Black tourism: Travel to the dark side of the world

Murder sites, cities with a dark history, and even disaster areas are becoming a hit with those not of faint heart

So you want to go off the tourist-beaten path for your next vacation? It’s time to get a lot more adventurous.

Get into some “black tourism”, or Thanatourism (from the Greek word “thanatos”, referring to violent death) if you’re feeling hardcore. From a single site to a city – or even a whole country – these attractions draw in the morbidly curious with their tragic stories.

Here’s a list of destinations with a special place in the heart of black tourism. In case you change your mind halfway through, we’re saving the best for last.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Where: Berlin, Germany
Scare: 1/5

This famous sprawl of grey cement blocks and pillars in fact conceals a museum. In here, visitors can find an extensive collection of authentic documents from the Holocaust, including handwritten farewell letters, personal effects, and scraps of paper with heart-wrenching poems scribbled on them.

All documents are translated, so you can listen and read the crushing truth through your sobs and tear-clogged eyes.

Auschwitz

Auschwitz I & II-Birkenau
Where: Oświęcim, Poland
Scare: 2/5

These haunting sites housed the different facilities used by the Nazis in World War II. Walk through the grounds of Auschwitz II, where the Nazis conducted experiments on prisoners using Zyklon B and other instruments.

Gas chamber

Then follow your tour to Auschwitz II-Birkenau about 3.5km away, which housed the Nazis’ largest concentration camp and mass extermination facilities, such as the gas chambers and crematoria. Shudder.

Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
Where: Kiev, Ukraine
Scare: 3/5

Don’t worry, it’s safe. Mostly. The Chernobyl disaster happened almost 30 years ago, and the site is now open for official tours only.

You can choose from several itineraries that circle the plant, explore the abandoned town of Pripyat, or even comb through the nuclear plant itself. Some central areas of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone still have elevated radiation levels, so don’t go wandering off now!

The Bunker Museum at Waldhotel Rennsteighöhe
Where: Frauenwald, Germany
Scare: 3.5/5

If you’re looking for something more experiential, you’re going to enjoy Waldhotel Rennsteighöhe in East Germany. Once under the German Democratic Republic (DDR), the facility is now a modern hotel with a very special Bunker Museum.

It offers a 16-hour overnight package where you get to eat, sleep, and train like a DDR soldier. Some of the trainers were veterans in the Cold War, so don’t expect them to go lightly on you.

Karosta Prison
Where: Liepaja, Latvia
Scare: 4/5

If you’re wondering why the Bunker Museum was 3.5 on the scare rating, it’s because Karosta Prison makes it look like a resort staycation.

 

 

In Karosta, they’ll lock you up in a room made of iron, secured by iron bars, and furnished with nothing but a bed, table, and toilet. Just like in prison. And you get insulted, ordered around, and fed prisoner’s fodder. It’s a good thing you’ll have to sign an agreement for all of this.

North Korea
Where: The Best Korea
Scare: 5/5

You thought all of that was bad? At least you could flee down town for some comfort fast food and shopping. Imagine a whole country isolated from the world, monitored, and restricted by an all-seeing government. Now, imagine you’re stuck in it.

 

Small companies offer custom group tours to this communist nation, reportedly accompanied by ‘chaperones’.

Top tip: Those may not be one-way mirrors in your hotel room.

By Pamela Chow

Are these dark destinations too extreme for you? Head to our travel page here for regular, non-life threatening getaways!

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