Dark tourism: What it is and where to go

Dark tourism is a growing travel trend that’s driven by our curiosity for tragedy and historical events. Some dark tourism sites attract millions of visitors each year - while others are more unusual and off the beaten track.

Below we’ve highlighted four of the most famous dark tourism destinations around the world and included tips on how to visit them respectfully. But first, what is dark tourism?

What is dark tourism?

Dark tourism is understood as tourism associated with death or tragedy. Dark tourism sites are often places of historical significance, such as memorials and cemeteries, though the term can also describe how some people rush to the scenes of emerging disasters.

At the lighter end of the spectrum, dark tourism can even include theatrical activities such as escape rooms and themed walking tours.

Is dark tourism ethical?

Certain elements of dark tourism are controversial – for example when a sinister topic is overly commercialised, or if tourists behave disrespectfully by taking silly photographs and straying where they shouldn’t. After all, many communities still feel the devastating effects of the events that dark tourism destinations represent.

But others see this kind of travel as a means of paying respect and learning more about important events that have shaped different parts of the world. When approached thoughtfully, such sites can alter views and provide deeper philosophical meaning by telling stories of hope and solidarity in the face of adversity.

Dark tourism’s growing popularity is owed in part to popular TV series such as Chernobyl and The Dark Tourist. But overall, the motivations of most visitors come from a place of genuine intrigue and desire for different experiences. So, where do dark tourists go?

Famous dark tourism destinations

Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, Poland

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial offers a bleak but educational reminder of the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime during the second world war. It was the largest and most deadly of the Nazi concentration camps in the 1940s, before being turned into a memorial after the war ended.

Millions of people visit the site every year on day trips from Krakow in Poland and other places close to Prague and Munich. You’ll find exhibitions spread over several blocks and outdoor areas, where respectful photography is a must. In fact, you may want to leave your camera switched off altogether.

Chernobyl, Pripyat, Ukraine

The full effects of the accidental explosion at Chernobyl’s nuclear power plant in 1986 are still being established today. On top of the immediate deaths and evacuations are countless radiation-related illnesses among locals, as well as severe tolls on local wildlife.

Reachable from Kiev, tour guides will carefully show you around the ‘Exclusion Zone’, which includes the plant itself and the surrounding ghost town where workers once lived. Though lots of work has since been done to make the area safer, you’ll still be asked to protect yourself from lingering radiation.

Wear long-sleeved clothing, stick with your guide and keep your hands to yourself.

Peace Memorial Museum, Hiroshima, Japan

The Japanese city of Hiroshima may forever be known as the place where US Army Air Forces dropped an atomic bomb in 1945, the first time such a weapon had been used. Much of the area was flattened instantly and tens of thousands of residents were either killed or severely burned.

The A-Bomb dome is famous for being the only major structure around to survive the blast, while the Peace Memorial Museum remembers what the city’s residents endured. But perhaps the most respectful thing you can do here is to learn more about how the city and its residents exist today.

Hiroshima has since devoted itself to promoting peace, an aim borne out by the passionate letters to world leaders which are now displayed in the museum.

National 9/11 Memorial and Museum, New York, USA

The events of September 11th 2001 changed the world as we know it. A terror attack at New York’s Twin Towers killed thousands and created dramatic live images, the type of which many had never seen or thought possible before.

The 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan features two reflecting pools at the base of where the towers once stood, with the names of every victim etched into bronze panels. The connected museum then tells the stories of the victims and survivors, featuring artefacts from the planes and towers.

Visitors are encouraged to leave tribute items in front of the memorial pools – but avoid throwing anything in.

Learn more about the world with VistaJet

Having flown clients to over 1,900 airports in 96% of the world’s countries, we understand the draw that these locations can have for people. The experiences on offer can bring a valuable sense of perspective and balance, whatever your walk of life.

Get in touch to find out where you can travel to in total comfort and privacy with VistaJet.

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