Why do dark tourism sites draw millions of tourists every year?
Dark tourism, also known as black tourism or grief tourism, involves travelling to places historically associated with death and tragedy.
While it may seem morbid, for many travellers, there is a certain fascination with the historical value of these locations rather than the association with death and morbidity.
Some say that dark tourism ‘milks the macabre’, but many tourists have altruistic reasons for visiting these sites, wanting answers to questions such as ‘why did or how could this happen?’ and ‘can I learn a lesson from this?’.
Of course, there are some people who, for example, find it difficult to drive past a car crash without ogling, and who’ll visit purely for the macabre element.
Dark tourism destinations include battlefields, sites of murders or mass killings, castles and sites of human atrocities or other catastrophic events, to name a few.
Dark tourism sites draw millions of tourists from around the world every year.
To help those who are interested, we’ve asked Emile Rossouw from My Late Deals for a guide to eight dark destinations you won’t want to miss.
National 9/11 Memorial & Museum | New York | USA
History: The National September 11 Memorial is a tribute of remembrance and honour to the 2977 people killed in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center site and at the Pentagon, as well as the six people killed in the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993.
Visitor info: The 9/11 Memorial is free and open to the public daily from 7:30am to 9pm. Museum tickets can be purchased on the website up to six months in advance and include entry to all exhibitions.
Photography: Inside the Memorial Museum, personal photos, video and/or audio recordings are permitted for private, non-commercial use only, unless otherwise posted.
Anything else to know: Visitors to the 9/11 memorial in New York City are being warned to stop throwing coins into the reflective pools as it is against the rules.
Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau | Near Krakow | Poland
History: KL Auschwitz was the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centres. Over 1.1 million men, women and children lost their lives there.
Visitor info: Admission to the grounds of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial is free of charge but entry cards should be reserved on the website. The Museum is open all year long, seven days a week, except 1 January, 25 December, and Easter Sunday.
Photography: Taking pictures on the grounds of the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial, without flash and stands, is allowed. The only exceptions to taking pictures are in Block 4 where the human hair display case stands, and in the basements of Block 11.
Anything else to know: Visitors to the grounds of the Museum should behave with due solemnity and respect. Visitors are obliged to dress in a manner befitting a place of this nature. Before visiting it is also important to read the rules, which can be found on the website.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum | Hiroshima | Japan
History: On 6 August 1945, an atomic bomb detonated at approximately 600m over downtown Hiroshima. Between 90,000 and 146,000 people were killed in Hiroshima, and the city became the world’s first to be attacked by an A-bomb. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum conveys to the world the horrors and inhumane nature of nuclear weapons and spreads the message of ‘no more Hiroshimas’.
Visitor info: Admission to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum costs 200 yen. The museum is open all year round except 30 December and 31 December. Closing times vary depending on the month.
Photography: Video and photography without flash is allowed for personal purposes. However, tripods and selfie sticks are not allowed in the museum.
Anything else to know: When visiting, please do not touch any of the exhibits or display cases, and keep quiet so as not to disturb other visitors. Large bags are not allowed into the museum.
Chernobyl | Pripyat | Ukraine
History: On 25 and 26 April 1986, the worst nuclear accident in history unfolded in Chernobyl when a reactor at a nuclear power plant exploded and spewed its radioactive poison. Thirty years on, scientists estimate that the zone around the former plant will not be habitable for up to 20,000 years.
Visitor info: Local tour companies, however, insist that the site is now safe to visit. A number of different tours are available to purchase from local tour companies.
Photography: You can take pictures of everything at Chernobyl, except the site of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and at the checkpoints with the guards.
Anything else to know: The threat of radiation is still a problem at Chernobyl, although levels have decreased significantly enough that the Ukrainian government allows visitors if they are with a tour guide and if they follow the guidelines laid out by tour companies.
Prohibited tourist attire, according to Chernobyl Tour, includes: shorts, short trousers, skirts, open footwear and short sleeves. Prohibited behaviour includes: eating, drinking and smoking in the open air; touching buildings, trees, plants; gathering and eating mushrooms, berries, fruit, and nuts in forests and gardens of the abandoned settlements, sitting on the ground, putting photo and video cameras, bags, backpacks and other personal belongings on the ground.
Murambi Genocide Memorial | Near Murambi | Southern Rwanda
History: Nyamagabe (formerly called Gikongoro) and the satellite town of Murambi were the sites of one of the most unforgettable horrors of the 1994 genocide. Refugees flocked to Murambi, to the location of a half-built technical college, after being told that they would be safe there. It was merely a ploy, though, and on 21 April, the army and Interahamwe militia moved in and between 27,000 and 40,000 people were murdered there.
Visitor info: The memorial is open daily from 8am to 5pm apart from on Umuganda Saturdays (the last Saturday of every month) where it opens from 1pm to 5pm. There is no fee to enter and audio guides are available.
Photography: As with most of the other National Genocide Memorials, photography is no longer permitted inside.
Anything else to know: This is by far the most graphic of the many genocide memorials in Rwanda, as hundreds of bodies have been exhumed and preserved with powdered lime and appear as they did when the killers struck. As a result, Murambi can be overwhelming, and not everyone can stomach it.
Alcatraz | San Francisco | USA
History: A former notorious maximum-security federal prison that housed the likes of Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly.
Visitor info: Alcatraz Cruises is the official concessioner to the National Park Service, offering tickets and transportation to Alcatraz Island. The hours of operation vary with the season – departures are available about every half hour throughout the day beginning at 9:00am. Alcatraz is open every day, except Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s day.
Photography: There are no restrictions on cameras or videos.
Anything else I should know: You can stay on Alcatraz Island as long as you like but allow at least three hours for cruising to the Island, taking the Cellhouse audio tour, exploring the rest of the Island and its historic exhibits, and finally returning via ferry to Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing. It is recommended that you line up half hour prior to your departure time.
The Ruins of Pompeii | Pompeii | Italy
History: The eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79CE was many thousands of times greater than an atomic bomb and the entire population was wiped out, but the ash preserved much of Pompeii, providing an extraordinary insight into the life of a city during Roman times.
Visitor info: Tickets can be purchased at the ticket offices at the entrance to the site or through the online ticket office. Pompeii is open every day except 25 December, 1 January and 1 May. From 1 April to 31 October the site is open from 9.00am to 7.30pm (with last entrance at 6pm). At other times, the site is open between 9.00am and 5:30pm (with last entrance at 3.30pm).
Photography: Videos and pictures are allowed, but for personal use only.
Anything else I should know: The Pompeii site is vast. If you have a deep interest in the subject matter, you will need all day at the site. Leisure tourists tend to spend only two or three hours at most.
The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek | 15km south-west of Phnom Penh, Cambodia
History: Between 1975 and 1978, about 17,000 men, women, children and infants were detained and tortured at S-21, and were then transported to the extermination camp of Choeung Ek. Today, it is a quiet and peaceful place, where visitors can learn of the horrors that unfolded here decades ago.
Visitor info: The killing fields of Choeung Ek are open daily from 7:30am to 5:30pm. Admission costs $6 and includes an audio tour. A number of local tours run from Phnom Penh.
Photography: Photography is allowed.
Anything else I should know: Women will need to cover their knees and shoulders, out of respect to the victims.
Written with research from My Late Deals.
Have you visited any of these or other dark tourism sites? How was your experience? Are there any dark tourism sites you’d like to visit in the future?
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