Are you a dark tourist? What is dark tourism? Here at Flying Fluskey we most certainly are dark tourists! That is why we are sharing (what we think are) the best dark tourism sights around the world. But first:
- 1 What is Dark Tourism?
- 2 So, Are YOU a Dark Tourist?
- 3 – Prison Islands
- 4 – The Pickled Dictators
- 5 – Budapest Holocaust Centre, Hungary
- 6 – Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland
- 7 – Chernobyl, Ukraine
- 8 – Berlin Wall, Germany
- 9 – Bridge Over the River Kwai, Thailand
- 10 – Beachy Head, UK
- 11 – Transnistria, Moldova
- 12 – 9/11 Monuments, USA
- 13 – Bran Castle, Romania
- 14 – Apartheid Museum, South Africa
- 15 – Salem, USA
- 16 – Củ Chi Tunnels, Vietnam
- 17 – Pompeii, Italy
- 18 – Thiepval Memorial, France
- 19 – Anne Frank House, The Netherlands
- 20 – Demilitarized Zone, South Korea
- 21 – Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
- 22 – International Slavery Museum, UK
- 23 – Gulag 36, Perm, Russia
- 24 Final Thoughts
What is Dark Tourism?
Dom Joly, in 2011, published a book called ‘The Dark Tourist: Sightseeing in the world’s most unlikely holiday destinations” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>The Dark Tourist, Sightseeing in the world’s most unlikely holiday destinations”. I LOVE this book. I have it in print and on Audible, and if he had made a television series, I’d have that too. I’ve bought this book for at least four different people and recommended it to hundreds more. I am probably putting Dom Joly’s kids through private school. But anyway, this is where we first heard of the term “Dark Tourism”.
The idea of Dark Tourism has been defined as tourism involving travel to places historically associated with death and tragedy (according to Wikipedia). We think it is also to do with going to places that are a bit offbeat which make people say “Why would you want to go there!?” There’s always something to be discovered, something to be learnt.
So, Are YOU a Dark Tourist?
There’s only one way to find out. Take a peek down the list below and think about:
- How many of these places have you visited?
- How many would you like to visit in the future?
And so, here for your perusal, are the best dark tourism sights around the world.
– Prison Islands
There are many famous prisons around the world, but none capture the imagination so much as a prison on a rock, surrounded by frigid waters.
Alcatraz sits just offshore in San Francisco Bay. Despite only being a prison for 29 years, it was utterly infamous for housing the USA’s most terrifying criminals including the gangster Al Capone. A day tour includes an audio tour. You will learn all about the penitentiary facilities, but it rather skewed in the prison guards favour so do some research before you go to get a more rounded view.
Robben Island was the place of confinement for Nelson Mandela for 18 years and so this prison that may have gone unnoticed by the world became ingrained in the global consciousness. On a tour of the facility, you will see the very cell that Mandela lived in, just 8 by 7 foot.
– The Pickled Dictators
Have you ever fancied visiting Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi, Mao Zhedong in Beijing or Lenin in Moscow? Well unbelievably, you can! These are just three of the world leaders carefully preserved for the public to visit. Elsewhere you can find Hugo Chavez, Ferdinand Marcos and Kim Il-Sung. These stuffed chaps lie in state, in purpose built mausoleums. Put your camera away, keep your mouth shut and make some dark tourism memories.
– Budapest Holocaust Centre, Hungary
We have visited many a Holocaust memorial. They are moving, heart-breaking but can be beautiful. Of all the places we have been so far, the most educational, and mind-blowing, was the museum in Budapest. We spent a long time taking in every horrendous atrocity and it took us a while to return to normal once we left. It is definitely worth a visit.
Fancy a visit to Budapest? Find out more about it by reading “Budapest Part 2 – History, Hot Springs and Hangovers“.
– Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland
The most famous of the Nazi’s concentration camps, this is not a day trip for the faint-hearted. It isn’t fun, it isn’t pleasant but it isn’t meant to be. It is maintained to make you think, and if you emerge with a hopeless stare and a heart full of determination that we can’t let this happen again, then it has served its purpose.
– Chernobyl, Ukraine
In 1986, the nuclear power reactor at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, in what is now Ukraine, had a meltdown. It was a huge disaster that created problems across Europe. You can now visit the disaster area for a day trip. During the day, you will see the reactor, the abandoned town of Pripyat, the town of Chernobyl where people live part time and the part of town that has been reclaimed by nature. You can really get your dark tourism on here!
– Berlin Wall, Germany
For 28 years, the city of Berlin was divided, not just politically, but literally with the Communist area in the East, and capitalist Berlin on the West. The Berlin Wall, which started off as a high wall, and ended as a huge barrier that varied from 30-150m wide.
