Sometimes fake places are more fun than the real thing.
Here’s a story I put together for NBC News Travel about the allure of visiting roadside replicas.
Courtesy Las Vegas Natural History Museum
King Tutankhamun’s mummy is missing, and the elaborate ancient murals painted on the wall are detailed copies.
But that is not stopping tourists from lining up to visit the replica of King Tut’s tomb that opened recently in Luxor, Egypt. The alternative tomb was built to protect the original ancient burial chamber, where the sweat and breath of thousands of tourists have taken a toll on the beautiful paintings lining the tomb over the years.
Closer to home, some mimicked world landmarks have their roots in patriotism, whimsy or the absence of an otherwise existing local tourist attraction.
“I would prefer three replicas to one real landmark,” said Doug Kirby, publisher of Roadside America. “Replicas that take some license can be more interesting than faithful reproductions, and often put a unique American stamp on something that belongs to the old world.”
Here are some replica world landmarks worth a visit.
1. King Tut’s Tomb
No need to go all the way to Egypt to see King Tut’s tomb or even the replica. The exhibit that was once at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas is now at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. “We have a four-room replica of the tomb filled with recreated artifacts made in Egypt using the same techniques and materials that were used 3,000 years ago,” said museum executive director Marilyn Gillespie.
2. Eiffel Tower
Yes, the real one is in Paris, but in the U.S. there’s a 50-story, half-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. In Paris, Texas, there’s a 65-foot-tall tower sporting a bright red cowboy hat put there to make sure this structure was a smidge taller than the one in Paris, Tennessee.
3. The Parthenon
Nashville’s Centennial Park is home to a full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens and comes complete with a 42-foot-tall, to-scale sculpture of the goddess Athena. Originally built for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition, the Tennessee version of the Parthenon now houses the Nashville Art Museum.
4. Leaning Tower of Pisa
The city of Niles, Illinois, 15 miles from Chicago, is home to the 94-foot-tall Leaning Tower of Niles. Built in 1934 to camouflage several water filtration tanks, the Niles tower is a half-size replica of Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa and leans out 7 feet, compared to the Pisa tower’s 13-foot tilt.
5. Statue of Liberty
Courtesy Birmingham Convention & Visitors Burea
While the original Statue of Liberty is a major attraction in New York City, wait times to board a ferry to Liberty Island to see her up close can exceed 90 minutes during peak season. However, there are no lines to deal with at the half-size replica of the Statue of Liberty at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas or in Birmingham, Alabama, which has a 31-foot-tall replica of Lady Liberty that was cast in the same French foundry as the original.
6. The Mayflower
The original no longer exists, but a full-scale reproduction of The Mayflower is docked at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The modern-day Mayflower built in 1957 has electric lights and stairs instead of ladders between decks, but it still offers a realistic look at what life was like for the Pilgrims aboard the original 17th-century vessel.
Many temporary and permanent replicas of Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, have been built around the world. A full-scale replica sits on a hillside near the Maryhill Museum in Goldendale, Washington, and while it looks like stone, it is made of reinforced concrete. Mark Cline’s Foamhenge in Natural Bridge, Virginia, is also a full-size replica, but this Stonehenge is made of Styrofoam. Cline’s full-size Bamahenge in Elberta, Alabama, is made of fiberglass.
“Foamhenge is actually a pretty good version of Stonehenge and does configure astronomically to the original,” said Kirby of Roadside America. But he added that some Stonehenge-inspired spots on the site’s America Unhenged map, such as Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska, and Truckhenge in Topeka, Kansas, “are closer to folk art and lean more towards a fun and interactive roadside attraction, which can make up for the fact that these are replicas and not the originals.”