in Paris, Kurt Geisler, a 22-year-old tourist from Baltimore, found the French to be remarkably friendly. "The French have a reputation for being snobby, but it isn't true," he said.
Thomas Adamson in Paris, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Adam Schreck in Dubai, Roger Dwarika in Buenos Aires and Beth J. Harpaz in New York collaborated on this report.
- Travel & Tourism
- Buenos Aires
- New York
- the Empire State Building
- Haneda Airport