By tracing the wall through Berlin, you will learn about the lives of the people who lived here, how Berlin was split and what happened to those who made a break for it. There are some amazing stories of daring escapes, and tragic stories of those who didn’t make it. Around 200 people were killed on the attempt to cross over.
See more of Berlin by reading our article – “Berlin Part 2 – Bikes, Barricades and Beers“.
Photo by Mar Cerdeira on Unsplash
– Bridge Over the River Kwai, Thailand
This is not just a famous film! During WWII the Japanese constructed a railway from Burma, to Thailand. In fact, it was the prisoners of war and slaves that were made to construct it. Along the way, thousands of these poor men died as their bodies were forced to work long hours, in hot weather and treacherous terrain. The original was bombed by the allied forces, but you can now visit the reconstructed bridge, take a stroll along it, or even ride a train over it.
– Beachy Head, UK
The Seven Sisters Country Park is a beautiful stretch of coast in Sussex. The chalk cliffs, with their grassy tops, undulate through seven peaks. After tackling these seven ladies, it is time to ascend Beachy Head. This high cliff has become famous as a spot for troubled people to jump, 20 souls a year. The cliff top has signs from the Samaritan dotted around. It is a horrible reality in such a lovely corner of England.
– Transnistria, Moldova
Transnistria is a breakaway state that sits between Moldova and Ukraine. It is a very peaceful place that has it’s own very special personality. When the USSR collapsed, and Eastern Europe recreated its countries and borders, Transnistria was looking for a more Russian-centric life than the rest of Moldova. A war ensued and they declared independence. It has never been recognised by any UN state.
Transnistria still has old Soviet memorials and monuments, and is sometimes referred to as being a living museum. It is fascinating, and the thought of getting questioned by the KGB (yes, the police is still called the KGB) is pretty exhilarating.
Want to learn more about our time in Transnistria? Why not pop over and read – “One Night in Transnistria“.
– 9/11 Monuments, USA
In 2001, terrorists took control of several aircraft and used the entire things as weapons. There are two main spots that you can visit to see the memorials of those who perished.
The Pentagon, in Washington DC, was hit on that September day. There isn’t a lot to see at the Pentagon unless you have a decent security clearance. Just outside, however, is a mysterious collection of benches. There are 184, one for each of the victims. The benches come out of the ground in two different directions denoting whether the victims were on the plane, or in the building.
Ground Zero/The 9/11 Memorial, in New York City, holds a much more famous memorial. The World Trade Centre towers were felled by two more planes, that damaged the building when they crashed into them. Here, within the footprints of the original twin towers, are two huge black fountains. These huge square holes are engraved with the names of the 2,982 victims who lost their lives here. Every year, on each person’s birthday, a small white flower is placed by their names. It is incredibly evocative.
– Bran Castle, Romania
OK, so Dracula is a work of fiction, cooked up by an Irish guy living in Victorian England. However we think it’s cool that you can go to Transylvania and play along. Bran Castle is almost definitely the castle that Dracula’s castle was based on. Brasov, the nearby Romanian town no longer echoes with the cries of angry, torch-bearing villagers, but they definitely know how great it is for business. It would be a great place to spend Halloween. Plus, if you venture further into Romania and you can track bears or wolves, something that is genuinely quite scary.
– Apartheid Museum, South Africa
Between 1948 and 1994 South Africa was a country divided, by law. Racism was institutional and brutal. It was known as apartheid. The white colonialists suppressed the native populations using segregation and restrictive laws, most notably the “pass laws”. This museum shares the stories of cruelty, violence and the struggle for and against the policies.
– Salem, USA
if you’ve seen Hocus Pocus, you may be sad to know that we are not on the trail Bette Midler, but instead, the most infamous witch trial. A mass hysteria gripped Massachusetts, and many innocent women were accused of witchcraft. These “witches” were forced to name other names and so the trials continued. Salem’s trials were the most prolific, with nineteen people hung over just four months. It was an unnecessary and unfortunate consequence of a Christian community.
Around town, there are several sights to visit. There is the Salem Witch Museum, which is quite the theatrical experience. You can sit in a mock courtroom and experience the mania of the trials. To see something more authentic, you can visit the old jailhouse where the victims were held or Gallows Hill where they were eventually hanged. You can even see the foundation of the Salem Village Parsonage Site, where the whole debacle began.
– Củ Chi Tunnels, Vietnam
South of Ho Chi Minh City there is a vast complex that is the home of the Củ Chi tunnels. These were the underground lifelines that the Viet Cong resided in, and fought from. These days, the whole place is a little Disneyland-esque, but it is still really interesting. You can experience the tunnels themselves, dark and cramped. There are fantastic guides to help unfold the history of the place, the ingenious ways the Vietnamese outwitted the American forces. There are clever, and hideous booby traps, and the guides describe the grisly damage they do with evident glee. The worst thing? The manure they smeared on the bamboo spikes to make sure the wounds they caused became infected….shudder!
