Millions of tourists visit these popular attractions each year, but do they really know all of the secrets behind these famed locales? Find out whether you’re aware of these little-known facts about some of the world’s top tourist attractions.
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The Golden Gate Bridge
While it seems evident from the photo, some people don't realize that there is actually nothing golden about San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge; the name refers to the Golden Gate Strait, the body of water the bridge spans. The bridge also holds another, far-sadder distinction as the world's most popular place to commit suicide, with more than 1,600 people having leapt to their deaths off the bridge.
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Statue of Liberty
The statue in New York Harbour is one of America's most distinctive symbols, welcoming immigrants from all over the world as they sailed to Ellis Island. And you've probably heard the statue was a gift from the country of France — which isn't quite true. In fact, the statue was the lifelong obsession of French statue-maker Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who had to petition the local government and raise the money himself in order to build and erect the statue. In fact, the statue almost didn't wind up in NYC; Bartholdi's original concept was for a giant statue in the Suez Canal.
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It happened to George Costanza on Seinfeld, and it happens to the Eiffel Tower as well. We're talking "shrinkage," as the famed Paris tower actually shrinks by about six inches on cold days, due to the iron beams contracting in the cold, and then expanding when it's warmer.
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The Grand Canyon is the world's deepest canyon, right? Not even close — that distinction is held by a canyon in Tibet. In fact, it's not even the deepest canyon in the U.S. — Hells Canyon, on the border of Oregon and Idaho, drops a half-mile deeper.
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It's no secret that a LOT of water pours over the edge of Canada's famed falls, but did you know how much water that is? It's more than 6 million cubic feet of water that hurls over the top of Canada’s Horseshoe Falls every minute — enough to fill a million bathtubs to the brim in 60 seconds.
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St. Peter’s Basilica
This Italian-renaissance church in Vatican City, in the heart of Rome, is visited by millions of tourists and religious pilgrims each year, but did you know it's not the original St. Peter's Basiclica? The first church was built by Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, on the spot where St. Peter was believed to be buried. Over the centuries, the church fell into disrepair and neglect until the 1500s, when Pope Julius II tore the whole thing down and built the grand structure that's still standing today (although the building took more than a century to complete). By the way, St. Peter's is also the world's largest church, with the capacity to seat 60,000.
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The Hollywood sign has been the unofficial logo for Tinseltown since it was first erected in 1923, but did you know the original sign didn't tie into Hollywood's moviemaking but to promote a new housing development called "Hollywoodland?" The "land" was eventually dropped. By the way, the sign that sits atop the hill today is not the original one; the old sign had deteriorated so much over the years that it was torn down in 1978, a new one constructed in its place.
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You may be aware that this grand structure is actually an elaborate gravesite, with the Shah Jahan honouring his favourite wife with the world's greatest tomb after her untimely death at age 39. Despite its immense size — construction required two decades, 20,000 workers and a thousand elephants — the Taj Mahal has been known to disappear from the time to time. During the Second World War, architects built a massive scaffold around the Taj Mahal in order to conceal it from airborne bombers, who would look down from the sky and see what appeared to be a pile of bamboo.
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Las Vegas is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, but few people these days recall that Vegas once bore the ugly distinction of being the only segregated city north of the Mason-Dixon line. While that wasn't the case in the city's early years, once Vegas began gaining popularity, the city saw a huge increase in tourists from the South; caving to pressure from that demographic, Las Vegas city council passed a series of laws that forced African-Americans to live in a specific area on the other side of the city. Prior to the passing of the Civil Rights Act, Las Vegas had been given the not-that-flattering nickname of "Mississippi of the North."
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The Colosseum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Rome, yet the ruins we see today are a far cry from the glamour and spectacle when the Colosseum was in its prime, clad with gleaming marble. Over the years, the building fell into disrepair, and was eventually looted for its marble — some of which was used to construct St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.
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Walt Disney World
The Orlando theme park remains Disney's biggest and most popular, but do you know just how big it is? Disney World covers 40 square miles, an area so big it would take two Manhattans to contain it all. Yet one fact about Walt Disney World you probably don't know is that more than 200 pairs of sunglasses are turned into its lost and found every day.
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Great Wall of China
Despite the oft-claimed "fact" that the Great Wall of China is the only manmade structure on the planet that can be seen from space, that's actually a myth; it can't be seen from space, states NASA categorically. Meanwhile, you may not be aware that building the wall took more than 2,000 years — yet this massive undertaking was not discovered by anyone outside of China until Portuguese explorer Bento de Gois became the first European to set foot on the wall in 1605.
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The famed strip in the heart of New Orleans' French Quarter remains one of America's most beloved party destinations, a street with a well-earned reputation for public intoxication and free-wheeling decadence. But here's a fun fact you probably didn't know: the bars on Bourbon Street were among the first commercial spaces in the world to adopt air conditioning, back in the 1930s. Bourbon Street's bars, in fact, were also among the first in America to boast televisions and draft beer, both of which were introduced in 1948. Meanwhile, despite its reputation, Bourbon street was not named for the liquor; the street was actually named in honour of the French royal House of Bouron — and bourbon whiskey was likely named for the street.
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Everybody knows that London's Buckingham Palace is home to the Queen, and protected by palace guards who are never allowed to smile, no matter how much goofball tourists try to crack them up. One fascinating fact that's not widely known is that the palace sits atop a maze of underground tunnels constructed centuries ago, connecting the palace to various streets in nearby St. James. According to legend, King George VI (the Queen's father) and the Queen Mother once went exploring in the tunnels, and happened upon a very polite fellow from Newcastle who had been living down there for years.
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Palace at Versailles
One of the most stunning rooms in the Palace of Versailles is the "Hall of Mirrors," featuring full walls of Venetian mirrors, the earliest glass mirrors to be produced on so grand a scale. Yet those mirrors had a very practical purpose: because of the room's design, just a few candles in there would reflect light throughout the dimly lit corridors and illuminate the entire palace.