– Pompeii, Italy
Vesuvius, looms over the Bay of Naples in Italy, smelling faintly sulphurous but slumbering peacefully. However, in 79AD, it obliterated two Roman settlements, preserving them for centuries. Pompeii (and nearby Herculaneum) were buried by boiling ash that engulfed them in a pyroclastic flow. This ash entombed houses, temples, pubs and streets.
Pompeii features on our list of the “Five Top Cruise Ports to Explore“.
It is a history buff’s dream. You can see lewd frescoes on the wall, beautiful statues of Roman Gods, and for those really dark tourists, there are the casts of people frozen in the last moments of life.
– Thiepval Memorial, France
World War I was a dreadful waste of human life. The trenches that snaked across France saw scores of young men lose their lives for the sake of a few miles one way or the other. The Battle of the Somme in 1916 was particularly brutal. On the first day. 57,000 people fell, and by the end of the battle, more than 1,500,000 had perished. The memorial in Thiepval was opened 16 years later. Here you will find the memorial and the visitor centre that teaches you all about the battle, and horrors of trench warfare.
– Anne Frank House, The Netherlands
In 1947 a very special book was published. It is commonly known as “The Diary of a Young Girl” or “The Diary of Anne Frank”. This book is the memoir of a young lady whose family were stuck in an annex. The Jewish family lived in hiding, and evaded capture by the Nazis for two years. Unforgettably, the family didn’t survive, and so the whole place is touched with sadness.
You can now visit the Amsterdam property and feel what it would be like to exist in such a confined life. If you haven’t read the book, we would highly recommend it. It is a very sad place, and a very sad story, but her teenage musings are utterly charming.
– Demilitarized Zone, South Korea
North Korea is the last frontier in crazy travel. We haven’t visited North Korea…as such. Instead we took a day trip from South Korea’s capital, Seoul, to the demiliterised zone (the DMZ). By taking this tour, you will learn all about the Korean War, a conflict that is not officially over! You will step foot in the Joint Security Area, a stretch of land that is patrolled by South Korea, North Korea and the UN.
Add to that a train that is peppered with bullet holes and a viewing point that allows you to see into North Korea . Plus a trek down through a North Korean infiltration tunnel and a shop when you can buy actual North Korean wine and you’ll quickly find your inner dark tourist.
Read a full review of our day trip to the DMZ at “Entering Korea’s DMZ – A JSA, Imjingak and Third Tunnel Tour“
– Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina provides dark tourists with not one, but two fascinating bits of history.
Looking back to 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was on an official visit to open a new museum, when his carriage was attacked. He was fatally wounded and this act of assassination led to the start of World War One.
A much bloodier and more recent history can be found here too. Sarajevo was under siege for 4 years in the early 1990s. There is a brilliant exhibition about the siege in the History Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It explores the very day lives of people who were stuck in the city. You can see how Sarajevo has been rebuilt. It is thrilling/horrific to realise that to reach the museum, you have walked down “Sniper Alley” where civilians were literally under fire just for trying to get to work.
– International Slavery Museum, UK
Liverpool, on the North-West coast of the UK, was the powerhouse of Britain’s sea trade. Cotton, sugar and tobacco were shipped in and textiles shipped out. However, there was a third side to this triangle, and that was the mass forced transportation of Africans to “the New World”. They were forced to work as slaves picking that same cotton, sugar and tobacco. It was a disgusting thing to do to fellow human beings and this museum will share the whole story with you. It is a shameful part of our past and this museum is engaging, and honest enough to make sure people pay attention!
– Gulag 36, Perm, Russia
Siberia, Russia, the name bring up thoughts of snowy, endless woods. Years ago, the name meant that you were about to disappear. If you were unlucky, you would be sent to a camp where they would work you to death, if not, you were shipped off to a more forgiving work camp. The prison camp system, the Gulag, was an important part of communist Russia’s forced labour program. The prisoners built machinery parts, mined important metals and built important transport links.
Gulag 36 was one of the less brutal work camps, where political prisons, writers and intellectuals were housed. You can organise a visit to see the conditions and learn about the system from Perm, the nearest town. See examples of the crimes that led to being exiled, see the defences put up by the prison to stop escape and if you come in winter, marvel at how anyone survived the cold!
So how many did you tick off? Are you a dark tourist? I bet there’s a little dark tourist in all of us. There is so much world out there, and not all of it is 100% lovely, 100% of the time so why no explore both sides of the coin.
Mr Fluskey and I don’t put ourselves in extreme danger for the sake of a thrill; you can keep your political rallies at a safe distance. However, I believe that educating ourselves about history, extreme politics and the terrible things that can happen are incredibly important. That is why we continue to visit these places, and will always be dark tourists.